Search form

Anima Brussels Festival Turns 30!

This year Anima Brussels (4 through 13 March 20) pulled out all the stops to celebrate the festival’s 30th Anniversary. In addition to the seven programs of World Shorts in competition and numerous feature films in and out of competition, there was an outstanding roster of who’s who from the world of animation. Read all about this great event!

By Nancy Phelps.

This year Anima Brussels (4 through 13 March 20) pulled out all the stops to celebrate the festival’s 30th Anniversary.  In addition to the seven programs of World Shorts in competition and numerous feature films in and out of competition, there was an outstanding roster of who’s who from the world of animation. Peter Lord, Bill Plympton, Gil Alkabetz and Raoul Servais were just some of the luminaries in attendance.

Kari-gurashi no Arrietty (The Borrowers), directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, was produced by the famed Japanese Studio Ghibli.  The characters were based on the beloved series of English children’s books by Mary Norton.  The first book, published in 1952, won the Carnegie Medal and in 2007 was named to the list of the ten most important children’s books of the past 70 years by the Carnegie Medal judges.

I was very curious to see how this classic British story would transfer to anime.  The movie was set in present day Koganel, Western Tokyo and revolves around the Clock family, little people who live under the floorboards of people’s houses.  They live by “borrowing” but they take only what they need.  Fourteen year old Arrietty Clock’s life changes when a young human boy arrives to stay at the house.

The film is Yonebayashi’s directorial debut and he is the youngest person to direct a film for Studio Ghibli.  Hayao Miyazaki supervised the production as development director and although there are some stunning visual images, the film lacks a certain depth and richness that I am used to in a film with Miyazaki’s name on it.

This year the theme of Anima Brussels was music and animation, and many of the feature and short films were very musical.  I had heard much about the feature film Chico & Rita, and I was not disappointed.  For me it was a much more enjoyable experience than Arrietty.

The Spanish-British co-production was created by the team Fernando Trueba, 1992 Oscar winning director of Belle Époque, Tono Errando Mariscal, and renowned illustrator Javier Mariscal.   It is a captivating love story of Chico, a young pianist who dreams of making a name for himself in Cuban jazz, and Rita a beautiful singer with a captivating voice. Beginning in 1948 Havana, it follows their careers, romance and heartbreaks in a passionate Cuban love story that takes us to New York City, Paris, Hollywood and Las Vegas.

The characters of Chico and Rita are fictional, but the rest of the musicians who populate the film will be familiar to anyone familiar with Latin jazz and the 1950’s New York music scene.   Renowned Cuban composer and pianist Bebo Valdes now 90 years old and living in Sweden arranged the classic tunes and contributed original music and brought Chico’s piano playing to life.   Bebo’s arrangements were recorded for the soundtrack by some of the very best young musicians on the Cuban and New York City music scenes and also features music by Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Cole Porter. One dramatic scene recreates Chano Pozo at a jam session with Charlie Parker in New York City. The American singer Freddy Cole is featured as the voice of his more famous brother Nat King Cole.

Tono Errando Mariscal, the features co-director, was a festival guest and we had the opportunity to have several long conversations.  He told me that every time the film is screened, young people tell him that they have discovered a whole new world of music that they had never heard before.

Nancy with Chico and Rita co-director Tono Errando Mariscal.

The film’s animation is not always as strong as the story or music but I was so captivated by the film that I totally forgot about any flaws.  Chico & Rita is a wonderful example of animation for adults and the rest of the sold out audience must have agreed with me because they selected it for the Audience Best Feature Film Award.

I usually find feature films the least interesting part of a festival but if Anima Brussels is any example, festivals will have an excellent selection of feature films to screen this year.  I was totally enchanted by Le Vilain Petit Canard from Russian director Garri Bardine.  A master of plasticine, Bardine’s retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic The Ugly Ducking took six years to complete.  It is wonderful to know that there are still a few masters who are willing to take the time and patience to create a beautiful film in the best tradition of the Russian and Czech masters.  Every feather was moved by hand without the use of a computer even for compositing.  This vision of feathers and fur, set in a classically Russian setting, has a political subtext highlighting the problems of exclusion, racism, and the current rise of intolerance and isolationism.  Nik was somewhat bothered by the first five minutes of music which sounded as if it had been done electronically, but the moment the Russian National Symphony started to play the rich Tchaikovsky score, I forgot all about it.

