The Austin Chronicle

In Space


By Marrit Ingman, August 6, 2004, Screens

There's more to AtomFilms than "This Land," the satirical short so broadly bipartisan that it's been touted by unlikely bedfellows Fox News and (and threatened with a lawsuit by Ludlow Music, which owns the rights to the Woody Guthrie song). Not to dismiss JibJab brothers Gregg and Evan Spiridellis' funny Flash film, but Atom, a San Francisco-based entertainment distributor formed from a merger with, is worth a closer look, even with the lengthy ads that precede each selection viewable at

Some of the offerings are the expected juvenilia: Joe Cartoon's flaming fart jokes, interactive games, Star Wars fan films, Darren Walsh's technically accomplished but puerile Angry Kid series. Naturally, the king of scatological animation, Bill Plympton, is featured prominently.

The music videos are hit or miss. Bob Schneider's self-helmed clip for "Come With Me Tonight" features surreal cut-and-paste images, while Air's "Surfing on a Rocket" is a melange of military-industrial iconography set to a Casiotone beat. The standouts are Finnish rockers Lodger, whose stick-figure animations (by director Hannes Hayha) are wryly understated and shockingly pessimistic.

There are a few chuckles in "Surviving the Island," a live-action comedy short that follows reality-TV queen Jenna Lewis from Pulau Tiga to Manhattan, where she attempts to fit into the office milieu while eating rat-on-a-stick. (Curiously, Shannon Elizabeth co-produces and co-stars, fully dressed.)

Of particular note is the documentary section, a wealth of oddball slices-of-life and heartfelt statements. Some of the material is familiar: You'll find Bill Cote's "Seventeen Seconds to Sophie," the time-lapse chronicle of pregnancy and birth referenced in Amélie. And the 14-minute short that prefigured Eric Saperston's The Journey – which appeared in its feature-length version at last year's South by Southwest – is also included. Other notables include "Old Glory," a seven-minute exploration of how the image of the United States flag is deployed by advertisers and individuals. Director Andy Schocken, then a student at Stanford University, shows promise by counterpointing powerful imagery and music for an ironic effect. On the lighter side, Normal Behavior: Episode 1 – Les Cohen" follows the terpsichorean dream of a portly investment banker whose exuberant performances disrupt New York Yankees games. These labors of love give AtomFilms staying power beyond the short-lived Internet fads and election-year yuks.

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