RIDM 2017 Review: Do Donkeys Act?

The documentary film Do Donkeys Act? was shot at four donkey sanctuaries, including one in Guelph, Ontario.

Do Donkeys Act is a charming, calm, contemplative film that just shows donkeys doing what donkeys do when left to their own devices. There are no experts explaining the evolution of donkeys, their place in history, or whatever.

So what do donkeys do? They gallop, they eat, they sleep, sometimes they just stand around, occasionally they’ll kick. Now and then one will decide he isn’t going anywhere and stubbornly dig in his hooves. (“Who enjoys going to the dentist?” asks narrator Willem Dafoe.)

I had a moment of dread when I saw a sign on a wall that said “knock down box.” I thought it was another way of indicating euthanasia, but no, the donkey was being given an injection to knock him out in preparation for surgery, surgery that looked like it was done on an inflatable mattress.

The most surprising thing for me was the great variety of sounds that a donkey can make. Braying, sure, I’d heard that before, but a donkey can also sound like a barking dog, a purring cat, a squeaky door, a foghorn, a whistle, a trumpet, or a wheezing asthmatic.

Donkeys enjoy a spirited run in the documentary film Do Donkeys Act?

Do Donkeys Act was filmed at four donkey sanctuaries in Guelph, Ontario, the U.S., Ireland, and the U.K., and it moves seamlessly between them. Sometimes an an Irish accent led me to assume that a scene was in Ireland, otherwise it’s anyone’s guess. (Please excuse me if those places were identified in the first few minutes of the film; I arrived a bit late because the film I saw before Do Donkeys Act did not start on time.)

Most of the talking in this film is done by Willem Dafoe, and I have very mixed feelings about that. He does a fine job and seems to be enjoying himself at times, but I’m not sure that the words he was given to say contribute that much to the film. Sometimes they interrupt the mood. Google tells me there is another version of the film, called Sanctuary, that does not include Dafoe.

Do Donkeys Act?
Directed by: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
Country: United Kingdom
Year: 2017
V.O: English
Duration: 72 minutes
Cinematography: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
Editing: David Redmon, Ashley Sabin
Production: Deborah Smith, Dale Smith
Sound Design: Tom Hammond

Do Donkeys Act? will be shown Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017 at 4 p.m. in Salle Fernand-Seguin of the Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.

RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) ends on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.
Visit the RIDM web site at ridm.ca for more information.

Sommets du cinéma d’animation 2016: Review of animated film Fox Fears

In this scene from the animated film Fox Fears, Bunroku can't keep up with his friends because he is wearing his mother's clogs.
In this scene from the animated film Fox Fears, Bunroku can’t keep up with his friends because he is wearing his mother’s clogs.

The mystery of the night, primordial fears, the power of a mother’s love – those are some of the ingredients in Fox Fears (Kitsune Tsuki)
a lovely short animated short from Japan. (Nothing to do with the nefarious U.S. TV network!) Director Miyo Sato made Fox Fears using sand and paint on glass.

The story begins the way a low-key horror film might. A young boy named Bunroku narrates the story. Under a bright moon, he was walking to a night festival with his friends, but he couldn’t keep up with them because he was wearing his mother’s clogs. (Not the right size, I guess. What happened to his own shoes? Too small? They broke?)

He and his friends stop at a clog shop so he can buy new ones. While they are in there, we hear distant music from the festival – flutes and drums. One flute sounded a bit like a wolf’s howl, to me. After the boy makes his purchase, a mysterious old woman appears and tells them that buying clogs after dark means you will turn into a fox. Don’t they know that? “Lies!” they shout, and head off to the festival, with its lanterns, banners, floats and music. (I would have liked to spend a few more seconds at this festival!)

Bunroku tells us that his friends would always see him safely home, and yet somehow this night, they do not. He imagines foxes and their shadows stalking him all the long, long way home. Once he gets there (guess that’s a spoiler, sorry!) he tells his mother what happened and she reassures him there’s nothing to worry about. She uses the word “lies,” as well. Maybe superstition is too big a word and too big a concept for a little kid. Not to mention folklore or mythology.

But Bunroku needs further reassurance. “But what if I DID turn into a fox?” His mother has an answer to that. He has more complicated questions and she has more detailed answers. I won’t spoil all that for you. One of the imagined scenarios is tragic and might bring the susceptible to tears.

Bunroku and his mother, from the Japanese animated film Fox Fears.
Bunroku and his mother, from the Japanese animated film Fox Fears.

Even thought they are having a theoretical, late-night, drowsy chat about shapeshifting, it is very clear that Bunroku’s mother would do anything and everything to keep him safe. That’s what good mothers everywhere do. It’s quite an amazing thing!

References and my reactions: It is possible that I am seeing things in Fox Fears that director Miyo Sato did not intend. Who knows, really. But, one way or the other, those things added to my enjoyment of the film.

Fox Fears has a dreamy, timeless quality. I don’t remember seeing any cars, buses, trucks, cellphones. If not for a light bulb seen at Bunroku’s home, and the Western clothes on some characters, the story could have taken place hundreds of years ago.

I find it cute that he’s wearing his mother shoes. I used to wear my mother’s boots when I was quite young (I had big feet!) That made me feel closer to her, not to mention that her boots were prettier and more stylish than mine.

The clog shop looks isolated, on the edge of the forest. That reminded me of so many films, Japanese ones in particular, where magical (and/or evil) places only exist at night. In the light of day, there is nothing there at all. Or just some ruins. The people who seem to live in those places are really ghosts or demons. Eat or drink what they give you and you will be under their power forever. Does that clog shop even exist in the day time?

A fox family in sihouette in the animated film Japanese Fox Fears. Director Miya Sato created the images using sand and paint on glass.
A fox family in sihouette in the animated film Japanese Fox Fears. Director Miya Sato created the images using sand and paint on glass.

Foxes and fox spirits figure in Japanese folklore and films; I’ve read some of those stories and seen some of those films. They appear in Chinese and Korean tales and films too, though the details vary.

I saw Fox Fears (Kitsune Tsuki) at Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation de Montréal 2016, at the Cinémathèque Québecoise.

Fox Fears (Kitsune Tsuki)
Animation (PG)
Director: Miyo Satori
Length: 7 min., 38 sec
Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Completed date: 2015