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The Annecy International Animation Film Festival '99

Don Duga relates his Annecy experience where he met filmmakers, attended screenings and was part of an international dialogue between animation instructors and ASIFA board members.

Download a Quicktime movie clip of When the Day Breaks, Annecy's Grand Prix winner.

A dragon welcomes visitors to the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. © Odile Jacquot.

A dragon welcomes visitors to the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. © Odile Jacquot.

I traveled to theInternational Animation Film Festival in Annecy, France as a representative of the Animation Department at the School of Visual Arts, New York. When I arrived on Sunday at Geneva Airport, my experience was off to an exciting start. While looking for a bus, I saw a sign, held up by a French taxi driver, which read: "Mr. George McBean to Annecy."

I had just spoken on the telephone the previous Friday to Mr. McBean, the Communications Officer at UNICEF, about the screening in Annecy of UNICEF's cartoons for children's rights. The School of Visual Arts produced and SVA students animated two of the UNICEF spots which would be screened at Annecy, so I asked the driver to take me along as well. In addition to George McBean, an American woman was also in the taxi. She turned out to be the talented filmmaker Joan Gratz, who can make clay look like oil paint. I always tell my visual arts students about her and how much I admire her films. So, I asked to interview her, and invited her to come to New York and speak to my SVA students, to which she agreed!

On Monday I went to the Bonlieu to pick up my press pass and get my mail box. Joan Gratz was there too, so we went to the café in front of the Bonlieu Theatre. As we sat, waiting for a waiter, a French man joined us. Joan introduced him as Michel Ocelot, the president of ASIFA International. Michael Ocelot had recently finished his animated feature film Kirikou and the Sorceress, which was going to be screened the following morning. It was a great pleasure to meet the filmmaker even before seeing his film.

The Festival

The opening event of the film festival was dedicated to Japanese Animation. We watched a screening of Princess Mononoke, a 1997 feature film by Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli. The film was fantastic; I was especially impressed with the incredible cinematic staging, specifically the use of dramatic angle shots and perspective. In the theatre lobby, there was an exhibit of artwork and posters from Princess Mononoke, as well as other Japanese animated films. The exhibit included a 26 field set-up for a multiplane background. I found it unusual and refreshing to view the artwork for the backgrounds.

Kirikou and the Sorceress won the prize for best animated feature. Courtesy of Les Armateurs.

Kirikou and the Sorceress won the prize for best animated feature. Courtesy of Les Armateurs.

On Tuesday I went to the screening of Michel Ocelot's Kirikou and the Sorceress. It was by far the best animated feature film ever made. The story, design, and animation were synthesized beautifully, creating such a deep impact that it brought me to tears.

After the screening, I told Michel Ocelot that I don't usually cry at animated films. He then informed me that the BBC unfortunately would not show his film because the women in it are bare breasted and the children are nude. Michel pointed out that he illustrated the film in this way because it is an African tale and he wished to depict African culture accurately. I later found out that Michel Ocelot grew up in Africa. I believe this film must be very close to his heart, and I was saddened that the BBC is refusing to show this groundbreaking and powerful film.

Later that day I saw the short film program. I most enjoyed The Albatross by Paul Bush of Great Britain. The film was well paced and retained the integrity of the poem upon which it is based. Bush used an extremely interesting technique to create his film, scratching into the negatives to create a woodcut quality. Dowager's Feast by Joan Gratz was also shown at this program. She used her clay painting technique in creating the film, which is, as always, a visual treat.

That evening I attended the premiere of UNICEF's Cartoons for Children's Rights. Featured were 37 spots from 25 countries, including the two aforementioned films animated by School of Visual Arts' students and produced by the school. These films were titled, "Exercising the Right to Protection Breaks the Cycle of Abuse," and "Hygiene Spot." I was extremely pleased to see our students' films chosen for this program.

After the UNICEF screening, I attended the opening reception for Raoul Servais at the Castle Museum, which was a fabulous place to show Servais' work. The show included everything from his early comic strips to his films. We viewed Chromophobia (1966), Goldframe (1969), Operation X (1971), and Taxandria, made in 1994 in collaboration with Paul Delvaux. In this film, Servais uses his new technique, Servaigraphy, which is a process of layering images on the film. I had the pleasure of seeing the set-up of the special camera designed for Servaigraphy on display.

When the Day Breaks won the Grand Prix. © 1999 and courtesy of National Film Board of Canada.

When the Day Breaks won the Grand Prix. © 1999 and courtesy of National Film Board of Canada.

An International Dialogue with ASIFA

On Wednesday, as a representative of the School of Visual Arts animation department, I was invited to lunch with a group of animation instructors from schools around the world. We met to discuss methods that could be used to initiate an international dialogue between instructors of animation and ASIFA board members. I discussed my pet project which I created in New York between the School of Visual Arts and ASIFA members. ASIFA members can attend a life drawing class, for which the space and model are provided by the School of Visual Arts. This life drawing class is very successful; it has a high record of attendance and has been running for two years.

Everyone present at the conference felt this was an excellent way to begin a collaboration between instructors of animation and ASIFA. In general I found the meeting very productive. It was the first in a series of meetings which will take place at various festivals, the next one being in Ottawa.More Film Viewing In the following days I saw many films, my favorites of which were Lucky and Zorba from Italy's Enzo d'Alo, the television special The Bear from Great Britain by Hilary Audus, a student film Sanland from Germany by Heiko Lueg, At the End of the Earth from France by Konstantin Bronzit, Jolly Roger from Great Britain by Mark Baker, Surprise Cinema from the United States by Bill Plympton, and When the Day Breaks from Canada by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis.

Festival goers enjoyed an outdoor screening of Walt Disney's Pinocchio near the shore of Annecy's lake. © Odile Jacquot.

Festival goers enjoyed an outdoor screening of Walt Disney's Pinocchio near the shore of Annecy's lake. © Odile Jacquot.

Awards Ceremony and Farewell Dinner

The final event at the film festival was the Awards Ceremony, during which there was a biographical film tribute to Jean-Luc Xiberras, the beloved director of the Annecy Film Festival who passed away last year. After the film, the screen went black and only his voice was left. This was very moving and created the impression that Jean-Luc was still there at the festival.

At the Awards Ceremony, I was happy to see prizes awarded to several of the films I had most enjoyed. Kirikou and the Sorceress won for Best Animated Feature. Among other winners were When the Day Breaks by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis, At the End of the Earth by Konstantin Bronzit, Jolly Roger by Mark Baker, and The Bear by Hilary Audus.

After the awards screening there was a dinner party, held at The Castle, for everyone who worked at the festival and for the artists who entered their films. This was a very pleasant way to end the festival since I had the opportunity to meet many interesting people. I talked with the jury members, with the artists whose films were shown, and with those who had worked in various other capacities to make the festival a success. I met Corinne Denis, who was responsible for translating the competing films, and related to her that Frank Mouris was very pleased with the translation of the film he and Caroline Mouris had submitted, Frankly Caroline. Later that evening, when Michel Ocelot, the creator of Kirikou and the Sorceress, entered the room, he received a standing ovation.

In general, I found this trip highly productive. It was not only enriching and inspiring to me personally, but was also extremely important because of the initiation of meetings between instructors of animation and ASIFA board members worldwide. I feel that Annecy 1999 deserves a standing ovation.

Don Duga is Director/Animator for Polestar Films, New York, and an Instructor of Animation at The School of Visual Arts in New York City.