Italy's free-wheeling I Castelli Animati was packed with surprises -- including a very special visitor. Animation legend Marv Newland reports.
Day 1: 4th of October 2000
Today international guests of I Castelli Animation Festival arrive at Fiumicino, Rome's largest aeroport which was built by Augustus Caesar in 72 A.D. Most guests are greeted by festival coordinator, Irene Duranti and then taken by taxi to Genzano Di Roma about 70 km south of Fiumicino. The landscape is picturesque; farms, orchards, ruins, trees, the Pope's summer cottage and many roadside pizzerias.
The first program of films begins at 3:00 pm with an early animated production of Hallo Jeep! by Federico Fellini. This is followed by Pokémon 2: The Power of One and the programs continue all day, one right after another with introductions by festival director Luca Raffaelli. There is a Paul Driessen retrospective with a dozen of his films being screened between today and the last day of the festival (8th of October 2000).
A cell phone went off in the Cinema Modernissimo just prior to a screening of Driessen's Cat's Cradle. Luca Raffaelli took the phone out of the cinema and returned soon after to interview Paul.
The first Concorso Internazionale (competition films) included: The Man with the Beautiful Eyes, based on a story by Charles Bukowski; Daddy and I, a Korean film with a strong child abuse theme; and a Russian film, Let's Play, by Kiril Kravchenko.
Oscar Grillo was introduced prior to the screening of his beautifully produced and very sensitive art film Monsieur Pett. Oscar, born in Argentina, wore a homemade nametag with my name on it. I told him I would not mention this incident in my daily report.
Day 2: 5th of October 2000
The morning began with films like Gianni Lucches' Opus and a 28-minute film by Daniela Trastulli titled Osvaldo Cavandoli. Un artigiano dell'umorismo, Cavandoli is well-known in Italy, and in many parts of the world, for his animated films which are created out of single horizon line, usually white on a solid colour field. Minimalist humor.
Retrospectives of Koji Morimoto and Julian Nott went off today. Koji directs the extravagant science-fiction series Eternal Family, a non-stop bombardment of images and clips of explosions, futuristic television control rooms and one memorable sequence in which a man with his head on fire enters a bathroom, goes immediately to the shower, gets in and turns on the water. A woman then enters the same bathroom, grunting and groaning. She pulls the shower curtain closed and turns on the hot water. She lifts the toilet lid and a baby is in the toilet, head above the water. She gently removes the baby from the toilet and places him on the bathroom floor. She sits on the toilet and continues to grunt and groan. Koji cuts wide and we see the lady on the toilet, the baby on the floor and the man with the burning head jumping around in a scalding hot shower. Koji also directed Please Get the Chicken Insurance.
Julian Nott composes music for Mark Baker and Nick Park movies. The Hill Farm, A Close Shave, The Wrong Trousers and a few other gems. He is a fan of Carter Burwell's musical work for films such as Raising Arizona and Fargo.
In competition today among others were: The Periwig-Maker, by Steffen Schaeffler, and Understanding the Law, a film beautifully and madly designed and directed by Diane Obomsawin for the NFB in Canada. And today, Oscar Grillo remembered his name.
Day 3: 6th of October 2000
Today began with thunderstorms over Genzano. Real thunderstorms, not an animated film of thunderstorms.
Paul Driessen's retrospective continues with a very shy animator from Holland being introduced into the circus atmosphere of the Cinema Modernissimo by festival director Luca Raffaelli. Paul's Three Misses was nominated this year for an Academy Award. Paul has never before been nominated for the Oscar despite having the strongest body of work of any living animator, certainly the strongest body of work of any independent animator. Later in this day, The End of the World in Four Seasons is screened. This picture has Paul's trademark split screen or separate screens within the screen approach. To Vivaldi's Four Seasons music, a series of interlaced dramas unfold with action from one screen influencing action in another screen. One viewing of Seasons is not enough.
