They're like actors — if only actors were attached to sticks and strings and required five people to control their movements.
Puppets seen in the "Handmade Puppet Dreams Highlights," a series at the 2011 Newport Beach Film Festival in partnership with Florida-based IBEX Puppetry, can be scary, funny, heart-wrenching and nearly human.
"There is something really magical when you get that right combination of four or five people breathing and moving together," said Sam Hale, "Handmade Puppet Dreams" director and producer. "There is something almost uncanny about it."
The puppet short-film series includes Hale's "Yamasong," a surrealistic adventure story that combines puppets and green screen technology. It is the winner of Best Animated Film and Best Animated Fantasy Short at the Dragon*Con Independent Film Festival 2010.
The nine-film series also includes the world premiere of David Michael Friend's "Moonfishing" and a sneak preview of Kevin McTurk's "Narrative of Victor Karloch," Hale said.
While puppeteers have to compete with modern film technology, sometimes when blending the two genres, as Hale does, puppets retain a quality not seen in high-budget animated films.
"In puppetry, it's particularly hands-on," said Heather Henson, daughter of iconic puppeteer Jim Henson and founder of IBEX Puppetry. "The way it is made — every image molded, sculpted by a human hand — you can see the thumbprint of the artist on film."
The 1 p.m. Sunday screening at the Starlight Triangle Square Cinemas will be followed by a panel discussion with the films' producers, she said.
A documentary on the process of creating a puppet and a profile of Dan Hurlin, a New York puppet artist, plays at 3 p.m. Sunday at the cinema. The film, directed by David Soll, is not connected with IBEX.
Although some audiences increasingly accustomed to special effects may doubt the appeal of puppets, Hale said that puppets — especially when viewed in live theater — will outlast and adapt with all the technological changes.
"With puppets, there is a charm and mystery to it that you don't get with other mediums," Hale said.