Brisbane Animation Festival

Festivals are wonderful places to discover the like-minded and the like-minded wannabes. The debut of the Brisbane Animation Festival, cheekily entitled Celluloid Briefs, drew the vibrant Queensland animation community and the lovers of animation to revel in two days of flickering projected images. And, it appears from the success of this first time out, it will be, as the organizers have promised, a biennial event.

Brisbane, a city of about one and a half million has a surprisingly active animation group. With 260 members in the Queensland Animators Group, the organization is certainly on...

Festivals are wonderful places to discover the like-minded and the like-minded wannabes. The debut of the Brisbane Animation Festival, cheekily entitled Celluloid Briefs, drew the vibrant Queensland animation community and the lovers of animation to revel in two days of flickering projected images. And, it appears from the success of this first time out, it will be, as the organizers have promised, a biennial event.

Brisbane, a city of about one and a half million has a surprisingly active animation group. With 260 members in the Queensland Animators Group, the organization is certainly on the cutting edge of the Australian animation scene. After last year's loud, spectacular and cacophonic Kaboom exhibition curated by Philip Brophy at the Sydney Powerhouse Museum, the Brisbane setting and its festival offered a much more theatrical exhibition of international animation. The subtropical environment fulfilled its promise by keeping the general feel of the festival unpretentious, relaxed and accommodating to both the cognoscenti and the newly initiated. The Schonell Theatre, located on the idyllic grounds of the University of Queensland, was the comfortable site of the Festival where the usual crowd of about 200 attended most of the sessions on offer.

Short Filled Sessions

The weekend was organized into five sessions filled with shorts. What made the festival somewhat differently focused was that several of these sessions were guest curated by television producers and executives involved in showcasing animation. Clare Kitson, Head of Animation at the United Kingdom's Channel 4, and Joy Toma, executive producer of the experimental showcase Eat Carpet program from the Australian Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), were two of the invited special presenters. The festival thus provided an insight into the locations where independent productions may be commissioned, or at the very least exhibited to the largest audiences.

The Saturday "matinee" session, Kids' Stuff, curated by Dina Browne (from the Festival of Australian Television), featured a retrospective of recent animation from Europe, Canada and Australia. Particularly impressive were the celebrated and endearing Barbro Hallstom's Mr. Bohm and the Herring (Sweden), the computer-animated and mesmerizing Pencil Dance and Michèle Cournoyer's emotively promotional An Artist (Canada). The naive style of Trace Balla's Hungary-to-Australia immigration saga, Lilly and the Yellow Cake, was a compelling, simple story. Featured in the selection was the Australian children's international animation showcase program Babble-on from SBS.

The Queensland Animator's Group culled world animation for a provocative second session. Barflies, the stop-motion production by the Australian director Stuart MacDonald, about two drunken flies playing chicken with a fly-zapper was absolutely hilarious and is a must-see. Award-winning productions populated this session including: Rybcynski's highly choreographed trick film, Tango, where events are sequentially layered on top of each other in a fixed space; Fleischer's Minnie the Moocher; and the computer animated Joe and Basket by Germany's Peter Scarab. Chuck Jones' melodramatic What's Opera Doc? completed the world tour.

Day Two

The tribute to Hollywood's creative source for animation presented by the Australian National Cinematheque launched day two. The session developed a thesis about the kinetic, sometime slapstick, counter-aesthetic to Disney's verisimilitude emerging from the animation units of competing studios (particularly Warner's) from the 1930s to 1950s. Bob Clampett's politically irreverent, visually compelling and overtly adult Coal Black and the Seben Dwarfs was a personal highlight. Clampett's Abbott and Costello-inspired Tale of Two Kitties produced what I would cite as the best line of the festival. As two cats are attempting to capture Tweety Bird (his debut film), the Costello character mutters in double-code: "I'll get the bird--if the Hays Office would let me."

The fourth session was presented by SBS' Eat Carpet showcase program. Alison Snowden and David Fine's 1995 Oscar-winning Bob's Birthday, with British-mannered humor about middle class and middle age was delicious. An episode of the ambitious 3-D computer animated The Quarks Quandary, by French director Maurice Benayoun was shown, which demonstrated the need with computer animation to have a compelling story to carry the impressive technical feats. The South African drawn animation, Captive of the City (William Kentridge) provided a perplexing closure to the session with its depiction of the manoeuvring of megabusinessman Soho Eckstein and was mesmerising in its sweeping movements of shades and figures.

The closing Sunday session allowed for the showcasing of British animation through Claire Kitson's Channel 4 curation. Certainly, the swirling and transforming images of Triangle (Erica Russell) provided the most compelling images in its rhythmic flow depicting a love triangle. Paul Vester's Abductees blended the documentary with parodic glee, in a film that attempted to artistically represent the varied stories of Americans who have been abducted by aliens. Completely on the other side of the fence, Tim Webb's use of animation to depict the world of autistic children through their drawings, in A is for Autism, was wonderfully original in its efforts to document their altered reality states. The technical engineering of the stop-motion masterpiece Screen Play by Barry Purves is deserving of further viewing as it presents and then suddenly radically subverts our expectations of a traditional Japanese tale of love.

In the finale, the Queensland Animators Group exhibited two beautiful productions: Eva Steegmayer's Ah Pook is Here, narrated by the distinctive vocals of William Burroughs, provided a dystopian description of the order of death. To provide a yang to this ying, the festival closed with Priit Parn's Grand Prix-winning 1895, a quirky, subjective, humorous history of the origin of cinema.

MarshallBrisbane3.gif Key festival organizers, from left to right: Jane Creasy (Festival Coordinator), Peter Moyes (Festival Coordinator), Darren Hughes (President, Queensland Animators Group), Clare Kitson (Channel 4 UK), Max Bannah (independent animator), and Jonathon Dawson (Associate Professor, Pacific School of Screen Production).

Out of Context

There were some noticeable gaps in this year's inaugural festival. Oddly, there was no Asian animation, which has a high level of significance in the aesthetics of contemporary Australian work. The emphasis on the television sites of exhibition made the sessions perhaps too decontextualized; as a result, we were left with images without placing where they have come from and why they were grouped together. Future programming may benefit from a more designed pattern of selection than how they were exhibited for the various television programs. Although there was no ghettoization of Australian and local animation, there was also no session which specifically highlighted its recent achievements. Organizers, including Darren Hughes of the Queensland Animators Group, indicated this would definitely be part of the plan for the next festival.

What made the festival doubly enjoyable for many participants was the National Animation Conference held at Griffith University on the Friday and Saturday. The conference was decidedly production and exhibition oriented and allowed for some worthwhile discussions of the transforming commercial environment in animation.

The Brisbane Animation Festival has all of the ingredients of becoming a major event on the international and national calendar. Watch for it in future and plan for a visit to the Antipodes with Brisbane Australia as your gateway in 1998.

David Marshall is the Director of the Media and Cultural Studies Centre at the University of Queensland in Brisbane and writes and lectures on television, film and popular culture. He is the author of Celebrity and Power (University of Minnesota) to be released in March 1997.

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