APRIL 6: Dennis Tupicoff

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Dennis Tupicoff is an Australian independent animator. After graduating from Queensland University, Dennis worked as an archivist and teacher before making his first film in 1976. Since then he has made many award-winning films as writer, director, producer, and animator. These have been both fictional and documentary, animated and live-action, comedy and drama – and often in various combinations. Retrospectives of his work have screened at festivals in Brisbane (2008), Kecskemet (2009), Krakow (2009) and Poznan (2010). Dennis’ work is discussed in many books, including standard works such as Introduction to Documentary (Nichols 2010) and Animation: a World History (Bendazzi 2016). His most recent documentary THE FIRST INTERVIEW (2011), screened on national television in Australia and in France. A new animation/archival short film is now in production.

Filmography: (writer, director, producer/co-producer)

  • Please Don’t Bury Me (1976) 16mm
  • My Big Chance (1977) 16mm
  • Dance of Death (1983) 16mm
  • The Bear (1990) 16mm
  • The Darra Dogs (1993) 35mm
  • His Mother’s Voice (1998) 35mm
  • The Heat, the Humidity (1999) 16mm
  • Into the Dark (2002) 35mm
  • Taringa 4068: Our Place and Time(2003) Digi Beta
  • Chainsaw (2007) 35mm
  • Silly and Serious: William Robinson and Self Portraits (2008) Digi Beta
  • The First Interview (2011) HDCam

Here are clips of five films by Dennis Tupicoff.

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20 thoughts on “APRIL 6: Dennis Tupicoff

  1. Evan Tedlock says:

    Dennis Tupicoff’s presentation last week was one of the most powerful and moving of this year. He speaks with immense passion and vulnerability about his films and what realities the images are drawn from.

    The first film, Dance of Death, acted almost as a misdirect. It was very cartoony and a bit of a slapstick portrayal of mankind’s proclivity to finding violence entertaining. It was very much of it’s time (1983). But then, things quickly turned towards the somber. Darra Dogs was a vivid memoir of Dennis’s relationships to the many dogs of his childhood. The most powerful image that choked Mr. Tupicoff up and left a burning impression in my mind was the vignette of a Catholic priest shooting and beating a dog to death in front of his 8 year old self. The way he described this film as transcribed memories speaks to the real power of these images.

    His Mother’s Voice was also a very powerful film. I found his approach very interesting. Essentially doing the film twice was odd but it had a profound effect on me. The second section felt faster than the first though the must have been the same length and I found the second style to be more intimate in both camera work and rendering style. It affected me differently because I already knew where the audio was going. But it choked me up at the exact same point in both films. A strange phenomena and I’m still a little unclear as to why he did it twice.

    It was a very emotionally exhausting evening but well worth it. I had never seen Dennis’s films before and this was a wonderful way to be exposed to them.

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  2. Jane G. Kim says:

    I don’t watch much independent films/animation, but after watching Dennis Tupicoff’s work, I definitely want to watch more. “Dance of Death” was a bit unsettling me, but it definitely sent the message. I especially enjoyed the films about his youth; they may be nostalgic for him, but to us they’re entirely new feelings and experiences. I didn’t expect to, but I really enjoyed “Chainsaw.” I can’t really say what exactly about it was so entertaining for me, but it probably was the delivery and editing of everything.

    This lecture gave me a perspective on independent films. Though the creator anticipates an audience, they are still expressing solely what they want. They do consider how the audience would react, but its mostly about presenting their thoughts and views; what they want to express is priority.

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  3. Erik Dumas says:

    One thing that I think Dennis Tupicoff really excels at is conveying a strong emotion in his work. It’s so completely obvious that his work has an emotional impact on him, and I think that seeps over into the audience as well. “Darras Dogs” in particular was very striking for me. I felt like I almost had to leave the room during the scene where the priest kills a dog.

    “His Mothers Voice” was also very emotional. It seemed strange at first, the decision to play the audio twice and do two separate versions of the animation. I wasn’t sure if it really worked, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. The titular mother had to relive it twice. The first time when she experienced it, and the second time when she went on the radio. Forcing the audience to do the same perhaps brings them closer to understanding the emotions of the mother. I have no idea if any of that was Tupicoff’s intention, but that’s how the film made me feel.

