On this day in 1910, Karel Zeman was born in Ostroměř, in what was formerly known as Austria-Hungary. Zeman was an early pioneer of directing fantasy films using techniques such as forced perspective, stop motion, and other live action animation tricks to create otherwise impossible to film sequences, earning him the monicker “The Czech Méliès” (after the French film maker and illusionist who pioneered most of the special effects technique that early cinema relied on).
Zeman’s career began in advertising, with his first endeavor in the medium taking place on the set of an advertisement for French soap. Shortly after, he began working as a special effects hand in collectives and various productions before making a short animated film with his brother. His subsequent short animated films gained recognition through the Czech Republic, and earned him enough notoriety that in 1952, Zeman made his first feature length film The Treasure of Bird Island, procuring enough accolades to establish the film maker in a career making feature films until the 1980’s.
So influential was Zeman’s craft, that film makers and animators like Jan Švankmajer, Tim Burton, Ray Harryhausen, Wes Anderson, and Terry Gilliam have all claimed to be heavily inspired by his work, with Gilliam once stating “He did what I’m still trying to do, which is to try and combine live action with animation." In order to fully appreciate Zeman’s work, we’ve enclosed a link to part one of a video about the techniques he used, from a special behind the scenes documentary vantage point. The clip shows some very simple techniques which when applied properly can give fantastic results, even for independent film makers. [ The Magic World of Karel Zeman ]
US actress Uma Thurman with Belgium director Joachim Lafosse,
Egyptian director Mohamed Diab, French actor Reda Kateb and Czech
artistic director Karel Och attend the “Un Certain Regard” Jury photocall at the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, on May 18, 2017.
“Beatriz at Dinner” / U.S.A. (Director: Miguel Arteta, Screenwriter: Mike White) — Beatriz, an immigrant from a poor town in Mexico, has drawn on her innate kindness to build a career as a health practitioner. Doug Strutt is a cutthroat, self-satisfied billionaire. When these two opposites meet at a dinner party, their worlds collide and neither will ever be the same. Cast: Salma Hayek, John Lithgow. World Premiere
“Before I Fall” / U.S.A. (Director: Ry Russo-Young, Screenwriter: Maria Maggenti) — Samantha Kingston has everything. Then, everything changes. After one fateful night, she wakes up with no future at all. Trapped into reliving the same day over and over, she begins to question just how perfect her life really was. Cast: Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Logan Miller, Kian Lawley, Elena Kampouris, Diego Boneta. World Premiere
“The Big Sick” / U.S.A. (Director: Michael Showalter, Screenwriters: Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani) — Based on the real-life courtship: Pakistan-born comedian Kumail and grad student Emily fall in love, but they struggle as their cultures clash. When Emily contracts a mysterious illness, Kumail must navigate the crisis with her parents and the emotional tug-of-war between his family and his heart. Cast: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano, Anupam Kher. World Premiere
“Call Me by Your Name” / Italy, France (Director: Luca Guadagnino, Screenwriters: James Ivory, Luca Guadagnino) — The sensitive and cultivated Elio, only child of the American-Italian-French Perlman family, is facing another lazy summer at his parents’ villa in the beautiful and languid Italian countryside when Oliver, an academic who has come to help with Elio’s father’s research, arrives. Cast: Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois. World Premiere
“The Discovery” / U.S.A. (Director: Charlie McDowell, Screenwriters: Charlie McDowell, Justin Lader) — In a world where the afterlife has just been scientifically proven—resulting in millions of people taking their own lives to “get there”—comes this love story. Cast: Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Robert Redford, Jesse Plemons, Riley Keough, Ron Canada. World Premiere
“Fun Mom Dinner” / U.S.A. (Director: Alethea Jones, Screenwriter: Julie Rudd) — Four women, whose kids attend the same preschool class, get together for a “fun mom dinner.” When the night takes an unexpected turn, these unlikely new friends realize they have more in common than just marriage and motherhood. Together, they reclaim a piece of the women they used to be. Cast: Katie Aselton, Toni Collette, Bridget Everett, Molly Shannon, Adam Scott, Adam Levine. World Premiere
“The Incredible Jessica James” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Jim Strouse) — Jessica James, an aspiring NYC playwright, is struggling to get over a recent breakup. She sees a light at the end of the tunnel when she meets the recently divorced Boone. Together, they discover how to make it through the tough times while realizing they like each other—a lot. Cast: Jessica Williams, Chris O’Dowd, Keith Stanfield, Noël Wells. World Premiere. CLOSING NIGHT FILM
“The Last Word” / U.S.A. (Director: Mark Pellington, Screenwriter: Stuart Ross Fink) — Harriett is a retired businesswoman who tries to control everything around her. When she decides to write her own obituary, a young journalist takes up the task of finding out the truth, resulting in a life-altering friendship. Cast: Shirley MacLaine, Amanda Seyfried, Anne Heche, Thomas Sadoski, Philip Baker Hall. World Premiere