Oblivion Island:  Haruka and the Magic Mirror turned out to be a lovely surprise.  As one friend said “It’s Toy Story with the toys gone awry”.  It combines a touching story of a young girl’s loss of a loved one with an adventure saga that answers the question “Where do things that we love but neglect disappear to?”  Sixteen year old Haruka meets Teo, a mysterious creature with a fox-like head, and together they take on the Baron, a pompous, ambitious ruler of Oblivion Island in an effort to retrieve a cherished mirror given to Haruka by her mother.  I wasn’t sure I would enjoy this film but the story combined with clever sets and character designs drew me into the land of Oblivion Island.

A new film from Folimage Studio is always a treat.  They are known for combining good story telling with lush visuals and their film Une Vie de Chat (The Life of a Cat) is a new film directed by Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol.  The story revolves around Dino, the cat, who shares his time between two homes.  By day he lives with Zoe, whose mother is a police commissioner.   At night he climbs the roofs of Paris with Nico, a master thief.  The story has all the elements of a good mystery with beautiful animated Paris skylines and a suspenseful ending on top of Notre Dame.   The film was not in competition because it is currently in release in European theatres.  It has been playing for three months at my local theatre in Gent.  I don’t want to give away the plot because hopefully Une Vie de Chat will be released in US theatres.

Day two of the Festival was one of the highlights of the ten days.  The vivacious Stephanie Coerten, regular festival presenter, was joined on stage by Walloon film critic Hughes Dayez to host a tribute to Anima Brussels first 30 years.  First to take the stage were festival co-directors Doris Cleven and Philppe Moins to treat us to film montage of thirty years of festival memories.  They were followed by three long time friends of the festival:  Michel Ocelot, Bill Plympton, and Peter Lord each with a special birthday present to delight the festival staff and audience alike.

Presenter Stephanie Coerton ans festival co-directors Doris Cleven and Philippe Moins.

The many faceted Michel Ocelot gave us a glimpse into yet another side of his genius with a very funny slightly naughty tale of a genie who gives three wishes to a greedy couple.  To add to the fun an alternative ending was shown.  Michel told me that he was surprised to see the second ending since it was not supposed to be on the film.  He also said that it will never be shown again so the audience did get a very special present.  There was also a retrospective screening of Michel’s beautiful films the next day.

Bill Plympton is always a big hit with European audiences and he was welcomed to the stage with hearty applause.  Bill treated us to Guard Dog Global Jam, a collaborative effort by 70 animators worldwide to re-create Bill’s Oscar nominated short Guard Dog in their own styles.  He also gave us a glimpse at his two new feature film projects Cheating and Tiffany the Whal,e which are still in their early stages.

Bill Plympton and Nancy chatting on opening night.

Bill gave a sold out workshop the next evening with more peeks at the new projects and of course handy tips on how to succeed as an Independent animator.  As usual Bill sold all of his videos to the very enthusiastic crowd.  Be sure to check out Bill’s new book Independently Animated, Bill Plympton, which features art work from throughout his career, along with drawings especially created for the book and a forward by Terry Gilliam.   Bill also relates his personal story of life as an independent animator.  The book is available on, or better still support your local independent book seller. The book hit the shelves March 2011.

The highlight of the evening for me was Peter Lord, who treated us to a preview of Aardman Studio’s new stop-motion feature with the working title of Pirates!  Several years ago at a festival in Estonia Peter told me that he has loved pirates and wanted to be one ever since he was a small boy, so this project is near and dear to his heart.  Peter, co-founder of Aardman, has returned to hands on directing for the first time since Chicken Run to turn two books from the cult children’s series Pirates by Gideon Defoe into a high seas comedy adventure.  Defoe also wrote the screen play for the film.