    “Chainsaw” was also a film that I greatly enjoyed. The way he wove those three tales together was absolutely stunning.

    All in all, I’m very glad that we got to have Dennis come to our school and show us his films. They are definitely a huge inspiration.

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  4. Bryan Lee says:

    Dennis Tupicoff has become a great inspiration for me in terms of independent filmmaking. It was extremely moving to see how heartfelt and personal his storytelling was in each of his animations as well as the gradual improvement of visual style and storytelling. I felt his stylistic line quality and color palette were very refreshing and complimented his style of animation very well. It was very nice to see Tupicoff blend different styles as well, such as rotoscoping and live action and have it flow melodically. I’m also unsure if some of his films were intended to be comedic but I definitely enjoyed the flavor of comedy Tupicoff added to his animation, a sort of dark humor.

    I greatly appreciate his responses to our questions as it gave great insight to his thought process and revealed his personality that is also seen in his films. I also enjoyed his terse way of talking as it also gave glimpses of his history as a person and animator which was very nice to see. I hope to see more works of his wherever I can find!

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  5. Yu Yu says:

    Dennis Tapicoff shared lots of his works with us tonight. His works mostly about the truth stories. He used lots of rotoscope in his films. It makes the films more realistic and combine his different styles and stunning colors together very well.

    I like “His mother’s voice” the most. It’s an interesting choice to make the same interview twice in two different animations, bringing out two totally different moods to the audience. The second section is stronger for me. The mother is talking about her son got shot in her house, but when the camera move to the street, people can see others are still doing their own stuff. The whole world is kept moving on like nothing ever happened. It makes the story sadder than to imagine what did she see in front of the house that the tragedy happened that day.

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  6. Okike Franklin says:

    I believe achieving a decent Rotoscope is pretty hard but Dennis made it feel effortless. I enjoyed and appreciated his passion and charisma to animation. It was interesting to see his thought process and witnessing his stories.

    I’m not sure if comedy was his intended genre but I got some of that which was fun. It’s always helpful and refreshing to listen to an independent film maker because I tend to put myself in this box that says I must get into the BIG industries without considering the equally successful path as an independent artist.

    I really enjoyed “His mother’s voice”.

    In all, his presentation was “emotionally great” and I look forward to experinceing more of his works

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  7. David Nessl says:

    Dennis has an inventive style when it comes to camera language and his editing technique is very unique. I’m interested to know who his influences are and why? It’s impressive that he stays so true to his shot list and storyboards. Most all of my projects end up changing because I really value the process and what certain people bring to the table. But very cool that he keeps to what I’d consider a sleek form of classical language. That being said, the way his shots and scenes are composed is very different from a strict form of cinematography. It’s like he stays true to the idea of standard shot discipline but he spices things up with jarring shots snapped against each other, keeping a touch of counterpoint on his through-line.
    I like his style because he’s trying something different. I find it really dry when directors keep the same old cinematic style, worrying about crossing the line, or cutting from one point in time to the other. Of course film language is psychological but I’m a big fan of creating insanity.

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  8. Kun Xia says:

    I was amazed by last week’s seminar with Dennis Tupicoff, two major theme in his work are death and memory. And I love every one of the films he showed, and it was emotional and touching. Especially In “Into the dark.” Everyone have the fear of death, Tupicoff positioning of the viewer with the eye of the boy and man prevent the film entering schmaltzy territory.
    The contrast is strong, the subject experience shifts death, and even life, from an anonymous and distant experience to something universal. In “His mother’s voice”, which based on a mother’s monologue interview about her son who has been shot dead. Her words and tones and their hidden feelings are the pillar. And the visual narration is the rest of the building. Tupicoff uses his techniques he learned from design and translate them into animation, which brings a style to his animation. And his animation need this style.

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  9. Sagar Ramesh says:

    Dennis was definitely one of my favorite guests this semester. I loved how the handful of films he screened spoke volumes about his life, his internal struggles, and so much more. It was amazing to see him speak about the films he made decades ago as if they were brand new.

