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Animator Emily Hubley Presents Her Work This Weekend

The Toe Tactic

Loss and Memory

This week, the International Women’s Film Festival features a number of events surrounding the two-day visit of independent filmmaker and animator Emily Hubley. The filmmaker’s visit and screenings are co-sponsored by Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center and Squeaky Wheel.

The daughter of legendary animators Faith and John Hubley, Emily Hubley has been making animated short films for 30 years. She has also created animated sequences for other films, most memorably Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Her work has screened at the Sundance, Tribeca, and South by Southwest festivals, as well as at MOMA, the Ocularis/Galapagos Art Space, and the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar.

For the International Women’s Film Festival, Hubley will present her her first feature, The Toe Tactic, featuring an all-star cast including Glee’s Jane Lynch and independent filmmaker John Sayles. The film tells the story of Mona Peek, a young woman locked in an emotional paralysis when the sale of her childhood home triggers sudden, unmanageable grief over her father’s death. In a sort of parallel universe, a group of animated dogs interrupt, comment on, and alter the course of events in Mona’s world. The animated characters navigate fluidly between their dimension and Mona’s live-action world, creating a number of narrative, emotional, and visual layers that operate in tandem. The film’s synesthetic blending of music, poetry, drawing, and performance is heightened by a compelling soundtrack by Yo La Tengo (the musical group co-founded by her sister Georgia Hubley).

The animated dogs weave the threads from the web of interconnected subplots together, shifting objects between worlds and characters in order to initiate a chain of events designed to rescue the protagonist. Hubley’s editing is stunningly intuitive, the threads pulling moments, images, phrases from one subplot seamlessly into another, with the animated objects—a photograph, a scarf, a tampon, a scrap of bone—as organizing principles.

The logic of the film is the logic of magic, and the blending of the themes of sorrow and loss with a type of magical realism that’s both humorous and poetic is what makes the film such an immense delight. The animation visually renders the way that certain moments and significant objects in our own experience often feel larger than life, almost cartoonishly unwieldy, as though in becoming talismans of an inner truth, they press on the boundaries of reality and burst through the seams.

The animated elements interrupt and destabilize the live action footage, calling into question the coherence of memory, consciousness, and reality itself. The dogs comment on events in the “real” world like an unruly Greek chorus—each has its own personality, and their interventions and interjections are often comically self-reflexive (“That had nothing to do with the story!” they complain after one sequence).

As we watch them trying to jar Mona out of her almost ritualistic sadness, we realize how important it can be to pay attention to the tiny markers of meaning in our lives: the whispering voices or insistent images sending up flares from the unconscious. The fragility of life, of memory, of hope, is somehow made even more poignant by the mischievous antics of the animated dogs, who are even willing to risk their lives in the “real” world in order to save Mona’s.

In a film about loss and sorrow, Hubley offers us a world in which what has been lost may yet be magically restored, as though magic is just what happens every day, in the course of living with, hiding from, remembering—and sometimes forgetting—those we love.

Along with The Toe Tactic, Hubley will screen a short film, Her Grandmother’s Gift (1995), a wistful meditation on the mythical power of menstruation and the negative attitudes that shape its cultural framing. She will also present Faith Hubley’s powerful short Witch Madness (1999), which explores the violent persecution of women throughout history. The film’s haunting investigation of the torture and death of the millions of women accused of witchcraft feels disturbingly timely in today’s increasingly dystopic political landscape, populated by elected leaders who demonize women and call for the drastic erosion and curtailment of women’s rights.

On Friday, after leading a master class at Squeaky Wheel for filmmakers and students, Hubley will screen a program of her parents’ films at Hallwalls. John Hubley was an animator for Disney from 1936 until the animators’ strike in 1941; he then moved to United Pictures of America, but was forced out in 1952 after refusing to name names before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He and his wife Faith then founded Storyboard Studios. Their films are particularly known for their lyricism and for the casting of their children as the characters of their films, blending observational documentary with a poetic imagination of childhood. After John Hubley’s death in 1977, Faith Hubley continued making animated short films in the renamed Hubley Studio, winning fourteen CINE Golden Eagle awards and numerous honors at film festivals.

Friday’s screening will include Tender Game (1958), Windy Day (1967), and My Universe Inside and Out (1996). For the complete program, see: For more information on Emily Hubley’s visit, see:

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