TORONTO – “The Cat Came Back” animator Cordell Barker is back.
And he’s hitting the prestigious Cannes Film Festival with his latest short, “Runaway.”
The nine-minute piece is about a driverless train that careens over bumpy tracks, its passengers oblivious to impending disaster. When the train breaks down, a class struggle ensues.
Barker says he’s amazed the short was accepted at Cannes, noting it was far from finished when “a really hideous rough assembly” was sent in for consideration roughly three weeks ago.
“And amazingly enough, they accepted it,” Barker exclaimed Friday from Montreal where he was putting the final touches on the National Film Board production.
“It just blew me away, because I kept saying: ‘They’re not going to accept this, this is just ridiculous. I’ve basically shot myself in the foot with this assembly.’ And they accepted it.”
“Runaway” will screen May 15 in the competition shorts category, which includes both animated and live action films. It’ll be pitted against offerings from Croatia, France, Germany-U.K., Paraguay and Sweden.
“My perception was Cannes was more of the arty, introspective kind of work and that’s just not me,” Barker says. “And then I just heard this morning that not only was it accepted, it was the only one accepted, the only Canadian thing, it just shocked me.”
Barker is also set to bring “Runaway” to the International Animation Film Festival in Annecy, France in June.
It’s just the third short by the 52-year-old Barker, also behind the Oscar-nominated films “The Cat Came Back,” in 1988, and “Strange Invaders,” from 2002.
Barker says his sparse oeuvre is simply due to a painstakingly slow work ethic.
“I guess I obsess to a fault,” says the Winnipeg-born filmmaker, who also does commercial work for clients that have included Coke, Nike and the phone company Bell Canada.
“It’s hard to let it go and then you get that completion anxiety the longer you spend at it and then you feel like you’ve got to commit even more time. I’d be fascinated to see what I would do (if) I gave myself a one-year schedule.”
Barker’s seminal short, “The Cat Came Back” took six years to make, while “Strange Invaders” spanned a decade. He says “Runaway” took seven.
Barker notes the huge success of “The Cat Came Back” – about a destructive feline that refuses to leave a man’s home – likely exacerbated his perfectionist tendencies.
“I was aware of the potential of the sophomore curse, you know: How do you match that now? Do you do the sort of, the exact same kind of thing again or do you do what you feel is something different? It’s a tricky thing. So when I was going into ‘Strange Invaders’ I wasn’t really sure how to handle that. But eventually it got completed.”
And it, too, earned accolades and an Oscar nod.
Barker said he launched into “Runaway” a few months after completing “Strange Invaders” in 2002, deciding to take a different tack that proved to be oddly prescient, given the economic collapse that would result a few years later.
“It has to do with excess and people sleepwalking through their own sort of destruction,” he says of his third film.
“It has to do with the greed of people at the top and everyone else just sort of floating along for the ride just oblivious to all the things that are going on around them.”
“It’s kind of caustic but goofy at the same time.”
And while the short includes some computer-assisted graphics to depict the runaway train, Barker says he went for a “rough style” that would impart an old-fashioned, low-tech feel.
“I specifically chose a coarser style because it is social satire and I thought it should be a coarser look,” he said, noting it features raw pencil lines and paper grain.
“It still has that kind of hand-drawn simple look.”
The NFB says the film cost $457,000 and features music by Benoit Charest, composer for the Oscar-nominated 2003 film, “The Triplets of Belleville.”
“Runaway” makes its world premiere at Cannes’ International Critics’ Week, running May 14 to 22 in France.
On the Net: www.nfb.ca/runaway