The Academy Presents ‘Women in Indie Animation’ at New York City’s Metrograph Theater

AWN’s resident Miscweant attends The Academy’s September New York City event honoring celebrated New York animators Signe Baumane, Emily Hubley, Candy Kugel and Debra Solomon.

By Joe Strike | Tuesday, September 25, 2018 at 12:11pm
L-R: Filmmakers Emily Hubley, Candy Kugel, Debra Solomon and Signe Baumane attend The Academy’s ‘Women In Indie Animation’ screening at the NYC Metrograph. (Event photos by Lars Niki/Getty Images for The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.)
Once upon a time Manhattan’s Lower East Side was home to wave after wave of immigrants. They inhabited the neighborhood’s shabby low-rent tenement apartments before moving to New York’s outer boroughs and eventually the suburbs as their circumstances improved.

That was a long time ago. Now it’s impossible to find a humanly affordable Lower East Side apartment. (Or just about anywhere in New York City for that matter, but that’s another story.) The neighborhood’s become home to trendy bars and coffee shops where young aspiring professionals who now occupy those apartments congregate.

It’s also home to the Metrograph, a unique movie theater sporting a bar, restaurant, bookstore and two screens offering an eclectic mix of foreign, independent and genre films. The Metrograph is in its second year of hosting monthly special events organized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; September’s event was “Women in Indie Animation,” an evening of short films and a panel discussion featuring their creators, four celebrated New York animators.

Still from By Emily Hubley’s ‘Pigeon Within’ (2000).

The evening began with Emily Hubley’s flowing, thin lines and occasionally semi-abstract animations, including Pigeon Within (an alienated young woman’s wanderings, superimposed over grainy, high-contrast black and white photographs); Hail, set to a folk song celebrating couples of all genders (“we can be whatever we want to be”) and Brainworm Billy, the travails of a young man who can’t get Billy Crystal out of his head, out of the crystal he uses to ward off evil spirits (“none of the spirits were this annoying”) or even out of his pizza’s pepperoni slices who take on the comedian’s appearance.

Next up were broad and brassy works by Debra Solomon. Apart from an animated segment produced for the Disney Channel Lizzie McGuire TV series, Solomon’s films were set to original songs performed by the animator herself, starring her cartoon alter-ego: a frumpy saggy-boobed, frizzy blonde-haired gal in a white, lavender polka-dotted dress. In My Kingdom she fiercely protects her personal space to the point of climbing into a baby stroller to harangue its occupant or complaining about the crowded Trader Joe’s on East 14th Street. (I’ve shopped there and she’s not kidding); while equally raucous, I Wanna Know Everyone in My Building and Teach Me To Be A Woman’s humor were based on themes of loneliness and negative body image.

Signe Baumane’s work simultaneously explores and burlesques female sexual desire, but also examines darker themes via mordant humor, as in the trailer screened for her feature Rocks in My Pockets recounting her family’s history of suicidal depression. Several Teat Beat of Sex shorts featured her character contemplating “dicks” of all shapes and sizes all night long, some way too large for the vagina-as-teacup in her hand. At 12 minutes her film Birth was the evening’s longest piece, the poignant story of a confused teenager whose pregnancy is met with less than joy by her judgmental mother and heartbroken aunt. (Spoiler: it ends happily.)

Still from Debra Solomon’s ‘I Wanna Know Everyone in My Building’ (2007).

As part of New York City’s Buzzco studio, Candy Kugel’s work straddles both the commercial (as represented by the studio’s demo reel) and independent animation worlds, with personal, song-based works Fast Food Matador (deliveryman vs. New York City traffic), A Warm Reception in L.A. (doomed dreams of Hollywood success) and the heartfelt The Last Time, created in memory of her deceased lifelong romantic and creative partner Vincent Cafarelli.

When the lights went up conversation ensued, as the four animators discussed their work and answered host Peggy Stern’s questions in a freewheeling session repeatedly punctuated by laughter and applause.

Stern asked what being an “independent” animator meant to them. Having never worked otherwise, Hubley described the word as “almost meaningless” in her case. Kugel described working commercially as a choice made as a result of being unable to get grants to finance independent projects. “Once we formed Buzzco I had two very forgiving partners who allowed me to make independent films,” she said. Baumane described independence as “working outside the studio the system…animation has always been the stepchild of the film industry. If you’re an animator you’re not taken seriously, and if you’re a woman on top of that [it’s even worse] so it’s very natural for me to be independent.”

For her part Solomon wasn’t sure whether or not she was “coming from a place of female gender, but in Teach Me to be A Woman my relationship had just broken up and I was really in a period of redefining myself as a woman, buying clothes at Forever 21.” Solomon’s reference to the trendy young-skewing store earned another round of laughter from the audience.

L-R: Filmmakers Emily Hubley, Candy Kugel, Debra Solomon and Signe Baumane at The Academy’s ‘Women In Indie Animation’ screening at Metrograph on September 21, 2018 in New York City.

Solomon explained the inspiration for Teach Me came from “waking up Sunday morning two days after my husband had left me and seeing a naked woman in a window above the night club across the street. I watched this 23-year old or so woman, thinking, ‘holy shit I want to be like that!’” (In the film, Solomon achieves her dream by climbing into the woman’s skin through its zippered back as though she were donning a costume.) “That might happen a different way for a man,” she added as an afterthought.

“We’re really meeting as four individuals,” Hubley observed. “Four men wouldn’t talk about gender — but we are making personal films. Maybe that’s the answer to your question.”

The evening ended with the animators fielding a few questions from the audience, including one asking for advice in building a personal voice. “The first thing I do in the morning,” said Solomon, “is write at least three pages every day; it’s a way of hearing yourself, seeing your song.” Baumane offered some very specific advice: “Be a well-rounded person — have a passion. I meet so many young people visiting the studio; quite a lot of them have no interests except ‘I want to be an animator.’ Come on guys! See some theater, see some live-action [films]. If you can’t write, read a lot, meet people outside your circle. Expand your horizons, be curious about everything.”

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