“Manifesto” / Germany (Director and screenwriter: Julian Rosefeldt) — Can history’s art manifestos apply to contemporary society? An homage to the twentieth century’s most impassioned artistic statements and innovators, from Futurists and Dadaists to Pop Art, Fluxus, Lars von Trier and Jim Jarmusch, this series of reenactments performed by Cate Blanchett explores these declarations’ performative components and political significance. Cast: Cate Blanchett. World Premiere
“Mudbound” / U.S.A. (Director: Dee Rees, Screenwriters: Virgil Williams, Dee Rees, Hillary Jordan) — In the post– World War II South, two families are pitted against a barbaric social hierarchy and an unrelenting landscape as they simultaneously fight the battle at home and the battle abroad. This epic pioneer story is about friendship, heritage and the unending struggle for and against the land. Cast: Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Garrett Hedlund, Jonathan Banks. World Premiere
“The Polka King” / U.S.A. (Director: Maya Forbes, Screenwriters: Maya Forbes, Wally Wolodarsky) — Based on the remarkable true story of the world’s only known Polka Ponzi scheme, this mix of comedy and tragedy is about Jan Lewan, a polish immigrant who believed in the American Dream. But with big dreams came big mistakes for the man who became the “King of Pennsylvania Polka.” Cast: Jack Black, Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman, Jacki Weaver, J.B. Smoove. World Premiere
“Rebel in the Rye” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Danny Strong) — This portrait of the life and mind of reclusive author J.D. Salinger goes from the bloody front lines of World War II to his early rejections and the PTSD-fueled writer’s block that led to his iconic novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Spacey, Sarah Paulson, Zoey Deutch, Hope Davis, Victor Garber. World Premiere
“Rememory” / U.S.A., Canada (Director: Mark Palansky, Screenwriters: Michael Vukadinovich, Mark Palansky) — A famed inventor found dead. A machine that can record people’s memories. A man haunted by the past. This noir mystery explores the ways in which memory defines the present. Cast: Peter Dinklage, Julia Ormond, Martin Donovan, Anton Yelchin, Henry Ian Cusick, Evelyne Brochu. World Premiere
“Sidney Hall” / U.S.A. (Director: Shawn Christensen, Screenwriters: Shawn Christensen, Jason Dolan) — Over the course of 12 years, and three stages of life, Sidney Hall falls in love, writes the book of a generation and then disappears without a trace. Cast: Logan Lerman, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Michelle Monaghan, Nathan Lane, Margaret Qualley. World Premiere
“Where is Kyra?” / U.S.A. (Director: Andrew Dosunmu, Screenwriters: Andrew Dosunmu, Darci Picoult) — Pushed to the brink after losing her job, a woman struggles to survive. As the months pass and her troubles deepen, she embarks on a perilous and mysterious journey that threatens to usurp her life. Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Kiefer Sutherland. World Premiere
“Wilson” / U.S.A. (Director: Craig Johnson, Screenwriter: Daniel Clowes) — Wilson, a lonely, neurotic and hilariously honest middle-aged misanthrope, reunites with his estranged wife and gets a shot at happiness when he learns he has a teenage daughter he has never met. In his uniquely outrageous and slightly twisted way, he sets out to connect with her. Cast: Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Judy Greer. World Premiere
“Wind River” / U.S.A. (Director and screenwriter: Taylor Sheridan) — An FBI agent teams with the town’s veteran game tracker to investigate a murder that occurred on a Native American reservation. Cast: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Jon Bernthal. World Premiere
Everyone loves Alice In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s timeless story about how if small children eat random things and chase animals into confined spaces, magical adventures ensue. But Alice, Czech director Jan Svankmajer’s 1988 adaptation, is by far the nuttiest, most extreme take on the fable.
For one thing, rather than a cartoon or character actor hard-up for a paycheck, the white rabbit ofAlice is an actual taxidermied animal, necromanced back to life using stop-motion. In the movie, the rabbit springs to life, rips the nails out of his paws, and drains the stuffing from his chest. Try showing this to your kids and see if they want to celebrate Easter ever again.
Also, in this version he’s a scissor-wielding nut with a penchant for decapitation.
Seemingly because the director wanted to limit himself to making a movie with only the contents of a serial killer’s garage for props, we also get characters made up of creepy dolls, animal skulls, and a caterpillar that’s a sock puppet with actual dentures shoved in its mouth.
It’s increasingly rare to see stop-motion animation outside of children’s programming, but Japanese husband-and-wife duo Makoto Takano and Ayako Oda (@moogabooga_animation) celebrate the style with their adult-friendly, intricately crafted shorts. “In a way, stop-motion is artisanal work — if you don’t keep moving your hands then they go blunt, just like a craftsman’s tools.”
Drawing inspiration from Japanese mythological monsters like the long-nosed Tengu, their unique brand of eerie is tempered by a childlike atmosphere of innocence. “I first got into the genre through the Czech film director Jan Švankmajer when I was a high school student,” Makoto says. “His work is quite grotesque, and it was a big influence.”