SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Stories of near-death incidents almost inevitably mention tunnels of light and a flurry of images and experiences from one’s life. Can one’s life be succinctly summarized within the span of a few seconds? The poor sailor at the center of Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby’s animated short The Flying Sailor must come to terms with this question as he is blasted into the air as a result of a seaborne collision in the Canadian city of Halifax. His skyward journey propels him into the stratosphere and into the next life. Or does it?
The film is based upon the shocking Halifax explosion of 1917 in which two large ships, one containing a dangerous amount of TNT, collided off the coast of Halifax. It’s not as well known in the United States, but the sheer devastation resulting from the incident — 1700 killed and 9000 wounded — makes it a well-known part of Canadian history. The portly mariner at the center of the story has just lit his cigarette when the collision occurs, thereby throwing his future in doubt.
“…he is blasted into the air as a result of a seaborne collision…”
The Flying Sailor commands the right balance of poignancy and levity. It’s undeniably funny when the titular sailor is blasted into the sky (sans clothing), and his barrel-shaped body is somersaulting over the town he was standing in a few seconds before. As we see his memories overwhelm him, we’re subsequently reminded that all of us are potentially subject to such unexpected conclusions to life. It speaks to the work of Forbis and Tilby that an eight-minute movie can spark existential discourse in a viewer.
The animation at play is also worthy of acclaim as there’s a seamless blending of detailed backdrops with expressionistic animation, further cementing the deft fusion of tones. The Flying Sailor is the best of what animation can provide – an experience that can’t be duplicated by live action.
The Flying Sailor screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
"…an experience that can’t be duplicated by live action."