Mancia Musings

Wherein the Museum of Modern Art's Adrienne Mancia reminisces to Mark Langer about her past efforts in animation programming and her thoughts about the state of the craft today.

Wherein the Museum of Modern Art's Adrienne Mancia reminisces to Mark Langer about her past efforts in animation programming and her thoughts about the state of the craft today.

When I was asked to interview Adrienne Mancia, veteran Curator--Film Exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, I was delighted. This was not only because of Adrienne's prominence in the field, but also, like many others involved in film programming, I regard Adrienne as a mentor. Indeed, my first experience of an animation festival was in company with Adrienne and Ian Birnie (now programming films for the Los Angeles County Museum) at the old casino at Annecy in the mid-70s.

Adrienne Mancia began at the Museum of Modern Art in 1964 as a secretary and assistant to Richard Griffith, Director of the Department of Film. For over 30 years, she has been an innovator in film programming in the United States, and a fixture on juries and at film festivals internationally. In light of Adrienne's particularly strong commitment to the short live-action film and animation, I asked her to discuss the history of animation programming at the Museum of Modern Art and elsewhere, as well as her views on the state of animation programming today.

Left to right: Adrienne Mancia, Louise Beaudet, Jacques Drouin, and Helene Tanguay at Ottawa 96. Photo by Candy Kugel.

My film career really began at Contemporary Films, which was headed by Leo Dratfield. He was one of the pioneers, along with people like Tom Brandon of Audio-Brandon, of non-theatrical film distribution in the U.S. Dratfield's company, Contemporary Films, was a self-styled "film library" which distributed, among other works, National Film Board films, the first films of the French Nouvelle Vague directors (like Truffaut, Resnais, Marker, Varda and Godard) and British Free Cinema, which included shorts by Lindsay Anderson. Leo Dratfield loved animation and introduced me to venues like Zagreb, Tours and Oberhausen, where I first was able to see animated films. Leo was a man who made things happen and he was one of my mentors.

Of course, in those days, there were controversial and challenging organizations for film exhibition in New York. Amos Vogel ran Cinema 16, an independent art society that showed animated films, among other artistic movies. Jonas Mekas was the leader of "underground films"--films which championed the avant-garde. There was a small but active community that supported alternate cinema.

Then, the job as Richard Griffith's assistant opened and I was recommended by Clara Grossman and Anne Schutzer who were active in programming and distribution in New York and Los Angeles. When I first came to MoMA, very little was being done in the area of animation. There was some material in the collection that Iris Barry had brought to the archive, but little animation work was being added to the collection or exhibited. I felt that this was an unfortunate gap in our activities. Margareta Akermark, who was the Head of the Circulating Film Library, shared my enthusiasm for short films and animation. I couldn't take care of all of it myself, but together we were able to do a weekly short film program called "Wednesdays at Noon" in which we would show shorts--frequently animation. However, this program was Margareta's responsibility and she was devoted to it.

Before coming to Contemporary, I lived in Italy and belonged to film clubs where I saw some foreign animation. I had grown up with American animation. It was a natural part of my childhood in America and I thought it was for kids. I wanted to be an adult. I had to grow up to be able to appreciate American animation. Only later, through the work that you, Leonard Maltin, Greg Ford, John Canemaker and others were doing, did I realize how inventive and subversive classic American animation was. From there, I went on to appreciate independent American animation, such as the Hubleys and Jordan Belson.

A Whole New World

But for me to discover European animation--it was a whole new world. I found it to be fascinating, challenging and often bewildering, like the great Polish animation. The artistry and craft of a Starevitch or a Trnka was a revelation. My interest until then was more towards animators like Len Lye or Robert Breer, both great artists.

The defining film for me, that changed my ideas about film was not an animated film but Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon. Later, Len Lye's work, although so different, had that same effect on me. It opened new doors. Much of that came through Margareta Akermark, who was a friend of Len Lye. At Contemporary, I first saw the work of Norman McLaren, who was a genius. He could do everything. As the years passed, I discovered great animators in Japan, like Kawamoto whose Dojoji Temple impressed me. Puppet animators like Trnka, Starevitch and Segundo de Chomon changed all my ideas about puppet animation. And then there were the Russian and Eastern European schools of animation--to be able to tell stories like Norstein or create mood like Svankmajer . . .

