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Report from Chicago: The Chicago International Animation Film Festival — Cineme

Paloma Boil reports back from the first Cineme Fest about how the new Chicago-based event measures up.

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Chicagos Biograph Theatre adds the Cineme festival screenings to its annals of historical events. The Cineme poster winner was Paris-born Londoner Nicolas Farkas. All images and photographs from the Chicago International Animation Film Festival © 2003 Cineme.

Many existing and past film festivals in Chicago have featured animation as a category, however this year marked the first year of the Chicago International Animation Film Festival also known as Cineme, the brainchild of founders Lee Litas and Brooke English. The duo are veteran animation professionals that have come back to their Chicago origins from Los Angeles to lead Dreamation Studios, an animation studio with a focus on 3D/CGI characters and feature length film development. Through Cineme they hope to usher in a new era of animation history for Chicago.

The festival ran for four days and nights from Nov. 6-9, 2003. Screenings were centrally located in Chicagos historical Biograph Theater (where notorious criminal John Dillinger was shot and killed) and DePaul University Campus. The festival featured a juried competition, screenings of work by first time and veteran filmmakers as well as discussion panels that featured international and local experts on the art and industry of animation. Categories in competition were: feature films, shorts, SFX, music videos, game animation, web animation, TV animation that included commercials, idents/leaders and also student, experimental, industrial and first films.

Cineme opened with a gala fundraising event that benefited Gildas Club Chicago, a cancer support community named after comedian Gilda Radner. (www.gildasclubchicago.org). In attendance were 70 to 80 international filmmakers, Consul Generals and representatives from participating nations and a handful of local industry people. The event featured keynote speaker Brenda Sexton, the managing director of the Illinois Film Office and the Chicago premiere of Disneys Destino, an animated collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali that began in 1947 and was recently completed using state of the art technology.

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The following day, I began my festival odyssey with a few panel discussions held at the DePaul Campus location. One of these was presented by the Nickelodeon panel with the topic Presenting Social Issues Within Animated Works It featured executives from Nickelodeon, including Eric Coleman, vp of animation development & production; Butch Hartman, creator/writer/director/producer of Fairly Odd Parents; and Rob Renzetti, creator/writer/director of My Life as a Teenage Robot, Powerpuff Girls and Dexters Laboratory. Although the panel slightly veered off topic, it was a great inside look at the development and pre-visualization process at Nickelodeon. The truth is the audience, myself included, just wanted to watch the cartoons!

After a full day of attending panel discussions and workshops, I went to the shorts 1 program. The selection represented a variety of storytelling genres, aesthetics and animation techniques. One film that really stood out and ultimately won an audience choice award was Call of the Wild by Julia Sarcone-Roach. Call of the Wild is probably one of the only animated short films to feature a kitty-shaped airplane.

The short, Oola Oop Diner, charmed audiences with its coquettish heroine Natalie. © Carolle-Shelley Abrams 2003.

The short, Oola Oop Diner, charmed audiences with its coquettish heroine Natalie. © Carolle-Shelley Abrams 2003.

Another favorite was Oola Oop Diner by Carrolle-Shelley Abrams. Both of these received a very positive response from the audience. In other words, side splitting laughter. Also notable at this screening were Medlennoe Bistro (A Slow Bistro) by Ivan Maximov, Delivery by Patrick Smith, both traditionally drawn in 2D animation and Eternal Gaze by Sam Chen, a computer-animated film based on the life story of artist Alberto Giacometti, moving and inspiring for its innovative approach to 3D. What was most appreciated in the shorts 1 program were the approaches to storytelling and character insight.

I spoke with filmmaker Carrolle-Shelley Abrams about her impression of the festival, her film Oola Oop Diner an official festival selection for the shorts program and her process. Carolle-Shelley, originally from the U.K. and now based in L.A., has a prestigious background in the visual arts. She made the switch to animation because it reaches a broader audience. We talked about the origins of her stories and Natalie, a chain-smoking, French coquette and reoccurring character in her shorts. One can imagine that Natalie has an ongoing Serge Gainsbourg soundtrack in her head in lieu of an internal monologue. Carolle-Shelley Abrams is a self-taught animator and very recently began creating animated stories in Flash. From a technical point of view Oola Oop Diner has a rough quality to it however the narrative takes over and the characters stay in your head. Keep a look out for more from this up and coming storyteller.

