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A NORDIC – BALTIC ADVENTURE - Fredrikstad Animation Festival

For five days every year the historic town of Fredrikstad, Norway becomes the center of Nordic/Baltic animation. The festival brings in an illustrious roster of names from the international animation community and this year was no exception.

By Nancy Phelps

For five days every year the historic town of Fredrikstad, Norway becomes the center of Nordic/Baltic animation.  The festival brings in an illustrious roster of names from the international animation community and this year was no exception.

I am a fan of Ren and Stimpy but had never met John Kricfalusi.  He turned out to be as delightfully wacky and fun as his characters.  During his Masters of Animation presentation he talked about characters and films that inspired him and he showed animation classics from UPA and Disney among others to illustrate his points.  He also shared excerpts from his favorite live action Hollywood films which he considers just as good, if not a better inspiration for cartoonists as classic cartoons.  I was fascinated to learn what a big influence film noir played in his life.

The next day The John K Special Screening featured his own films, including a 35 second “couch into” he created for a Simpsons episode.  Following the screening he did a drawing session.  A lot of people went home very happy to have an original John K caricature of themselves.

John Kricfalusi at the drawing table.

Designer and director Tod Polson gave a fascinating presentation on The Noble Approach.  After graduating from Cal Arts, where he won a Student Oscar for his short film Al Tudi Tuhak, Tod was hired by the legendary Oscar winning team of Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble to help develop various projects including a number of Looney Toons shorts as well as an Emmy Award winning version of Peter and the Wolf.  Later Tod, Maurice, and several of Maurice’s assistant formed their own company called Noble Toons.  Polson accompanied his talk about his dear friend and mentor Maurice Noble with numerous photos of their travels together as well as Noble’s paintings and drawings.  He is currently working on a book about Maurice’s life and career.

Renowned Hollywood producer Don Hahn talked about his career as producer of such Disney classics as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  A highlight was hearing of Don’s experiences as assistant producer on the ground-breaking Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

In 2009 Hahn made his directorial debut with Waking Sleeping Beauty.  The documentary chronicles the people and circumstances that led to Disney’s animation renaissance in the 1980’s and ‘90’s.  He concluded his presentation by introducing his documentary and giving insights into the events that led up to making the film.  Waking Sleeping Beauty has been shown at numerous festivals and been written about extensively so I don’t feel that I need to add anything else about it.

Don Hahn and Nancy.

Although Suzie Templeton’s career consists of only three films she is already regarded as a master of modern puppet animation.  Her 2008 interpretation of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf garnered her an Oscar and she has won numerous other international awards including the Cristal d’Annecy.

The audience had the opportunity to hear Suzie talk about her work in an interview with Norwegian animation authority Gunnar Strom.  As part of the special event Suzie’s films Dog, Stanley, and Peter and the wolf were screened.  I am particularly fond of  Dog, 2001, asensitive story about a boy and his father trying to come to terms with the death of their mother and wife.  The film won the Grand Prize at the Ottawa International Student Animation Festival as well as a BAFTA (the British Academy Award).

Suzie Templeton and daughter Rosie enjoyed the animation on the TV sofa.

As part of the day long Masters of Animation series, multi-talented director/artist Rosto engaged in a delightfully relaxed chat with Joakin Pedersen, Project Manager at The Animation Workshop in Denmark.  Rosto talked about his never ending quest for new frontiers in a career that has encompassed everything from short films to music videos and beyond.  Mind the Gap, a mixed media project that started with an on line graphic novel and continued with music, print, and films is on-going on Rosto’s blog,

www.rostoAD.com

I wrote extensively about Rosto’s latest film The Monster of Nix in my Annecy 2011 article and currently he is working on a storybook version of the film for children as well as a music/film project and a concept for a feature film.  The conversation ended with a screening of The Monster of Nix.  I have seen the film several times and I always find new, surprising levels every time I watch it.  It was a treat to see a pristine print on the big screen again.  An exhibit of art work from The Masters of Nix was on display at Verdensspeilet Koffebar, the festival café.

Rosto and John K.

OPENING NIGHT

The Official Festival Opening began with a welcome from Festival Director Trond Ola Mevassvik and greeting from County Council person Ole Haabeth, Tron Ola then presented the guests and juries to the audience.

