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Immersed in Norway's Fredrikstad Animation Festival

Nancy Denney-Phelps travels to Norway to take part in the Fredrikstad Animation Festival. The event has an emphasis on screening Nordic animation but offers so much more. Along with Nordic short film and student competitions and screenings of animation aimed at the family audience, two days were devoted to seminars with international guest speakers from all branches of the animation world.

By Nancy Denney-Phelps

The Fredrikstad Animation Festival in Fredrikstad, Norway (10 – 14 November 2010) has an emphasis on screening Nordic animation but offers so much more. Along with Nordic short film and student competitions and screenings of animation aimed at the family audience, two days were devoted to seminars with international guest speakers from all branches of the animation world.

The “Story in Animation” seminars for professionals, co-produced with the Norwegian Film Institute, examined the process of story development from script to finished animation. Paul Dutton recently returned to his home in Calgary, Canada after two years in Edinburgh, Scotland where he worked as animation director and assistant director on Sylvain Chomet’s highly acclaimed The Illusionist. Paul talked about Chomet’s unorthodox approach to film making. He made his feature without using story boards. Chomet prefers to create as he goes along day by day and usually leaves the animators and even the animation director in the dark as to where the story is going until the last minute.

One of Paul’s jobs was to travel all over Europe searching for animators who, in this age of computer animation, could still draw.What he thought would be a relatively easy job turned out to be a real search.

Once hired, each animator was given a different character or characters to draw and that sometimes led to problems with group scenes.Two different people worked on Tati, one drawing the “vaudeville” Tati only. The slight differences in the drawing styles were not noticeable on the screen until Paul pointed them out. He also showed examples of the attention and care that was given to incidental characters such as the people on the train, details that are easy to miss when watching the film. He easily filled two hours with his relaxed conversational style and lots of entertaining stories. The Illusionist was due to be screened at the festival but unfortunately at the last moment there were complications with the Norwegian distributor, so despite valiant efforts by the festival staff it was not shown. That was unfortunate, because everyone who had heard Paul speak and show film clips were anxious to see it.

Paul DuttonPaul Dutton

Nik Fletcher, editor on Shrek Forever After, gave an entirely different style presentation. He focused on the tight process the Dreamworks team used from script to finished film. He also talked about some of the different choices made in the creation of the 2D and 3 D versions of the film. Shrek Forever After was screened later in the cinema as one of the feature film presentations at the festival.

Last but not least on the schedule were Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski. Since 1997 they have worked together as Clyde Henry Productions to create award winning films, ads, illustrations and music videos. Their first professional film, Madame Tutli-Putli, produced by Marcy Page at the National Film Board of Canada, received two awards at the Cannes Film Festival and a 2007 Academy Award nomination.

Their second animation project, Higglety Pigglety Pop!, based on a Maurice Sendak story, featured the voices of Meryl Strep and Forest Whitaker. Spike Jonze produced it for inclusion in the Warner Brothers DVD of Where the Wild Things Are. Their search for the right voice for Jenny, the Sealyham terrier star of Higglety Pigglety Pop! was a lovely story.It ended when they visited Sendak at his home and he played an old Books on Tape recording of Meryl Streep reading the book. Chris and Maciek played examples of the stars reading lines with different expressions and intonations, and adlibs. It was great fun to hear the outtakes.

The pair gave the most entertaining presentation of the day talking about their methods of script development, which include such unique techniques as writing down ideas, cutting them into strips and drawing the slips out randomly from a hat. They said that they never want to make the same picture twice and that once they have completed a film they put it out of their minds. This was excellent advice for the many students in the packed audience.

Their brand new seven minute film “L’Annee de L’ Os” (The Year of the Bone) was made just for the sheer joy of making an animation that they wanted to do. They talked about the techniques that they used in making the film that included suspending a friend in a body suite by a harness and rotating him into every possible position to create a unique multiple image effect. They also noted that their friend got a hernia from the shooting. After watching the film twice it gave me the feeling that Oskar Fischinger had just met MC Escher. I hope that it will be wellreceived at festivals and that juries will judge it on its own merits rather than trying to compare it to their two previous films. Lavis and Szczerbowski are currently working on a feature film in conjunction with the NFB, The White Circus. It was selected for development at the Sundance Film Festival’s 2008 Screen Writing Lab.