Bill Plympton, The President of Independent Animation, provided inspiration for his audience during his presentation.

Bill Plympton, The President of Independent Animation, provided inspiration for his audience during his presentation.

One of the special events was a presentation given by Bill Plympton a.k.a. The President of Independent Animation. Plympton screened excerpts from the Plympton diaries; a weekly diary of the making of Mutant Aliens originally broadcast realtime via the Internet. It was a great primer on how to survive as an independent animator as well as an inspiration for animators to tell stories about things that they are passionate about.

Shortly before the screening Bill Plympton approached Carrolle-Shelley Abrams (Oola Oop Diner) about helping him to sell his collection of books, tapes and DVDs. I thought what better way to learn about survival tactics in the world of independent animation than by assisting The President of Independent Animation? So, I offered my help as well. There was a pretty steady flow of Plympton fans and he was happy to hand out autographed postcards and personalize items sold.

Plympton began the presentation by asking, Are there any animators here? Almost all of the hands in the packed audience went up. Plympton led us through his entertaining and informative documentary, which gave the audience how to lessons on developing characters, producing films, funding and distribution. During the Q and A, Plympton spotted a friend of his, Ed Hooks, respected teacher and the author of Acting For Animators. His workshop, with the same title, was one of the special events earlier the same day. Bill Plympton introduced him to the audience, which I believe for the most part already knew him and his work. Nevertheless Plympton had him stand up and gave his book a plug.

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The Cineme 2003 braintrust included (left to right) festival judge Eric Homan (Frederator Studios), Cineme founder/producer, Brooke English, festival judge Randal Myer (Cartoon Network), Cineme founder/producer Lee Litas and festival judge Kelli Bixler (Bix Pix Entertainment).

This was another valuable survival lesson; know your community and support it. Earlier in the lobby the President was telling me about the support and collaboration he finds through his New York ASIFA membership. This was a reoccurring theme presented by many at the festival, the value and importance of community, collaboration and creating a forum of exchange.

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On the last day of the festival I attended the final screening of films in the web animation category. Web animation filmmaker Amy Winfrey, whom I had met the night before, explained that audiences prefer to view web animation on the Internet. Why would they pay for a screening when they can get it for free? This is true, however there is some value to seeing films on a larger screen and getting to experience the reaction and interaction with the audience, not just with your computer. Winfreys episode of Making Fiends was selected as the winner of the Web animation award.

In general, festival attendance was healthy especially since Chicago was hosting four other entertainment festivals at the same time. Although Millennium Actresss managed to play to a full house the first night, plans are being made for next years Cineme to insure that it will be the only show in town.

Curiously absent at most screenings and discussion panels were animation students from the animation programs at our Chicago colleges. Workshops and panel discussions were a hefty $20. While well worth it, this was unaffordable for most student budgets. What stood out the most about this festival was the fun sharing information. It was a great opportunity for filmmakers from all forms of animation and experience levels to meet each other and exchange ideas and experiences regardless of rank and stature.

Organizationally speaking, Cineme was a little rough around the edges, which was to be expected for the first year. Chicagoans, as well as national and international filmmakers alike, are looking forward to the second annual Cineme. Hopefully next year will prove to have more local presence in the audience as well as in the competition.

Cineme workshops and panels drew several hundred attendees.

Cineme workshops and panels drew several hundred attendees.

Chicago is in the habit of exporting great talent to other cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Cineme may not be as organized or as glamorous as Annecy (not yet), but for the most part, Cineme completed its mission and audiences and filmmakers left the scene inspired, entertained and more informed. Bringing it home to Chicago is a good first step toward creating an awareness of the vast talent Chicago has to offer. Lee Litas and Brooke English have got the right idea.

In the meantime, look for the Best Of Cineme 2003 video/DVD a compilation release of the official entrants, winners, in-depth interviews with the major players, as well as juicy behind-the-scenes tidbits from Cineme 2003.

Paloma Boilés is a Chicago based artist, animation instructor and creative director of Stroboscopia, an animation and design production company. She is also the president of the Chicago chapter steering committee for Women In Animation.

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