Oscar nominee ‘Wild Life’ redefines Wild West genre

“Our film calls itself a Western, and we always laugh a little bit about the contrast between our film and the concept of a Western as we all see it in American movies,” says Amanda Forbis of “Wild Life,” a 13-minute film currently nominated for Best Animated Short at the Oscars.

Written and directed by Forbis and her animating partner Wendy Tilby, it tells the story of a remittance man, one of a class of Englishmen who struggled to make a life for themselves in the Canadian frontier at the turn of the 20th century. “They were infatuated a little bit with the cowboy culture,” says Tilby of the ill-fated expatriates. “There were in a sense victims of the [British] Empire and their hubris. It wasn’t really their fault. They just weren’t equipped.”

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The film was made using a combination of traditional and computer techniques: animated with Flash and then hand-painted, frame by frame, to evoke the texture of the western Canadian landscape. But computer technology is “a double edged sword,” says Forbis, “because even though it’s so much more efficient and we’d never go back, you can also … try to fix every single detail, and for about the last several months of the production that’s what we did … That kind of relentless drive to get it perfect can be a tyranny.”

The film was produced by the National Film Board of Canada, a government-run organization that supports art film projects, documentaries, and animation. “It’s a fantastic thing because we’re freed up to be more creative and less involved in the marketing and publicity … It’s a wonderful thing for us.” The NFB this year boasts two films in the running for Best Animated Short; the company also produced “Dimanche.” They also produced Forbis and Tilby’s previous nominated short, “When the Day Breaks” (1999).

Finding such support for short film is invaluable in a marketplace where there is less attention paid to short film projects. Says Forbis, “I think fundamentally it’s the fact that there’s no natural venue for short films. There’s getting to be more venues … through the internet, but otherwise it’s historically been really hard to see and I think because of that they’re not in people’s consciousness and don’t get taken as seriously as we think they deserve to.”

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A wider audience is able to find “Wild Life” as of this past weekend, when ShortsHD and Magnolia Pictures began distributing the Oscar-nominated documentary, live-action, and animated shorts to 200 theaters across the country. The shorts program, which has run since 2005, last year grossed $1.35 million nationwide. The nominated shorts will also be available on iTunes and Movies On Demand starting on February 21.

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