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I Castelli Animati 2003

Jon Hofferman again traveled to Italy to report back on his experience at the I Castelli Animati festival.


I Castelli Animati set up camp once again at the Cinema Modernissimo in Genzano. All festival photographs by Jon Hofferman. Catalog cover © 2000 DreamWorks, Pathe and Aardman.

It was a dark and stormy night, and the days werent much better, but the unusually inclement Italian weather couldnt dampen the high spirits and cheerful camaraderie of the animation festival-cum-love fest that is I Castelli Animati. Now in its eighth year, artistic director Luca Raffaellis freewheeling and intimate gathering celebrating the best in animated film again boasted a smorgasbord of diverse works, as well as special guests, educational activities and much good feeling.

As in previous years, all of the films were presented in one theater, the charming Cinema Modernissimo, located on a small side street of the equally charming Comune di Genzano di Roma. Situated within genuflecting distance of the Popes summer residence in Castelgandolfo, Genzano lies in the hills about 30 km south of Rome, as picturesque a setting as one may wish. (However, given the fact that one spends 95% of ones time in a dark theater watching images projected on a screen, it wouldnt make much difference if the festival were held in the catacombs. However, the food is better in Genzano.) Once again, the many thematic threads that comprise the festivals offerings the international, Italian, Web and Videotecnica competitions; individual filmmaker homages; an out-of-competition showcase; and TV series, pilots and specials were presented in an integrated format that made for pleasantly varied viewing.

The festival opened on Wednesday afternoon, November 26, with the first films of the International Competition the Russian Krasnie Vorota Rasemon (The Red Gates of Rashomon) and The Stone Of Folly from Canada (which, coincidentally, would go on to win the award for Best First Film) and the initial offerings from the fecund minds at Aardman Animations, whose co-founder, Peter (Chicken-Man) Lord, was one of those being honored with retrospectives. There were also presentations by representatives of animation programs at a number of Italian schools, and by Georges Sifianos and François Darrasse of the Ecole National Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs (ENSAD) in Paris.

The schools presentations were part of a larger program, new to this years festival, which was designed to give students and faculty from the Italian and French schools a chance to look at each others work and compare their respective methods and goals. The intention, as Luca Raffaelli explained in the festival catalog, was to explore the central issue of whether the schools should be training professionals who know how to settle into the work of a studio, or try[ing] to cultivate the qualities of each student, hoping that his or her capabilities might find the best way to professional success. These thorny issues were to be explored in two seminars in the coming days.


Following Wednesdays traditional leisurely dinner break (not to be confused with the traditional leisurely lunch break, which takes place several hours earlier), the evenings program started out on a high note with a screening of Guido Manulis typically deranged Opera. Manuli, a major force at Bruno Bozzettos studio before beginning his solo career in 1979, was another one of the filmmakers being honored with a retrospective homage this year. Manulis been called the Italian Tex Avery, and indeed his films display the same manic energy that characterized Averys work, and the two animators share a predilection for reductio ad absurdum and wacky surrealism. While Manulis films arent always to my taste (due at least in part to my not sharing what seems to be a general European enthusiasm for, say, fart jokes), the best of them can be very funny and one cant help but admire an artist willing to follow his id wherever it leads.

Also of note at the first nights screenings was Stepan Kovals understated and very lovely clay animation, Ishov Tramvay #9/The Tram #9 Goes, which somewhat surprisingly didnt win a prize, and Stephen Woloshens McLarenesque Cameras Take Five, which did. The evening closed with Nick Parks The Wrong Trousers, the second of the Wallace & Gromit films, the droll humor of which nicely bookended the frenetic lunacy of Opera.


Peter Cornwalls Ward 13 (left) claimed the Audience Prize in the International Competition. Harvie Krumpet continued collecting awards, the latest being the Grand Prize at I Castelli. Ward 13 © Trephine Productions and The Australian Film Commission 2003; Harvie Krumpet © Melodrama Pictures.

