By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Official Selection at
Toronto International Film Festival (Sept 9-18)
Ottawa International Animation Festival (Sept 22-Oct 3)
imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival (Oct 19-24)
Please check links for showtimes
Anyone who has followed the media reports about the discovery of a mass grave on the grounds of a residential school in Kamloops, BC, may find Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics disturbing. Children from local tribes were plucked away from their families because someone thought it was best to teach them a different way of life. These places were operated by the Catholic Church, and it didn’t change hands until much later. The Canadian Government never knew what went on, and was left holding the bag.
This stop motion animated work by Terril Calder is evocative, powerful and moving. The story she constructed is an eerie look at what may have happened back then. Thankfully, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel in this tale.
In a white room, a very young girl is very alone. She’s in kindergarten and there are no other children around as the camera moves into a close-up of her colouring two drawings. One is of a character of the woods who tells her everything is beautiful about her Métis heritage. The other is a black and white drawing of Christ (as depicted when on the cross). Both come alive and leap off the page like a cut-out. The difference is visually telling. One accepts variety like the shifting of the seasons and the other is about the dual nature of man.
This tale about contrasts is beautiful in its construction. This young girl and her world are brought to three-dimensional life as fully realized puppets and set pieces. Her shadows are two-dimensional paper dolls. The imagery brings to mind the style from Studio Laika’s Coraline. This animator is showing what these vices and virtues look like in the eyes of a child trying to survive the Other World. As for which is more haunting or dream-like, I’d say this one wins by a mile.
The lady pop-up paper-doll says she’s created to sleep, perchance to dream (of fantastic places), and the holy figure breaks the train of thought to that of, “Ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause. There’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life.”
Going into analysis of Hamlet’s discourse would give away where I think The Hidden Island of Ethics is headed. It’s scary, but this girl is very brave as she travels down a path similar to Dante’s descent into Hell in Inferno. Both take warnings in heed. It all concerns the Seven Deadly Sins (Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Pride and Envy). In opposition and fruitful is on how she learns from her spirit guide about the Seven Sacred Teachings (Love, Respect, Wisdom, Courage, Truth, Honesty and Humility).
But I also think this creator takes a few elements from Ovid’s Metamorphoses to quickly trapeze through the trials she’s facing as a representative of her culture. The creation myth featured here is more in line with her native one, which sets the tone for the entirety of this short. We’re not sure what she’ll become, but I feel she’s safe, as long as she remains in that cocoon.
5 Stars out of 5
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