The opening night film was a new feature film from Aardman Animations.  I was really looking forward to the Scandinavian premier of Arthur Christmas, a co-production with Sony Pictures Animation Senior Supervising Animator Alan Short and Seamus Malone, Supervising Animator, introduced the film.

I really wanted to like Arthur Christmas as I respect the work of Aardman Animation  and it is their first feature film directed by a woman, Sarah Smith.  The story of Santa and his dysfunctional family started out all right but rapidly deteriorated into Arnold Schwartznagger meets Battle Star Galactica.  Santa’s oldest son and presumed heir Steve persuades Saint Nick to shed his reindeer and sleigh in favor of a high tech space ship.  When younger brother Arthur, who has been relegated to the lowly job of answering children’s letters to Santa, discovers that one little girl who he had promised a bicycle to had been missed by Santa, the film turns into one long chase, pitting Steve and Santa in the star cruiser against Arthur, who is aided by a slightly dotty Grandfather Santa in sleigh and reindeer. The result looks more like a Hollywood blockbuster than the beautifully crafted films I expect from Aardman Studios.

I talked to audience members, several of whom echoed my thoughts.  One said “I don’t want my child growing up thinking that Santa delivers gifts in a high tech spaceship instead of the traditional sleigh and reindeer”. I’m I sorry to say that I have to agree with him.  Nik’s comment was that it turned Santa into Fed Ex.  But don’t despair, Peter Lord’s long awaited pirate film is nearing completion and that will be an event to celebrate!

The opening was followed by a reception at the festival café where I had my first chance to talk to other guests.  I was particularly delighted to meet Seamus Malone.  He is a director of Aardman Studio’s clever claymation Shaun the Sheep series which was created by Nick Park.  It is a big favorite of mine and my animated film dog critic Remi.  He gives it four paws up and we both love the hilarious adventures of Shawn, the leader of the flock, Bitzer, the long suffering sheep dog, and the totally oblivious farmer.  It is shown on BBC every weekday afternoon, and I understand that it plays worldwide so if you have never seen it be sure to check it out.  Seamus told me that a new series of Shawn’s adventures will premier soon.  He also drew Shawn and Bitzer in my sketch book, which I really treasure.

John K drawing Arthur Christmas Senior Supervisor Alan Short.

The Nordic Forum

The daylong Nordic Forum for Professionals has become an important part of the festival.  Nordic studios and producers present their projects and it is an opportunity to learn firsthand what the new films and television shows will be from this very diverse region.  This year’s presentations ranged from Kristian Pedersen’s moving Poetry in Motion films to a talk by two representatives from Caoz, the leading 3D studio in Iceland.

Animated poetry has become increasingly popular over the past few years and Pedersen’s visual interpretation of Erlend O. Nodtveldt’s poem Norangsdalen is a beautiful, moving representation of this art form.  Nodtveldt’s poem tells the story of one of Norway’s narrowest, steepest valleys.  The area is notorious for its frequent avalanches and landslides.  In 1912 an enormous landslide dammed the river valley causing it to flood and submerge a farm and the surrounding small forest.  Today the spot is known as Lake Lygnstoylvatnet and the stone foundation of the farm house and barn, as well as tree stumps can still be seen clearly in the lake.  Kirstian’s moving images were especially poignant to me because on my previous trip to Volda the month before I had been taken to the very spot where you look down and see the remains.  It was a very eerie and moving reminder of the power of Mother Nature.

Sverre Fredriksen is a friend and I am a fan of his unique short film When I Am King which I wrote about in my Volda article.  The Nordic Forum showed me an entirely different side of this talented young man’s work.  He is animation director and lead animator on The Alzheimer Experience.  The ten episodes of this interactive video are posted on line to help increase awareness about this devastating illness that touches so many lives.  Each video provides scenes from the point of view of the patient, family members, and care givers.

You can view this unique project created in The Netherlands and available with English subtitles at:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xj5t64_alzheimer-s-experience-puts-disease-in-public-view_news

Sverre Fredriksen with sets and characters from When I am King.

Producer Hilmar Sigurdsson and director Gunnar Karlsson from Iceland’s Caoz gave the audience a look at Legends of Valhalla – Thor.  The studio is making Iceland’s first 3D animation in co-production with Germany and Ireland.  Based on the 13th Century Heimskringla (History of the Kings of Norway) by Snorri Sturluson, the film takes some poetic licenses that are definitely audience appealing.

