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Book Review: Tricky Women: Women In Animation

Nancy Phelps discusses the 12 collected essays analyzing women and their history and involvement in animation.

Edited by:  Brigitt Wagner/Waltraud Gruber (Hg.)

Published By:  Schuren Verlag  (Marburg, 2011)

Price  : €24,89 (approximately $33.00 USD)

You can order the book on line at the Tricky Women Animation Festival Store (www.trickywomen.at/en/festival/)

or from the publishers.

The Tricky Women Animation Festival has published a 189 page book honouring women in animation.  Birgitt Wagner and Waltraud Grausgruber (Hg.), directors of the Vienna-based festival have edited the twelve essays written by scholars, animators and educators.

The opening essay is Historical Milestones: Who Gets to Tell Whose Stories?, by Jayne Pilling,  Director of the British Academy Awards as well as a historian and curator. Jayne traces the careers of pioneers from Lotte Reiniger and Mary Ellen Bute, who were able to work on their own because they were either supported by parents, husbands, or well off in their own right, down to present day women including  Signe Baumane, Ruth Lingford, and JoAnna Quinn who finance their own projects and often work alone.

I particularly enjoyed The Czech and Slovak New Female Wave of Animation essay by journalist/animation researcher Eliska Decks.  When most people think of contemporary Czech animation, Michaela Pavlatova immediately comes to mind.  Michaela’s insightful storytelling, often ironic and politically incorrect views of relationships, has brought short animation to the attention of adult audiences who heretofore have relegated it to children’s entertainment.  It has also earned her numerous festival awards and an Academy Award nomination. Pavlatova’s work has blazed the trail for an entire new breed of young Czech and Slovenian women who are creating their own unique heroines.

Ruth Lingford’s piece on the art of Vera Neubauer entitled Soft Toys, Rough Treatment was followed by Masa Ogrizek’s interview with Neubauer.  Vera is a pioneer in the art of transforming animation by women from “lovely little stories” into works dealing with female emotions.  Vera talks frankly about being cast as a feminist saying, “I never considered myself as being political, but at the time I started making films the personal was political.”  Her point of view is shared by many of the next generation of female animators who are telling their own personal stories.

Four of the essays are in German while the remaining eight are only in English.  Unfortunately for me, the essay about Mary Ellen Bute is only in German. I am very interested in her work because she worked with what she called visual sound.  Unfortunately her work is barely known today as good prints of her films are rarely shown and there is surprisingly little written about her. 

I would also liked to be able to read the chapter on Russian women animators but it was also only in German.  Dina Goder, a critic writing about Russian film and animation, profiled three generations of Russian women animators.  Oxana Cherkasova began working in the mid ‘80’s, Svetlana Filippova began her career in the late ‘90’s representing the middle generation, and Yulia Aronova belongs to the new generation of women.

Women are not prominently represented in the digital design of the gaming industry.  Jennifer Jenson and Suzanne de Castell analyse the obstacles female game designers face in God Trick, Good Trick, Bad Trick, New Trick:  Reassembling the Production Line. 

Along with the essays, Women in Animation has two lovely surprises for readers.  Ten well known female animators were asked to name the three films by women they each considered to be Milestones in Animation.  The individual selections give an interesting insight into their own work.  It was intriguing to learn that such a diverse group as Sarah Cox, Gaelle Davis, Vera Naubauer, Joanna Priestly, and Marjut Rimminen all selected Caroline Leaf’s 1976 film The Street.  This was the only title to appear on multiple lists.

The second surprise is a five film DVD that is included in the book.  The DVD is worth the price of the book alone because most of these films are not seen very often.  The films are:

  •     Le Chapeau/The Hat – Michele Cournoyer (Canada)
  •     Flawed – Andrea Dorfman (Canada)
  •     Blind Justice:  Some Protection – Marjut Rimminnen (Great Britain)
  •     Pleasures of War – Ruth Lingford  (Great Britain)
  •     Ostorozhno, Dveri Otkryvajutsia!/Caution, The Doors Are Opening (Mind the Gap) –Anastasia Zhuravleva (Russia)

All five films show life from distinctly different feminine perspectives.  I was especially pleased that Anastasia Zhuravleva’s delightful film was included in the collection.  Anastasia used buttons, pins, thimbles, and zippers, materials usually associated with women, to tell her story of rush hour on the Moscow underground.

Tricky Women: Women In Animation is full of information on subjects ranging from the work of female pioneers in the animation industry to the gaming industry and museum installations.  The book is academically oriented and I wouldn’t recommend it for readers who just have a casual interest in animation, but for anyone wanting analysis of women and their history and involvement it is an excellent reference work.  It is also a book that should be in art, animation and film schools.

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Nancy Phelps has produced music for animation for the past 16years. She has written about animation and animation festivals for suchpublications as Animatoons, Film/Tape World, Reel World and the ASIFA/San Francisco news magazine and is a member of the ASIFA International Board. In 2006, Nancy and her composer/musician husband Nik Phelps moved from San Francisco to Gent, Belgium, where they now have their home. Check out her blog here.

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