I once went to an art exhibit on the Dadaist movement at the Hammer museum with some friends, primarily to view the works of Man Ray. Among all the gorgeous and amazing works I was familiar with was a film I€™d never seen or heard about called The Adventures of Prince Achmed, made by Lotte Reiniger. Everywhere, peeps already in the know are rolling their eyes, but I was mesmerized. . . . I literally could not walk away from it. If you have any interest in the visual arts and don€™t know Achmed already, it is the oldest surviving feature-length animated film and was made€"I€™m not kidding€"with shadow puppets. Not the kind you make with your hands€"always funny€"but with backlit, moveable paper cutouts, like the Malaysian ones you can sometimes find at Pier 1.
With the increasing prevalence of CGI on even the most modestly budgeted project, it€™s nice to know there are still people devoted to the art of puppetry in film. Handmade Puppet Dreams, a traveling short-film festival showcasing movies featuring handmade puppets, is wrapping up its stay in Santa Ana. The film selections have been expertly selected by Heather Henson, daughter of Jim Henson, the creator of the funniest thing you ever saw growing up, The Muppets. Heather has lovingly upheld her father€™s unbelievable legacy by collecting, supporting and curating this film festival hosted by the Grand Central Art Center. The gallery website describes Handmade Puppet Dreams as €œa collection of short films by more than 20 filmmakers who use puppetry as a vehicle to convey contemporary artistic concerns.€ Dude. Film? Puppets? Contemporary artistic concerns? So there, people. So there.
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Handmade Puppet Dreams at the Black Box Theater, Grand Central Art Center, 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7233; www.handmadepuppetdreams.com. Call for times. Through May 20. Free.