With a title like “Attack of the Killer Trees,” the viewer may expect a retro horror aesthetic and cheesy special effects. However, Valerie Giuili’s animated film instead offers a colorful, animated story of hapless Louie Lumberjack as he discovers the dramatic repercussions of his unsustainable job.
Winner of the best in show category at the Campus Events Commission’s 20th annual Shorttakes Student Film Festival, “Attack of the Killer Trees” follows Louie Lumberjack on a routine work day gone horribly wrong after he wanders into a spooky forest filled with hostile plant life.
The Shorttakes festival honors student-produced work in drama/thriller, comedy, documentary and animation. The best in show” category awards the film that the judges think deserves extra recognition for excellence across all categories. Films were critiqued and awarded by a panel of celebrities and industry insiders, including actor Alexis Denisof, Glen Mazzara (producer of “The Walking Dead” series) and Stuart Dryburgh (cinematographer of “Bridget Jones’ Diary” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”). “Attack of the Killer Trees,” among other winning films, was screened on May 15 in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom.
Giuili, an interdisciplinary artist studying animation at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, wrote and animated the film by herself. The festival marks the second time the film has screened before an audience; its premiere took place at the 2013 Matt Groening Awards.
As a recipient of the Groening Fellowship, Giuili funded her project through grant money. Matt Groening, creator of the “The Simpsons,” awards the fellowship to TFT animation students creating films with themes of social responsibility.
“Attack of the Killer Trees” contains an underlying message promoting ecological longevity through simple lifestyle changes. Louie Lumberjack, torn between his job and an increasingly eco-conscious society, faces his guilt as he encounters the hoard of vengeful trees. Through Louie’s example, Giuili said that she hopes to highlight the importance of both conserving and renewing the environment.
“I also wanted the film to be entertaining and found it a bit of a struggle to write a piece that wasn’t too heavy-handed,” Giuili said. “But in the end I feel the socially conscious context provided me a bit more of a creative structure to work in.”
The idea of the film came to her during a storyboarding class. With the Groening Fellowship in mind, she developed a creative structure to present her message of environmental consciousness. She said that she highlighted this message because she believes it is becoming less of a focus compared to other world issues.
“I think that it can be very impactful for people to consider the consequences of their actions a bit more when it comes to the environment,” Giuili said.
To carry her message further, she decided on the forest setting because she said the growth and death of the trees pinpoint the cyclical nature of the environment. She believes Louie Lumberjack’s interaction with the trees also demonstrates the interdependence of living things and how small actions can create larger changes.
UCLA alumna and friend Jessica Hokanson said that as an environmentalist, she appreciated how Giuili delivered her message in a creative, fun way.
“It was done in a very funny and clever way, and it wasn’t too preachy,” Hokanson said.
As the sole creator of the film, Giuili said that she enjoyed having full control of the both the message and the project itself.
“That’s actually the mantra in (the animation) department: one person, one film,” Giuili said. “We’re able to take full control of our projects, which I think is consistent with the entrepreneurial spirit necessary for today’s emerging artist.”
She plans to submit the film to future festivals beginning this June. In the meantime, Giuili is developing a fantasy web series starring an evil unicorn. Targeted for an older demographic, the series will be available on YouTube and her website as she completes each episode.
UCLA alumna and friend Kelly Lake said that while “Attack of the Killer Trees” marks one of Giuili’s first major successes in animated film, Guili will continue to progress as a filmmaker and create noteworthy work.
“(Giuili) is really talented,” Lake said. “It’ll be really interesting to see what she ends up doing once she’s done with UCLA, because I think she has a really bright future in animation in front of her. So I’d say that this film is the first step toward that really great career.”