Animation Night in Canada: NFB's "The Sand Castle"

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      Movie Night in Canada has been on hiatus for quite a few months.

      But yes, we're back—finally!

      For this installation, we turned to Vancouver filmmaker Dylan Akio Smith, who codirected the locally shot 2012 feature Doppelgänger Paul. He also directed the 2004 short film "Man Feel Pain" and has worked on numerous films in a variety of capacities ranging from director of photography to producer.

      Vancouver filmaker Dylan Akio Smith

      When we asked Akio Smith what under-the-radar, obscure, or overlooked Canadian film gem he would recommend, he chose the 1977 National Film Board of Canada animated short film "The Sand Castle" by Co Hoedeman, which won the Oscar for best animated short film.

      The playful stop-motion animation depicts a man made out of sand who creates other creatures out of sand. In turn, they create a sand castle that they enjoy until things take an unexpected turn.

      Here's what Akio Smith had to say about it:

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      When I was a kid growing up in Vancouver in the '80s, I used to go to the NFB and rent films (in actual film canisters). I would take these films home and thread them through my super 8 projector and watch them on my bedroom wall. Films like "Neighbours" by Norman McLaren (1952), "The Sweater" by Sheldon Cohen (1979), and "The Log Driver's Waltz" by John Weldon (1980) helped form the foundation of my cinephilia (likely not a word) and love of the arts. 

      That would then branch out to performing in clown bands, circuses, and even performing on stage and TV as a child. This would inevitably lead me to studying as an actor and eventually a filmmaker in the UBC Film Program in the late '90s. I see these NFB films as the foundation for my love of filmmaking and so when I was asked to do this and started thinking about all the Canadian feature films that inspired me (Waydowntown, The Grocer's Wife, The Changeling, Top of the Food Chain, Jesus of Montreal, and The Bitter Ash to name a few) I kept finding myself returning to the shorts of the NFB.   

      The film I want to share is "The Sand Castle" by Co Hoedeman (1977). I probably watched this 100 times as a kid. The animation is incredible and flawless in my mind. Ingenious to use sand as there is a physical and 3D element that makes the world feel so real and the material itself is so transformable. It must have taken ages to make this one frame at a time. There's so much camera movement and it's so dynamic visually. I really dig the soundtrack too.   

      Thematically, there is a sense of fun and magic as we watch these little sand figures come out of the ground and interact with each other. The somewhat Canadian themes of diversity and working together in harmony for the greater good is also present. You can feel the wonder the director has for life itself, but there is also a wistfulness present for the fragility of existence. We come from dust and to dust we shall return. It's a beautiful film and one of my favourites of all time, Canadian or otherwise.  

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      The great thing about this pick is that it's available online so you can actually watch it now.

      That's all for this installation of Movie Night in Canada but stay tuned for more Canadian film picks from film-industry professionals on the way.