A separate day was devoted to a forum for Nordic professionals where studios and producers were given an opportunity to present themselves and their projects. It was particularly interesting to hear Sarita Christensen, who co-founded Copenhagen Bombay Production Company with animator Anders Morgenthaler. I associate their names with the hard hitting adult animated film Princess which I greatly admire, so it was intriguing to hear that the main focus of their production company is the development of original stories for children and young people. Sarita did tell me that Morgenthaler is at work on another adult oriented animated film.

The festival was officially opened on Wednesday evening by Secretary Lotte Grepp Knutsen of the Ministry of Culture and then the audience was treated to a screening of Elias and the Treasure of the Sea. Elias, the plucky little rescue boat, is familiar to everyone in the Nordic and Scandanivan countries as a beloved children’s book character.

The story centers around Elias’ small coastal fishing village of Cozy Cove where fishing season is about to begin, and large industrial trawlers have appeared and are emptying the ocean of fish. The survival of the little village fishing boats is threatened. The new super modern fishing enterprise is owned by the evil Arctic Queen who plans to rule the fishing waters and send all of the Cozy Cove fishing boats to China as scrap metal.

The film is meant for the youngest audiences but the story of small business being squeezed out by big aqua-business can be appreciated by all ages. Director Lise I. Osvold did not need gimmicks or 3D glasses to hold the audience’s attention. The characters are charming and the story entertaining. Even though Nik and I saw the film in Norwegian without subtitles, we both followed the story and thoroughly enjoyed the film. Elias and the Treasure of the Sea is slated for a 10 December release date in Norway. Further distribution schedules have yet to be announced.

The screening was followed by a party at Verdensspeilet Kaffebar, the official festival bar across the street from the cinema. The café is located in what was the first cinema in the city. It was originally just a small space in the old lobby. This year it was expanded into a very large space in what was once the screening room. Amid numerous champagne toasts to the festival, it was wonderful to see so many old friends again and catch up on news since our visit to Fredrikstad last year.

This year the festival had a strong emphasis on programs for families. This proved to be a wise decision since most screenings were filled with local festival goers of all ages. The program of short Nordic-Baltic children’s films was made up of lots of little gems. Baker’n (The Baker) by my long time Norwegian friend Kine Aune was a sweet treat indeed.The tale of a lonely baker on an island reminiscing about a bygone era when people traveled from far away to feast on his tasty treats was so delicious that it was screened a second time in the Short Film Competition.

I loved Siri Melchior’s previous short animation A Dog Who Was A Cat Inside, so I was delighted to see her new film Flojtelos (Whistleless). Being totally non musical and living with a wonderful multi-talented composer/musician, I felt a great deal of empathy with the only bird who can’t whistle in a town full of music.

A new addition to the festival was the Children’s Jury who selected the winning Nordic-Baltic Children’s Film from this program. The five youngsters ranging in age from six to ten years old selected the Latvian puppet film Dzivais Udens (Magic Water) as their favorite animation

Another new addition to the festival this year was a Commissioned Film Category which had its own separate jury. This new category is an excellent idea because last year commissioned films, music videos, and infomercials got lost scattered in the midst of the Short Film Competition programs. The 30 second to two minute pieces just didn’t fit in. They broke the continuity of the longer works and didn’t do justice to the strong Nordic Commercial Animation Industry.

The commissioned film that stood out in my mind was Tulip Bear.The 45 second commercial for liver pate featuring a very large bear being interviewed by an off camera person seemed slightly ironic to me.Of course the commercial was in Norwegian, so heaven knows what I missed. I hope that this separate category will become a permanent festival feature.

I always enjoy student film competitions. Students are willing to take risks that more seasoned animators don’t dare to try because they have producers, studios, and funding grants to answer to. The program had the usual one gag computer shorts, but several films did stand out. Crossed Sild directed by Ivana Bosnjak and Lea Vidakovic from Volda (Norway) University College had a story that was a bit difficult for me to follow and I would like to see it again. The puppets and sets were superb with dark, edgy lighting which conveyed the fear and loneliness of the two main characters who would be a perfect match for each other if they would only meet. The set for the film was on display in the Cinema and looked as intricate and interesting as it did in the film.

