The Olympiad of Animation: An Interview With Fini Littlejohn
I Will Make a Film For You
Bill and Fini Littlejohn (in center), at their home earlier this year, flanked by documentary filmmakers Freida Moch and Terry Sanders. Courtesy of Fini Littlejohn.
She married Bill in 1943 and it was through him that she continued to develop her interest in animation. When he became active in ASIFA-International and attending various international festivals, Fini tagged along. Soon, their Malibu home became a favorite stopover for animation artists from around the world.
Her idea for the Olympiad of Animation, she says, was inspired by producer Les Goldman (How the Grinch Stole Christmas) who always "had great visions for animation." And it was his ideas that came to mind "when there was so much talk about the Olympic Arts Festival" in anticipation of the 1984 Los Angeles games.
Around this time, Fini broke her arm and was forced to largely get around by bus, something which is not easy in an autocentric town like Los Angeles. This did not stop her, and only "a day or two after my accident," she recalls that "I bumped into Paul Ziffern's wife, who said, 'Oh, I'm sorry for you.' (He was a big animal in the Olympics.) I said, You could really help me. I would like to have an animation festival" and asked if Paul could help. Initially he couldn't, but did eventually point her in the right direction.
Fini's initial idea was to have a program of "all these wonderful films we had seen for the past 30 some years we've been going to festivals and that you never see here." ASIFA-Hollywood, headed by animation writer-voice artist Bill Scott, took the event under its wing; subsequently, through voice actor June Foray, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science agreed to play host at its Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. (It helped that Foray was on the Academy's Board of Governors.)
The project now fell under the aegis of the Academy's Douglas Edwards. Eventually, Prescott Wright, a distributor and experienced film festival hand, was brought in to manage the actual event. (Critic and historian Charles Solomon was brought in to help with the final programming.) In addition to Fini's idea for a retrospective, there came the idea to have "new films made especially for the Olympics." She felt that "was a problem," but it really did not seem to phase her.
Fini then set out to personally go out and recruit people to make films especially for the event dealing with the Olympics. Thus, she took the occasion of her and Bill's travels to festivals like Lucca and Annecy to recruit filmmakers to the cause. "The first one that said I will make a film for you," she recalls, "was Bruno Bozzetto. The second was [Osvaldo] Cavandoli. Those were the two biggies."
In the process of soliciting films, she learned first hand some of the political realities of the day. Thus, she was initially taken aback by "the cool reception" she got from people in places like the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. "Even Feodor Khitruk," she notes, "who was really a good friend, said 'I cannot make a film.' Finally one of the East Germans said to me, 'You cannot approach the artists, you have to go to the studio and ask them for permission to approach the artists. I had not known that."
She also did not realize the fallout from the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which the US boycotted, which eventually led to a reciprocal boycott of the L.A. games by the USSR, which certainly did not help Fini in her mission.
Nevertheless, some 140 new short films on "The Spirit of the Olympics" from 18 countries were submitted, of which 32 were selected. In addition to Italy's Bozzetto and Cavandoli, there were films by such world-class animators as Japan's Yoji Kuri, Canada's Graeme Ross and Hungary's Sándor Bekesi. Due to an unexpected interest from schools around the world, 28 films were picked from films made by students of high school age and younger. (All but one, an Italian film, L'Importante e partecipare (The Importance is to Participate), which turned out to be an audience favorite, were screened separately.)
I Will Make a Film For You