I Castelli Animati's programs all go off in one theatre, the Cinema Modernissimo. The screenings are continuous from 10:00 am until 11:30 pm each day. Commercials, children's films, retrospectives, interviews with international guests and competition screenings just keep on coming interrupted only by the familiar musical theme and the fine M.C. hosting of festival director Luca Raffaelli. There are some projection glitches to be sure, some catcalls from audience members, crying children, cell phone noises and at times the theatre lights may go on during a film. There is a snack bar right outside the theatre's curtained entrance, and two or three bars and pizzerias nearby. If you do not like what is on screen just go away for an espresso and when you return there will be a whole different program underway. Understanding Italian will enhance anyone's visit to I Castelli Animati, but if you speak only English you will still have a good time.
Some highlights in today's Concorso Internazionale include: Village of Idiots (1999) directed by Eugene Fedorenko and Rose Newlove. This picture is beautifully made using Federenko's familiar illustrative styling (his work appears in New Yorker Magazine, including covers). It is a very funny story about Eastern European peasants. Cut-out and drawn animation are used, as well as out-of-focus effects and a very ethnically rich voice narration.
Gerry Fournier's I'm Busy (1999) also broke up the audience. Igor Kovalyov (currently working at Klasky Csupo in Hollywood) has Flying Nansen in a program directly following. Flying Nansen is a well-animated explorer of the Arctic. Igor's film is masterful and may be based on a true story. The snow-blown epic slips into absurdity and seems not to get out before it wraps up. Nansen is eleven minutes of animation pleasure. Eventi Italiani: Cuccioli by Sergio Manfio (2000). Sergio is a well-known Italian animator and artist.
After this competition program an episode of The Simpsons, "Treehouse of Horror X," edizione Italiana; meaning, the Simpsons speak Italian on the soundtrack.
A later competition/Concorso Internazionale features Andreas Hykade's Ring of Fire, made in Germany (2000). This is a stupendous movie, in wide screen, black and white, full of cowboy bad behaviour, sexual imagery, big music, eye popping combinations of drawn and computer animation, more sexual imagery and an overall effect of grand scale animation production. For the Birds, by Ralph Eggleston of Pixar Studios (2000), was an audience favorite. Much laughing after this one.
by Michéle Cournoyer (1999), made in Canada, is another strong black and white production. Sexual abuse is the theme, or is it? Beautifully made using painted line, The Hat (in English), depicts an exotic dancer with references to her childhood and the men in her current audience and leaves much for any viewer of this film to contemplate prior to forming an opinion.
Julian Nott, composer of music for the Nick Park Wallace and Gromit short films, was given another retrospective program today, by now 10:55 pm, with the screening of two Mark Baker directed films: The Village and Jolly Roger. Julian's music is just right for these films. Both pictures are great examples of Baker's humour range and both gentlemen prove themselves to be wonderful and sympathetic collaborators. The Village is lush and quietly funny with slow dawning messages about crime and human errors. The music never gets in the way and is simple and only helps the story told without dialogue. Jolly Roger is a much less complicated story, very funny, broad and noisy with fighting, action scenes and bombastic music by Julian Nott. A great pair of films.
The evening ended with more Italian coming out of the mouths of the Simpsons.
Day 4: 7th of October 2000
Although there is an event scheduled for tomorrow -- Convegno: C'e in Italia, 'Un futuro molte animato' (which seems to mean, 'In Italy one future with many animators,' which seems to be the same future coming to the rest of the world) -- this day is actually the final day of I Castelli Animati 2000.
Rumours fly concerning the possible appearance of Paul McCartney, a famous musician who played guitar in a band called Wings. Before he was good enough to play in Wings he cut his chops in an earlier band called, The Beatles. Paul is the executive producer of a new animated film directed by Oscar Grillo, the well-known Argentine born London, England-based animator and director. The film, Shadow Cycle, is based on music composed by the late Linda McCartney, who was married to Paul prior to her too early death by cancer. The film is not completed and this will be a first test screening before an audience.
Killing of an Egg,
part of the Paul Driessen retrospective, begins the day. It is a simple idea, two and a half minutes long with voices in English, but with a very Italian accent, exactly how Paul made it in 1977. For some audience members this audio twist added spice to the screening. Later in the day, Veliki Miting, directed by Walter and Norbert Neugebauer in 1951, in Croatia, is shown to an audience unaffected by the propaganda in the film. An animator who worked on the picture, Milan Goldschmiedt, was interviewed by Luca Raffaelli. Veliki Miting's soundtrack was all in Croatian and the following interview was all in Italian.
