CBTV Student Fest #3: Artichoke Hearts by Kazimir Iskander

Artichoke Hearts may be one of the most unique selections in our Student Film festival. It was finished this year by Kazimir Iskander at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. The film’s polished, upbeat look, which wouldn’t look out of place on a prime-time TV animated series, draws the viewer in, but the content is anything but standard TV fare, instead offering an exploration of emotional bonds between an unlikely pair of neighbors. This film impressed us with fearless narrative storytelling matched by an equally bold graphic style.

Kazimir wrote some notes about the film below. If you have any questions for him, please ask them in the comments:

Being an expatriate, I was anxious to create a senior thesis film that reflected my affinity for the Midwest as well as some of the alienation I experienced there. I didn’t want to tackle a subject that I couldn’t rigorously explore in a ten-minute timespan, or that would make me seem out of my depth as an artist, such as war, religion and the construction of small motor vehicles. I decided on a small-scale, mostly dialogue-free piece, which would allow me greater focus on characters, in the tradition of Brad Bird’s “Family Dog”.

In the summer of 2007, I road tripped to Fairfield, Iowa to hear David Lynch speak. There, I saw Donovan performing “Mellow Yellow,” and immediately began creating concepts based on the song, mostly involving an awkward inter-generational crush, what Nabokov would have called a “May-December romance,” between two suburban neighbors. My original sketches resembled a David Lynch-looking auteur paired with a freckled, overdressed ten-year old girl. I wanted an odd couple who were pretty much doomed from the start, but I wanted the eventual heartbreak to still come as somewhat of a surprise.

To further push their unlikely coupling, I made the younger of the two a gay boy, and the adult, a straight divorcee. Angus and Teehan were born. Angus was based on a grouchier version of the Food Network’s Alton Brown, and Teehan a more feminine version of Hank Ketcham’s “Dennis” (which helped push the Wilson/Dennis angle of their relationship). I began storyboarding throughout summer of 2007, and began animation the next year. By the time I graduated, I had an 8-minute unpolished, inked pencil test with sound. In between its inception and my graduation, the story saw much strange iteration, including a talky, surreal version, grappling with Angus’s depression, and a version with aliens which only Teehan could see. I have Tom “Grandpa” Schroeder to thank for talking me out of most of these unnecessary additions, and Dave Novak to thank for keeping me to my sometimes unrealistic work schedule. I could not have asked for a more dedicated, honest pair of animation professors.

In February 2010, I finished adding color and backgrounds, giving the world of Artichoke Hearts the depth, detail and credence I had hoped for. The final product ended up being more of a comment of on alienation and the failure of intimacy than I had ever imagined! The one thing from the original version of the story I wish had stayed in the final cut was a slow pan-out from the gated community to reveal a barren post-apocalyptic wasteland littered with crashed airliners and destroyed malls at the end of the film, but I totally get the jarring reveal may have felt pretentious and uncalled for. I want to focus on creating more lumpy, volumetric characters in coming projects, having tired of the flatness of my style during the production of Artichoke Hearts, and now look to artists like Andrew Chesworth, Shane Prigmore, Tadahiro Uesugi, David O’Reilly and Rebecca Sugar (my heroine!) for inspiration.

Find out more about Kaz’s work at KazRocks.blogspot.com.


  • Seth

    That was an excellent short. Loved ever minute of it. Can’t wait to see what you have in store next.

  • celia

    This film feels like that good mini comic you find by the register of you local alternative book store. It’s sweet, funny, with a little bit of pain mixed in. Can’t say I’ve ever seen an animation deal with issues about a boy’s first gay crush. Very original!

  • Sandypants

    This is simply beautiful. I need to show all my friends!

  • Wayne

    This film really sticks in my mind. Sophisticated character design and backgrounds, tasteful use of music and sound, and a story line which is truly unique. I love the characters, and their worlds seem real. A beautiful slice of life.

  • http://kazrocks.blogspot.com Kazimir

    thank you so much, all of you! I’m glad to hear this felt real and moving for many of you. I’m just glad it comes off as somewhat poignant.

  • http://racattackforce.wordpress.com RacattackForce

    Great film: I loved every second of it. Just wish I could find the song Daisy May.

    • http://kazrocks.blogspot.com kazzer

      daisy may is a song by sugarplastic, on their album polly brown

      • http://racattackforce.wordpress.com RacattackForce

        Can’t find that album anywhere, though.