#396) Scratch and Crow (1995)


#396) Scratch and Crow (1995)

OR “We Need to Talk About Helen”

Directed by Helen Hill

Class of 2009

The Plot: Helen Hill’s abstract animation shows a surreal account of a chicken’s life span, from being hatched by a cat, to its death in some sort of teakettle, to its ascension into the sky as a flying egg.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “poetic and spiritual”, and praises its “vivid color” and “light sense of humor”. The write-up also includes a link to Helen Hill’s official Vimeo page.

But Does It Really?: I am all for the NFR including animated shorts on the list, especially shorts by the underrepresented population of female animators, and especially if said female animator’s life was tragically cut short. Thank you NFR for preserving a film by Helen Hill, and ensuring that her sadly silenced voice has a place to be heard.

Everybody Gets One: Helen Hill made her first animated film, “The House of Sweet Magic”, when she was 11 years old, inspired by a presentation filmmaker Stan Woodward made to her class. After graduating from Harvard as an English major, and marrying classmate Paul Gailiunas, Hill pursued her passion for animation and received an MFA at CalArts. “Scratch and Crow” was her thesis project.

Seriously, Oscars?: No Oscar love for Helen Hill’s animation. For the record, 1995’s Best Animated Short winner was the Wallace & Gromit cartoon “A Close Shave”.

Other notes

  • “Scratch and Crow” was inducted into the NFR in the same class as “Little Nemo”, “Quasi at the Quackadero”, and “The Red Book”. Someone in the 2009 committee really pushed for experimental animation.
  • Based on this film, chickens are hatched by either giant gray cats or the Putty Patrollers from “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”.
  • Does anyone know where the text comes from? Did Helen write that as well?
  • After the umpteenth shot of a flying egg, I’m beginning to think that this film’s depiction of the chicken life cycle might not be scientifically accurate.
  • Like many of Helen’s films, the final message is an uplifting one, with the faith that we are all “good chickens”.


  • After graduating from CalArts, Helen Hill moved to New Orleans and continued making animated shorts. Sadly, Hill lost most of her possessions in Hurricane Katrina, and was displaced from her home for over a year. Less than five months after returning to New Orleans, Helen was murdered by an unidentified intruder in her home. She was 36.

Further Viewing: In addition to Helen Hill’s NFR recognition, her filmography has been preserved by the Harvard Film Archive, and is available to view on her official Vimeo page, monitored by her husband Paul Gailiunas.

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