The film will tell the familiar story of how Thor got his powerful hammer while taking us behind the scenes of his family life.  Odin is an absentee father, Thor’s mother, Jord, represents the earth and is a giant of a woman.  She is also a blacksmith.  This type of film doesn’t generally appeal to me and the 3 D didn’t add much, but the multi-layered story should entertain the entire family and it got me curious to see the finished film.

All too often a film “guaranteed to entertain the entire family” leaves parents yawning in their seats but Legends of Valhalla – Thor has some humor aimed for the adults in the audience along with a story of a one parent household that, unfortunately, many children these days will relate to.

The Award Winners

I was a member of the festival’s 2011 selection committee for Short Animations and Commissioned Films so I was looking forward to watching our choices again with a live audience.  Unfortunately this wasn’t the strongest year for Nordic/Baltic short animation but the packed audiences enjoyed the two Short Film programs judging from their reactions.

The awards jury selected PL.ink as the Best Nordic/Baltic film and I completely agree.  Norwegian animator Anne Kristin Berge’s 3 minute fast paced film is a ride through an inky world where a minimalist painter loses his toddler inside of one of his paintings.  The artist climbs inside the canvas to rescue his child from the ink monsters, with the help of an inky flying machine.  Anne Kristin, a friend of ours, is the mother of a very active young daughter so the inspiration for PL.inkj is self-evident to anyone who knows her.

Director Marc Reisbig’s film Lexdysia, the story of a dyslexic boy struggling to read a letter from his father who is at sea, was not the most inspired combination of live action and stop-motion but those shortcomings were compensated for by the script. As a sufferer of dyslexia myself I felt that the director put into pictures what is so difficult to explain in words. The message was a strong, realistic interpretation of this affliction and would touch any child who suffers from this difficult handicap.

The films in Student Competitions are often much more interesting and creative than in the professional category.  Students can take risks that professional animators working for a studio or with other people’s financing can’t take.  This year the student films were no exception, ranging from the dark and macabre to the very funny.

Helena Frank’s Graduation film from The National Film School of Denmark, Heavy Heads, is a black comedy about loneliness, solitude and a woman seducing a house fly.  The style is minimalistic with a tiny body dominated by a very large head and the story is very Kafkaesque.

Finish animation student Joni Mannisto’s drawn animation Kuhina (Swarming) begins innocently enough as a child strolls along in the woods.  When he finds a dead bird and begins to play with it the story takes a macabre turn as the bugs inside the bird turn the tables on him.  Kuhina won the Golden Gunner for Best Student Film.

Denmark’s Animation Workshop’s students constantly turn out high quality creative animation and Captain Awesome: The Rumble in the Concrete Jungle is yet one more success for the Workshop. Ercan Bozdogan’s super hero is about to save the day once again when an upset stomach forces his urgent need to find a toilet.  What should be a simple matter turns into a series of hurdles to clear and shows the human side of our hero as he has to choose between saving little old ladies or taking care of his own needs.

Bo Mathorne, also from The Animation Workshop, earned a Special Mention from the Jury for The Backwater Gospel.  This tale of a small, isolated community in the 1930’s dust bowl, a minister hell bent on ruling his congregation with an iron fist and an undertaker who always arrives in town just before death makes an appearance is very cleverly told in song by the town’s minstrel.

I find very few Commissioned Films Competitions interesting but AIDS ‘Smutley’ was a definite exception.  This French Aids awareness video features Smutley, everyone’s favorite promiscuous cat who jumps on anything that moves and has unprotected sex.  Done with a Fleischer Brothers black and white animation style and with catchy  period style music, the film puts a smile on the audience’s face while reminding them to be responsible sex partners.  I wasn’t surprised when Smutley went home with a Golden Gunnar for Commissioned Films.

Fredrikstad Animation Festival is one of the ten European Animation Festival’s whose Grand Prix winner is automatically nominated for the Cartoon d’ Or.  The prestigious award is accompanied by a 10,000 Euro prize to be used by the winning director to launch a new, more ambitious project.  The 2012 Fredrikstad Nominee is Mankeli (The Mangel), an 11 minute film by Jan Andersson and Katja Kettu from Finland.  The puppet and mixed technique animated poem tells the story of Mangel, a male angel who falls from the heavens into a tree which he falls in love with.  Unfortunately, all does not go as Mangel plans when a wood cutter decides to fell the tree.