Showing his true pirate self on film in some motion capture studies for the puppets, Peter wielded his sword wearing a tri-cornered skull and cross bones hat.  In what I thought was a very funny touch, I couldn’t help but notice that the parrot has a distinct Bristol accent remarkably like’s Peters.  The very sweet and humorous film clips were the icing on the festival Birthday cake.

The next day over drinks Peter told me that the film is due for a March 2012 world wide release by Sony Distribution.  He also said the only thing certain about the title right now is that it will contain Pirates!  I learned that the film will also be full of fun Foley sounds.  The film should combine all of the elements that we have come to love from an Aardman film and more.

Nancy and Peter Lord raising a toast to Pirates.

The studio also has another feature Arthur Christmas which will be released in November 2011.  The CGI production, an action-adventure comedy set on Christmas Eve, is directed by Sarah Smith and Barry Cook.

The seven short film competitions had some nice new surprises along with old favorites such as Anita Killi’s touching Sinna Mann (Angry Man) and Andreas Hykade’s feast for the eyes and ears Love and Theft.  Arithmitique by Dalila Rovazzani and Giovanni Munari was their graduation film at the National Film School of Piedmont, Italy.  The 2D film tells the story of a bored little boy struggling with his math homework who falls into a nightmare.  Based on a fragment of Maurice Ravel’s 1920-25 opera The Child and the Spells uses dark hues with splashed of color to tell a tale that will resonate with anyone who struggled with math as a child.

The Chase by Mu Jianhong from China was a pleasant surprise.  The film was not a great film but the simple story about a middle aged man and a stray dog showed warmth and human emotion that I have not found in many animations from China.

Nicholas Mahler is as well-known as a comic book artist as he is as an animator.  His use of irony mixed with humor came across strong in his latest film Mystery Music.  The five minute film about/with music has four episodes illustrating different styles of music.  The music is represented by sausage or spherical shapes emitting from the instruments.  When the musicians stop playing, the instruments take on a life or their own and continue to play on by themselves.

Keeping with this year’s musical theme Cleo’s Boogie from the Belgian Camera Etc.-Collective introduces us to two elderly musicians who share a flat, a cat, and their musical memories of backing up the famous cabaret singer Cleo.  The claymation figures give way to colorful Norman McLarenisque shapes when we hear the two musicians begin to relive their performances with spoons, coffee cups, and assorted kitchen items.

Three programs of This is Belgium showcased the prolific animation production in this country.  There were also competitions in Music Video and Commercials categories.  Unfortunately the music and videos and commercials were scattered throughout all of the Short Film Competitions programs.  I found these very short (some no more than forty-five seconds) pieces very distracting when sandwiched between two serious six or seven minute short animations.  I hope that next year the festival will have a separate Music Video and Commercial screening.

I am familiar with animation from Brazil and Argentina but my knowledge of Chilean animation is minimal.  The Chilemonos screening was widely varied in topics and quality.  I enjoyed seeing Lucia, Luis Y el loho again.  I first saw the film which is one of a video series of three at the Black Nights Festival and was intrigued by the sets constructed of charcoal, dirt, flowers, found objects, and cardboard.  In this second viewing I saw even more of the intricate details.  I wish I could say that the entire program as entertaining as this film.

The program of Irish animation was full of their unique brand of humor.  Old favorites such as the 2008 Granny O Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty and the extremely funny Agricultural Report (2004) have stood the test of time and made me laugh as much as when I first saw them.

Mihai Mitrica, co-founder of Anim’Est in Bucharest, Romania and an International Juror at ANIMA, introduced a program paying tribute to the new generation of Romanian animators who have begun to emerge following the difficult period in the country’s history following the turbulent 1989 revolution.   

Germany, the spotlighted country this year, was well represented by guests and programs.  Gil Alkabetz, International Competition Jury Member, presented a retrospective of his work.  His films cover a wide range of subjects from a memorable Travel to China to the dynamic The Da Vinci Time Code which deconstructs Da Vinci’s famous The Last Supper to a score of minimalist music.  I have seen his films and always find something new in them.

