Supporting Independents: Five Champions
In the past few years, the world of ASIFA-sanctioned animation festivals has been going through considerable turmoil. Several major festivals, including Annecy and Ottawa, broke away from ASIFA and have gone off on their own; in doing so, they have tried to come to terms with what they see as a rapidly changing reality. One of the most vocal proponents of this change has been Chris Robinson, Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival and the International Student Animation Festival of Ottawa (SAFO).
Robinson feels he "tries to help the art of animation by using several approaches. For instance, by attracting more corporate support, we have created more funds to invite lesser known international artists. A major weakness of the World Animation Celebration, for example, was their refusal to take risks and show artistic screenings. It's true you won't pack the house [with such films], but there are ways around that if you really want to show independent films.
"To really get general audiences out to the festival, you need to show more commercially accessible work. At the same time, you hope that while they are watching The Wrong Trousers in competition, they might see something totally different, like a film by Raimund Krumme, Jan Svankmajer or Joan Gratz."
As for SAFO, Robinson notes, "Let's face it. Student work is becoming in many ways the last vestige of independent animation. Most of these kids won't make another film and this gives them a rare chance to take the spotlight. Of course, students were there [at SAFO '97] to find jobs. Studios and schools were there to recruit. Again, it's a balancing act."
The Festival has also created a reserve fund to make possible the distribution of independent films. "In 1998," he says, "we began distributing a video of the work of Polish animator Stefan Schabenbeck. This year, we are releasing a series of Estonian tapes." In these and other efforts, Robinson is counting on his sense that, "The industrial success of animation has also liberated the public's perception of what animation means. Toy Story, Rugrats and Antz are no artistic masterpieces, but they have introduced a drastically new look to the general viewer. The success of these films suggests that we have a viewer who is more open to different types of animation."
Harvey Deneroff, a freelance writer and animation consultant/analyst based in Canoga Park, California, is the former editor of Animation World Magazine.