One of the rising stars of animation, Hungarian-born Réka Bucsi is today debuting online her latest short film, entitled Solar Walk, and it is a serious flex from a generational talent—a 20-min, semi-experimental odyssey through the vastness of the universe and creation, originally commissioned as a visual accompaniment to a jazz orchestral composition.
Hold up. Aren’t we at S/W champions of “storytelling” and frequently decry overly-long shorts that tax our internet-ravaged attention-spans? Solar Walk seems like the exact opposite of our programming tastes! Ok, first, don’t be so rigid as to wholly equate storytelling with linear narrative (Solar Walk has plenty of story), but second, the lesson is, if you’re good enough, you can break any rule you want, and Bucsi has stepped up to the plate to deliver a future classic, something I consider no less than a 2001: A Space Odyssey for the It’s Nice That set.
Featured on this site in 2016 for her Oscar short-listed graduation film Symphony no. 42, Bucsi’s defining trait as a creator is an over-abundance of ideas—that prior film featured over 50 seemingly unrelated vignettes, chockfull of visual and metaphoric creativity, that, only upon careful and repeated viewing, revealed a pleasing meta-structure and symmetry. As you might imagine, buoyed by a proper animation team of over 9 lead and general animators, Bucsi dials that quality up to an even greater level in Solar Walk. Even if upon first watch you fail to connect narratively or thematically to the piece, the simple visual ingenuity of the animation—its scenarios, its compositions, its sheer physics, can’t fail to captivate. It sounds like faint praise, but i was 12min in before I first checked the timeline, and no part of me felt impatience while watching at home on my laptop, which is a rare experience for me even with gripping shorts of conventional plotting.
With its self-evident class, I can’t help but feel that Solar Walk is a lovely advertisement for the merits of the European-style of artistic development. Here in America, production is so relentlessly capitalistic, and while we celebrate the opportunities for career-building, and the resources that can be brought to bear in such a system, it’s impossible to imagine a masterpiece like Solar Walk emerging stateside. Commissioned by Aarhus Jazz Orchestra for Aarhus 2017 a multi-media celebration of the city’s designation as “Europe’s Cultural Capital”, and developed as part of a residency at the Open Workshop in Viborg (part of the acclaimed animation school, The Animation Workshop) the film’s initial form is actually a 47min long live-performance, complete with a 20-person musical accompaniment. This format has toured several festivals, including the UK’s Flatpack, and God, do I wish I had a chance to have seen that. We have to settle now for this 20min festival cut, which has had an amazing run to date, winning the €40k Audi Prize at this year’s Berlinale, and taking home the Grand Prize at Ottawa, qualifying the film for Oscar contention.
Admitting that America could never produce a work like this, the question now is if we will acknowledge the achievement with our highest honor? Bucsi came up just short of an Oscar nomination with Symphony no. 42, but she’s back in the running, and despite a myriad of distributor and sales obligations, the film is online for a month-long limited free release in order to juice buzz for the just that prospect. It would be a bold (though correct) choice for The Academy to do so, but we’ve long given up trying to predict the machinations of the process: on the one hand they are trying to boost the artistic bona fides of the shorts categories, and have done admirable work in reforming the nomination processes in recent years, but, on the other hand, the reigning winner of the category is Dear Basketball, so…
We’ll be wishing Réka the best of luck, Oscar or no Oscar, and her future is bright. No word at the moment on future projects, but in a recent interview with the Animation World Network, Bucsi expressed interest in transitioning to feature formats. Independent feature animations for the non-kid set are still depressingly rare, but achievable to creators of certain immensity of stature, and now, with the experience in managing a team via Solar Walk, and the consistent, undeniable quality of her work and vision, Bucsi is catapulting herself into that kind of rarified air.