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Annecy 2002: Loud, Proud and Crowded

Pat Raine Webb reviews the films at Annecy 2002, from the surprise Grand Prix to the delights of the student competition. Includes QuickTime clips.

If you have the QuickTime plug-in, you can view a clip from many of the below films.

webbannecy01.jpgBarcode is Adriaan Lokman's debut film as an independent animation director. For this film he has brought 3D computer animation back to its abstract essentials: 3D form, light and camera. Using only a rudimental shape, he shows us an abstract road movie. View now. © il Luster Productions / Adriaan Lokman.

For some years many of us have felt that the Annecy festival had sacrificed quality for quantity and there are still too many competition programmes but the queues for tickets never lessen and it seems that no-one can get enough animation. Sadly much of it is destined for oblivion and few, if any, of the short films will be seen on television or in the cinema.

The juries had an unenviable task, especially in the short film category. Unusually for me, I agreed with almost all the decisions but the most difficult of all must have been the Grand Prix. I did not once experience that heart-stopping moment when you realise that this is IT -- when technique, virtuosity, narrative and pure delight overwhelm you. The winner Barcode by Adriaan Lokman of The Netherlands was certainly an extremely competent and enjoyable piece of computer animation, and to the best of my knowledge a totally abstract work has never won a Grand Prix at Annecy, but was the jury unanimous in thinking it was worthy of this major award? Two of them use traditional drawn animation (Michaël Dudok de Wit, Holland; Wendy Tilby, Canada), one is a journalist (Bernard Génin, France), two work in television (Carole Bonneau, Canada; Hélène Vayssières, France); the only "digital" expert was Pete Docter (USA), who directed Monsters, Inc. Or was it that they felt they must give an award? I was unable to confirm this one way or the other and I could go on speculating ad infinitum.

webbannecy02.jpg Audiences warmed up to the tale of a sloth, a woolly mammoth and a saber-toothed tiger coming together to return a human child to its father. See a clip! TM and © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved.

The festival opened with a screening of Ice Age in the presence of its directors Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha. I am not wild about animated features nor of computer animation, but this turned out to be a very entertaining film, full of charm and a warmth that belied its tit1e.

Professional Films

The first programme of shorts in competition included several films that, although well made, were unpleasant or downright scary, particularly Ferenc Cako's Psycho Parade. Sound levels were ear-shattering. After this, La Funambula (Tight Rope Walker) by Italy's Roberto Catani was like a breath of fresh air. The technique used is gypsum on black paper producing soft colours and textures blending with lyrical movement. The film deserved its Special Mention for artistic quality.

I approached further programmes with trepidation but there were some good things. Australia entered a lot of films dealing with family problems and Looking for Horses by Anthony Lawrence was no exception. Two little girls on vacation try to understand what is going on between their parents who are on the point of separation. The puppet animation is excellent and the characters appealing. Home Road Movies by Robert Bradbrook (UK) is the real-life story of a shy father and a family car, in a film that really touches your heart. This has missed out so many times with awards but the Annecy audience gave it a great reception and the jury obviously agreed as it won the Special Jury Prize. Roof Sex by Pes (USA) was clever and hilariously funny. It lasted little over a minute and was about sex between two armchairs on a rooftop! Yes -- two armchairs! This has to be seen to be believed. It deservedly won the prize for Best First Film. Surprisingly Suzie Templeton's Dog from the U.K. did not figure in the awards list. This is a harrowing tale of love and loss that is almost too affecting to watch. A small boy tries to cope with the death of his mother, the father cannot communicate his anguish and their pet dog is now dying. The model animation is amazingly detailed and expressive.

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Just one of this year's Aussie entries, the excellent Looking for Horses by Anthony Lawrence of Australia. See a clip! © Anthony Lawrence. The crowd roared after seeing Robert Bradbrook's Home Road Movies, a moving portrait of a man and the family memories he created by taking his family on road trip holidays. © a finetake production for Channel 4 in association with the Arts Council of England.

The audience prize went, almost inevitably, to Bookashkis (Mikhail Aldashin, Russia). This is the story of a family of bugs who, inspired by a visit from aliens and tired of being squashed by humans, decide to build their own space ship. Perhaps not the greatest of films but the animation is excellent and after some tedious stuff this roused cheers from the audience.

