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 wonderfully offbeat and multi-talented Canadian artist Matthew Rankin.
In a paragraph: Working in animation, documentary, and feature film, the naturally eclectic Mr. Rankin consistently explores local, national, and international history with an eccentric and deadpan touch that is refreshingly and genuinely loving. Rankin finds gold in all spaces of life.
Where to start: Mynarski Death Plummet (2015). Imagine that Norman McLaren and Guy Maddin teamed up to tell a true story about a doomed WWII airman from Winnipeg.
What to watch next: Cattle Call (2004, co-directed with Mike Maryniuk). A bizarro, manic, and hilarious mixed-media animated documentary of sorts about the world of livestock auctioneering. A cult classic.
Other key works: The Tesla World Light (2017), I Dream of Driftwood (2008), The Twentieth Century (2019, live-action feature with animated elements)
Influences: “I was really obsessed with the Marx Brothers when I was a kid, especially Groucho, who I saw as total punk rock. In grade three, I carried a cigar around and went to school every day with a mustache and eyebrows painted on my flesh using my Mother’s eyebrow pencil. This was extremely irritating to the Winnipeg School Division Number 1, which swiftly mobilized a fleet of psychologists to beat that impulse out of me. But still today I can recite Duck Soup word for word and count Julius and Adolph Marx among my cinematic parents. In animation, Winnipeg’s own Richard Condie is enormous and primordial for me. Getting Started is a masterwork of comic timing and The Big Snit is perhaps the first movie I ever saw which was more than just entertainment for me. In all the sawing, eye-shaking, bathtub vacuuming, and nuclear war, I could so clearly identify the pathologies, frustrations, and delusions of the very messed-up world of Winnipeg that surrounded me. And then of course I owe great debts to Norman McLaren, Evelyn Lambart, Guy Maddin, John Paizs, Oskar Fischinger, Hans Richter, Takashi Ito, etc.”
Says: “I grew up in a city in central Canada, the geographic center of North America in fact, called Winnipeg. As a teenager, I started to do animation. I worked for Sesame Street for a few years, propagandistic animated pieces about the letter A and elbows and stuff. I was sort of involved in the independent film community in Winnipeg, then I went to university in Quebec. I studied history and while I was studying I continued to make films and draw and at a certain point I just came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to be an academic; I had to commit to art-making. So for the last ten years, I’ve just been doing art full-time.”
Currently working on: “Too many things all at once, but I am particularly excited for the next installment in my Canadian Leaders Trilogy: a psychedelic, found-footage collage blending animation and glitch-art about the political vocation of [former Canadian Prime Minister] Brian Mulroney. Production begins at the very great and precious National Film Board this summer and hopefully will wrap sometime before I am dead. Can’t wait to get started!”
Pictured at top: Mynarski Death Plummet