Know Your Indie Filmmaker: Khris Cembe
In this 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.
Our subject this week is the self-taught artist Khris Cembe. He cut his teeth on the Spanish web series Cálico Electrónico, before directing his own films and launching a long-running collaboration with director Alberto Vázquez.
In a sentence: A skilled animator and draftsman, Cembe has parlayed his talents into a couple of short films of his own, which play on genre conventions yet quiver with a disquieting ambience that’s all his.
Where to start: Soy una Tumba (2018), a clammy psychological thriller set on the scraggy coastline of Galicia, the north-western Spanish province from which Cembe hails. A friendless boy lives with his father, a sea captain in an area known for drug smuggling. Past hurts and present conspiracies bind them in a vow of silence — the film’s title translates roughly as “mum’s the word.” The sensitive animation and atmospheric landscapes speak the feelings they can’t express. The film was deservedly nominated for a Goya.
What to watch next: Viaje a Pies (2015), in which a lone traveler embarks on a train journey that doesn’t go as planned. The story, which mixes elements of noir, horror, and Westerns, is a tad sophomoric, but the film hints at the graphic ingenuity that will become more apparent in Soy una Tumba: watch what happens to the art direction when the stench of a fellow passenger becomes overwhelming.
Other works: Cembe has only directed these two films to date, but as an animator he is more prolific. He is the go-to animation director for fellow Galician Alberto Vázquez, working on the feature Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (2015) and short Homeless Home (2020), among other projects.
Influences: David Lynch, Michael Haneke, François Truffaut
Says: “I watch very few animated films, to free myself from influences.”
Currently working on: Unicorn Wars, a new feature from Vázquez, for which Cembe returns as animation director. The somber satirical fantasy is described as “Apocalypse Now meets Bambi” — need we say more? Watch the trailer, which we exclusively premiered, below:
Image at top: “Soy Una Tumba”