Bringing Them Back to America

I loved these films and I wanted to bring them back to America. The first international animation program I did at the museum was after the Zagreb Festival in 1972. Zagreb was different then, filled with freshness, vitality and humor. The work coming from the Zagreb Studio was so lively and inventive. I met Louise Beaudet there and we decided to collaborate to bring these films to North America--she to the Cinémathèque Québecoise in Montreal and me to New York.

The "Best of Zagreb" show was a success, and we began to bring in other venues, such as Edith Kramer's Pacific Film Archives in Berkeley and the Museum of Contemporary Arts in Boston. Increasingly, there were other venues that wanted the Zagreb show that Louise and I programmed, but we couldn't handle the work. We were able to do what we could only because Yugoslavia would fund cultural activities. The head of the Studio, Zelimir Matko, was an entrepreneur. He headed sales and marketing for the Zagreb Studio and he helped Louise and I bring the films we chose to North America by speaking to various producers and animators and encouraging them to cooperate with us.

Louise had the best animation archive in the world in Montreal and was my guide to all this. We decided that based on the "Best of Zagreb" show, we would do the "Best of Annecy" in alternate years. We also did a "Best of Ottawa" once and two "Best of Hiroshima" shows. These programs were always chronically underfunded. We would get travel and hospitality by being invited to sit on juries, by begging for hospitality from the festivals or sometimes a little from our institutions to cover print transportation, etc.

What I tried to do with the programming, a little subversively, was to draw it out for a week. With the "Best of Zagreb" or "Annecy" as an anchor, we would also program homages to filmmakers or present animation from various countries--Japanese animation, Khitruk, Pritt Pjarn, and so on. We did our "Best of..." until a year ago. Louise has been in ill health and wanted to retire. This, plus a shortage of funds stopped the program. Frankly, outside of the Cinémathèque Québecoise, I do not know an institution where the exhibition of animation is a priority.

Where Do People Go?

Where do people go for alternate animation? I don't know, and I am concerned. The Ottawa Festival recently did Raimund Krumme, who combines the best of Beckett and Keaton. His work should be shown in New York and everywhere.

I'm also disappointed with the animators in New York and the independent film community. When we run these programs, they should come out and support each other much more. I don't think they make enough of an effort. There is much that they can learn and enjoy from foreign filmmakers--both independent and others. Animators should support their own art. Animation still isn't properly appreciated as an art in galleries and museums. If you mention it to curators, they do not seem to be truly interested. Not that I don't find commercial work interesting. I never looked at The Simpsons seriously until I looked at two episodes in Ottawa. The writing is superb! Writing won't do everything. Toy Story is brilliantly written, but I can hardly look at it. It's ugly. Despite its three-dimensionality, the visuals are "flat"--although compared to most animation on TV, it looks marvelous. But by my personal taste, computer animation is not for me. I'm waiting for it to work. I want to look at it and be hit on the head and say "Eureka--it works!" I would like to see talents like the Quay brothers working this way and making it happen. I want a great artist to adopt computer animation and come up with something I can care about. Technique is only a means. If they have the art in their heads, it doesn't matter what technique they use.

As to my work with animation in the future, I'm still available to promote animation. If nobody cares, things disappear. When we discontinued the short film programs and the "Best of Annecy" and "Zagreb", letters of protest didn't come pouring in. We're losing venues for certain kinds of animation that we need. When cable television came in, I hoped independent animation would find a new venue. Instead, we have more channels with the same old animation, although people like ASIFA-East President Linda Simensky are trying to change that.

I'm not pessimistic, but I'm skeptical. You need people who care and realize independent animation is an endangered species. Russia, the former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia--what are their studios doing now? It's sad. We need a new wave of animators who produce work we care about. When you think about how much money went into Pochahantas and what the result was--I hate the intrusion of this into festivals. I don't mind the recruiting by companies like Warner Bros. and Disney, but the focus in the programming should be on art, rather than on commerce.

Mark Langer teaches film at Carleton University in Ottawa Canada. He is a frequent contributor to scholarly journals and a programmer of animation retrospectives. He can be reached by email at mlanger@ccs.carleton.ca.

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