The next two mornings, while students and faculty from ENSAD and the Italian schools met across the street, the auditorium of Cinema Modernissimo was taken over by a younger group of animation enthusiasts. In accordance with I Castelli Animati tradition, the first programs on Thursday and Friday became the province of local schoolchildren, whose delighted responses clearly demonstrated their successful indoctrination into the artificial world created by the clever machinations of a handful of social misfits. The screenings included the TV series, Peo in Svizzera, by Fusako Yusaki, offerings from the Disney Channel, and armloads of Aardman, including several episodes of Darren Walshs Angry Kid.

The afternoon and evening sessions featured the usual potpourri of programming, with works both profound and puerile. Among Thursdays highlights: Extn 21, Lizzie Osbys relentlessly downbeat stop-motion film about the joys of telecommunication; Sarah Watts hand-drawn Living With Happiness, which, though marred by a problematic ending, beautifully evoked the extremes of parental anxiety; Woo Jin Lees slightly awkward but still effective polemic, Now Who Rules You?; and two gems of succinct storytelling, Kimberly Miners Perpetual Motion (a cat, a slice of buttered bread, and voilà), and Paul Bushs Busby Berkeleys Tribute to Mae West, an inspired testament to the wonders of anatomy.

The highest points in Fridays festivities belonged to Aardman Animations, although, given the quality of the works in question, this is hardly a slight against the other films screened. The trifecta of Nick Parks A Close Shave (possibly the best of the Wallace & Gromit trilogy), Parks sublime Creature Comforts and Stephen Johnsons groundbreaking Sledgehammer music video was a hard act to follow. Nonetheless, additional bright spots were provided by two blocks of Manuli works, including Incubus, Casting and the always popular Erection; Peter Cornwells very violent and very remarkable stop-motion action film, Ward 13, (which won the Audience Prize in the International Competition); the whimsical clay animation epic, Harvie Krumpet, by Adam Eliot; early works by Ursula Ferrara (see below); and three films in the Italian Competition that would go on to win prizes: Francesco Vecchis affecting pixillation film, Ladilui; the very short and apparently very funny (there were translation issues) .Cow, by Marcello Gori; and Jinseok Parks computer-animated Cyborg saga, GRRNG. Two films by ENSADs Georges Sifianos, Odeur de Ville and Tutù, were also screened.

Among the invited guests, undoubtedly the star of the show was Aardmans ever-gracious Peter (The Cluckmeister) Lord, who brought with him a number of plasticine fowl, as well as his older character, Morph. In addition to talking to the audience at length about Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit and other Aardman productions, Lord served as president of the International Competition jury, gave several interviews, and drew chickens for possibly half the population of Genzano. He was joined on the jury by Guido Manuli, renowned comic artist and writer Vittorio Giardino, artist and teacher Marcos Mateu-Mestre and ENSADs Sifianos.

The jury for the Italian Competition was headed up by Sifianos compatriot, François Darrasse, and filled out by animator/ journalist/ ASIFA Italia president and frequent Bruno Bozzetto collaborator, Giuseppe Maurizio Laganà and a strange large fellow with a sour expression and a big heart, who claimed to have once worked with Paul McCartney. The artist sometimes known as Oscar Grillo, when not heckling Luca Raffaelli or holding forth on any of a hundred different subjects, could usually be found slouched over his drawing pad, giving concrete form to the various demons and angels that inhabit his mercurial mind.

