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Anima Brussels: The Carnival of Animation

Joe Strike attends year two of the New York Comic Con to find out if the event is growing to a must-attend level like other Cons or if it will fade away in a few years.

Juror Susie Wilson, filmmaker Joanna Quinn and Nancy Denney-Phelps celebrate in the carnival atmosphere of Anima 2007.

The Anima Animation Festival in Brussels, Belgium (Feb. 16-25, 2007) celebrated its 26th year by moving to a new permanent home in the Flagey Cinema Complex, a classic 1930s art deco building. Attracting 30,000 animation lovers this year, the festival is unique in that it is designed to reach the public rather than being a rendezvous for animators. Although an internationally renowned jury selected the prizewinners, the emphasis is on diverse programming that will stimulate and delight a wide audience. Since it takes place during Carnival week and there is no school, afternoons are aimed at young film buffs. To facilitate a celebration in a multi-lingual country the event is conducted in three languages: French, Dutch and English.

Every evening the adult programs were packed with attentive animation fans and most of them retired to one of the three on-site festival bars after the screenings to carry on heated film discussions. Of the 10 feature films screened, six were designated as "children not admitted." Paprika, winner of the best-animated feature award, is a new film from Japanese director Satoshi Kon. It expands the psychological complexity that he delved into in previous films. Kon seems to feel more comfortable with young female characters so in Paprika a young female detective heads up an investigation that leads her to enter the dreams of her suspects. Paprika is due for release on May 25 in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics.

Adult programs were packed, including Paprika, winner of the best-animated feature award. From Japanese director Satoshi Kon. © 2006 MADHOUSE/Sony Pictures Ent. (Japan) Inc.

Danish director Anders Morgenthaler's Princess generated a great deal of controversy and conversation. Effectively integrating live action with animation, the film makes a very powerful plea against pornography. I find an even more important part of the story to be the concept that a person can start out with the best of intentions, but, through anger and hate, turn into a force even worse than the evil that they are trying to avenge. I first saw this film at a festival in November and have been reflecting on it ever since.

There was a screening of the British-Norwegian co-production, Free Jimmy, definitely a "Not for Children" feature-length animation. I have been hearing about the trials and tribulations of the making of the film for the last five years from my Norwegian friend Jo Hjertaker Jurgens, who worked as an animator on the film, so I was very glad to finally have a chance to see it. Free Jimmy describes itself as "Four stoners, five vegans, three mobsters, four hunters and a million reasons to free one elephant," referring to Jimmy as the ultimate symbol of the animal liberation movement. That pretty well sums it up. It will never pass as great art, but it was fun and the full house laughed a lot.

I later sat down with director Christopher Nielsen. Nielsen, a living legend of the Norwegian underground comic scene and a big R. Crumb fan, said that the film was made with "equal parts of good and bad luck," and that acquiring Woody Harrelson (it's the perfect vehicle for him), Kyle MacLachlan, Simon Pegg and Jim Broadbent for voice overs was a definite coupe. The film took six years and $16 million to make and, according to Nielson, "every Norwegian would have to see the film five times for it to recoup its costs."

Since there have only been only three or four Norwegian animated features previously, Free Jimmy has proved to be a training ground for a lot of young Scandinavian animators. Despite all of his trials, Christopher is very proud of the film, which is represented in the U.S. by the William Morris Agency.

Although ANIMA does not invite all of the animators whose films are accepted, there were still an impressive number of special guest artists who presented programs and retrospectives of their work. The delightful husband and wife team of Joanna Quinn and Les Mills (Les is the writer/producer of their production company, Studio Beryl Co.) brought her character Beryl in all of her glory to the festival. The very talented and fun couple screened a body of their work, ranging from Joanna's student film, Girl's Night Out, the first of the Beryl films, to the many recognizable commercials for such companies as Whiskers and United Air Lines. Their 12-year old daughter, Paloma, is already beginning to follow in this animated family's footsteps -- she will be a member of the young people's jury at an animation festival in Egypt this year.

Danish director Anders Morgenthaler's Princess generated a great deal of controversy and conversation. Effectively integrating live-action with animation, the film makes a very powerful plea against pornography. Courtesy of Trust Film Sales.

I spent a lovely afternoon out and about Brussels with Estonian animator Priit Parn, and over a leisurely lunch I learned that he is working on a new film. That is sure to be wonderful news for all of his fans and admirers. (He stopped working when his wife died a couple years ago.) Priit introduced a program of his films, and, the next day, there was a screening of Hardi Volmer's 2005 documentary, Parnography, which gives an in depth look into Parn's work and personal life.

Doug Calder, director of Flushed Away, and a long time Aardman Animation team member gave an inside look at the making of the film to a packed house and talked very candidly about the well publicized split between Aardman and DreamWorks.

A real treat at the Festival for me was the opportunity to view several animation treasures. It was enjoyable to watch a pristine print of Miyazaki's 1986 classic, Castle in the Sky, with an audience of young filmgoers who found it as absorbing and enchanting as I did when I first saw it 20 years ago.

While American children were watching the pop culture icon Scooby-Doo, generations of Europeans grew up on the adventures of La Petite Taupe (The Little Mole), I had never had the pleasure of discovering this delightful Czech animated series until I sat in a theatre full of two to seven year olds who found the adventures of the little mole and his friends, the mouse, the owl and the snail as captivating as their parents had a generation before them. The entire audience, young and old alike, was completely silent except for peals of laughter at the appropriate times.

Animator Zdenek Miller created the first of the 50 episodes in 1956, pairing bright beautiful images with delightful music. Whether the Little Mole is discovering the joys of the carnival, pots of paints, or the adventure of driving an auto, we are taken to a magical land populated by Taupek (as he is known in his original country) and his friends.

