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Sundance Special: Allergy to Originality

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We present Allergy to Originality by Drew Christie, our nomination for the best short film at Sundance 2014

Right now, the breathless gaze of the entire film world is on Park City, Utah, where the Sundance Film Festival is in full swing. But while we may be thousands of miles away from the stellar, snowbound action, a collaboration with Youtube has given global scope to the illustrious short film competition. This year there were 8,161 applications, which have been whittled down to a shortlist of 15, all of which are available to view online, with the winner to be announced at the end of the festival on January 25.

To help you out, we have selected our favourite from the shortlist. Allergy to Originality, by Seattle-based illustrator Drew Christie, was the clear frontrunner: a vibrant animated homage to the great artists and appropriators of the past, as well as a warning to those overly reverent of Wikipedia's so-called facts. Created for The New York Times' Op-Doc series, the short blends wit and wisdom with the effortless style that Christie is rapidly making his signature, and features cameos from the likes of Andrei Tarkovsky, Bob Dylan, Magritte’s pipe and Warhol’s Marilyn. Seeing as our selection last year, IRISH FOLK FURNITURE, went on to win the best short film award, we’re feeling deservedly confident about Allergy to Originality’s chances in 2014. And so, flying on these self-assured wings, we asked Christie to expand on his inspirations and provide some Sundance tips for those aspiring to be in his shoes next year.

What was the inspiration for the short and how did it come about?
The inspiration for the short was the time I actually tried to go see a movie with my parents on Father's Day and my Dad wanted to see Men in Black III (luckily, the movie was sold out so we couldn't see it). As I stood there looking up at the marquee I realised that every single movie was either a sequel, prequel, adaptation, remake or reboot. That got me thinking about the derivative nature of films and researching appropriation in art history. I mentioned the idea to the New York Times and they liked and so it was commissioned as an Op-Doc.

How did you start in animation?
I started in animation at about age 5 when my dad started letting me use the family camcorder. I would set up my Star Wars figures on the couch and make little movies with them. In high school I won an art contest making a stop-motion video using raw beef and just kept going from there.

Who is your favourite cameo in the film?
My favorite cameo is probably either Andrei Tarkovsky or Robert Walser (who wrote Jakob Von Gunten that was turned into the film Institute Benjamenta by the Quay Brothers).

There's a great Donne quote on appropriation: "All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…" With the cyber nature of the likes of Wikipedia, do you think there is a slight risk that the translations along the way are being deleted during the generational reappropriation, rather than preserved?
Worse than that – I think that there's a definite chance that they are not being translated at all, just copied and pasted from the previous translation.

To whom or what do you think you owe the most as a source of inspiration/plagiarism in your own work?
I think illustration wise I owe a lot to Edward Gorey and with storytelling I owe a lot to Kurt Vonnegut.

How was the experience at Sundance last time, and how does this time compare?
Yep, I was at Sundance 2012 with my short animation Song of the Spindle. It was a real whirlwind last time. I don't think I realised how busy I would be going to things and running around. This time I know a little more and I will hopefully be able to have more fun and meet more people.

Can you list three Sundance essentials?
Sketchbook. Pen. Coat.

What have you got coming up next?
I am working on an illustrated book called Pickings about American music – you can see some of the pages here. It should be about 260 pages all said and done, and show the influence and history of American vernacular music. I am also always working on short animations that appear at nytimes.com and for Vanity Fair here.

Sundance Film Festival runs until January 25, when the winner of the Best Short Film will be announced.

Text by Tish Wrigley

Tish Wrigley is the AnOther assistant editor.

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