Eagle-eyed viewers might catch the link between Julia Kwan’s beautiful new 12-minute short “The Zoo” and her 2014 doc on Chinatown gentrification, Everything Will Be.
The May Wah Hotel on East Pender appears in both, although it is rendered as a brightly coloured background in the filmmaker’s latest, getting its premiere at this year’s SPARK Animation film festival.
In her first foray away from live-action cinema, Kwan weaves the tale of a Chinese resident in Vancouver with that of Tuk, the last occupant of the bear enclosure at Stanley Park Zoo until it was finally shut down in 1997. We watch one grow from boy to old man; the other from wild cub to bored and lonely captive.
It’s an elegant, wordless tale of displacement and solitude that also presents a fablelike take on the history of Vancouver itself.
“It connects back to Everything Will Be, for sure,” Kwan tells the Georgia Straight.
“Spending time in the May Wah Hotel, I saw a lot of seniors living in, well, not the most ideal conditions. And it made me think about how they were, in a sense, being left behind because maybe friends or family have passed. All those themes dovetailed and percolated into ‘The Zoo’.”
Kwan notes that the character of the old man is based partly on her own 88-year-old father.
Designing Tuk, meanwhile, was just one of the tests she faced on an especially steep learning curve.
“I give full credit to the character designers, because they had to endure me,” Kwan says in tribute to collaborators Jesse Cote, Bonni Reid, and the team at Jesters Animation.
“I didn’t have the animation language to describe what I wanted. It’s literally, like, ‘How long do you want the ears? What kind of fur do you want? How matted? What texture?’ Little details like that. But we got there.”
Quite quickly, too. Kwan reports that “The Zoo” was in production for about a year, no doubt helped by the “crash course in animation” she was given by the NFB—which is probably as good as a crash course in animation gets.
Appearing alongside Amanda Strong’s VIFF/B.C. Spotlight award winner “Biidaaban” in the Made in Canada shorts program at the Vancity Theatre on Saturday (October 27), “The Zoo” is one of four new NFB titles screening at SPARK this year, all of them hailing from Vancouver.
Opening the festival at the Scotiabank Theatre on Thursday (October 25), Alison Snowden and David Fine’s “Animal Behaviour” joins Ann Marie Fleming’s “A Short Film About Tegan & Sara” in the Award Winning Shorts program.
The following night (October 26), Hart Snider’s “Shop Class” comes to the Vancity Theatre as one of 17 Short Films After Dark.
Other short-film series include a Spotlight on France (October 27) and the female-centric Mothers of a Medium (October 28), while among this year’s feature films, SPARK is offering Another Day of Life, which recently screened in VIFF’s PIXL animation series, plus Denis Do’s Funan (both October 26), This Magnificent Cake, and The Last Fiction (both October 27).
Korea’s The Moon in the Hidden Woods closes the festival at Vancity Theatre on Sunday (October 28) with an introduction from director Takahiro Umehara.
SPARK Animation 2018 takes place from Thursday to Sunday (October 25 to 28).