Another foreign name appears on this day's schedule of events, Jan Pinkava. Jan is the Oscar winning director of Geri's Game made at Pixar Studios, and Jan, despite the middle European moniker, speaks English with an English accent, laced with California slang picked up working around the propeller heads at Pixar. Jan is also on the competition jury at this festival. There are some sessions with Bruno Bozzetto, world famous and always funny director of many Italian animated films. Bruno has fallen in love with computer animation programs and demonstrates how he made, Europe & Italy, a simple and hilarious comparison between the habits of Italians and the rest of European citizens. Evidence of Bruno's accuracy in describing Italian behaviour is on constant display at I Castelli Animati. Between films and sometimes during films, lights will go on when they should be off and off when they should be on; one cell phone will ring and many people will answer their similar sounding phones; and wrong films will suddenly be projected with or without sound, and whether or not another film is already up on the screen.
The Dutch contributed to the mayhem by sending Evert de Beyer's Characters, instead of Paul Driessen's Home on the Rails. In Home on the Rails, Paul uses his famous trick of having a character disappear during a walk from one side of the screen to the other, and then re-appearing exactly where and when it should without having to make all of the 'getting there' drawings. In the Konstantin Bronzit retrospective Switchcraft is screened. Konstantin won the Annecy International Animation Festival's Grand Prix in 1995 for this film. Switchcraft is a kind of homage to Paul Driessen, and Konstantin uses this save the drawings technique to good effect in the film. Too bad Home on the Rails was not sent as the audience would have had a better time seeing Bronzit's picture after Driessen's.
Wendy Tilby, Canadian director/animator was also on the jury at I Castelli Animati. Her films as director and When the Day Breaks, co-directed with Amanda Forbis, also a Grand Prix winner at Annecy (1999), were shown today. Wendy has taken leave from the National Film Board of Canada to teach at Harvard. After the Tilby, Bronzit and Driessen homages, a Web animation competition was held, and then finally the awards for this edition of I Castelli Animati were handed out.
After the awards, a speech by the mayor of Genzano di Roma, the host city of the animation festival, a screening of Un Pesce e' un Pesce by Giulie Gianini and Leo Lionini, and some shuffling around near the main entrance of the Cinema Modernissimo, in walked Paul McCartney. In walked a number of uniformed politizi, some big bodyguards and fewer than two dozen paparazzi, cameras flashing away, a couple of Italian television crews and four or five street urchins. By now, with the awards ceremony running longer than anticipated, even by Italian standards, everyone's stomachs were growling and the heat in the cinema was growing in intensity by the minute. At this time Shadow Cycle went onto the screen.
There were speeches by Oscar Grillo, Paul McCartney and Luca Raffaelli. The mayor of Genzano attempted to get up and give another speech, or to repeat the speech he gave earlier in the evening, but he was pushed back into his seat by a group of autograph hounds headed for Mr. McCartney. The festival ended on a high note. The Italian newspapers all carried the news of Shadow Cycle, Paul McCartney, Paul's unofficial translator, Irene Duranti and the grand work of festival staff members such as: Emanuela Marrocco, Anna Castellani, Vincenzo Silvestri and Fiero Fortini.
I Castelli Animati is a great festival. It is small, even intimate, but full of animation spirit, live and uniformed brass bands, the M.C. talents and canny film selection of Luca Raffaelli and very appreciative audiences. All the elements required for continuing success for any animation festival.
Marv Newland began a career in the making of animated films and the production of illustrations in 1969 following an education in the arts at Los Angeles Art Center College of Design. He created the animated short film Bambi Meets Godzilla and designed many television commercials until late 1970 when he moved to Toronto. In 1975, he founded the animated film production company International Rocketship Limited, where he continues to produce animated short films by other directors and is also engaged in the production of animated films for the National Film Board of Canada.