Negative Space – A Life in a Suitcase

in 41st Annecy International Animation Film Festival

by Luk Menten

The relationship between a son and his father is sometimes expressed through apparently small things. In the short animation film Negative Space (5’30”, France, 2017) by Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata, a father who frequently goes on business trips initiates his son in the art of the perfectly packed suitcase. It creates a bond between the two.

Our jury at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival 2017 gave the FIPRESCI prize to this film for the subtle and warm treatment of the subject. Made in a very efficient way, its assets include the beautiful puppet animation and stop motion, the perfect pace of the storytelling, the delicate irony, the voice of Albert Birney reading the prose poem by Ron Koertge and the final sentence which provides the sweet and sour point of the story. There is nothing superfluous in this film.

For ten years now, Max Porter (USA) and Ru Kuwahata (Japan), based in Baltimore, USA, have been working together. They have directed and produced TV commercials and music videos but also independent shorts. This is their fourth ‘auteur’ short animation film, and its screening in the shorts competition at the Annecy festival was its world premiere.

During a conversation with the two filmmakers, Max Porter told me that the Ron Koertge poem they used “is rather a very very short story”. “The text is very direct and the voice-over narration uses almost exactly the wording of the poem. Part of the reason we chose this poem to work with was because of the last line. Surprisingly, the reactions to our film are not always the same. When we screened the film earlier for some audiences – not in competition – it was very silent, nobody laughed and people talked to us about the last line afterwards. And then yesterday (during the first screening at the Annecy festival) it got a big laugh.” He agrees with my view that rather than being funny the ending of the film places everything in another context.

Talking about the technique, Ru Kuwahata explained: “Actually this is the first time we did puppets and full stop motion while our previous films are a mixture of stop motion and CG.” Negative Space is a French film. Was it difficult for the US based couple to find a French producer? “Many production companies told us this is impossible, but then we met Nidia Santiago and Edwina Liard from Ikki Films and they said it’s not so difficult, we can do that, OK. They worked with international directors before, so they knew the process.” Asked how long it took to make their film, Ru Kawahata answered: “The production took exactly nine months. And we probably spent a whole year finding a producer, getting the funding and doing all of the development”.

Edited by Yael Shuv