Satkynukke-Jeesus (Jumping-Jesus) is a bizarre Finish cutout animation directed by Tanel Pall. The nine minute film about two women who rent a room to an old sailor and the prostitute that he brings home reminded me of The Pierce Sisters in style and grittiness.Although his storytelling still needs refinement, if Pall continues working in this direction his next film should be even more interesting.

The student film that stood out was Benigni created by Elli Vuorinen, Jasmiini Ottelin and Pinja Partanen of the Turku Arts Academy in Finland. Their puppet stop motion story of a lonely man who finds companionship with a tumorous growth under his arm is a pointedly funny story of love found, love lost. The jury agreed with me and named Benigni Best Student Film.

In the two Short Film Competitions there were some interesting films that were new to me.I haven’t seen any of the previous films about Novus, a little boy searching for friendship in a harsh, cruel world, but that wasn’t necessary to enjoy Novus IX. If the wolf, who is also the small boy’s companion and ride, being devoured by evil rabbits who then pursue the lad is an example of the evil he has encountered in his previous searches, Norwegian director Kjetil Johannes Ottesen has aroused my curiosity to find out what other perils the young boy has faced.

The Short Film jury’s selection of Olga and Priit Parn’s captivating Divers in the Rain as the Best Nordic/Baltic Short Film was no surprise. I also agreed with the jury’s choice of Trod and Trod to receive the Festival Grand Prix. Puppet animation is very strong in the Northern countries and Niki Lindroth Van Bahr’s tale of two neighbors, both named Trod, who become more than neighbors is charmingly amusing and yet bittersweet.

Fredrikstad Animation Festival is one of ten European animation festivals to nominate a film for the prestigious Cartoon d’Or and as winner of the top prize, Trod and Trod is automatically the festival nominee for 2011. Kasper Jancis’ Crocodile, last year’s Golden Gunnar winner, went on to win the 2010 Cartoon d’ Or.

All eight feature films were family oriented. Shrek Forever After, Despicable Me, Toy Story 3, and Legends of the Guardians have all received theatrical release. Of the four other features, Moomins and the Comet Chase stood out. I first met the film’s producer Tom Karpelan of Filmkompaniet at the Trickfilm Festival in Stuttgart last May where he gave a presentation about the then unfinished film. I was enchanted by the charming little Moomin creatures in the clips that he showed and am delighted that the finished film lives up to my expectations.

Based upon a series of beloved children’s books by Finish/Swedish illustrator and writer Tove Jansson, the film has been released in time for the 65th Birthday of the cuddly little creatures. When I originally heard Tom give his presentation I wasn’t sure how this new stereoscopic 3D version of the original Polish/Austrian stop motion film made in the late 1970’s would work. I am happy to say that the conversion of the original footage of felt puppet animation shot on 35 mm through layers of glass looks lovely and has been designed in such a way that the film looks good without the glasses so the youngest members of the family will have as nice a viewing experience as their 3D glasses wearing older siblings. I have watched the film in 3D in the theatre and on a 2D DVD at home and thoroughly enjoyed both viewing. Remi, my animation critic dog, also watched the entire 75 minute film with rapped attention.

It’s a testament to the universal appeal of the Moomins that the same characters have been made into film at least twice before. In 1978 a Russian stop motion serial was created and an animated Japanese feature film appeared in 1971.For those of you who have not yet met the Moomins you have something to look forward to. You can learn more about the history of the characters and the film at their website:

http://www.originalmoomin.com/

Nik and I arrived in Fredrikstad four days before the start of the festival. As part of the festival’s outreach program to the community, Nik conducted a five day workshop at the Fredrikstad Culture School. The students, ranging in age from 13 to 17, are all music students but had never played together as a group before and several had not even played with other musicians, much less given a public performance. In what seemed like a major miracle to everyone involved, the students with Nik’s guidance composed a 5 minute score to Four Elements, an animated film created by students from schools in the Fredrikstad School District under the leadership of animator Gitte Ous.

On Saturday afternoon Four Elements premiered with Nik and the students performing their score at the Versdensspeilet, the festival bar across the street from the cinema. The students gave a performance that any professional would be proud of and it was hard to believe that only a few days before the young musicians didn’t believe that they could create and perform a five minute piece. There were a lot of proud parents in the packed audience. Special thanks go to Project Director Katz Plunkett, film professor Gitte Ous and her students, and everyone at the E6 Ostfold Media Center. The performance can be viewed on U-Tube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2r4a0ly87Ac.

