Style gets substantive

Digital filmmaker puts his imprint on feature-length film

Though his short films (including I Have Seen the Future and 5 Hole: Tales of Hockey Erotica ) have catapulted Cam Christiansen into the international spotlight the Calgary digital filmmaker has always been interested in longer projects. Indeed in thinking about the challenges of someday making his own feature-length animation Christiansen developed his signature style — one that has since garnered his short films wide acclaim.

“The way I work comes out of limitations” says Christiansen. “The problem for me was if I wanted to make a longer full-length film assuming that I’d never get any money — which was my assumption at the beginning — how would I go about potentially doing something in a larger format that could keep that artistic vision?”

So he started closely examining the motion-capture and green-screen technologies used in movies such as Sin City and 300 . How could he create something of that calibre on a lunch-money budget — and with an animation team of one? “Inadvertently I stumbled onto things that have been creatively more innovative than I would have done (otherwise)” he says. “Those limitations in a way caused me to develop something that was a bit more unusual.”

What he developed was a style of animation (Christiansen prefers the term digital filmmaking) that you have to check out for yourself to understand: Shifting dreamy but lifelike in constant motion and with a visual malleability that complements comedy as well as it does poetry.

Suddenly I Have Seen the Future an oddball comedic short in collaboration with local singer-songwriter and friend Kris Demeanor was getting the nod from festivals around the world including the Toronto and Sundance international film festivals. This year it also screened at the 2010 Expo in Shanghai. “It was something we were just going to do for fun” he says unwaveringly humble. “We got a little bit of money from Bravo!FACT and I thought ‘Oh it’s amazing I’m gonna be on Bravo’ and I thought that would be the end of it honestly. I never thought it would take off like that.”

But take off it did and his subsequent shorts — including among others the aforementioned 5 Hole: Tales of Hockey Erotica based on the book by Dave Bidini and the play by One Yellow Rabbit and The Real Place about Alberta playwright John Murrell — have made him one of the most important emerging filmmakers in Canada.

Christiansen has finally had his chance to do an extensive project with The Wall a feature-length digital film currently in development with acclaimed English screenwriter David Hare (The Hours The Reader ) about Israel’s West Bank barrier. The Wall’ s story is explicitly told from an outsider’s perspective (based on David Hare’s own experiences) and is targeted largely at western audiences. “I think in general most westerners have no idea what’s going on there in a lot of ways” he says. “So in a way I’m trying to be a bit of a conduit for drawing other people into the discussion.”

“It really relates to all of our lives whether you know it or not” he continues. “So many global policies are influenced by problems that are happening (in the Middle East). Even down to security you find in the airport — it’s all related in so many ways to what’s going on there. So it affects us whether we know it or not.”

As part of this weekend’s Giraf Independent Animation Festival Christiansen will be talking about the Art of the Animated Documentary at the Quickdraw Animation Screening Room. The presentation will include a discussion of his innovative use of motion-capture and green-screen technologies as well as a screening of The Real Place and several other excerpts.