The Grand Prix for Best TV Animation Programme went to Barry J C Purves of the U.K. for Hamilton Mattress. This delightful story of an aardvark and his adventures told with superb puppetry was a well-deserved winner and is sure to appeal to kids of all ages. Also among the TV films in competition was the very well produced War Game directed by Dave Unwin (UK) that uses traditional drawn animation in a true story of soldiers in the First World War.

webbannecy05.jpg Written in Chinese, the title, Man Hang (Ephemeral Epiphany), means the way to reach true knowledge. Kim describes his work as an attempt to depict his own realization; the emptiness of meaning and the paralyzed salvation of life. Watch a clip. Hyunsuk Kim / School of Visual Arts. webbannecy06.jpg In a surreal landscape with paper patterns and sewing utensils, Lars Henkel's The Patchwork Queen shows the mending of broken hearts in exchange for a special tribute. View now. Lars Henkel 2001.

The Student Films

The four student competition programmes were impressive with some exciting graduate work especially from Germany where the standard was exceptionally high. South Korea also had some excellent films in this category. Strangely -- or maybe not -- no matter where the films were made a basic theme seemed to prevail -- an alienation from society: the lonely little orphan girl in Love (Inse Van Rossen, Belgium), the rejected and outdated robot in Buckethead (Dan Hartney, Australia) and the girl who grows up travelling on a train in De Là à Là (Elodie Bouedec, France). All these characters are imprisoned within the life that has been given to them with little or no chance to escape. Many different techniques and styles were employed, all of them well conceived.

There was no doubt that Das Rad (Rocks) by Heidi Wittlinger, Chris Stenner and Arvid Uibel (Germany) was going to win Best Student Film. In a bleak post-ice age landscape two ancient rock figures sit and talk as civilisations rise and fall, as the rocks continue, unchanged. I was very impressed with Man Hang (Ephemeral Epiphany) by Hyunsuk Kim from New York's School of Visual Arts. This was an intense work; a strange and terrifying look into our interior lives. I also loved The Patchwork Queen (Lars Henkel, Germany) for its surreal style using decoupage, cut-outs and 2D computer animation. A strange landscape is revealed where the Patchwork Queen mends broken hearts -- but at a price! Superb computer animation is used to create Buckethead (Dan Hartney, Australia). A rusty old robot looks for shelter and finds a world of joy and happiness. And on and on...it is difficult to stop praising the graduation films when many were of such high quality.

The standard of student work I saw at Annecy troubles me to some extent. Where is all this amazing talent going? The industry is having a difficult time in many countries and I am concerned that so many brilliant young people will find it hard to continue the excellent start they have made.

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Other Treats

Some good films that did not make it into competition appeared in Panorama. I especially loved The Lucky Dip (Emily Skinner, UK) about a small girl's adventures in a seaside arcade using beautifully designed puppets, and The World of Interiors (Bunny Schendler, UK) showing that drawing skills can still make a big impact in a computer-addicted world.

The screening of an enjoyable, documentary about Paul Driessen coincided with the publication of a new book about him work and an exhibition of original graphics. Paul Driessen Inside Out is a look at the artist and what makes him tick and at the strange and unique worlds he has created. Czech retrospectives were shown throughout the week with the work of all the greats from Jiri Trnka onwards and an exhibition of Svankmajer's work was mounted in the Chateau. Other special events included a series of programmes selected by leading animation artists, showing animated films that make us laugh and "Le Grand Sommeil" ("The Big Sleep") was a loving tribute to animators who had died in the past year: Faith Hubley, Chuck Jones, Jan Lenica, Paul Berry, Arcady and Yves Rifaux.

The closing ceremony was rather bizarre with the stage tarted up like a fairground but the prize giving went smoothly and this was followed by a screening of the winning films. Those who wanted to carry on partying -- a few thousand of us it seemed -- went to the Chateau for more celebrations.

If you want lots of action and don't mind crowds and queuing and more screenings then one human being can handle, then Annecy is the festival for you. But if you want to find the true spirit of animation you have to go to Zagreb!

Pat Raine Webb is a freelance researcher, writer and programmer in animated film with 25 years experience in the animation industry. She is president of ASIFA UK and publishes the group's quarterly magazine Dope Sheet.

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