Nik and the students performing

Nik and the students performing

Nik’s workshop and performance were a joint project sponsored by the festival and the Culture School. Unfortunately Nik became known as the elusive festival guest because he was spending every minute that he wasn’t at the school in our hotel room arranging and mixing the music he and the students wrote that day, and preparing for the next day’s lesson.

The E6 Ostfold Media Workshop also conducted workshops for festival visitors to heighten their awareness of animation and optical illusions.The participants made short exercises using different techniques.They were screened in the Cinema as part of the final festival program on Sunday evening.

One of my most vivid festival memories is of parents and children sitting on the TV sofa in the middle of Main Street Fredrikstad watching animation as snowflakes fluttered down. The installation, a concrete sofa opposite a TV screen, was created for the city in 2000 by Helena von Bergen. After being out of service for several years, the installation was revived this year by the festival the as a gift to the city for showcasing animation.

Nancy on the animation couchNancy on the animation couch

When I was at the festival last year I heard about the Bronze Age rock carvings located outside of the town. Official festival driver Oddvar Haugdal and Katz Plunkett gave Nik and I a private tour of the remarkable rock carving’s at Begby. The carvings clearly represent everyday life with images of ships shaped like animals, wagons, sun symbols, and people.

Rock carvingsRock carvings

From Begby we drove to a location where Bronze Age stone graves were marked by placing massive stones on end in a ring, a bit like little Stonehenges. It is believed that the more important the person was the greater the number of stones in the circle. Lovely snowflakes began to fall as we walked through the circles.

Nancy with burial stoneNancy with burial stone

Our final stop was at the new cultural center. Unfortunately it was closed on Monday so we could not enjoy the vast view of the surrounding countryside from the tall tower but we did get to explore the beautiful interpretive iron panels representing the history and culture of the region.

One of the nicest things about a smaller festival is that all the guests stay in the same hotel so we all get to know each other and have great conversations over meals. In what has become a lovely festival tradition there is also an organized dinner for guests before the Awards Ceremony. Each night following the screenings we all gathered at the Verdensspeilet Café.

On Thursday evening Nik finally emerged from the hotel to play music at the café with animator/musician Alexey Alexeev and special guest Jonas Qvale, who joined the duo on an instrument that he made from a large reindeer antler with amplified strings that can be either plucked or bowed. Qvale heads the Horn Orchestra, an experimental music and performance group whose members all play on instruments made out of antlers. The trio was joined on vocals by Swedish director and festival guest Jessica Lauren who delighted us all with her lovely singing.

Nancy with Jonas Qvale playing the reindeer antler instrumentNancy with Jonas Qvale playing the reindeer antler instrument

Alexey is an accomplished animator as well as a musician. Most people are familiar with his extremely humorous Log Jam series, but at his presentation in the theatre he gave us a look at the four new musical creatures that he has created as bumpers for Cartoon Network. The shorts demonstrated what a multi talented quartet of cartoon characters they are with musical styles ranging from polka to Irish step dancing. Alexey entertained the audience with stories about the making of his quirky universe of musical animals. An exhibition of drawings from his shorts was on display in the festival café.

Alexey and NikAlexey and Nik

On Friday evening Festival Director Trond Ola Mevassvik and Magnus Eide, Festival Co-ordinator, programmed a special screening at the café. It began with Alexey’s KJFG #5 and ending on another musical note with Darcy Pendergast’s visually fascinating Lucky. The selection of films didn’t fit into any of the festival programs but were perfectly suited to the relaxed café atmosphere. Each night after the café closed, we all continued the party at the hotel where the festival provided ample amounts of beer to keep the conversation and fun flowing into the wee hours.

Festival coordinator Magnus EideandFestivaldirectorTrondOlaMevassikFestival coordinator Magnus EideandFestivaldirectorTrondOlaMevassik

The Verdensspeilet Café was the ideal location for the Saturday evening closing ceremony. The table full of Golden Gunnar Awards on the stage gave a formal air to the proceedings while the informal seating lent a relaxed, fun atmosphere. The coveted Golden Gunnar award is named after and modeled on the image of Gunnar Strom, the revered animator and professor at Volda University, who was one of the founders of the festival.