Free Jimmy definitely falls into the

Another cinematic wonderland was the screening of the entire National Film Board of Canada's digitally restored body of Norman McLaren's work, along with Don McWilliams' excellent documentary, Creative Process: Norman McLaren. Several people told me that they had come to the festival specifically to see all 10 separate episodes.

SIGGGRAPH's Computer Animation Festival made its first appearance at ANIMA this year with a two-hour program featuring computer-generated work created for cinema, TV, videogames and scientific simulation. Even though I am not usually thrilled by computer animation, the program was so varied that I could not help but be impressed.

With the recent announcement that DreamWorks will film Tintin, the iconic Belgian hero of 23 books and two previous live-action and three animated films, he will soon be as well known to American young people as he is in Europe. As intriguing as Tintin's adventures are, the real life story of his creator George Remi, better known as Hergé, is even more curious.

In his 2004 documentary, Tintin and I, director Anders Hogsbro Ostergaard utilizes footage from a 1971 interview with Hergé that he uncovered while browsing through the archives of the Foundation Hergé in Brussels. The audiotape of this interview has remained intact, and on it, Hergé reveals his torments as a creator, his obsessive dream of pureness and the demons in his past. Ostergaard illustrates Herge's confessions with digitized and reprocessed images taken from films and other interviews, along with photos and drawings, to give us a glimpse of this extremely fragile person and magnificent creator. Two of the animated adventures, Tintin and the Lake of Sharks and Tintin and the Sun Temple were also screened.

Children are initiated into the magic world of cinema at a very early age. One very lovely festival tradition is the annual children and parents party. One of the festival bars was turned into a workshop area with activities for all ages, ranging from face painting for the very youngest, to various drawing and craft projects. The children ranged in age from two to 12 years old, and they and their parents were treated to food and drink. The event ended with a screening of Flushed Away in the main theatre.

The entire National Film Board of Canada's digitally restored body of Norman McLaren's work, along with the excellent documentary, Creative Process: Norman McLaren, were screened at Anima. © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reser

This year, the festival staff moved into its new home at the Flagey on the Wednesday before the festival started, but you would never have guessed it from the seamless efficiency and the warm and gracious reception that the entire festival staff, from festival co-directors Doris Cleven and Philippe Moins, press liaison Francoise Cathala, to the large army of volunteers, extended to everyone. The Flagey, a classic 1930s art deco building, and the former studio for the two French- and Flemish-speaking broadcasting companies, has a large screening room, a small, more intimate theatre, numerous conference and office rooms and three bars, making it a perfect setting for the festival.

There were so many other opportunities to see exceptional programs, such as programs of shorts in competition, The Animated Night (hours of animation running from 10:00 pm into the wee hours of the morning), and the Dutch Animated Poetry Project, that I cannot possibly write about them all. A visit to the website will give you a sense of the vast scope of the Anima Animation Festival. Next year's festival will take place Feb. 1-10, 2008

The Complete List Of Prizewinners From The International Competition

Jury PrizesAnima 2007 Best Short Film (professional category, 3,000 euros, offered by the Région de Bruxelles Capitale): Tyger by Guilherme Marcondes (Brazil)

Anima 2007 Best Student Film (2,500 euros, offered by IVG Immobilien): Adjustment, by Ian Mackinnon (Great-Britain)Special mention in this category: Horn OK Please, by Joel Simon (Great Britain)

Audience PrizesAnima 2007 Audience Prize (1,000 euros, offered by the Commune of Ixelles): Never Like The First Time by Jonas Odell (Sweden)

Anima 2007 Audience Prize, Best Feature Film for Children: U, by Grégoire Solotareff and Serge Elissalde (France)

Anima 2007 Audience Prize, Best Feature Film for Adults: Paprika by Satoshi Kon (Japan)

Prizes awarded by Festival Partners

Best TV Prize, Feature Film: Paprika, by Satoshi Kon (Japan)

The Complete List of Prizewinners from the National Competition

Jury PrizesThe Grand Prix de la Communauté française for a film from the French community (2,500 euros): A l'ombre du voile by Arnaud Demuynck

The SACD Prize (2,000 euros): Tempus Fluit by Thies Baert

The Sabam Prize/Promotion artistique belge (P.A.B.) (2,000 euros): Administrators by Roman Klochkov

Special Mention to the music videos The Residents: La la and The Residents: Nice Old Man by Geert Vandenbroele

Audience PrizeAnima 2007 Audience Prize for Best Belgian Short Film: Recto Verso by Gabriel Jacquel

Prizes awarded by festival partners:Be TV Prize (1,500 euros including broadcast rights): Administrators by Roman Klochkov

RTBF Prize/ Broadcast Acquisition: Recto Verso by Gabriel Jacquel

Cinergie Prize Electronic Press: Death's Job by Johan Pollefoort

The Cartoon d'Or

Anima's nominations for the Cartoon d'Or 2007, which will be awarded in Sept. 2007 are:

A l'ombre du voile by Arnaud Demuynck

Adjustment by Ian Mackinnon (Great Britain)

Never Like The First Time by Jonas Odell (Sweden)

Nancy Denney-Phelps has produced music for animation for the past 15 years. She has written about animation and animation festivals for such publications as Animatoons, Film/Tape World, Reel World and the ASIFA /San Francisco news magazine and is a member of the ASIFA International Board. In April, Nancy, her composer/musician husband Nik Phelps and their two dogs moved from San Francisco to Gent, Belgium, where they now have their home.