Handmade Puppet Dreams Collection (online)

A digital showcase for the London International Mime Festival, Heather Henson presents Handmade Puppet Dreams is a collation of films utilising the art of puppetry and communication outside of the spoken word.

Hitori (Ninja Puppet Productions, 2014) – a small figure glows and explores its environment of hands, bodies. Faceless beings create a landscape which is both curious and scary, where cruelty and disinterest are the norm. The puppet work here is exceptional, both for the lead character and the silent majority of oppressors. The discordant music adds to the unease, and the black and white cinematography gives an otherworldy feel to proceedings, which become almost spiritual. Directed by Raymond Carr, and written by Carr and Wade Tilson.

Playing Opossum, by Julia Elkins – a bundle of fur is in crisis in this beautifully crafted puppet film, which touches on grief and loneliness, and the crafting of a new and different life. Dealing with adult themes by using characterisations behind masks, this captures the sense of disengagement with nature and the dangers of letting go. It also manages to be amusing despite the underlying sadness. A detailed and atmospheric set adds to the story, which evolves into a carnival of the animals. With Lily Lamberta as Opossum, Michelle Zerdelian as Wolf, Brad Moss (who provides the music) as Fox, and Elkins as Kitty.

Screencaps from the five films in the Handmade Puppet Dreams collection

Gut Feelings, by Vanessa Valiere and John Gregorio – disembodied dolls and a clownish face open this curious vignette about eating and making choices. The second half is deliberately surreal and awkwardly funny, mixing full-size actors with broad facial expressions and intricate puppetry. It may an absurdity, but this short is very enjoyable. Jon Steinmeier provides the jaunty music.

Goodnight Shadow, by Myra Su. A baby gurgles in his crib and reaches for the mobile that spins above his head. Cut out puppets and discordant sound bring this nightmare of darkness to life. A Peter Pan vibe comes through as the baby and the shadow which haunts her stick together as they grow. Is this about developing, or finding a friend? What does our shadow mean to us? A thoughtful and interesting film, inspired by Eduardo Galeano’s “Story of the Shadow”. Music and sound design by Nora Barton, puppet design and direction by Su.

Cosmic Fling – Space detritius floats around and is caught by a lonely, abandoned spaceman, a kind of human Wall-E. He’s alone until one day, a bubble of light sets him off on a muse about what life might be, or might have been. This is a playful film, short but full of invention. And perhaps the best things come to those who wait, as with our hopeful spaceman. Directed by Jonathan Langager, written by Langager and Ali Scher, featuring Josh Fadem and Caitlin McGee.

This showcase is freely available as part of the London International Mime Festival until 6 February 2022.