The Animation Pimp: Elbows and Cakeholes

The Animation Pimp discusses the Academy's choices for Best Animated Short Film and suggests that some changes are made to their nominating process.

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Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Ill be the first to admit that 2002 was not a great year for animation films. There were a number of okay-good-decent works, but nothing that really stood out, nothing that Ive any real desire to postpone a repeat screening of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Six Feet Under or Hockey Night in Canada for. Neverthelessthere were certainly a handful of films that warranted Oscar nominations over the suspect list of shorts that got the nods. Mt. Head by Koji Yamamura is about the only title (wellokaymaybe I can accept Das Rod) that deserves to be on this list. But are you gonna tell me that this asinine piece of shit called The Chubb Chubbs, a film that only a chair could love, or Mikes New Car (ha hathe monster has problems with his carHA HA HAoh god thats so damn original, so cleverand heylook the blue monster hair is SO REALISTIC) is a better work than Chris Hintons Flux, Robert Bradbrooks Home Road Movies, Jonas Odells Family and Friends or Priit Tenders Mont Blanc? And what of the Mexican puppet film, Close to the Bone? (Yeahokaythe credits are WAY TOO LONG but still). Hell, there are festival rejects that are better than most of these nominees.

And hold upbefore some of you schmucks start writing in sayingCome on Pimp, of course the Oscar selection is a jokewhat do you expect? I say, "STOP." I know its old hat to bitch and moan about the lack of taste (and yes folks lets call it for what it is) of the Academy voters, but lookanimation fights tooth and nail for exposure and respectespecially festival animation. The Oscars are an important vehicle because they have the power and influence to bring these films to the attention of a much wider audience than either Annecy or Ottawa (for example) can. Its also important for the animators from a financial perspective. It gives them leverage for future funding. Unfortunately, what the world is seeing is a heavily unbalanced, unfair and watered down to the point of being a desert, competition.

The Cumbersome Process

Okay first things firstaccording to a couple of Academy voters, this is how the whole process works.

To enter, you must fill out an entry form. Then you have to set up something like two to three public screenings in the Los Angeles area. This isnt so hard because for a few hundred Yankee green (according to more than a few people, this rate magically rises each year) you can get the Laemmle Theaters to show your work of beauty. BUT HOLD ONIf your entry has won a first prize in a recognized film festival (likegosh golly gee, that dandy animation event in Ottawa), you receive a buy of sorts, meaning you dont have to worry about a public screening.

Each year a letter is sent to all Academy members of the shorts branch asking them if they want to watch all the entries. Given that the screenings only take place in Los Angeles over the course of many weekends, there ain't many folks outside the L.A. area goin'. This L.A. selection committee (lets say) composed of maybe 30 boys and girls, watches all the films (so we assume) and narrows the list from about 300 or so entries to, this year, nine films (i.e., the short list).

For a film to make it to the short list it must receive an average vote of 8.5 (6 is the worst, 10 the best). Needless to say, its pretty easy for a few malcontent slugs to blacklist a title or two but giving low marksbut hey...we know that theres no one like that in the L.A. animation community.

Now get this, prior to this year the short list was a poorly kept secret AND the films were ONLY shown in Los Angeles. Fortunately, some knuckleheads pulled their heads out of their asses and set up member screenings in New York and San Francisco (there might even be a London screening too) so that area members could vote. Unlike the animation features category, screeners are not sent to members, they must instead be screened in a theatre to be voted on. (Ohand apparently Canucks were invited to New York but none were able to make the ten hour drive.)

