The Flying Sailor The Flying Sailor

In this ongoing series, we profile the most interesting independent animation filmmakers working today — the artists who, through short films and other projects, change our ideas of what the medium can do.

This week’s subject is the Canadian duo of Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, whose films use relatable stories and characters – often taken from Canadian history – to deep dive into themes of chance encounters, random collisions, and the fragility of existence.

In a sentence: With echoes of Raymond Carver, Tilby and Forbis, armed with an assortment of mixed media techniques, eschew conventional stories for “slices of life” that ultimately tackle, with humor and compassion, the fragility of human existence.

Where to start: When the Day Breaks (1999). Ruby the pig’s routine jaunt to the grocery store takes an unexpected and tragic detour after a chicken she accidentally bumps into dies in a car accident moments later. The film is a touching, funny, and intimate work about getting back into gear after witnessing firsthand how fragile life truly is. The duo’s debut, it won over 40 awards, including a Cannes Short Film Palme D’or, the Grand Prix at Annecy, and was eventually nominated for the Best Short Film Oscar. When Cartoon Brew asked I Lost My Body director Jérémy Clapin to put together a piece for our The Animation that Changed Me series, he selected When The Day Breaks.

What to watch next: Wild Life (2011). A young remittance man (someone who is essentially paid to emigrate) is sent from England to the harsh Canadian Prairies where he attempts to become a rancher. Like When the Day Breaks, and even the duo’s most recent The Flying Sailor, Wild Life depicts a naïve character thrust into a harsh new reality that forever alters his life.

Other key works:  Strings (directed by Wendy Tilby, 1991) along with a couple of nifty commercial pieces for Colorado Lottery and United Airlines.

Influences: “Caroline Leaf, for her nuanced-short-story style; Yuri Norstein, because there’s no one like him before or since; and Igor Kovalyov for his amazing sense of timing and surrealism.”

Says: “All of our films are concerned with details—small resonant moments that add up to something ineffable. Whether it be the pleasure of a piece of buttered toast, the futility of a bullet shot into nothingness, a puff on a cigarette, the thump of a heart, the thought of a bug, or a glimpse of a comet, these are the ingredients; the stuff of life that is at once profound, fleeting, and utterly insignificant.”

Currently working on: The duo just finished the short, The Flying Sailor. The film is inspired by the apparently true story of a man who survived being blown a mile into the sky during the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

Chris Robinson

Chris Robinson is a writer and Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF). Robinson has authored thirteen books including Between Genius and Utter Illiteracy: A Story of Estonian Animation (2006), Ballad of a Thin Man: In Search of Ryan Larkin (2008), and Japanese Animation: Time Out of Mind (2010). He also wrote the screenplay for the award-winning animation short, Lipsett Diaries.