Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase

History, Mystery, & Odyssey, a new documentary about a half-dozen Portland-based animators, screened at the city’s Cinema 21 over the weekend.

The documentary is structured as a series of interviews with the six filmmakers: Joan Gratz, Jim Blashfield, Joanna Priestley, Rose Bond, Chel White, and Zak Margolis. It was made by British filmmaker Martin Cooper.

Gratz won an Oscar for her 1992 short, Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase. Blashfield directed music videos for Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, and Talking Heads. Priestley has directed, animated, and produced 32 films, including the abstract animated feature North of Blue. Bond’s films have played in major festivals such as Sundance and her architectural animation installations have appeared around the world. White is a Rockefeller Fellow whose films have screened at SXSW and Annecy. And Margolis’s animation can be seen in the musical documentary A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff.

Although several of the directors have strong commercial resumes, the documentary focuses more on the personal aspects of animation that motivate them rather than festival appearances, awards, or financial remuneration. Subjects discuss their favored techniques, the works that inspire them, and the mutability of the art form. In the film, several of the filmmakers even challenge how we define animation in a rapidly changing technological landscape. Aside from the individual narratives, the film asks why there is such an incredible wealth of animation talent in the City of Roses.

Next stop for History, Mystery, & Odyssey is the Ottawa International Animation Festival, where it will screen on Thursday, September 21, and Friday, September 22.

Pictured at top: Joan Gratz’s Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase