Heather Kenyon reports on the 2004 I Castelli Animati festival, where the selection included a special, and very ambitious film.
Running from December 1-5, 2004, I Castelli Animati is a small festival tucked into the last possible moments before holiday madness takes over. Nestled in the hills roughly an hour south of Rome is Genzano di Roma, a charming little town and home to I Castelli Animati. Prior to the Renaissance, this hilly area settled around two lakes used to have a castle on each hilltop, hence the festival, and regions, name castelli. Founded in the XII and XIII centuries, Genzano is probably best known for the world famous Infiorata. Since 1778, huge tapestries created with flower petals recreate famous works of art or elaborate designs on the street leading to the main church during Corpus Domini. Now, Luca Raffaelli, I Castellis artistic festival director, is putting Genzano on the animation map by pulling off yet another successful event. This year was the festivals ninth and brought together a varied and interesting group of animation enthusiasts.
One thing I really enjoyed about I Castelli is its unusual way of scheduling the screenings. Special guests and screenings are broken down into bite size pieces across every day of the festival, making the festival programming easy to sit through as something new is always coming on and someone new is always coming up to speak. With so many special guests and 40 shorts in its International competition, the three blocks of programming morning, afternoon and night fly by. Plus, it gives one time to think about questions one might want to ask the next day. I think the audience grows more comfortable with guests as they see them every day for a few films instead of just once. By the end of the week a real rapport has built up and makes the guests more approachable.
One of the most unusual special guests was the U.K.s David McKean. Davids dark, haunting images and use of new technology made him a real breath of fresh air and a new face to see at an animation festival. Congratulations go to the festival staff for seeking out such an original guest. A contributor to The New Yorker, he is also a filmmaker, writer, stop-motion animator, photographer and has worked in advertising, comics (the renowned Sandman series) and with collage. He is a multi-faceted artist who works in many mediums, mixing them together, to create a signature style that is very unique.
The highlight was getting two sneak peeks at his recently completed feature film collaboration with Neil Gaiman, MirrorMask. Mr. McKean, who co-wrote and directed, explained, It is for everybody it is not a kids film, it is not an adult film however, while it is for everybody, I dont think it is for everyone. Not everyone will like it. But I think, with the absolutely jaw-dropping, stunning visuals, this dark, fairy story of a film will be well worth the price of admission for animation fans.
Taking 17 months to complete, the Sony release transplants viewers to another world following the journey of young Helena as she tries to find the fabled MirrorMask, save her kingdom and return home. A charming speaker David offered everything from advice A filmmaker must always keep in mind the point and then get their audience to think that that is very important. to musings about Batman: I never understood Batman. Where was the leap between man and bat? There must have been some missing pages somewhere, he quipped.
Also very entertaining and big hits with the crowd were Pixars Lou Romano and Teddy Newton, who were the production designer and character designer respectively on The Incredibles. They showed behind-the-scenes drawings and regaled the audience with tales from the films production. For instance, did you know that Mirages visage based on Sophia Coppola and Brad Bird (his looks only!) is the basis for the films villain?
Both Lou and Teddy worked with Brad on the brilliant Iron Giant and moved to Californias bay area in 2000 to work with him at Pixar. However, the director first showed them pictures of the project way back in 1993. Both recounted the experience of working on the film as an absolute joy. Brad had such a vision, we were lucky, explained Teddy. Both Teddy and Lou showed masses of sketches and final art, discussing their inspiration and reasoning behind each artistic choice. The roof dips down in the middle to represent his oppression in the home, explained Lou while reviewing the designs of the familys home. We chose lava because this island becomes Bobs hell, he continued clicking to the next slide. Each slide contained such a great nugget of information. Teddy also shared his unusual style of early development, where he cuts images from magazines and then shapes them into collages.
They even showed a short film they are working on together and drew for their fans on demand! I have no idea how many copies of The Art of the Incredibles they signed, but they were troopers through and through and the Italian crowd loved the inside scoop that they delivered. Many students were taking copious notes throughout their sessions and you could tell they thought it was a big treat.
From High Tech to Low Tech
Two ladies that work in clay also wowed the audience. The adorable Fusako Yusaki showed her films and got big laughs but I didnt know why at first While Fusako moved from her native Japan to Italy many years ago apparently her Italian is very funny due to the way she pronounces words and phrases. But her new countrymen loved every minute! She kept the audience laughing, and her infectious smile and energy endeared her to all.
U.S. animator Joan Gratz also screened a selection of her films and even did a demonstration of her technique, mixing mineral oil with clay to make it more like a thick, heavy paint. She also had a good time answering questions, speaking slowly so that her words could be translated into Italian exactly. When asked about why Portland, Oregon, her home base, has such a large animation community, she pluckily responded, It rains so much we need to find an indoor activity that doesnt result in the production of children.