    All of Dennis’ stories were emotionally stimulating, and the visuals were beautifully composed. The bold black outlines on a bright palette created a really striking image, and the camera movements and mixed-media feel to his pieces really stood out to me. Dennis’ stylistic choices in “His Mother’s Voice” were interesting as well; playing the same interview back twice (but showing the audience two different perspectives) was genius. The second time I heard the interview, not only were the images from the previous half running through my mind, but I was also exposed to imagery from around the house, including Matthew’s possessions. It’s hard to pick a favorite from the films that we saw in seminar last week. Everything was so well-composed, stylized, and emotionally-stirring. Thank you again for sharing your evening with us, Dennis.

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  10. Megan Simon says:

    Dennis’s work was a true treat. I throughly enjoyed his films, and it intrigued me as an artist. There is power in autobiography, and so little autobiographical animation due to the difficulty of the artform. I have a previous interest in autobiography particularly in comics due to a class I took at MSU from autobiographical comic writer Ryan Claytor. It’s amazing how what seems simple can be so powerful when told from the perspective the person who experienced it. I think Dennis’s animation about dogs in his childhood proved that. But even the project he made that was biographical had the audio from the woman who experienced her son getting shot. A wonderful artist and a true treat.

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  11. Amir Arzanian says:

    I had watched “His Mother’s Voice” before this seminar and that made Dennis one of my favorite filmmakers. Not only because his fantastic animation but because of his approach to documentary as a special way of narrative.
    Dennis’s works are based on postmodern narrative characteristics although they are documentary film and based on the reality or facts too. He tries to bring formal concerns of the medium to his film. He get more deep in this in his later films like Chainsaw by using a lot of pastiche. His editing is one of the other outstanding attributes of his films. In “His Mother’s Voice” in the first part cuts are as important as the image itself. In Chainsaw the dialectics of the archival shots and animation cut together are very impressive.
    I also impressed by the works visual qualities. They were really bold and graphical which make the film has visually more expressive. The quality of animation was sometimes amazing like in Darra Dog. I thought he used rotoscoping for this animation but he said all of the movements was from his memory.

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  12. Shang Song says:

    Very interesting, I think Dennis and I are the same kind of people, we have three common points: like the performance of violence and cruelty, black humor, and the reflection on life.

    I think repeat the “dance of death”. In sight, this is a humorous and cruel work, in fact, he exaggerated description of all kinds of death scene, very ironic, even funny. But the core is in the note: people are in the consumption of death, death as an optimal form of entertainment, the consumer is that you are watching this video. This “turn angle of view”, the most powerful effect is that you find “the most cruel people is you who watch this movie”. This is a kind of fun skills, a strong attack on the modern audience of the cold and ignorance. He used the cold way to warn the cold person.

    He also used similar techniques in other works, and I like to do also.

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  13. Sequoyah Madison says:

    I thought Dennis’s Dance of Death was genius! It’s an interesting idea to contemplate whether or not our own deaths will be publicized on the television, and if so to what scale. I think I had always thought that since I don’t watch the news or use my free time to skim articles about whatever bizarre deaths hold the attention of the masses on any given day, that I was removed from that world, but none of us are. And the truth is we can’t predict our deaths or control whether or not they will be publicized.

    The Darra Dogs was the most emotionally tolling and powerful animation for me, and as others have stated above, the imagery of the glowing cross and the approaching priest will be ingrained in my head for the next decade at least. Dennis definitely has a strong visual language and knows how to most effectively use different shots and camera angles. I am glad Dennis is aware of the contradictions that are put in place when he is scarred by the death of the dogs, but not the death of the birds he kills in Into the Dark.

