Elliot’s ‘Krumpet’ delves ‘into really dark places’ | AspenTimes.com

Elliot’s ‘Krumpet’ delves ‘into really dark places’

Naomi Havlen

Lately life has been full of notoriety for Adam Elliot, director of the Academy Award-winning short film “Harvie Krumpet.”

Elliot and “Harvie Krumpet” producer Melanie Coombs arrived in Aspen Wednesday, taking a break from endless interviews in Australia over the past weeks following their win for best animated short film at the Oscars.

The award was one of only two given to Australians this year.

The recognition the filmmaker received in Australia was so widespread that Elliot, who has but one potted plant at his flat in Melbourne, appeared on a national lifestyle and gardening show.

“Usually it’s the actors in Australia who get the attention. This year it was a claymator,” Elliot said. Claymation is a painstaking process of stop-motion animation, where figures made of plasticine and wood are molded into different positions for each frame of a film.

Elliot is the subject of this year’s Director Spotlight at Aspen Shortsfest on Sunday. He and Coombs will screen their film and talk with the audience about their work Sunday evening.

“Harvie Krumpet” is the 22-minute story of an ordinary man plagued by misfortune, but buoyed by the things he learns in everyday life. These “fakts,” as his mother taught him, fill the film with sometimes trivial and sometimes profound information. The film is narrated by the actor Geoffrey Rush.

Elliot’s previous three short films, a trilogy of biographies, have all shown at past Aspen Shortsfests. “Uncle,” which was screened locally in 1998, is a six-minute film about a man who loves crumpets, his lemon tree and his friendly Chihuahua.

“Cousin,” screened at Shortsfest in 1999, is a childhood memory of a boy with cerebral palsy. “Brother,” which was at Shortsfest in 2000, is another childhood memory – this time of a charismatic brother with asthma.

All three are less than 10 minutes long, shot in black-and-white, and feature a simple voice-over along with the claymation. Aspen Filmfest executive director Laura Thielen said after each of Elliot’s films, organizers looked forward to the next.

“It’s actually pretty unusual that Adam is back for his fourth Shortsfest,” she said. “There’s this fabulous soulfulness about his work, and he combines humanity with a deceptively simple animation technique. Adam has a special place in our hearts – those weird little men really resonated with juries and audiences.”

Elliot has said that he tries to make his characters reflect real life, even though animation is a few steps away from being real.

“I wanted my characters to be believable so audiences can relate to them and empathize with them, but that can be hard to do with these blobs of inanimate plasticine,” he said. “I often say instead of directors, we’re actors, because as animators we have to put lives into these characters.”

For Elliot, specifically that has meant breaking down a boundary when an animated character dies. Instead of giving a character eternal life like a cartoon, a character’s demise would mean something to a viewer.

“I never wanted animals in my films to speak, or to be Disney-esque. When a character dies, you don’t laugh because you’re actually moved and disturbed in some way,” he said.

As a result of the seriousness Elliot brings to his films, his characters often have a multitude of maladies, like Harvie Krumpet’s Tourette’s Syndrome, testicular cancer and eventual Alzheimer’s.

“Adam has found a way to go into really dark places, or places people usually trundle around in,” producer Coombs said. “He has a great deal of sensitivity when he does that, and takes a thoughtful, careful approach.”

Aspen Shortsfest will see one of the first screenings of “Harvie Krumpet” in the United States. Coombs and Elliot said they are very loyal to Aspen Filmfest for supporting them. This film was part of the Sundance Film Festival and the Academy Awards package, but other offers for screenings were turned down.

“I love coming here not only to ski, but because of the quality of the films shown,” Elliot said. “In Aspen, you’ll go to see eight short films and probably seven of them will be great.”

Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com