GoldenGunnarAwards.jpgGoldenGunnarAwards.jpg The Festival Golden Gunnar with our real Golden GunnarThe Festival Golden Gunnar with our real Golden Gunnar

The evening got off to a rousing start with the presentation of the Life Time Achievement Award to Kaj Pindal and Borge Ring, two veterans of Scandinavian animation. It was presented at a special dinner honoring the pair at the Ribe Animation Festival in Denmark and screened live to us via video. Despite their different styles, perceptions and very different career paths the two have been lifelong friends, representing more than 140 years of animation experience between them.Both are known for films with a message delivered in a distinct style.

Kaj has animated at the National Film Board of Canada where his work earned him a 1968 Oscar nomination for What On Earth. Borge began his career as a jazz musician in the 1940’s, turning to animation in 1952. In 1984 he received an Oscar for Anna and Bella as well as a 1974 Oscar nomination for Oh My Darling.

Next to take the stage was the Short and Student Film Jury, comprised of three illustrious members of the animation community. Australian animation director Eddie White’s most recent film The Cat Piano (2009)won numerous awards and was short listed for the Oscars. Danish Director Jan Rahbek won a 2009 Golden Gunnar for best student film with Space Monkeys. Last but not least, theorist and film critic Ingrid Rommetveit is executive editor of Z Film Journal and an officer of the Norwegian Federation of Film Societies. They awarded the Grand Prix to Trod and Trod. A complete list of jury awards are at the end of the article.

The Children Jury honored Magic Water as their outstanding film. They were followed to the stage by the Commissioned Films Jury.Danish film produce Sarita Christensen, London director Dave King who is currently an Associate Professor at Volda University School, and designer Bard Eker presented the Commissioned Film honors to Norweigan director Martin Engh for VG fredagsbilag, a commercial for VG newspaper.

The coveted Audience Award went to Julenilssen (Santa Klaus), Norwegian animators Mats Grorud and Robin Jensen. It is a clever “real” story of a mythical character that we all thought that we really knew. The jury also selected the film as the festival nomination for the ANOBA Award.ANOBA is an informal network of Nordic/Baltic regional festivals organized to recognize and promote high quality Nordic/Baltic animation.

The ceremony was followed by a party at the café and continued at the hotel party organized by Trond Ola and Magnus. A big thank you goes to the festival for arranging the room and providing plenty of beer to keep the party going into the early morning hours.

Sunday morning came all too early and with it a planned interview by the Animation Pod Cast guys with us. The trio, character animator Enlend Del Sakshaug, freelance CGI and hand drawn animator Will Ashurst, and animator Marton Overlie had reported from the festival all week at Animation Conversation Podcast. In between their witty comments about all of the festival action they interviewed festival guests with a novel twist. The interviewee was provided with a bottle of their favorite alcoholic beverage. The interview lasted for as long as it took the guest to finish the bottle.

The guys showed up at our hotel room door with two bottles of red wine and a lovely assortment of fruits and cheeses for a conversation billed as “Breakfast with Nik, Nancy, and Alexey Alexeev”. We three old friends had no trouble talking, laughing and drinking two bottles of wine in two hours. Our conversation will be available later this year on Animation Podcast. You can check out all of their animated conversations at animationconversation.com or at twitter.com/ACP News

Nik and I can’t thank Festival Director Trond Ola Mevassvik, Festival Coordinator Magnus Eide and all of the festival volunteers enough for the marvelous hospitality and assistance that the festival showed us during our visit to the beautiful city of Fredrikstad. A special thank you goes to Katz Plunkett for all of the hard work she put in to make Nik’s project with the Culture School go so smoothly and to Mattias Lundquist, Culture School Director.

Anyone who is lucky enough to be invited to this wonderful festival should not miss the opportunity. Not only will you have the good fortune to see the best in Nordic/Baltic animation but you will also meet many wonderful people and return home with very special memories. You can learn more about the Fredrikstad Animation Festival at www.animationfestival.no

FESTIVAL AWARDS:

Lifetime achievement Award:

Børge Ring and Kaj Pindal This year’s lifetime achievement was given to the Danish animators Kaj Børge Ring and Pindal for their lifelong work with animation. The award was handed out to Ring and Pindal during an honorary dinner for the two gentlemen at Ribe Animation Festival in Denmark, and the ceremony was transmitted live via video link at the awards ceremony in Fredrikstad.

