It's strange the things that set off your emotional triggers when watching films. The death of an elderly relative, the abandonment of a child...when Bruce Willis saved the world from a giant space rock. These are all viewing experiences that feel like a legitimate reason to get a little emotional, but an odd cartoon bird muttering the line "where's my Betty, Butter?", that'd be strange if that hit me in the feels...right? Yet, that's exactly what happened with Will Anderson's 14-minute short Betty, as I found myself welling up as we follow a little green bird called Bobby, as he looks for his butter, his Betty & the love that seems to have melted away.
Presented as a director's commentary or making-of video, with Anderson providing the voiceover, the film follows its bobble-headed avian protagonist as he falls in love with the titular Betty and then loses her through a series of bad decisions. Breaking out of the narrative regularly to provide a glimpse into the making of the film, waxing lyrical on how Richard Luke "smashed" the soundtrack or showing how his rigging works, you soon begin to understand this film isn't really about the characters on the on-screen, but the man behind them.
It's a clever twist, almost like applying the mockumentary format to animation (something Anderson has already toyed with in his 2013 BAFTA winner The Making of Longbird), with the realisation dawning on exactly what the director is up to just over two-thirds into the film, when his faux-outburst declares that he "can't do it anymore", before describing his short as "pathetic, manipulative nonsense". As he starts to unravel his work, describing his characters as clowns, he explains "it's like I have this feeling, but I don't know where to put it" and suddenly it all becomes clear, this is a personal grieving process, we're joining Anderson on a journey of lamenting a love lost. Although I likened it to a mockumentary earlier in this paragraph, it's clear the emotions here are very real.
When quizzing Anderson on his inspiration for Betty, he confirmed this by offering up a simple one-word response..."heartbreak". When probed more on his aims for his film he expanded by saying he was hoping to "try and move past a relationship that failed" and what better way for a filmmaker to get over a broken heart than laying it all out in a film. Without this context, Betty is a strangely amusing film, where you can revel in the oddness of it and enjoy the comical insight into the animation process. However, once the realisation sinks in as to how much of a personal piece this is for Anderson the impact of the piece deepens and though those laughs remain, we're also left to ruminate on our own experiences of heartbreak and the multifaceted nature of this short.
A regular at the BAFTA's, Betty is the fourth short from Will that we've featured on S/W - following The Making of Longbird, Monkey Love Experiments and Have Heart. Now working on his debut feature, A Cat Called Dom, with long-time collaborator Ainslie Henderson (Stems, I Am Tom Moody), the pair explained the film to LIAF’s Festival Director Nag Vladermersky in this 2018 interview as part of the festival:
"Our first feature is a film that blends documentary footage with a fictitious character, a curious little cat called Dom. He is a small animated cat that manifests out of a cancer scare. It’s a grassroots story talking about cancer, how it shakes a family, how you can internalise your feelings, and how art can be used as a form of escapism".