CHEATIN’ is the latest work from animation master Bill Plympton. If you’re in Toronto on the 15th of June, you’ll want to stop by and catch it at the Toronto Animation Arts Festival International. Hot on the heels of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, TAAFI is the natural extension to the festivities. But perhaps you’ll catch CHEATIN’ in Lawrence, Kansas or maybe Karkow, Poland. Check out the full screening list here.
Toronto Animation Arts Festival International – TAAFI – celebrates the many forms of animation from around the world, while supporting and nurturing the community that creates them. At TAAFI 2014 (June 13-16), you can immerse your senses in all things animation on Toronto’s Waterfront (Corus Quay & George Brown – Waterfront Campus)!
More details on the screening of CHEATIN’ at TAAFI follow:
I had the honor of speaking with both Brad Bernstein, the film’s director and writer, and Rick Cikowski, the film’s lead editor and lead animator. Both men expressed their love for Tomi Ungerer and provide insight into the making of this impressive documentary, distributed by First Run Features.
For me, I can appreciate what happened to Tomi Ungerer when I look at the iconic poster he created for “Doctor Strangelove.” That poster, much like his “Black Power, White Power” poster are forever part of one’s psyche. And yet, in America, Ungerer’s work in children’s books is not widely known today. That work is just as powerful and was just as well known in its day, as anything else he has created. Thanks to Phaidon, we have many of his great works being reprinted in the United States. But, for decades, it was as if he’d been wiped out of memory in America. How could that be? That is a big part of the fascinating story that unfolds in this documentary.
Tomi Ungerer is a great talent and, for a man who has had a lifelong battle with fear, he is a most courageous man. For someone who grew up under the horror of the Nazis, and went on to conquer the world of illustration in its heydey in New York City, that alone is remarkable. But going that far out, wasn’t far enough for Ungerer.
“Far Out Isn’t Far Enough” brings together a seamless narrative boiling down numerous hours of interviews with Tomi Ungerer, Jules Feiffer, the late great Maurice Sendak, as well as other notable figures like art director and critic Steven Heller. Throughout the film you are treated to very deftly purposed animation that strikes the right cord, whether humorous or somber.
As Brad Bernstein explains, the initial attraction to Tomi Ungerer was his spirited expressions like, “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough.” That really says it all. Ungerer is a man who speaks his mind and does it quite well. His life and work are a testament to a strong will and this documentary honors that spirit very well.
You can listen to the interview with Brad Bernstein and Rick Cikowski by clicking the link below:
And, as the say, tell your friends and spread the word about this documentary. You can visit the official site here and also follow on Facebook and Twitter.
Tomi Ungerer was a household name. He was the most popular children’s book illustrator in America. He is also a masterful artist of subversive and erotic art. That’s what got him into trouble within the children’s book community. His career was derailed. But he wasn’t. “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough” is a powerful documentary about a most remarkable man and artist. Tomi Ungerer’s life and career spans World War II, at the hands of the Nazis, into the high flying life of New York City in the “Mad Men” era of the ’50s and ’60s, and into the heart of the counterculture movement. It’s a life, not unlike Robert Crumb’s, full of explosive expression and heroic turns.
Director Brad Bernstein has brought into focus the life of Tomi Ungerer in a variety of ways. First and foremost, is Tomi Ungerer, who eloquently speaks his mind and is the guiding force throughout this film. It is his expressions, like “Don’t Hope, Cope” and “Expect The Unexpected,” that are used as chapter headings and repeated in various ways to draw out their meaning. Tomi’s life story is so compelling by itself too but, with the help of an impressive group of individuals, we hear his story told from many vantage points. This is a wonderfully structured documentary that alternates with grace between interview subjects and vivid use of animation (thanks to Brandon Dumlao, Alain Lores, and Rick Cikowski) that makes Tomi’s already powerful images jump out at you all the more.
We quickly take in Tomi Ungerer in the opening scenes. We see an older gentleman, with sad eyes and a mischievous smile, who has seen more of the world than has been good for him. He is also full of life and happy to joke around. But his comments can be cryptic: “I always have nightmares. I’m always being arrested in my dreams!” There is sadness and gaiety as he says this. He was once the most celebrated artist of children’s books in America. He was a rock star among illustrators. And then he disappeared.
Born in 1931 in Strasbourg, France, Ungerer and his family would come to know their Nazi neighbors all too well. Alsace, Strasbourg had only been French for about 300 years so its identity was split evenly Franco-German. This fractured identity would inform Ungerer’s life and his work. While under German occupation, it was forbidden to speak French and German culture prevailed. However, after the Allied victory, Ungerer’s German upbringing was a severe liability. The French, he found, treated him just as poorly as the Germans. And there was no regret by the French to burn German literature. It was very absurd, Ungerer concluded. Life was absurd.
At age 25, with only sixty dollars, Ungerer moved to America. He had always managed to cope and to prosper as an artist and so he would try to make a living from it in New York City. As luck would have it, Ungerer’s arrival in 1956 was a perfect time to break into the wildly lucrative world of illustration. Not only did he manage a foothold, he brought with him a whole new style that peeled away at conformity. The problem for Ungerer would be that, as he reacted to the times, he would just keep peeling away to the point that he crossed a line.
The musical score, by Nick Dei Rossi, dips into an ominous tone once Ungerer has come into his own and matured as an artist. He always loved the children’s book illustration he was known for but now he was reacting to the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the Sexual Revolution. His peers, artists like Maurice Sendak and Jules Fieffer, admired what he was doing. Both are interviewed extensively in this film and provide great insight. They both loved Ungerer. But there was nothing they could do when Ungerer met his Waterloo.
Ungerer’s life, post-America, is not a sad story. He did give up children’s book illustration for 25 years but he discovered a whole new life, a life with new challenges and old fears that needed to be overcome. We come to realize that there will always be a touch of fear in this man’s life but it’s a good kind of fear, the sort he can use as a challenge. He seems to already have come to terms with the fear of death. Even if it should turn out to be vast nothingness, he is encouraged that this will be an opportunity to fill the nothingness with something from his mind. In the end, he remains encouraged and eager to continue crossing a line, pushing the envelope. The Tomi Ungerer expression used for the film’s title, “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough,” proves to be his way of life.
“Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story” is currently in theaters. Be sure to visit the site here for details. If you’re in Seattle or Minneapolis, you can catch it this weekend at one of your Landmark Theatres. Check it out here.
And you can listen to my podcast interview with the director/writer and lead editor/animator of this dazzling documentary here.