Magic and Superheroes – MOM Film Fest 2022

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writers: Rachel Handler, Nuria Dixon, Kari Barber and Averi Israel

Directors: Crystal Arnette, Catriona Rubenis-Stevens, Nuria Dixon and Averi Israel

The MOM Film Fest, celebrating parents in leadership roles in front of and behind the camera, is well underway with almost 40 films selected for the 2022 competition. Covering a vast creative spectrum, the Magic and Superheroes block may be focused on the experience of childhood, but across the four short films in this category, there is an emphasis on the technical creation of fantasy and escapism using cartoon, CGI and costume to transport characters and the audience between worlds.

Two of the four shorts take a child’s eye perspective that merges reality and dreams to explore complex concepts which the child protagonist may not themselves fully understand. The first of these is Ethan Art Venture, blending dynamic animation with film footage in a story about autism, art and the freedom imagination can bring. Written and directed by Nuria Dixon, Ethan’s perspective leans into comic strip notions of superheroes in which the child-artist is able to escape the high-rise flat where he lives with his anxious mother and transform into a powerful being who experiences freedom.

With an art competition driving the plot of this 11-minute piece along with a rival art lover suffering parental resistance to his talents, there is a sensitivity and empathy to Ethan Art Venture that feels supportive while the warmth of the animation leaves plenty of room for further adventures. Created by a team head by Lea Bhel Araneta Cabilo, lovely detail in the visual design includes a portrait of Basquiat on a character’s bedroom wall, nodding to the influential creators who have paved the way for a broader, more inclusive definition of art.

Andy and Kaliope is perhaps more sentimental about childhood in its consideration of fostering and the feelings of a young boy concerned about the potential dangers of his next placement, imagining himself as a superhero in order to manage those worries. In just 5 minutes, writer Rachel Handler and directors Crystal Arnette and Catriona Rubenis-Stevens create a superhero team with Andy’s two social workers using fantasy cuts to characters in costume that indicate levels of self-perception, while drawing in some emotional backstory for Andy that expands and explains his attachment to superhero characters.

But it is Kari Barber’s Death and Magic Castles that makes the biggest emotional impact, exploring maternal grief following the unexpected death of a child. This entirely animated 5-minute short designed by Gabriel O’Conner is charmingly realised with a classic look that uses simple shapes and images as a storytelling device. Clear and sparing in its narrative too, Death and Magic Castles is a powerful piece that applies a remarkable rationality to the consuming nature of grief.

The final film focuses on a magic encounter at a bus stop when a young child, ignored by her grandmother, believes her lavender haired doll has come to life when a stranger with a similar look sits down. A silent piece in which writer and director Averi Israel creates warmth and sparkle with the nightshoot, the conclusion to this 3-minute film seems unexpectedly abrupt, unclear what the final message ought to be other than how adults lose the trusting nature of children.

It certainly isn’t easy to tell a magical or escapist story in just a few minutes and while each of the entrants in the Magic and Superheroes block has a charm, they mostly leave you wanting just a little bit more.

The MOM Film Fest runs from 19-21 August.

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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