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Grand Prix - Golden Gunnar Award:

Tord & Tord Sweden | 2010 |10 m 43 s | puppet animation Regi/dir: Niki Lindroth von Bahr Prod: Niki Lindroth von Bahr

Jury statement: We all were instantly immersed into this strange universe with its curious atmosphere, strong directorial style and production design that left us with a feeling that this was a truly ”complete” film.

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Best Nordic-Baltic short film:

Divers in the Rain Estonia | 2010 | 24 m | drawn animation Regi/dir: Priit & Olga Pärn Prod: Kalev Tamm, Eesti Joonisfilm Studio

Jury statement: The film created a mood and found beauty in ugliness and an engaging sound design on top of images that stuck in your mind after the film had finished.

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Honorable Mentions: Grandma Grasshopper Denmark/Bolivia | 2010 | 12 m 42 s | 2D computer Regi/dir: Denis Chapon Prod: Tim Leborgne, The Animation Workshop

Jury statement: A film that used a fresh musical score, hand in hand with bold and eye-catching design and an intriguing story that delivered a strong message about exploitation.

Best Nordic-Baltic student film:

Benigni Finland | 2010 | 7 m 49 s | puppet animation Regi/dir: Elli Vuorinen, Jasmiini Ottelin, Pinja Partanen Prod/distr: Eija Saarinen, Turku Arts Academy

Jury statement: The film takes us on an emotional journey with twists and turns by turning something repugnant into something funny, sad and beautiful all at once and shows us a unusual type of friendship that we haven’t seen before.

07%20-%20Benigni.jpg 

Best Nordic-Baltic commissioned films

VG Fredagsbilag x 5 VG Friday Supplement x 5 Norway | 2010 | 1 m 34 s | stop motion Regi/dir: Martin Engh Company: Animasjonsdepartementet

Jury statement: Strong in animation, timing and humour, but more importantly we felt it made the strongest of connections between it’s visual style and the message it conveyed.

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Honorable Mention: When I am King Norway/Holland | 2010 | 2 m 17 s | Pyrography, Stop-motion Regi/dir: Sverre Fredriksen

Jury statement:

Extremely strong concept and creative use of visual style.

Honorable Mention: Jakob & Neikob Yesper & Noper Norway | 2010 | 5 m | 3D computer Regi/dir: Martine Grande Company: Høydal Fjernsynsproduksjon

Jury statement:

Strong sense of timing and humour along with a quirky design style.

Honorable Mentione: Kirkens SOS Norway | 2010 | 50 s | 2D computer Regi/dir: Cathinka Tanberg Company: Mikrofilm AS

Jury statement:

The film produced a strong visceral reaction combined with very simple technique.

Best children’s film: Magic Water Latvia | 2009 | 10 m | puppet animation Regi/dir: Maris Brinkmanis Prod: Maris Putnins, Film Studio ’’Animacijas brigade”

Jury statement: The dinosaur was funny. Smart. Cool characters.

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Honorable Mention: Jakob og Neikob Yesper and Noper Norway | 2010 | 5 m | 3D computer Regi/dir: Martine Grande Company: Høydal Fjernsynsproduksjon

Jury statement: Funny. Brilliant, simple characters. Yesper said “yes” to a lot of stupid things, but he was good at finding sollutions as well.

Children’s Film jury members: Malene Preutz 10 år Henrik Erlingsen 9 år Andrea Berg 6 år ok Sindre Andre Bilet 10 år Ruben Oliver Sigurdsson Sveen 7 år

Audience Award:

Julenilssen Santa Klaus Norway | 2010 | 12 m | mixed techniques Regi/dir: Mats Grorud, Robin Jensen Prod: Fredrik Pål Røed og Ruben Thorkildsen, Ape&Bjørn AS

Nominated for ANOBA Award:

Julenilssen Santa Klaus Norway | 2010 | 12 m | mixed techniques Regi/dir: Mats Grorud, Robin Jensen Prod: Fredrik Pål Røed og Ruben Thorkildsen, Ape&Bjørn AS

Jury statement: A visually engaging film telling us the real story of a familiar mythical character.

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Congratulations to all the winners!