My eyes well, as if a cloud ready to tell the Earth to cleanse itself. My chest started to swell with a linger of heartfelt anxiety. I felt enamoured by emotion. Maybe because short animations with Black characters are so rare, or the implications that lay bare on the screen which motivated me to daydream about age, losing my loved ones, and the grace we live on with, in memory of them, stared at me in the face. Canvas is a short film that acts as an empty canvas. The dialogue was evident in the facial expressions that lead you along the way through a stream of emotions. This canvas like setting of the film lay empty to exact an idea of loss and rekindling what you have almost forgotten. For me, it is a timely and beautiful 9-minute short film that boasts a benevolence we can all relate to.
Immediately it steers you into a dreamspace, one which offers no date, but a scope of what the film is capturing. Latching onto the thoughts in my mind, of our limited time here, exemplified in the old worn out face of the main character – a visibly exhausted Grandpa, wheelchair striken, lonely and reserved. Having lost his wife, survived by memories of the small of her back in the vision of dreams, the Grandpa leans on the pact of the new. His Grandchild, a playful mischevious little girl visits him with an enthusiasm that could carry the world. She sheds a joy and innocence for life that immediately captivates him. She enjoys pens and paper, creating art to embark on some journey. It is through their respective canvas’ the short story unfolds.
Doing a little research, the animator Frank E Abney III details the film as a reflection, a personal portrait of loss, contemplation regarding creation, and the innocence of children and the carefree attitude that comes with that. The film was originally picked up, optioned, and somewhat left aside by a production company until Abney rekindled the project after claiming the rights back. Canvas was put together by a team who dedicated off work hours to piecing together the project over a span of 6 years. Abney also executive produced Matthew Curry’s Hair Love, an Oscar-winning and somewhat game-changing short, and like Canvas both projects utilised Kickstarter Campaigns to garner enough money to finish the project. Like Hair Love, Black features are important but not upheld as the main factor. We are finally reaching a point of such projects just existing without the stance of racism prompting it to be. Canvas encompasses the feeling of loss and projects it into your own mind forcing you to consider your own. The main character was based on Abney’s own Grandfather, who he referred to as being “stoic and quiet” in his own life and conception of him, it was this idea of him that he always knew. As for the Granddaughter, during Abney’s own creative loss or rather dulled passion, it was the carefree demeanour of his nieces and nephews that enticed him. He lost his Father at an early age and witnessed his single Mother work throughout life to fill the void and provide them with more. Considering this all, Canvas is a compilation of such personal ideas that really epitomises Abney’s personal insights to life and loss.
Keeping the investors from the Kickstarter campaign updated and such a widespread acknowledgement of the film put Canvas on Netflix’s radar. Today, I sit here at the edge of my bed watching this film acknowledging its necessity as a black person, but generally as a wonderful and empathy drawing short, boasting rich colours and a lovely story. The power of animation and a heart toying story, not much has to be said or done in terms of a narrative to make it such a solely Black experience, rather the characters just have to be brought into life. It is as simple as that. I felt a wave of emotions just by the scenes, the angles that imply in his interview with Variety, Abney also highlighted that there are some more things to come with working alongside Netflix. I for one am excited at the potentiality of Black animation, likewise, with Black anything, so many stories can thrive through such a medium. Having worked on animated greats like Frozen, Big Hero 6, and Kung Fu Panda, Abney’s wealth of experience with heartwarming and emphatic works is not so foreign. I can just wonder about the magic Abney intends to bring to the screen.