The festival also featured a selection of films from Borivoj Bordo Dovnikovic. The master from Zagreb Film screened his films and spoke about how the transition from socialism to capitalism was their biggest struggle, not the war. Socialism was bad for the nation, but good for animation, he joked. However, he made some serious points that were seconded loudly from the audience by the one and only Oscar Grillo that the biggest problem facing national studios now is that often times their first priority is paying the rent not necessarily making great films. The criminal act of art! Oscar called out.
Yes, Bordo agreed and went on to say that with shrinking production budgets often times, national studios around the globe are sending out the animation portion of their films to countries like India to be completed. So while the commercial animation sector has been doing this for years, it is now spreading to the government supported studios, which is a major shift and some feel, threat to the system and its overall purpose and viability.
The Big Surprise
While all of these presentations were fantastic casual chats, the highpoint of the week was the presentation of The Pace of Peace, or P.O.P. Upon arriving in Italy, I really hadnt thought about why a camel was gracing all of the posters for this years festival, but I was about to find out. A very proud Luca unveiled this incredibly ambitious project along with 16 students fresh off a plane specifically for the event.
The festival, in conjunction with the Office for Peace in Jerusalem of the City of Rome, brought eight students from Ranaana in Israel and eight students from Qalqilia in Palestine together for one week in Rome. These 16 students worked together to create the idea for a short film about bringing their very different worlds together and finding peace. In one week the kids did all of the pre-production in the form of a script and basic design that was then realized by 13 Italian studios, including The Animation Band, A&M, De Mas, Graphilm, Rainbow, National School of Cinema Department of Animated Film, Proxima, Stranemani and others, under the artistic supervision of Giulio Gianini and Emanuele Luzzati. Roberto David Papini and Attilio Valenti first conceived the project over one and a half years ago.
The camel I was to learn was actually a supercamel, which carries a young Palestinian and Israeli boy on his back as he flies through the air transforming scenes of war and separation into understanding and tolerance. The film was awarded the Prize for Cinema and the Culture of Dialogue at the International Venice Film Festival this past year.
More fascinating than the film was Gianluigi De Stefanos documentary, The Story of P.O.P., which covered the entire process from the Middle East to Italy and all the animation steps in between. It is remarkable to see how different the lives of these young people are, even though they are so close geographically. The documentary honestly shows the struggle that this film was to make, the trials, the tribulations, the fears and the difficulties and breakthroughs of working together. It shows a group of students who are so very, very different and separated by culture and economic status.
While I think the students did work more closely in Italy than they ever would have, once back home, the actuality of the situation returned. For instance, a journalist asked the students if they kept in touch with one another upon returning and it became apparent that they really couldnt as communication (the Internet and phone) was so very limited for the Palestinians. For me the film showed a vision of what could be, and the documentary showed how much needs to be done to create a reality of equality and lasting peace.
The effort on the part of the festival staff was Herculean to organize such an ambitious undertaking. At times, the production of this venture threatened to eclipse the amount of work that the festival takes to arrange. Congratulations again go to them, and all of their partners, for undertaking such a project and documenting it so well. This is a remarkable accomplishment for a festival and shows that while this festival is still small and doesnt gather a large number of international guests, it definitely has a global reach and ambitious plans to strengthen its roll not only within the community, but also within the confines of what an animation festival can or should try to accomplish.
All in all, my short week in Genzano raced by in the darkness of the theater and the great camaraderie with my fellow festivalgoers. I Castelli is one of those fests where everyone stays in the same hotel, eats at the same fabulous restaurants and sits in the intimate theater together for one week. There is no rushing or choosing between 10 concurrent screenings. The schedule is relaxed, allowing plenty of time for discussion, long lunches and walks around town. Children from local schools will be brought for a few screenings, turning the usual quiet and reverence into absolute pandemonium. Local people who are curious or enjoy the yearly event also arrive in the evenings. And the core, animation diehards, leave, knowing each other much better, having spent quality time. I Castelli is a small festival, but it is full of surprises.
And if you are really concerned about the approaching holidays, with their crushing pace and boring, mall bought gifts, stay a few extra days there are the little shops in Genzano and the picturesque town down the hill, Albano. And beyond that, theres always the immense pageantry of Rome.
Heather Kenyon is director of development for Cartoon Network and focuses on finding new comedy shows for 6- to 11-year-old children. As former editor-in-chief of Animation World, she holds a soft spot in her heart for her time spent at the publication and its lovely staff.