Russian screenwriter and animator Anna Budanova’s 2016 short film Among the Black Waves is a spectacular work of animation that explores the various ways in which animated art can interact with the dynamism of the cinematic medium. Although the film’s runtime is just 11 minutes, Budanova manages to create something truly memorable with a powerful artistic statement behind it.
According to the filmmaker, the animation for Among the Black Waves was an expansion of a visual idea that she had: “The black soil and white skies in summer, and white soil and black skies in winter.” This chiaroscuro becomes an important visual theme in her film, painting a moral wasteland in black and white, where the most prominent colour is the red legacy of violence: blood. She based her narrative on an old Northern legend she came across which posited that people who drown undergo metempsychosis and become sea animals.
The film follows a hunter who sets his dog loose on one of these sea maidens, captures her and “tames” her so that she internalises the normative ideals of human civilisation. By revisiting this ancient folktale through subversive animation and presenting it to a modern audience, Budanova examines the violence that the ‘Other’ has been subjected to throughout history. Among the Black Waves invokes a multiplicity of interpretations, raising feminist questions and gently anticipating the apocalyptic consequences of the Anthropocene.
While the story that Budanova employs is a compelling one, the most fascinating element of Among the Black Waves is the animation itself. Primarily devoid of colour, the visual narrative mimics the aesthetic quality of chalk drawings on blackboards. Budanova used Japanese ink, black oil paint, oil pastel and gouache to create the unforgiving environment in the film, adding a surreal quality to the visuals and a dream-like volatility to any kind of movement. She drew inspiration from the German dancer Pina Bausch while figuring out a way to translate the various motions of the characters to the film itself.
Among the Black Waves received several awards and nominations at prestigious film festivals, including the coveted Grand Prix at the 2017 Brussels International Animation Film Festival.
Watch Anna Budanova’s award-winning short film, below.