    Unpopular as it may be, His Mother’s Voice made me more angry than it did sad. As an individual who has just lost a family member I can’t fathom why the mother would ask the permission of authorities before running into the house to see her son, in what were the last seconds of his life. She sat outside with her neighbors and son’s friends, yards away from her dying child because she was told to?! OH HECK NO!! Could you imagine writhing in from a bullet that bleeds you out, surrounded by people you don’t know in a loud hectic environment, would you want to see your loved ones? Would their faces be the ones you would want to see last? I think the only way to possibly justify such passive actions in a time of life and death, especially with your own child, is if you were dark skinned and lived in America, where the police may very well shoot you if you don’t obey their every order. Then, then maybe I could understand listening to authorities in such an extreme time of crisis. I can only assume that the regret of living with the fact that you didn’t attempt with every fiber of your being, to do all you could to say goodbye to your son as he transitioned into death is unbearable, and that is what saddens me about this story. Perhaps it is a cultural difference, but I believe more of the facts need to be revealed to understand the lack of urgency on the mother’s part in this situation.

    For me Chainsaw was the least gratifying, perhaps because with all the built up tension throughout the animation I was constantly expecting that tension to release through a confrontation between the, the wife and the matador. I was also slightly confused as to why the animation seemed to be set up as a how to informational video on how to use a chainsaw safely.

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  14. Jing Huang says:

    I love Dennis’ presentation! He showed a lot of amazing short film he has been involved in. I really like these films. I remember the most is Chainsaw, that story impress me deeply. The story is satire tone, the woman character and the husband character has huge contrast. Husband love his wife too much, his love is tragic but beautiful. His death surprised me, but it’s natural. This story has it’s own power leave me a deep impression.

    I learned a lot from his presentation. It’s important to tell a story in good way, a good story moved not only artist self also strangers who never know artist.

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  15. Joe Stucky says:

    Dennis Tupicoff’s presentation was a moving dance with death. These things that we deal with in are lives wether we want to ignore them or not. Fantastic that Dennis threads the theme of death through all of his work. I find the discussion brought about by Denise’s films inspirational. perhaps this is why the Darra Dog bit moved me most as well. I am not so disturbed by the imagery that was presented, calloused perhaps by my own similar experiences. What was impressive to me was the emotion tied to these instances by Dennis, and his drive to make a film about it. So great for seminar to see Dennis sharing these films and moments first hand.

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  16. HyeonJeong Cho says:

    I truly enjoyed Dennis Tapicoff film’s and presentation. I love the theme(dark side of life? death i say?), the way he approached on subjects, and techniques.
    I personally think one of the best feature that rotoscoping has is looks realistic yet also unlike real; this fact gives some rooms to digest and breathe from emotionally intense artworks.
    Though I didn’t perfectly get some parts of Chainsaw; maybe due to my English, I liked the cynical funny factors the film has.
    It was so good to have a chance to watch his animation, such an inspiring time indeed!

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  17. ZOEY says:

    Dennis film was really powerful and impressive. All his topics and issues are very serious and deep but he used opposite ways, tones and colors to contrast something really miserable and dark which can really bring audience to another aspect to view things. And that kind of visual impact is even stronger. i can feel his emotions and unique vision and life experiences from his films.

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  18. Yingzong Xin says:

    I love Dennis’s film. All of his film has really deep and serious topic and that’s so special and touching. But the way he showing this topic is also funny and ironic , that can bring audiences more feeling about it . I always love to see the cynical films , Thanks to Dennis, I enjoyed a lot.

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  19. Ruchia Masuko says:

    Dennis Tupicoff’s animations are truly amazing. I especially loved Dance of Death, the form of characters are cute like if they are from cartoons, but the tones and story are strange and curious. The acting and the atmosphere make the animation very creepy, but enchantment.
    I wonder how the audience recognize if the characters have body that injured or dies, or body that never dies or injured like characters from Loony Toons.
    all the other works of his are very strong and give audience strange experiences.

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  20. Min Shi says:

    Dennis Tupicoff’s film are very powerful. He used lots of rotoscope and most of his film are based on true stories. Like the combination of these kind of real elements, from his work, rotoscope can really interpreted his main idea and create the vibe.
    “His mother’s voice”, which is based on a mother’s monologue interview about her son who has been shoot and then dead. The narration is very touching, delicate background depicts a real vibe of the mother’s house. The close up of mother’s eyes is very touching, I can watch this shot forever.
    His independent style is very unique and strong, looking forward to see what he come up with next!

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