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A Report from the I Castelli Animati, the International Festival of Animation in Genzano, Italy

Andy Klein traveled to the magical little village of Genzano for this quaint and intimate animation festival.

The fourth annual edition of I Castelli Animati was held from September 29 to October 3 in the village of Genzano, about thirty miles outside of Rome. The festival is not a massive, all-encompassing event like Annecy. Rather than trying to compete with larger festivals, the organizers have wisely chosen a strategy tailored to take advantage of the locale's particular charms and virtues.

A Perfectly Lovely Town

The town is located not far from the Appian Way. Getting to Genzano from Rome can be tricky these days: the entire nation -- monuments, museums, and roadways -- seems to be covered in tarpaulins and scaffolding. In anticipation of the millennial tourist surge, everything is undergoing reconstruction and restoration. (And everyone seems to realize by now that, with only a few months remaining, nothing will be finished in time.) So, during the four days of the festival, my connection to Rome had already been replaced by a detour. Genzano, while far from rural, is just isolated enough that it is relatively untouched by all the work. As someone whose only knowledge of Italy was through watching hundreds of movies, I arrived with an idealized expectation of what an Italian village would look like -- an expectation that the town fulfilled down to the detail. Genzano centers on a beautiful little town square, where children play, mothers wheel their babies around, and old men sit, trading stories and ogling young women. Brick streets -- very narrow by American standards -- run upward from the square, taking you past cafes and shuttered, four-story apartment buildings.

The main drag is Corso Antonio Gramsci -- another sign that Italy is another world. (How many American roads are named after socialists?) At the square, Via Belardi forks off Gramsci and leads uphill to the Cinema Modernissimo, where all the screenings took place.

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(Right to left) Translator Navid Carucci, animator Joanna Quinn, and the festival's artistic director Luca Raffaelli. Courtesy of I Castelli Animati. Festival artistic director Luca Raffaelli and animator Candy Kugel. Courtesy of I Castelli Animati.

The showings began at 10 am and ran `til about an hour past midnight, with breaks for lunch and dinner. The scheduling is designed to allow the enterprising animation buff to catch everything. (It should be noted that all activities in Genzano seem to be put on hold for lunch, a meal that is afforded great respect.)

"We wanted to keep things focused," says Luca Raffaelli, the festival's artistic director and full-time emcee. "Keeping everything in one screening place is the best thing for a small festival. It creates a friendly situation, with the audience interacting with the staff and the guests."

The Atmosphere The festival was initially the dream of organizational director Piero Fortini and has expanded faster than anyone envisioned. The first year, the only international guest was Jimmy Murakami; this year, those attending and presenting films included Marv Newland (Canada), Oscar Grillo (Argentina), Joanna Quinn (UK), Candy Kugel (US), Ferenc Cako (Hungary) and Rin Taro (Japan).

The small size has other benefits: there is a spontaneity that would be impossible at a more frantic festival. At one point, during a live performance by pianist Roberto Frattini (who frequently does music for Bruno Bozzetto), Oscar Grillo, Marv Newland and Miguel Rep engaged in a sort of impromptu drawing bee at the front of the auditorium. The relaxed atmosphere was also enhanced by the large number of children in the audience; while not all the films were for kids, the younger set was generally a major presence. (The attitude seemed a lot more accepting than in the US, where kids sometimes are regarded as more of a public nuisance than an organic part of life.)

Grillo and Luca Raffaelli. Courtesy of I Castelli Animati.

Grillo and Luca Raffaelli. Courtesy of I Castelli Animati.

This has led to some growing pains. "We don't want to get too big, but we received more good submissions this year than we had room for. We couldn't say no, so we added a fourth day and began screenings earlier both in the morning and in the evening to accommodate them. The perfect festival would have meant cutting 2 1/2 hours each day." Despite the growth, the programs ran exceedingly smoothly, thanks to Fortini's staff and the remarkable, multi-tasking organizer Irene Duranti, who frequently seemed to be in three locales at once.

Our Viewing Pleasure While the overall effect of this demographic was wonderful, it could create some problems. Marv Newland's latest film, Fuv -- a daring and intriguing work that employs comic timing as far from the current norm as his Sing Beast Sing seemed twenty years ago -- seemed simply to baffle most of the kids at its afternoon screening.

The award winners were well chosen. Konstantin Bronzit's Au bout du monde (France/Russia, 1999) won both the international jury's Grand Prize and the Audience Prize. This irresistible piece about a house precariously balanced on a peak is, in the best sense, a textbook model of how to take a simple gag concept and then amplify and compound it to the limit.

A Special Jury Prize was awarded to Bruno Bozzetto's Europe & Italy (Italy, 1999), which uses simpler-even-than-South Park computer animation for a series of hilarious comparisons between Italy and the rest of the EEC.

kleincastelli03a.jpg The multi-award winning Au bout du monde (At the End of the World) by Konstantin Bronzit. © and courtesy of Folimage. kleincastelli04.jpgJolly Roger keeps pleasing crowds around the world. © Channel Four Corporation MCMXCVIII.

Special mentions were awarded to Mark Baker's extremely funny Jolly Roger (U.K., 1998), Alexey Kharidity's Once Upon a Time Near the Sea (Russia, 1998), and The Exciting Life of a Tree (U.S., 1998), yet another wonderful Bill Plympton short.

The prize for the Best Debut Short Film went to Migrations by Costantin Chamsky (France, 1998), while the Best European Short Film award went to 3 Misses (Netherlands, 1999), the latest from the always wonderful Paul Driessen.

The jury for the Italian Competition gave its Grand Prize to Donata Pizzato's Cambi e scambi (Italy, 1998) and a Special Jury Prize to Alessandro Rak's Again (Italy, 1998).

In addition to older material in retrospectives devoted to Rin Taro, Marv Newland, Joanna Quinn, and Roberto Gavioli, there were other worthwhile films that, for one reason or another, screened out of competition. Luigi Liberio Pensuti's Dr. Churkill (Italy, 1940) is a recently rediscovered example of Fascist propaganda, portraying Winston Churchill as a money-grubbing Jekyll-and-Hyde, who needs a special potion to keep from reverting to an ape. Candy Kugel's first episode of Knitwits (U.S., 1999) was funnier and more frenetic than the original short that inspired the prospective series. And, just when you thought fart humor was completely played out, Oscar Grillo's Monsieur Pett, about a poor little man whose life is ruined by his excessive flatulence, was as funny as any film in the festival.

Andy Klein is a film critic for the New Times newspaper chain. He is head of the animation committee for the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA).

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