Karl Cohen relates his magical week in Tel-Aviv at the Festival of Creative Filmmaking.
For the last three years the Tel-Aviv Cinematheque has presented an unusual approach to festivals. The Festival of Creative Filmmaking stresses creativity instead of holding a competition or a trade show. Most of what was shown was independent animation that had not been seen in Israel. This year's selection included outstanding recent works from Europe and North America plus programs of classics and a selection of work honoring animators from Israel. Creative Filmmaking '97 was for anyone who wanted to learn more about animation and/or live action filmmaking, and who finds pleasure in exploring a wide variety of approaches to filmmaking. The event was attended by professionals, students and the general public and while the programming was fascinating the historic city offers just as much. The festival's guests of honor were picked for their ability to communicate and for their contributions to cinematic creativity. The guests included: Clare Kitson, who commissions animated work for Channel 4 TV in England, Thomas Meyer-Herman and Manuela Lumb from Studio Film Bilder in Stuttgart, Germany, Jonathan Amitay, who worked for almost 20 years as a designer for the CBC in Toronto and myself, an animation scholar from San Francisco. I showed work in 16mm from my archive and new works from the Bay Area. John Coates and Norman D. Kauffman from TVC in London were also special guests to present a sampling of works from their company including Where the Wind Blows, Yellow Submarine, Father Xmas and The Snowman.
Special Guests The greatest treat at the festival for me was hearing John Coates and Norm Kauffman discuss the making of The Yellow Submarine. They discussed the production's history, techniques used and what it was like working with the Beatles (the guys thought the feature was going to be Disneyesque!). When John Coates produced the feature he was so naive that he didn't ask for a percentage of the gross or profits. TVC, however, went over budget and lost money making the feature. The Yellow Submarine will be 30 years old next year but seeing it again was a fresh and exciting experience. Part of the excitement was seeing the "Hey Bulldog" sequence for the first time which was cut from prints shown in the USA. TVC also presented several other programs from their past. One honored their late director Dianne Jackson and another honored the late director George Dunning. Coates and Kauffman presented a master class where they talked about the company's 40 years of productions. They showed sample reels of commercials and other work. Coates, a convivial gentleman, is about to retire and the future of the company will be left in the hands of Kauffman and his associates. The TVC productions were delightful. They showed Famous Fred directed by Joanna Quinn, 1997, 25 min; The Tale of Mr. Todd: The Further Adventures of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, 1996, 25 min; The Willows in Winter, 1996, 70 min; The Wind in the Willows, 1995, 70 min; Father Xmas, 1991, 26 min; The Man Who Moved the Beatles, 1991, 40 min; Grandpa, 1989, 26 min; Snowman, 1982, 26 min and Yellow Submarine, 1967, 85 min. directed by George Dunning and designed by Heinz Edelmann. Other works were also screened.
A big surprise was seeing material made for German television that would surely be banned by American television stations. The programming was made by Studio Film Bilder in Stuttgart. When 10 Kleine Jagermeister, a rock video with music by Die Totem Hosenm, was shown on MTV they censored the showing of female breasts, a joint and a pistol. Several of the other Studio Film Bilder's music videos were so full of bare nippled breasts and other sexual images that it was obvious these works could never be cut enough to please American censors. It is a shame as there would be an audience for Help Me Mr. Dick and Fritz Loves My Tits, by E-rotic, Devil's Child by Karl Anton and Innocent Again by Sex Angels. These well made videos are shown regularly on Germany's music television network.
Studio Film Bilder also made a series of sex education shorts for children that would shock American television censors. The studio was commissioned to do sixteen shorts that deal with topics such as the problems of growing up, first love, sexual harassment and menstruation, for the show Dr. Mag Love. Dr. Mag Love airs on Saturday mornings and they show these intelligent, humorous shorts to balance the serious discussions presented during the show. The animated shorts are highly creative using a variety of animation techniques. One used a small Swiss army knife as the body of person. Others used collage, plasticine, and drawn and painted images. The series would get into trouble in America as it shows bare breasts with nipples, pubic hair on females, male genitalia, condoms, breasts being fondled and a lot of other images that are forbidden on television in the land of free speech... The German company is 8 years old and has a staff of six directors, one producer and an administrative person. They have up to thirty people working there however when they are busy. A show of personal films by the company's directors included the premiere of Gil Alkabetz's film Rubicon. Clare Kitson from Channel 4 in London is the commissioning editor who has funded some of the most outstanding animation by Brothers Quay, Jan Svankmajer, Nick Park, Barry Purves and other world famous animators. She presented a program of recently commissioned works that included Stressed by Karen Kelly, Bob's Birthday by David Fine and Alison Snowden, Pond Life by Candy Guard, The Village by Mark Baker, Abductees by Paul Vester and Britannia by Joanna Quin.