Thomas Meyer-Hermann presented a widely diverse selection of films from his respected Studio Film Builder in Stuttgart.  Along with Thomas, the impressive list of artists working in Studio Film Builder includes such respected names in the animation world as Gil Alkabetz, Andreas Hykade, and David Nocke.  Phil Mulloy has even crossed the channel to work as a guest animator. Alongside the provocative and disturbing films the studio is well known for, their children’s television series Tom and the Slice of Bread with Strawberry Jam and Honey animated by Andreas Hykade has been a long running hit.  Thomas told me that by the beginning of 2012 they will have completed four series totaling fifty-two episodes and that that will be the end of the series, after which he wants to return to animating instead of producing.

Thomas is a very busy man.  Besides heading a very busy studio he also teaches in the animation department of the Kassel Kunsthochschule.  After a brief introduction to the school’s program and approach to teaching he screened a program of student work that demonstrated why the school’s unique approach of combining live action and animation students in one media department continues to turn out top quality animators.  Andreas Hykade presented a separate program of his thought provoking work.

Studio SOI is relatively new on the animation scene and it has already proven itself to be a force in German animation.  Founded in 2002 by seven directors, their latest film The Gruffalo was nominated for a 2011 Short Animation Oscar.  The Studio SOI retrospective showcased their visual originality and strong screen plays especially in the field of children’s animation.

German born Max Hattler conducted a well-attended Master Class focusing on his unique multi-media style.  Later that evening Max was joined by Mehmet Can Ozer, a prominent name in the electro-acoustic world, to give a live performance putting into practice what he had talked about earlier that day.  Max’s fascination with the relationship between sound, music, and moving images always makes for a unique, one of a kind experience.

Anima Brussels is very unique in that it is first and foremost a festival for the people who live in Brussels as the packed screening day after day proved.   I talked with several families of 3rd generation festival goers who had brought their toddlers and very young children to see Capelito, le Champigon Magique.  The delightful adventures of the little claymation mushroom created by Spanish director Rodolfo Pastor is perfect as a child’s first movie going experience.  There is very little dialogue and the film is divided into eight little adventures.  I sat in an audience packed with small children who were riveted to the screen and it delighted me to know that I was watching the film with our future audience.

The festival is held during Carnival Week so that parents can come with school age young people and there were films guaranteed to delight all ages and interests every day.  There was also an on-going workshop where young film enthusiasts could create their own films with the assistance of professional animators.  Every time I visited their workshop the room was abuzz with activity as puppets were moved for stop motion films and creatures were drawn and filmed.

Young animators at work in the children’s workshop.

The renowned Zorobabel Collective headed by William Henne in Brussels has created quality animation in their workshops for over fifteen years.  People of all ages and levels of experience are welcome for a stay of any length to work on a project.  This year the festival honored Zorobabel’s unique contribution to animation with an exhibit of sets from five stop motion films made in their workshops.  The sets and props for the film Kin were extremely creative with miniature cars and bicycles made out of recycled and found objects like the ones portrayed in the film. Visit  to find out more about the collective’s unique programs and how you can participate.

Set from the Zorobabel film Kin.

Prominent Belgian animator and comic book artist Benoit Feroumont shared his experience in the world of animation, comic books and illustration at his Master Class.  Known for his work on Belleville Rendez Vous and his cleverly humorous short Dji Vou Veu Volti Benoit is currently at work on his first 2D/3D feature film Majorettes.

As well as watching film Anima gave us the opportunity to learn about the C.A.S.P.E.R. (Creative Animated Series Pilots in the Euro Region) which was created to encourage collaboration between animation professionals in the regions of Flanders, Belgium; Nord Pas de Calais, France; and Wallonia, Belgium.  The program has set up a special common fund to support the production of animated series pilots.  Co-productions must have at least one partner from each of the three regions.

The project was launched last year at the Gent International Film Festival with six selected projects from the fourteen submissions.  Each of the six received 25,000 Euros development money with an additional 25% to be raised by the project producers.  The three projects selected to receive an additional 25,000 Euros to produce a completed pilot were introduced at Anima Brussels.  The production teams of Bo’s Bazaar, Toc Toc, and Tukktulik presented their projects in detail and talked about their development strategies.  All three projects look as if they could fulfill the C.A.S.P.E.R. mission to foster creative animation series that will challenge animation boundaries and make a difference.  A lovely lunch for participants and guests followed the presentations.

