________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 15 . . . .March 21, 2008


Hothouse 4: A Chance Encounter.

Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2007.
77 min., 3 sec., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: 153C 017 334.
Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.

Review by Huai-Yang Lim.

*** /4



Final mix is amazing. Hearing all the little bits and . . . we had to make a few decisions like whether we wanted the crowd screaming to be human voices or to pitch it up and make it little DNA voices. The DNA voices worked a lot better.

What we have to do is lock down the timing exactly so that the composer and foley artist can start writing the music and recording all the sound, and music. But, in the meantime production is still going on. But itís good. Itís a matter of doing the best you can with what you have. And I think people have learned of things they werenít expecting that they can apply to future projects.

Itís very stressful at times . . . And also, I feel maybe the final product wasnít exactly what I wanted, but thatís also, you know, thatís part of the process. . . . And I think even in that it was quite positive.


While the filmmaking industry has spawned a lot of popular animated films, what is perhaps less familiar to people is the actual filmmaking process. Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, Hothouse 4: A Chance Encounter features eight people who participate in an intense apprenticeship in animation filmmaking. Over 12 weeks, each of them have the resources of NFB at their disposal and create their own animated films, from their initial conception to the finished product. Besides showing original artistic pieces from eight budding filmmakers that are both thoughtful and entertaining, the film offers insight into the actual filmmaking process and the challenges at each stage.

     The individual films, themselves, are shorts that range from one minute to one and a half minutes long. Exploring the theme "A Chance Encounter," the filmmakers use a variety of animation styles to convey stories and settings that range from the fantastical and esoteric to the realistic and gritty. For example, Oliver Tsujiís "Margin" depicts the marginalizing and isolating effects of mental illness through the eyes of a man, and Tsuji enhances his filmís impact through his choice of drab grey tones as the basis for his film. In contrast, Carla Comaís "The Squirrel Next Door," a quirky narrative of a romance between a squirrel and spider, uses three-dimensional animation with vibrant colours and objects. "Biology Made Un-Easy" and "One" are more atmospheric pieces about evolution and the union or interconnectedness of all living things. Dale Haywardís "Roy G Biv" experiments with overlays of paint colors and the images that emerge out of these.

      The DVD comes with the short documentary "Inside the Hothouse 4" as well as a series of six podcasts, both of which show the process that the filmmakers went through to develop their ideas into a realistic and manageable project that they can complete within the 12-week apprenticeship. The documentary, itself, gives insight into each personís film background and the unique difficulties that s/he encountered. As the documentary reveals, some of them found it particularly challenging to represent their ideas visually in an animated format that is satisfactory for what they wished to convey, whereas others had difficulty deciding how to end the story or in choosing what type of music and sounds they would like in their films. In addition, the documentary conveys a strong sense of community and mutual support, not only among the filmmakers themselves, but also in relation to the other people with whom they work.

      As part of these filmmakersí apprenticeship, they work with an NFB team that includes Torill Kove, the producer of the critically acclaimed The Danish Poet. Kove adds her own insight and emphasizes that filmmaking is a collaborative process through which both experienced and newer filmmakers can learn from each other because of the unique perspectives, creative approaches, and personal predilections that they bring to their individual films. Indeed, the DVD shows how the process is a joint effort that involves the filmmaker and others such as the foley people, composers, and producers.

      The podcast series on video production complements the documentary but offers a more light-hearted look at filmmaking. The video production journal is insightful as each person talks about her/his work at different stages of the process, from pre-production to post-production. Part of the enjoyment comes from gaining insight into each filmmakerís personality, vision for the film, and personal quirks and idiosyncrasies. The commentary by these filmmakers usefully explains the choices made for the filmís plot, image, and sound, as well as the effects they wish to achieve through the fusion of these elements. The documentary and podcasts would appeal to even an elementary audience who will gain an appreciation about the difficulties and decisions that need to be made during the filmmaking process. Perhaps, after watching Hothouse 4 some viewers may become inspired to make their own film.

      As a whole, both adults and children alike can enjoy Hothouse 4. Although it does provide information on the procedural aspects of filmmaking, it is not intended to be a technical or professional introduction to the field. Instead, Hothouse 4 gives an entertaining and instructive introduction to film animation that would be appropriate for the budding animator or people who are curious about the general filmmaking process itself. Teachers can use Hothouse 4 as part of a media. They could discuss how image and sound work together to produce specific effects. Librarians and parents could use Hothouse 4ís animated shorts for a younger audience.

      More information about Hothouse 4 as well as previous Hothouse productions can be found on the NFBís website at http://www.nfb.ca/webextension/hothouse/.

Highly Recommended.

Huai-Yang Lim has a degree in Library and Information Studies and currently works as a researcher in Edmonton, AB. He enjoys reading, reviewing, and writing childrenís literature in his spare time.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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