Short Film: Jonas and the Sea

From Dutch director and animator, Marlies van der Wel and the Dutch production company, HALAL, comes a spectacularly illustrated story about a man’s relentless pursuit of his dream to find a home amongst the fish. Quirky and all together charming, Jonas and the Sea reminds us that the most simple of tales can sometimes be the most compelling, especially when art is imbued with life experience.

A tale that follows a man with a love for the underwater world, Jonas and the Sea is about never giving up in following one’s dream. Spanning Jonas’ lifetime from curious child to determined adult, the film teaches us that success takes time, obstacles will be in our way, and that if no one will help us, we must help ourselves. Frankly, for a short with no dialogue, there’s a lot of inspiration to take away from!

By no means is Van der Wel’s short film a complex narrative, its fairy tale nature wears its heart on its sleeve, but that sense of depth is more than made up for in artistic craft. Between illustrations that seem to glow from the inside out, to small animated collages that build out the coastline ecosystem, it’s easy to be hypnotized by the world-building on display. It’s clear that Van der Wel has great strength in her ability to build atmosphere in both sound design, music score, and animation style. The attention to detail is so profound, that it comes as no surprise that Jonas’ life is itself a  reflection of the artist’s and the process of constructing the film over the course of 5 years.

Immense research was part of Van der Wel’s process—she made three separate trips across the Netherlands to comb kilometers of beach, spending hours sketching. The end result was 150 shots using a collage technique that employs pencil sketches, and backgrounds created with photos from her trips to Terschelling, a small island on the edge of the North Sea, before finally compositing the elements on computer. When appraising short animation aesthetics, we’re usually judging style within established modes, with Jonas and the Sea, it is one of the rare instances where we are genuinely wowed by a novel approach to the medium.

Ironically, just like Jonas, Van der Wel didn’t know what the end of the film would look like until the last two weeks of production—her own journey and the narrative intertwined through the process. Compiling artifacts from life, Van der Wel drew from her own experiences to create a unique animated story that has classic appeal. Its beauty, and profound themes should make it a family-friendly favorite for years to come.

Debuting online today, Jonas and the Sea had a upper echelon festival run, premiering at the Berlinale, becoming an official selection at Sundance, and winning Best Animated Short at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Kids Fest. What’s next? Details are sparse at the moment, but Van der Wal is currently in production with HALAL on a new new short film centering around a character who is an elderly florist.


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