Animated Nights has become a festival institution. Beginning at 9:30 at night three packed programs are designed for the young or young at heart festival go-er.  The films make you alternately laugh, gasp in horror or astound into the wee hours of the morning.  In between the long film screening the bar provided wine and beer and we danced the night away in the lobby to the dj. Nik and I left about 3 AM and Animated Nights was still going strong.

Cosplay returned again this year bigger and better than ever.  Fantasy characters of all ages took over the Flagey to show off their elaborate costumes fashioned to recreate their favorite manga, comic book, or anime character.  Cosplay began several years ago in Japan and is spreading not only to animation festivals but to Cosplay events worldwide.

A new edition to the festival this year was Pecha-Kucha, 20 Images – 20 Seconds.  The event was first devised in Tokyo in 2003 as an event for animators to meet, network, and show their work.  Drawing its name from the Japanese term for chit-chat, events are now held worldwide.   Fourteen writers, illustrators, and animators had to create presentations of 20 pictures x 20 seconds or 10 pictures X 40 seconds.  The results looked like 14 individual flipbooks of 6’40 each.  The participants were only given one week to prepare their presentations.

I saw firsthand just how difficult this process is.  The friend I was staying with in Brussels was a participant in Pecha-Kucha and she worked from early morning until late at night on her presentation.  All of her hard work paid off though because her Pecha-Kucha was very well received.

The closing night ceremony ended all of the suspense of who would win the coveted Anima statutes.  The International Competition Jury comprised of Gil Alkabetz, Canal + director Pascale Faure, and co-founded of Anim’est Budapest Mihai Mitrica awarded the Festival Grand Prix to Andreas Hykade for Love & Theft.

Juror Gil Alkabetz.

The National Competition Jury was made up of French animator Bruno Collet, Belgian film journalist Jean-Francoise Pluijgers, and noted Flemish animator Jan Van Rijsselberge.  Their choice for the National Grand Prix was Kin from the Atelier Collective Zorobabel.  The film which brings together a series of characters around the theme of resourcefulness and recycling in Kinshasa was a very popular choice.

A complete list of all festival winners is at the end of the article.

Nancy with Belgian animator legend Raoul Servais.

Anima Brussels was so packed with so many wonderful films, events, and memories that there is no way that I can write about them all.  I give my deepest thank you festival co-directors Doris Cleven and Philippe who did everything possible to make my festival visit so enjoyable.  My deep gratitude goes to Karin Vandenrydt and Francoise Cathala, Festival Press Liaisons and the entire Festival staff for making my job so enjoyable and easy.

The next edition of Anima Brussels will take place from 17 to 25 February, 2012 their website is

International Competition Jury Awards Grand Prix Anima 2011


Anima 2011 Award for Best Professional Short Film



Anima 2011 Award for Best Student Short Film



Anima 2011 Award for Best Children’s Short Film



Best Music Video Award



Best Advertising Award


Special mention: NOKIA ‘DOT’ ny SUMO SCIENCE

Young Audience Jury of Télébruxelles

Coup2pouce/Télébruxelles Award for Best Animated Night Short Film


Audience Awards

Audience Award for Best Short Film


Audience Award for Best Children’s Short Film


Animation Night Audience Award for Best Short Film


Audience Award for Best Animated Feature, sponsored by FedEx


Audience Award for Best Children’s Animated Feature


Partners Awards

BeTV Award for Best Animated Feature


Format Court Award for Best Professional Short Film



National Competition

Jury Awards

Grand Prix of the French Community




SACD Award

L’oeil du paon by GERLANDO INFUSO

TVPaint Award


Young Audience Jury of Télébruxelles

Coup2pouce/TéléBruxelles for Best Belgian Student Short Film


Partners Awards

BeTV Award


RTBF Award


Cinergie Award