Not in attendance but also the subject of a retrospective homage, Don Hertzfeldt described by Raffaelli as that wicked child [who] shows us the horrible tricks life plays, and enjoys every minute of it was represented by such minor masterpieces as Billys Balloon (1998) and Rejected (2000). Meanwhile, it was left to Ursula Ferrara, the lone female among this years homage subjects, to counterbalance all of the sardonic wit and animated mayhem of Lord, Manuli, and Hertzfeldt with her more insular, abstract style. Seven of her films, reflecting (in Lucas words) [an] analysis of her moments in life, her emotions, her memories transformed by emotion, were screened, accompanied by an exhibition of original drawings, paintings and sketches.

hofferman03_bambini.jpghofferman10_Luca.jpg I Castelli always welcomes the bambini (left) of Genzano with two mornings of programming geared especially to them. Luca Raffaelli (right) takes care of festival business.

hofferman08_lake.jpg The lovely hills across the lake from Genzano beckoned, but I Castelli attendees spent most of their time in dark screening rooms.

hofferman06_PeterLord_toys.jpghofferman11_oscarWriting.jpg International competition jury member Peter Lord (left) of Aardman Animations graciously introduced his fowl friends to I Castelli. Oscar Grillo (right) could usually be found sketching in a corner.

hofferman14_group.jpg An I Castelli gathering from left to right (standing): Vincenzo Gioanola, Giuseppe Laganà, Guido Manuli and Mario Serenellini. Kneeling is Georges Sifianos of ENSAD.

hofferman16_lunch.jpghofferman17_lunch.jpg Last minute conversations were held at the farewell lunch. Among the attendees were Peter Lord (left photo, second from left), François Darrasse (with pen) and Georges Sifianos in the right photo.

Saturday, the last full day of the festival, began in confusion, as attendees and organizers struggled to identify the large, bright object in the sky that had replaced the clouds and rain of the previous days. It was determined that this was a natural phenomenon and the festival continued, with the afternoon session devoted primarily to homage screenings and appearances by the films creators. In addition, Maurizio Forestieri presented the last of four programs demonstrating the various phases of production (which were also highlighted in a nonmoving exhibition across the street) of the feature, Totò Sapore.

At the awards ceremony Saturday night, the Harvie Krumpet juggernaut continued its relentless march, as Adam Eliots acclaimed bildungsroman took the Grand Prize in the International Competition. Other jury awards went to Le Portefeuille by Vincent Bierrewaerts (Best European Film), The Stone of Folly by Jesse Rosensweet (Best First Film), Steven Woloshens Cameras Take Five (Best Non-Narrative Film) and Atama Yama/Mt. Head by Koji Yamamura (Special Jury Prize). As previously noted, Ward 13 received the Audience Prize, while Hwang Yoo-Suhns Nest and NSPCC Cartoon by Russell Brooke were given special prizes for social content. Drebosakat/The Little Chap by Andrej Tsvetkov, Kontsert Porgandi Pirukele/Concert for a Carrot Pie by Heiki Ernits and Janno Poldma, and Busby Berkeleys Tribute to Mae West received Special Mentions.

In the Italian Competition, the jury awarded the Grand Prize to Marco Bigliazzis 3D computer animation, Peperony, a Special Jury Prize to Ladilui, and Special Mentions to GRRRNG and .Cow (see above).

After much deliberation, the Web jury chose Marco Peuginis striking Paper Sky as the Grand Prize winner, while also awarding Special Mentions to Daniel Bouillots visual poem, Boréal, and Gianluca Saccos nicely designed jeremiad about noise pollution, Urban Sound. Olympics, an exceptionally funny and well-conceived entry from an unknown named Bruno Bozzetto, also received a Special Mention in the category of Unfair Competition.

As always, it was the people as much as the films that made I Castelli Animati such an enjoyable experience. (Last years Web Competition winner, the redoubtable Simon Norton, who was serving on this years Web jury, commented repeatedly on how much more personable this festival was, compared to others he had attended.) Among those whose dedication and good humor helped offset the rain and the jetlag, special thanks go to Emanuela Marrocco, Sabrina Perucca, Anna Castellani, Liz Fairs, Andrea Zaccaria, the intrepid Dino Orsolini and the platoon of hard-working volunteers without whom I Castelli Animati would be so much less animated.

Jon Hofferman is an independent filmmaker, writer and graphic designer. He is also the creator of the Classical Composers Poster (a unique work of art that makes a wonderful gift for anyone interested in or learning about classical music, available at and a shameless promoter.