The Animation Pimp: Annecy, Audiences, Art and Sandwiches

This month, The Animation Pimp both critiques and applauds the heckling audiences of Annecy.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Annecy, Audiences, Art and Sandwiches

I've never been a big fan of cinema audiences. Within those darkened, shadowed walls you can't help but see and hear a world that is a little bit fascistic. You either laugh or cry or applaud almost entirely in unison with the other seated souls. Emotions are suppressed so as not to disturb the others. It's entirely inappropriate to mock a film or laugh when others cry, or boo while the rest applaud. I just hate it. You can never truly be who you are. Emotions are tailored to the tune of your fellow audience members. It makes sense really and explains a lot of this society which carries the belief that, 'Rules say there is nothing more.' We live in a repressed era. The genuine or authentic are replaced by the mechanical or virtual. We cannot even laugh (on our own) at television. 'Canned' guffaws do that for us.

For this reason I always like two types of movie theatres. The first is kids' films. This is a wonderful experience. All these crazy little voices shouting an endless parade of grunts, guffaws and basic primary reactions unmediated and unconcerned with those around them. The second is the Annecy Animation Festival. It's great. They boo. They applaud sarcastically. They whistle...throw beach balls around...and it's complimented by crazy closing ceremonies, generally poor film selection and, surprisingly, a general lack of 'taste.'

Contrary to the notion that the French have good taste, the audiences in Annecy seem devoid of any. They want bunny rabbits, ducks, farts and gag films. They loathe anything 'ambitious' or 'arty.' It's quite surprising given Annecy's roots, but reveals how far Annecy has strayed from those days of 'promoting the art of animation.' In particular I remember in Annecy '99 how the audience was merciless in watching Austrian artist, Barbel Neubauer's abstract film, Firehouse. They whistled and applauded throughout her film and then she had to stand on stage after it. It was a terrible experience and she was deeply hurt by it. Fortunately, the jury consisted of more open-minded people and Barbel received a prize in the end. Justice.

Festivals are the last haven for stimulating animation, but even within these walls this is becoming a threat. Christ, in Ottawa, I keep hearing the same ol' complaints: "How can you choose The Night of the Carrots over great animation like Famous Fred?" What I loathe more than anything is that this mindset forces me to defend what is often an elitist group. When I became festival director I was eager to fight the apparent snob mentality of associations like ASIFA. For me, as long as a work stimulated me mentally, that was all I needed. I don't need to say this is ART and this is SHIT. But lately, I've found myself succumbing to the very elitism I loathe.

But hey, I may not agree with their taste, but I absolutely love this lovely crowd and wish other festival audiences would rise from the dead and respond. Animation festival theatres have become like the popular theatre of Brecht's time. He once said it was a world where the audience checked their head in at the door. The difference here is that the material being shown is usually high quality, provocative, challenging and innovative, but what we find is a case of over-polite, repressed audiences...and Christ, I don't know what life is like within commercial studio walls, but the independent crowd can be extremely conservative. It's part of this desperate attempt to project animation as a bourgeois art form. To applaud quietly and politely (like a golf clap wherein three fingers gently tap the palm of the other hand) and to cry over Father and Daughter is really about defining a notion of high art. To boo, heckle or applaud sarcastically is to reflect primitive, primate qualities attributed to low brow culture (eg. sports fans).

And yes animation is defined as entertainment and it needs to be more accepted as a stimulated form of expression. However these 'proper' artists (you know who they are) merely reinforce the very social injustice and inequalities they often critique. As another Frenchman said, by creating a high and low in art, you are merely reinforcing social or class differences. And this is often the problem (I've been guilty of it at times too). Too often we divide animation into a polarization of art vs. industry. Disney vs. McLaren, etc. We frown upon those commercial 'twits' who are 'unrefined' and lack sophistication, while we golf clap a Frédéric Back, Raoul Servais or Yuri Norstein film. Yet, this very attitude only further distances 'artistic' animation from the general audience. No one wants to be told WHAT is proper. The high brow enthusiasts have created a colony where we are told that to enter this realm you must understand proper etiquette or the 'delicate sensibilities' of a Renoir. Yeah...well, whatever. I'm gonna go and clean the shit off my shoes and make a sandwich...and ya know what? I'm not going to properly slice the sandwich into four pieces. Just gonna eat the whole friggin' thing. This colony of supposed sophisticates is a creation of those in power. It makes them feel better about themselves. It makes them special. It fills a bland materialist existence. Funny, but the irony of my bitching is that I had to go to University to learn that HIGH and LOW distinctions are silly.

We need to move beyond the extremes of art vs. industry. Yes, there are commercial craftsfolk who blindly reject anything with content, but there are also those so-called sophisticated folks who are just as blind in their assumptions. For example, Father and Daughter, The Old Man and The Sea and The Mighty River are considered beautiful, DELICATE, sophisticated works...in general...by the 'experts'...but shit Father and Daughter is a hollow effort. Yes, it's a beautifully designed film, but its story is sappy and emotional and really bares more resemblance to let's say Geri's Game than more provocative pieces like The Hat or Flying Nansen. Hell, I've seen episodes of The Simpsons and South Park that are more mentally stimulating and provide as scintillating a social critique as any Priit Parn film. It's like Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Chaplin wanted to be a serious artist. Keaton wanted to make people laugh. In the end, Keaton made more profound works.

Okay...rambling a bit...what's my point? 1. Annecy screenings are the best because you can be an individual. 2. Annecy audiences, however, can be very unsophisticated. 3. The word, ART and all the other slang associated with it (i.e. sophisticated) needs to be re-defined. 4. I do not cut my sandwiches.

Hottie Animator o' da Month

Well...he's not an animator, but Dr. Toon is a hottie. This man can write. Read it. Love it. Eat it.

This month's Animation Pimp is sponsored by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Quebec police: "Nothing says police state like tear gas, pepper spray and designated protest areas."

Next Month: A Proposal for the Death of Art.

Chris Robinson is a writer, festival director, programmer, junky and has been called the John Woo of diplomacy. His hobbies include horseback riding, pudpulling, canoeing and goat thumping.

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