As movie titles go, Slocum at Sea with Himself hits the play-on-words nail on the head. It is the name of an exceptional work of animation created lovingly and painstakingly by award-winning husband and wife team Paul and Sandra Fierlinger. It is featured in the lineup of this year’s Animix, International Animation, Comics & Caricature Festival, which will take place at its regular berth of the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, August 2 to 6.
It comes as quite a surprise when you settle down to Slocum at Sea with Himself to note that you have two hours of animation viewing ahead of you. But as the storyline unfolds, you find yourself drawn deeper and deeper into the action. The film is based on the real life story of Joshua Slocum, a Canada-based American seafarer who was the first person to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly. Although his voyage took place at the end of the 19th century, years before the advent of the Internet, people around the world monitored Slocum’s three-year progress in his boat, Spray, as he made his way from Boston to Gibraltar, past Africa to South America, and onward through the Pacific Ocean and back to Newport, Rhode Island.
The 80-year-old Fierlinger, a long-time resident of Philadelphia, who made it to the US in the late 1960s after escaping from Czechoslovakia as communism began to dig in its claws, is aware of the fact that it may be difficult for many people to get through a two-hour animated movie.
“The film is not really made for theatrical screening,” Fierlinger admits. “It was really invented for watching on a computer.”
Daunting viewing experience notwithstanding, Slocum is a beautifully crafted work, and it grows on you as the movie progresses. It is also clearly a labor of love; the Fierlingers took six years to complete it, betwixt other work.
It is an aesthetically appealing work, with great attention to detail. The story is told in a lyrical, and sometimes whimsical, fashion, with some lovely comedic slots here and there. I noted that there were some subtle avant-garde vignettes that seemed to have little to do with the unfolding storyline.
“Like what?” asked Fierlinger asked.
I recalled a longer-thanexpected shot of a rope end on Slocum’s craft.
“Ah, that’s because this is a film for sailing people,” said Fierlinger. “I wanted to make sure I had all the details accurate and show them things,” he laughs.
Slocum may very well be intended for people who know about boats, but there is nothing technical about the film. It feeds off the 19th-century sailor’s account of his three-year globetrotting pioneering odyssey in his book Sailing Alone around the World. The Fierlingers delved into the tome and ran with the story, spending years drawing and painting the tale, which is deftly enhanced by an eclectic soundtrack written by Shay Lynch.
Fierlinger was initially drawn to Slocum’s story by their common love of sailing. Although the filmmaker is by no means a professional seafarer, he describes himself as “a self-taught sailor of marginal skills.” He notes, however, that he and the intrepid 19th-century captain do have at least one thing in common.
“I did something I had never attempted before: I was solo sailing our 30-foot Islander [boat] into her home port and had noticed that there was no one in sight.”
The amateur mariner went for broke.
“I decided to sail her directly into her slip without engine or crew. I turned her about directly into the onshore breeze, locked the wheel, dropped both sails as she lost speed on due course, and casually, letting her first just kiss the slip, I stepped off the deck to clear her home… done. But darn, if there was nobody there to have seen it!”
It was a maneuver of which Slocum would have approved.
“This video [clip from the movie] shows how, 100 years earlier, captain Joshua Slocum pulled a similar turnabout in his freshly restored oyster sloop, Spray.”
Slocum is principally about the incredible sea voyage but also takes in some of the brass tacks reality of Slocum’s life, including some decidedly distasteful episodes. I wondered whether Fierlinger had any negative comments from his target audience about that.
“None of the sailing people who have seen the movie have complained about that,” he says gratefully, although adding that one viewer did point out that he got a sailing technicality wrong.
“Hopefully, there aren’t any more sailing mistakes in the film,” he says with a wry smile.
If they can stay the two-hour course, viewers at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque stand to enjoy a singular filmic experience that traverses expansive visual, cultural and emotional tracts through a sense of biting loneliness, blissful joy, the vastness of the open sea, the ferocity of the elements and some delightful repartee.
Elsewhere on this year’s Animix roster there is a provocative film called Hitler’s Folly by renowned animator Bill Plympton. The work is based on the premise that the Nazi leader was accepted by the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts – which, in reality, rejected him. That did not, unfortunately, prevent Hitler from creating the Nazi regime, but it did divert much of his time and attention to his efforts to become the world’s greatest animator.
As always, the festival’s five-day program takes in plenty of junior entertainment and hands-on activities and exhibitions, including a show of caricatures based on the world’s longest-running animated TV series, The Simpsons
. One of the original writers of the series, Mike Reiss, will present master classes and workshops during the festival.For tickets and more information about the Animix festival: (03) 606- 0800 and www.animix.fest.co.il.