No Shortage of Shortcomings

It doesnt take a Mensa member to see the shortcomings here. FIRST, the Academy is only getting about 300 films. Ottawa got 1700. Annecy got around 1400. Even smaller festivals in Holland, Hiroshima and Zagreb have over 1000 entries. (Yessome of these are ineligible commissioned works, but in Ottawa 75% of the entries are short films.) And this isnt really a surprise. Unless youre fortunate enough to win first prize at an approved festival, youve got to fork over a few U.S. dollars to set up a screening. Most entrants would be scared off way before that when they see that theyve got to set up a public screening. I meanhow many non-studio backed animators can afford this? The NFB in Canada is loaded and have staff and money to look after the Oscar submissions, but what about the rest of Canada? When was the last time we saw a non-studio supported Canadian animation in the running? And what about indie animators in the rest of the world? They spend most of the year just trying to find money for prints, videos, stills, entry fees (in the U.S. of course)how the fug are they supposed to come up with a few hundred magic beans AND ship their film print to/from L.A.? Tough toodies I guess.

This small body of films is then judged by maybe 30 Academy members, most of whom (not all) are either old farts and/or studio types who likely dont go to many international animation festivals AND have a prevalence toward farce/gag/anthropomorphism films. Im not knocking them per se. Nothing wrong with liking cute monsters and all that assorted techno fetish stuff BUT, are these same people open minded/informed enough to deal with Mulloy, Kovalyov, Pärn, Dumala, let alone Hinton, Cournoyer, Odell or Broadbrook? (I suspect of course that Home Road Movies was deemed NON-animation by the liberal Academy members.) There are other voicesnot all of whom ONLY love good ol fashioned chuckle a minute shorts with lovable nippleless animals, but clearly they are a minority.

So what the world is getting in the end is a fraudulent representation of international animation. And this isnt an anti-American rant, so take those about to be breathed words and stuff them back down your pipehole. These are Los Angeles awards, they are a celebration of the Hollywood industry. Theres absolutely nothing wrong with that EXCEPT that youre leading the public (those three people who care about the animation short category!) to believe that these five animations represent the best of animation around the world and, taste issues aside, we all know that is complete and utter bullshit. Why the hell not just call it the Best American Animation Short (Yeswhy not do the same with the Best Film as well!)?

Can We Help?

So whats the solution? Boycott? Nahthat means even less representation. Perhaps making more of an effort to contact animators would be a start (I've heard through the grapevine that Ron Diamond, for example, contacts, encourages and helps a number of filmmakers whose films he saw and liked at international festivals). [Editor's Note: Ron Diamond is the co-founder and president of Animation World Network, www.awn.com.] A better explanation of the entry procedure, or simply doing away with this ludicrous public screening rule would be a start. And aside from offering the Academy frat club either 1. an elbow in the mouth or 2. a swift kick up their crusty, aged cakeholes for their myopic tastes, why not invite more international representation? Wouldnt it make sense for the Academy to have a closer link with ASIFA International? Now I realize that you couldnt just have every ASIFA member become an Academy member, but why not invite the ASIFA International Board or the President of every national ASIFA chapter to be an Academy member? It would not only encourage those people to explain the entry process to their members, but it would also widen the taste buds of the voting process. And what about festival programmers/directors? You might not like my taste, but you cant argue with the fact that I easily see at least 1000 new films per year as do my colleagues around the world. Why would the Academy not welcome the obvious expertise of festival programmers?

So naturallythe absolutelybestestgreatestfantasticstupendous step that the Academy can take is to vote me in, right now.

Okayits MarchSpring is comingthe birds are singinglets not end on bad terms. Weve still got the Animated Feature category and at least the feature voters showed great humour by nominating that horsey film over Mutant Aliens for Best Feature. Thats one of the great pranks of the century. What a riot those guys are! Ba ha ha ha.

Hottie Animator(s) of the Month

For their generosity and time during my short February visit to New York, I say merci to Bill Plympton, Signe Baumane, Richard OConnor and Candy Kugel (whose pasta blows the overpriced trickery of da Silvano away).

Chris Robinson is but a man. His hobbies include squirrel taunting, goat thumping, meat dancing and elderly peeping. You can find the results at http://asifa.net/robinson

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