COLUMBIA — Don Hertzfeldt's animation is more than stick-figure art. His animation is more than making bleak drawings come to life with a 35-millimeter camera. His animation is more than making people laugh from slapstick gags. For him, his animation is his life.
At 32, Hertzfeldt has never held a job other than making his own animated films. So far, his talent proves successful. As an independent artist, he produces work that turns heads of several independents and professionals alike.
WHAT: An Evening with Don Hertzfeldt
WHEN: 7:30 and 10 p.m., Wednesday,
WHERE: Ragtag Cinema, 10 Hitt St.
MORE INFO: www.ragtagfilm.com, (573) 443-4359
"His work is not throwaway," said Gabe Levinson, Hertzfeldt's booking agent at Chicago's Feather Goes Here. "He demands as much attention of his audience as much as his work demands of him."
Bolstered by an Academy Award nomination and several independent film festival awards, Hertzfeldt is on the road with a 16-city tour to show off a collection of his animated films, including his latest, "I Am So Proud of You." Hertzfeldt is introducing his work in person to several art house theaters across the country, including Columbia's Ragtag Cinema on Wednesday. There will be an interview session after the film's showing.
Hertzfeldt's tour schedule prevented him from being interviewed in advance of his Columbia appearance. Previous profiles of him have noted his workaholic tendencies; not one for the celebrity lifestyle, Hertzfeldt is "notoriously always at work, always working on his next film," Levinson said.
Hertzfeldt demonstrates his independence as an artist at many opportunities. He doesn't make corporate commercials, instead making sure he has complete control of his work, Levinson said. "He doesn't need to take out giant ads in 'Entertainment Weekly.' It's truly his art that's supporting him, and I think that's a breath of fresh air."
As a fan, Levinson said no other animation could top Hertzfeldt's style. "Once you experience it, you realize, wow, there really isn't a catch-all for Don Hertzfeldt. He is proving with each film that there can be no expectations."
For Ragtag program director Paul Sturtz, watching Hertzfeldt's animation is always time well spent.
"I think they're just among the landmark of animated films of this generation at least," Sturtz said. "He's basically made the stick-figure art into something much bigger and better than we could ever dream it to be."
Hertzfeldt's artistic vision defines his style, one that steers conventional animation down an unfamiliar path. Hertzfeldt told film critic Elvis Mitchell for an article published in July in The New York Times, "I really get frustrated with the studios because so many people can't get past the word 'animation.'"
"I Am So Proud of You" is a 22-minute sequel to Hertzfeldt's "Everything Will Be OK," which won the 2007 Jury Award for Short Filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival.
"So Proud" departs from the crude, violent humor found, for example, in Hertzfeldt's well-known "Rejected" and is more character-driven. Levinson said Hertzfeldt is expanding his artistic drive as his own animator for the better.
"This stuff is heavy, it's funny, but it's not just about the laugh," he said. "His stories are becoming rooted in this stark realism. This is not a man who's resting on laurels."