Cold and gloomy January is a fitting month to focus on bad dreams. As paranoid classic Rosemary’s Baby plays at the BFI Southbank and the delightfully morbid exhibition Death: A Self Portrait shows at the Wellcome Collection, my mind turns to some recent work I’ve seen.

Beluga, Shin Hashimoto, 2012

A dark retelling of the Little Match Girl tale, where a dispossessed young girl sees disturbing visions of a cruel fantastical world where people appear like insects. Hashimoto’s beautiful painterly style has a childlike quality to it enhancing the ugliness of the horrific action. He plays with scale to great effect as the nightmarish visions change from one violent scene to the next, and the girl switches from hunted to hunter and back again.

Shin Hashimoto is an independent animator from Tokyo in Japan, and is represented by the first-rate label, CALF, that curates programmes at festivals and releases DVDs to present the talents of experimental Japanese animators to the world. Its roster includes the talents of Mirai Mitsue, TOCHKA, Kei Oyama, and Atsushi Wada (who I am delighted to be currently working with on a project for Channel 4). Check out CALF to see what’s hot from Japan right now.

Head Garden, Lilli Carre, 2009

In contrast to the previous film, this hand drawn film has a calmness about it which makes the action more unnerving. There’s an underlying longing for escape as the main protagonists’s shape shifts with each scene, reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland and Beluga above.

Lilli Carre is an animator and illustrator based in Chicago, US, who runs the fantastic Eyeworks Festival, helping to showcase new and classic experimental animated works. The festival screens work by digital animation pioneer Lillian Schwarz to recent RCA graduate Peter Millard and everything abstract and unconventional in between.

November, Hito Steyerl, 2004

I recently revisited this insightful film at a screening, and it reminded me just how much I love Steyerl’s work. A documentary essay film, November uses existing footage to tell a tale of friendship and loss, the personal vs the political, and the power of the image. Steyerl juxtaposes footage she shot for an action film featuring her best friend Andrea Wolf, with footage of Andrea later speaking as a Kurdish revolutionary, and of people demonstrating holding placards that feature Andrea’s image in memory of her execution. Sadly there is only the first 7 minutes of the film to be found online, however it’s enough to give a flavor of Hito Steyerl’s particular style.

Hito Steyerl constructs narratives using archive footage, testimony, popular cultural reference, and material from her own life, making for compelling viewing. Her work is personal, political and incredibly powerful. I recommend you check out her essay In Defense of the Poor Image on e-flux. Though for one so vocal about distribution in the digital age, it’s surprising there’s not more of her work available online to watch in glorious HD…

Whether it’s an animated tale of fantastical proportions or a real life telling of tragic circumstances, these three works show the power of film to stir the imagination and the heart.