Check out the Conscious Cartoons International Animation Fest!

by William Jarcho, Festival Programmer

The first ever Conscious Cartoons International Animation Festival kicks off on September 14 for a weekend long tour of socially conscious animation shorts from around the globe. The festival is held on Vashon Island, WA, a jewel in the Puget Sound known for its vibrant art culture, progressive attitudes, and stunning natural beauty. Come take a trip with us!

If you can’t make all the destinations, or want to be even more prepared for the journey, here are some other great animation films to add to your itinerary, as chosen by the Conscious Cartoons festival director and animator, William Jarcho. Check out these great pairings of what’s in this year’s festival alongside what you can find in the deep vaults of Scarecrow Video.

Learn more and buy tickets at:

Coming to the festival? Don’t miss The Boxby Slovenian director Dusan Kastelic. This is a truly wondrous and weird film in the tradition of famous European animators, Jan Svankmajer (Alice, Darkness Light Darkness), Raoul Servais (Harpya), and the Brothers Lauenstein (Balance). It’s a 3D/ CG animated piece, but it’s as far from the PIxar/Disney look as you can get.

We love this film for its ugly characters and dark setting, weird sense of humor, and ultimately uplifting ending. It has won awards throughout the world and is a must-see for any independent animation fans who like their films served up on the stranger side of things.

The premise from the director: “To think outside of the box”, and this film is about such a box and the flat-headed creatures that live inside of it. Life in the Box is boring and miserable. Until one day a new baby boy starts to grown in the middle of the Box! This baby is very different from other flat-headed inhabitants of the Box. He’s happy, lively and curious. As the baby grows bigger and bigger, the flat-headed neighbours are becoming more and more annoyed with him.

Until one day when he literally grows over their head.


At Scarecrow: Rent Harpyaby Belgian director Raoul Servais. It won the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival. Harpya is written and directed by Raoul Servais. It stars Will Spoor, Fran Waller Zeper and Sjoert Schwibethus. Its mix of horror and black comedy has given it a cult following. It’s a wonderful example of “Pixilation’ (the animation of people) a term coined by the famed NFB filmmaker, Norman McLaren (Neighbors & Pas de Deux). By animating people in costumes against a black background then compositing them into surrealistic sets, Servais achieves one of the most strange and unique looks that can be found in cinema, even today. The film can also be read as a modern retelling of the femme fatale archetype story – a warning to men captivated by the allure of a dangerous female. It can be found, amongst his other great films at scarecrow here. 


Coming to the Festival? Don’t miss Jeomby Kangmin Kim (South Korea). Another film that fits into the “weird and wonderful” category. It’s done with cut-outs, similar to Terry Gilliam’s / Monty Python’s work, but way more sophisticated, trippy, and modern. The premise is quite simple, “A strange and wonderful story about a special connection between father and son”, yet the way he tells it takes you on a wild ride through the body and psyche of the main character, leaving you scratching your head, laughing, and wanting more.

Kim says this about it, “I was born with a big birthmark on by butt, which I was always very self conscious of. When I was a child, my mother told me not to worry because one day it would be gone. But no!!! All these years later, of course I still have it! And then, my son was born…”

Check out the trailer here.


At Scarecrow: Rent The Hand, (“Ruka” in Czech) by Jiri Trnka. Trnka’s work has had a great influence on many famous animators like Jan Svankmajer, The Brothers Quay and a vast number of stop motion artist around the world. Created in 1965, Trnka considered it his greatest work and it also was his last film which won Best Film of All Festival Years (Award from Critics), at The Annecy International Animation festival in 1990. In short, it is about a little stop-motion animated sculptor visited by a huge (pixelated) hand, which seeks the completion of a sculpture of itself. By rejecting the imposition, the artist is constantly pursued by the hand, ending with the sculptor’s death and the hand officiating at his funeral. Ruka is considered a protest against the conditions imposed by the Czechoslovak communist state to artistic creation, and even some have seen in it an anticipation of the so-called Prague Spring. It is especially poignant today in our era of autocrats coming to power throughout the world. Although the film initially had no problems with censorship, after his death copies were confiscated and banned from public display in Czechoslovakia for two decades.


Coming to the Festival? Don’t miss Uglyby German director Nikita Diakur. This CG animated film is partly experimental but has a strong and strange linear narrative and some uniquely designed characters. Diakur describes this about his film: “Ugly is a broken simulated short film about kindness, respect and coexistence. The premise is: “An ugly cat struggles to coexist in a fragmented and broken world, eventually finding a soulmate in a mystical chief. Inspired by the internet story Ugly the Cat.”

Besides being a weird treat both visually and aurally, it’s hard to think of another film that utilizes the approach of mistakes or “Ugly dynamics”, as Diakur calls it, being part of the process. He describes it this way: “If you look at the outcome, Ugly Dynamics is actually a good fit, but I think the most appropriate name would be ‘Interactive Animation.’ There is an interaction between the animator and the animated objects or characters. It is like the characters really have a say in the outcome and the animator has to work with it. Similar to how a director has to work with actors on a live action film set.”

The ugly side of Ugly Dynamics came about from technical defects – tuned into the software – in the simulation process. Cinema 4D was the chosen platform to make that happen. “It helped to get things done without forcing us to deal with unnecessary details,” said Diakur, who was also a beta tester for Cinema 4D’s manufacturer Maxon, during production.

Check out the trailer here.


Conscious Cartoon Animation Festival happens on September 14-16 at Vashon Theatre on Vashon Island. Visit the full Conscious Cartoons festival program here.


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