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GOCRITIC! Animest 2022

GoCritic! Review: Do Not Feed the Pigeons


- Mădălina Buțulan recognises Antonin Niclass' BAFTA-winning film as an excellent pedagogical tool

GoCritic! Review: Do Not Feed the Pigeons
Do Not Feed the Pigeons by Antonin Niclass

Do not feed the pigeons is a student film directed by Antonin Niclass (UK, 2021), a Swiss filmmaker at The National Film & Television School in the UK, which screened in the International Competition of the recent Animest gathering in Bucharest. The film has already earned itself an impressive reputation, having won the BAFTA for Best British Animation and being included in The New Yorker's Screening Room.

The film is set inside of a small, dirty station where exhausted commuters are waiting for a bus that never seems to come. An unmistakeable feeling of weariness and melancholy envelops them: a drunk guy, dressed as Batman, probably on his way from a party, who can barely stand on his feet and is apparently causing distress to an old lady; a mother who carries on typing on her phone as her baby cries, bothering a businessman in a crumpled suit who can barely keep his eyes open; a muscular, distraught-looking youngster with a cat in a carrier, probably coming straight from a vet’s; and a homeless man in a sleeping bag who must take shelter in this station on many a night.

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In this cold and depressing place, an unexpected thing happens: a flock of pigeons suddenly taking flight inside the station creates a connection between the solitary travellers. For a moment, all these separate, lonely people become a sort of a community, joined together by this surprising spectacle.

As a stop-frame animator, Antonin has experimented with different textures and materials for his characters. He has combined stop-animation with a flat-drawn design and allowed these 2D puppets - which look as if they're made of pieces of rough cloth - to move within the 3D space. The technical details are spectacular because everything has been made from scratch: the pigeons don’t move as one single element, they have been drawn and animated individually. They’re made of paper, but on screen they look far more substantial, almost as if the material used were felt or wool. This exciting combination of animation techniques culminates in the flight scene, which is filmed from a pigeon's perspective and created with a GoPro inside the set.

Pigeons are often thought of as "flying rats" and Antonin uses this idea to create a sublime atmosphere through an antithesis between the beauty of their tandem flight and the sad and dirty places which we tend to associate them with. Whilst identifying these analogies, I immediately thought about how parents might turn Antonin's animation into a lesson about empathy, notably not judging others on their appearance. This short is an invitation to encourage your kids to accept and respect others’ ways of being by trying to understand them and seeing the situation from their perspective.

Moreover, this film might also be used to encourage children’s creativity, especially since the mix of styles makes this animation stand out from what they might be used to seeing on TV or on streaming platforms. All this means that Do Not Feed the Pigeons is an excellent tool for educating children. Besides offering them a different kind of cartoon, it teaches them that shared experiences can pull a group of lonely strangers together, emphasising the point that, in the end, we’re all humans.

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