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Animation Short Review: Haste Slowly (2016) by Chand Bhattarai

Chand Bhattarai shows us instructions for meditation in an animated film that exceeds the educational and shows promise for the future of Bhutanese animation

The Bhutan film industry is relatively young, and this is even more the case for its industry. It only emerged in the early 2000's, when various government agencies and NGOs turned to animation as a means to inform and educate the people. Since educational videos are also in need of creative solutions, this led to the foundation of several animation studios. In 2015, , the director of “” founded his own animation studio Studio Awake-can with childhood friend and animator Nima Dorji Tamang. It was the studio's first film and won the Best Animation award at the Tshechu film festival 2016.

“Haste Slowly” is screening on Beskop

“Haste Slowly” starts at a market where we see a vendor of masks at his stall. When two customers don't pay, he chases them and an accomplice. During this chase, the vendor runs into obstacles, but he does manage to catch them. Most of this looks like a straightforward chase through a small city, but the end comes across as slightly confusing. Especially the scene where one of the thieves carries the vendor on his back over a rainbow. After this, the scenery changes and we see a young monk meditating and the camera pans over a photograph of a fresco.

When looking closely at this fresco, we recognize the scenes from the chase. Also, the masks (monkey, elephant and hare) resemble the characters depicted in there and it becomes clear that what looked like a chase is actually a visualization of the instructions for a form of meditation called Calm Abiding (Shamatha). Artistic depiction of these guidelines goes back to 19th century frescos on monastery walls and later found its way into the homes on posters. Chand Bhattarai takes this a step further by turning them in a short film.

One could argue that “Haste Slowly” ties in with the educational animation industry. That is true, but only in part as he brings elements to his film that turn it into something more. Examples of this are the way he worked the concepts such as fire representing the energy necessary for meditation into the story, for instance when a food vendor is frying eggs. Also, he added some modern twists such as the use of a tracking device to find the elephant. This makes “Haste Slowly” an enjoyable, albeit a slightly strange film for viewers who are not interested in Calm Abiding meditation. At the same time, it can provide a guideline for practitioners and a starting point for those interested to find out more.

The animation and character design look very simple and not of a high aesthetic value. But taking into account the limited resources and the fact that the Bhutanese animation industry is still in its infancy, “Haste Slowly” shows actual promise. While running sequences are reused for all of the characters, other aspects such as the laundry waving in the wind give the animation a more artistic feeling. The framing, camera movements and use of varying focus to create a field of depth, show that the director is focusing on and adding to the cinematographic value of his film. The design of the backgrounds ties together these different approaches. They are abstract enough not to clash with the character design and animation style and at the same time, they are well thought through. By leaving out superfluous lines and only using slight hints of color, they complement the overall design of the film and add to its production value.

Music plays an important rule. It starts with the buzzing of a fly, turns into a rather traditional Buddhist tune but then changes to a more modern version that increases in intensity with the action, only to suddenly turn very quiet when the monk has reached the introspective phase of his meditation. The busy city is gone and only the sounds of nature can be heard, such as the chirping of birds and the barking of a dog in the distance, less energy is needed to concentrate. When the fresco is shown and during the credits, it returns to a traditional song, which underlines the importance of what is shown in the fresco in relation to the story of the film.

Next to working on “Haste Slowly”, Chand Bhattarai directed the first 2D feature animation in Bhutan- Drukten, “The Dragon's Treasure”, based on characters of a popular Bhutanese folktale. He also directed a 2D Animation TV miniseries on empowering women and children for the RENEW organization. Apart from working in film he is also an artist and illustrator and a member of VAST Bhutan, the only contemporary art center in the country. 

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