Many time festival programmer and juror Otto Adler provides his viewpoint on the ins and outs of selecting and programming films.
Animation is a serious, independent form of artistic expression which has its own place between film and the fine arts. Animation is a medium which, due to its primarily visual character, can be understood beyond any boundaries put up by language. Animation is "the most direct way from a thought to a picture and of a picture to a thought." By having access to every single image, the filmmaker is obliged to handle the images critically. In contrast to live-action fictional and documentary films, animation, above all, does not aim to produce a photographic image of reality. Animation means creating or breathing life into inanimate (or dead) things. It is the purest form of cinematic art.
Festivals serve the same purpose as exhibitions do for the fine arts. They are a place of professional discussion and confrontation. To me, festivals are temporary museums, where the audience, by having a close look, helps the films make their final step into existence. No audience, no film! Animation festivals are like a market place, which is the public. They are places of communication, entertainment and joy. Festivals have to be like oases in the desert of everyday life.
Selection and Program Planning
These ideas about animation and festivals are something I always keep in mind when I am picking films and organizing a festival. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to gain a wide range of sometimes contradictory experiences in these fields. But, it is my opinion, it is impossible to develop a definitive plan or an universally applicable strategy for the selection of films or programs, which can claim to be generally valid. Festivals mainly leave these decisions to selection committees and juries. It hardly ever happens that the selection is ever left to just one person. Committees Festivals usually choose the members of their selection committees and juries. They often take great care that the people they pick come from as many different countries as possible and enjoy a good reputation in the animation community. Recently, even the number of women picked for committees has been strictly observed; I think this is a good thing, since the imbalance between the number of men and women in animation still seems a lot more normal than found in documentary or live-action films. The basic problem with these selection committees lies in the fact that, in the end, the result of their work always consists of half-hearted compromises. Thus, the representative from Austria or Russia would not like to go home without having at least one of their country's films in the program. Or perhaps a puppet or experimental filmmaker might insist that puppet or experimental films be represented in an appropriate way. And then there is the director of an animation program who wants an adequate number of his school's films shown, because this would have an important effect on the continued existence of his educational institute. And so on. Very often, these are the problems the committees have to deal with instead of questions of artistic and ethical values and the content of the films. Decisions made by committees have yet another disadvantage: their members often like to hide behind the group's judgment, thereby avoiding having to voice their own opinions. Still, it is always a real pleasure for me to be a member of a jury or selection committee (although payment is usually rather minimal). Over the years, I have learned to hone my own vision of the art of animation and to stand up for them in discussions.
When Only One Person is Responsible for the Selection
This is the form of selection I prefer. There is no doubt in the minds of the filmmakers, the press and the audience who is responsible. I cannot hide behind the opinion of the majority of the committee. Should I make mistakes, I only have myself to answer for them. But the most important point is the fact that the content, aesthetics, structure and composition of the program bear a clear mark and cannot be diluted by compromise.
The disadvantage for me is having to rack my brains for several days over the selection of the films and about the order in which they will be shown, and not being able to sleep for fear of having made a mistake and having treated the filmmakers unjustly. However, I have been practicing this means of selection for the Leipzig Festival for the last four years, with considerable success for the filmmakers, the audience and the festival!
When I Make the Selection, I Try to Observe That . . .
- I have enough time to reflect on every single film.
- I watch the films at least two or three times.
- If possible, I see the films projected on a screen, not on video.
- I talk with the filmmakers.
- Content and aesthetics have priority over technique.
- To me, in most cases, the subject of a film is more important than its technical proficiency.
- I see my respect for the great masters in relative terms.
- Rather the exciting film from a newcomer should be chosen than a boring one from a known star.
- I do not take proportional representation ofthe different countries into consideration.
Planning the Program I Direct My Attention On . . .
- Confronting the traditional with the modern.
- Putting the films of well-known and young filmmakers face to face.
- Comparing the old with the new.
- Coordinating the order of the films according to their content.
- Not putting films made using the same technique one after another.
- Its length should not exceed 75 minutes.
- Structuring these 75 minutes according to the rules of classical dramaturgy.
- Putting an outstanding film at the beginning and the end of each program.
- The first film on the program has to mobilize the sensory perception of the audience.
- The important fact that a film should never outdo the film it comes after.
But I have to be honest. All these criteria are completely theoretical. In practice, it works like this: when a film touches me emotionally, it has good chance of being shown. And this is, by the way, the only criterion I can rely on and do rely on.
Otto Adler is the former director of the Stuttgart International Animation Festival, was involved with the founding in 1995 of the Fantouche Festival, in Baden, Switzerland, a member of the Advisory Board for the Ottawa International Animation Festival, has served on the juries and selection committees of numerous festivals, and is now working on a documentary film about Russian animator Fedor Khitruk.