I’m glad we haven’t compiled our year-end list of favorites yet because last weekend I encountered one of the best shorts I’ve seen in a long time: Jason Carpenter’s The Renter.
The film snuck up on me. I only learned about its existence after the filmmaker emailed me a few days ago inviting me to preview it on-line. The Renter is currently nominated for an Annie Award. It’s perhaps a long shot against formidable competitors that include big-budget CG shorts from Pixar and Warner Bros. and an entry from perennial indie Bill Plympton, but there’s no question in my mind which of the nominees is the most emotionally captivating, artistically innovative, and viscerally beautiful. The Renter is certainly the one that will remain with me for the longest time.
Before we proceed further, here’s the trailer:
The Renter transports viewers into a rustic American landscape. Water towers and farmhouses standing in stoic isolation, lonely stretches of two-lane roads, and trains inching across rolling fields are images that will feel instantly familiar to anyone who grew up in certain rural regions of the United States. This Americana backdrop frames a story about the often overwhelming experiences of childhood. Carpenter masterfully builds the tension in his dialogue-less film while subtly revealing his young character’s feelings and experiences. He avoids filmic cliches of heroes and villains instead focusing on the humanity of the story.
The animation style and background paintings in The Renter exhibit uncommon grace and spontaneity, all the more surprising considering the short was created entirely within the computer. Carpenter’s use of color, limited in palette but rich in tone and texture, is pure visual poetry. His expert use of cinematographic techniques (staging, pacing, match cuts, and light and shadow) conceal any hints that this is his first professional short.
I conducted an interview via e-mail with Jason earlier this week. We discussed the film’s long path to completion, his personal history, how he created the film, and how he supported himself financially while making the short.
AMID AMIDI: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? Where did you go to school? I was surprised to read on the film’s site that this was your first film because it looks like you’ve been making them for years. Have you done a lot of animation before?
JASON CARPENTER: Well, let’s see . . . my name’s Jason, my brother calls me Breamis, and I grew up in Greensboro, NC. I went to undergrad at the College of Design at NC State and got a graduate degree in Experimental Animation from CalArts. Yeah, The Renter is my first film. I’ve worked professionally in animation for a while–for TV, other people’s films, theme parks, museums, and teaching–but this is the first film I’ve made all on my own.
AA: Was there any specific filmmaker or films that inspired you to pursue animation as a career?
JC: This might sound funny, but they were all painters. I couldn’t even name them all. Some of my favorites are Egon Schiele, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Paula Rego, and the German Expressionists. I love image making and the texture of paint. I think I went into animation because I could make those paintings move.