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Episodes in Disbelief (2000)


A series of childhood memories and seemingly random thoughts about scientific discoveries are juxtaposed and presented as brief ‘chapters’ by the narrator, who attempts to come to terms with the death of her father and its effects on her family. Voice-over narration is by Clare Larman.

Curator’s notes

Unlike many commercial animated productions, Ann Shenfield aims to produce painterly, poetic or lyrical films, many of which are presented from a child’s perspective and deal with childhood loss. Episodes in Disbelief is an autobiographical film which uses voice-over narration by Clare Larman to present a child’s reflection on her father’s death and her mother’s resulting mental breakdown. Shenfield’s father, a filmmaker in Poland and Australia, died when she was five years of age. Her films are also shaped by her grandmother’s Holocaust experiences, as seen in A Saucer of Water for the Birds (1993).

A moving and, at times, disturbing film, Episodes in Disbelief presents snippets of the inner world of the child’s memory of her parents and intersperses these with references to a number of scientific discoveries in the outer, public world. All remain a puzzle to the narrator and she retains a sense of disbelief about these events as if to help her cope with the grief she has experienced. The long-term effects of childhood trauma are suggested by the narrator’s repeated reference to the sound of her mother screaming and by the phrase ‘colours seem to drain out of things for me’. The mother’s responsibility for her husband’s death is intimated by the narrator’s reference to the observer in a scientific experiment who influences its outcome by his or her mere presence.

Shenfield cites her formative influences as a magic show which she saw at the Louvre Museum in Paris as a child, together with the work of Canadian animator Caroline Leaf and Australian animator Sabrina Schmidt. She utilises an under-the-camera animation technique – drawing with pastel, paint or collage.

Episodes in Disbelief won the ATOM Award for Best Experimental Film in 2000 and a Special Commendation at the ART Film Festival in Italy in 2001. In 2003, Shenfield was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the National Poetry Association (USA) for Splendid Use of Poetry in Film. She now concentrates on writing rather than filmmaking and has produced a children’s book entitled Scribble Sunset (2008).