“An Ode to the Viruses of Our Day: Watch Nicholas D’Agostino’s Animated Short, Despot
Previously at Filmmaker, animator Nicholas D’Agostino wrote about masks, animation and the power of myth. Now, on the last day of the Trump presidency, he premieres a new short, Despot, that he describes as an “ode to the viruses of the day.” Watch the short above and read D’Agostino’s statement about the film below.
On the eve of what many hope is a new chapter, for themselves, for their country, for the world, it feels only right to reflect on what has been wrought during these recent years. A reckoning that has culminated in the horrors of 2020. It was with a heavy heart that I undertook this project. The topic was one I very consciously avoided talking about in my work. Even when my hair was on fire, I didn’t draw a doodle, I didn’t post a line. Which of course was hard when you’re dealing with such unbelievably ripe fodder for caricature. But, if we’ve learned anything during all of this it’s that the air we give something, whether it be a person or a virus, can often help it grow.
I took inspiration and found solace in the bards of the ancients. In Enheduanna, in Homer, in Virgil. In those who reflected their strange and frightening times without making light of it, who brought the weight of epic poetry rather than the levity of satirical prose. Preserving this sense was hard fought. The piece was completed in late September of 2020 and while I would have very much liked to have been a part of the conversation at that time, the final movement of the work prevented that. Removing that section would have expedited the release, but leaving on a note of revelry did not sit well with my conscience. For months now I’ve pondered the validity of that decision and I imagine for many months to come we will all ponder our place in this mess. I’m left thinking about those who have been affected by the viruses of our day, but have not been afforded the relief that comes from sitting comfortably on the edge of one’s seat watching this nightmare unfold on a myriad of screens.
A virus and a despot have much in common. Both are only interested in their own survival, both overtake every facet of our lives and both can only be defeated when people come together. Yet, there is one difference which gives me pause, while a virus infects the body, a despot infects the soul and there is no vaccine for that. We are all susceptible to the siren song of superiority, to the sneering jeering voice that begs us to make a demon of our neighbors, to the righteous indignation which so soon sours into riotous anger. A figurehead may fall, but we will forever have to guard against the despot inside all of us.