A program of recent animation from around the world featured several works from Israel's leading animators: Noam Meshulam, Alexander Geifman, Barak Shakin, Ayelet Sharon, and plasticine animator Roni Oren. Other works were by Paul Driessen from Holland, Stig Bergquist, Lars Ohlsen and Jonas Odell from Stockholm and Marv Newland from Vancouver. Newland sent a retrospective of work he has produced that included Pink Komkommer, Anijam, Lupo the Butcher and Bambi Meets Godzilla. The United States was well represented in the festival with a program of work from New York honoring John Dilworth's Stretch Films, J.J. Sedelmaier's studio, Ink Tank and Buzzco. I also presented a masters class on recent animation productions in the San Francisco Bay Area. The program featured independent shorts by Tim Hittle (his Oscar nominated Canhead), Richard C. Zimmerman, Tod Kurtzman and Tennessee Reed Norton, plus commercial work by Pixar, PDI, ILM, Danger Team, Midland, Xaos, Protozoa, Bio Vision, Colossal Pictures, Curious Pictures, Wild Brain and Kevin Coffey's Cartoonland. I also presented three historical shows. My show on censorship included several pre-code cartoons, an uncensored Private Snafu and a selection of shorts too risqué to be shown on TV or in most theaters in the USA. I also exhibited WWII propaganda films that featured animated and live action shorts and my screening of film pioneers included works by Winsor McCay, Otto Messmer, Willis O'Brien, Charles Bowers, Robert Cannon, Jan Lenica and other directors.
All of the master classes were held in English except Jonathan Amitay's presentation. He was born in Israel and began working in animation in Canada in 1968. He was with CBC as a graphic designer doing animation and titles for television from 1978 until recently when he moved back to Israel. In his presentation he demonstrated numerous techniques like: how backlit graphics are done, how he animates with sand, and how he uses a chain with very small links as a flexible line.
Staff and Facility
Tsvika Oren, the festival's creative director, picked works that would stimulate people's imagination. Oren is a remarkable festival director. He is also quite popular with his animation students at the Cinematheque and at Camera Obscura. While most of what he selected to show was animated, he also included Rod Serling: Submitted For Your Approval, a program of classic documentaries from Holland and several films that have won Golden Eagle Cine Awards in the USA. The festival's small staff also included producer Shoshy Frankel, a charming person who did a great job taking care of 1001 details.
The festival was held in a modern theater complex that has two large well equipped halls with excellent video, 35mm and 16mm projection systems. Tsvika Fiksel, the head projectionist, was a delightful gentleman who has worked in projection booths for over 50 years. Considering his love of film and the fondness of the medium by others who work there, it came as no surprise that the food service in the lobby is called Cafe Paradisio. The cafe was well run and provided an excellent assortment of salads, pasta dishes, smoked salmon sandwiches, beer, wine and other treats.
The Cinematheque building has a large room used for animation workshops. It has both 16mm cameras and single frame video/computer equipment. Most students in Israel are forced to use video and computers today as the last 16mm film lab in the country has closed. Film has to be sent to Italy or England for processing.
My Extra Activities!
Tel-Aviv has several schools teaching computer animation including Tel-Aviv University and Camera Obscura. I met with students at both schools and showed them the latest computer animation from San Francisco. They were enthusiastic about what they saw and many would love to work for ILM, Pixar or PDI someday.
Another highlight of the trip was a visit with Noam Meshulam who runs Pitchi Poy Animation Studio, a well equipped facility in historic Jaffa at the southern end of Tel-Aviv. The studio is in a one-hundred-year-old Turkish style house with 30 foot ceilings. Some of their work is animated on paper and then inked and painted in-house on computers, while other projects have been done using magic markers on paper or in other techniques. They have animated part of the Sniz and Fondue series on Nickelodeon, multimedia projects for Fisher Price and other producers as well as a lot of television commercials. Many of their artists have moved to Israel from Russia.
Life in Israel seems relaxed and friendly. I made several friends in the two weeks I was there. I also visited Zack Schwartz and his family in their home. We talked about his career at Disney (backgrounds on Snow White and art direction on Bambi and Fantasia), his being a founder of UPA, and his new book on storytelling in animation that is published by Sheridan College Press in Canada.
The city of Tel-Aviv is wonderful. The Cinematheque is situated in a very pleasant area. There are numerous historic Bauhaus or International Style buildings from the 1920s and '30s in the area, and on one walk I went down a street full of students enjoying the sun and the trendy shops that cater to these shoppers. Swimming in the Mediterranean was a real treat, the seafood was exceptional, there is even a world class art museum and almost everybody speaks English.
Another special event was visiting historic sites. I wandered about a medieval walled town named Akko (aka Acre) on the coast that is still being lived in the way life was hundreds of years ago. I made several visits to the old areas of Jerusalem and saw the Dead Sea Scrolls in a splendid museum of art and antiquities.
I rode busses to and from Jerusalem several times and felt completely safe. The military rides for free and soldiers are required to carry their automatic weapons with them. I was told the chances of getting into trouble in Israel are far less than the odds of getting into trouble in New York City.
I'd recommend attending the next festival to any animation fan who is interested in visiting Israel. There is plenty to do each day, but the schedule repeats most shows so you are not overwhelmed by there being too many events. This is a relaxed, comfortable festival with enough invited guest and unusual programs to make it exciting. It is for people who love animation and other forms of creative filmmaking. For details about the May 20-23, 1998, event contact Tsvika Oren, P.O. Box 20370, Tel-Aviv, Z.C. 61203, Israel.
Karl Cohen is President of ASIFA-San Francisco. His first book, Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators, will be published later this year. He also teaches animation history at San Francisco State University.