Features

This young festival continues to add events each year.  On Saturday a day-long screening of animation features was designed for the residents of Fredrikstad, with films that the entire family would enjoy in the Kino at special reduced prices.

I watched two of the Animated Saturday features, Knerten I Knipe (Knerten in Trouble) and The Adventures of Tintin.  Knerten in Trouble is the third and final film in the  series based on the books of the revered Norwegian children’s writer Anne Cat Vestly.  Knerten, a pine twig, is an imaginary friend of a lonely boy named Brother.  Knerten comes to life when the two are alone together.  Knerten and Brother have vowed to always be best friends but when the pine twig meets a lovely birch sprig named Karoline and falls in love with her, life changes for all of them.  This is the second in the series that I’ve seen, neither of which had English subtitles but they are designed for young children so I haven’t had any trouble understand what is happening in these delightful films.  Karoline made a special appearance in the theatre lobby posing for photos with children of all ages.

Karoline greets young fans.

I have been a fan of the Belgian author Herge’s Tintin Adventure Series since I was a child so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the new Steven Speilberg film The Adventures of Tintin:  The Secret of the Unicorn.  The film is based on The Secret of the Unicorn, which is the first book in the Tintin series not to have political themes.  It focuses entirely on an adventure story.

I feared the worst, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  It took me a while to get past the motion capture which was extremely distracting at first.  I was pleased to see they kept the original story but two things did bother me a great deal.  Snowy (Milou  in French), Tintin’s faithful terrier companion makes all of the wise and witty comments in the book.  In the movie he only went arf.  I missed his perceptive comments and it would have added so much if Snowy’s comments had been inserted in a thought bubble over his head.  Also, Snowy’s muzzle was the wrong shape.  Maybe this is a small detail but any true Tintin fan will notice it at once.

I saw Tintin in Norwegian with no English dialogue or subtitles but the plot was easy to follow.  I will see the film again in English just to make sure that the dialogue is true to the original.

Other Events

Art work from Sverre Fredriksen’s music video When I Am King, for Dutch indie rocker Tim Knol was exhibited in the lobby.  It was fascinating to get a close look at the sets and characters which Sverre created using a technique called pyrography (a combination of wood burning and soldering on wood).

Also on Saturday there were workshops and activities throughout the city.  When I visited the drop-in workshop, which was set up inside a super market in a large downtown shopping mall, it was full of children learning to make zoetropes and short stop-motion films under the direction of award winning animators Eirin Handegard and Inni Karine Melbye.  Most of the young participants had never animated before and it was very exciting to see their enthusiasm.

Another first this year was a very ambitious project, Ani-Camp North.  In co-operation with the E-6 Ostfold Media Workshop the festival invited a group of young people ranging in age from 12 to 15 years old, along with their instructors, to a 5 day workshop.  The students, from all over the Scandinavian and Baltic area, produced 4 films in 4 days.  Local E-6 instructors Gitte Ous and Katz Plunkett were joined by Swedish animator and comic designer Stefan Eriksson and French puppet animator Eric Vanz de Godoy.

Eric Vanz de Godoy works with an Ani-Camp student.

This year the group chose trains, UFO aliens and skyscrapers as theme to use for the films. Nik worked with all 4 groups to create original music and sound designs for the films. You can view the fruits of Ani-Camp’s labors at: http://vimeo.com/33147883

Shooting on the Ani-Camp set.

The finale of the Animated Saturday events was the early evening closing ceremony for children and youth.  To start off the ceremony, the film Amundsen, There and Back, made by Fredrikstad elementary school children under the direction of Katz Plunkett, premiered.  The film chronicles the adventures of Roald Amundsen, famous Norwegian explorer of the Polar Regions.  He led the first expedition to reach the South Pole between 1910-1912 and was also the first person to reach both the North and South Poles.  The 4 films made by the Ani-Camp students were shown as well as the short pieces created by the drop-in workshop participants.

The Children’s Jury was called to the front to announce the Golden Gunnar winner for the Best Nordic Baltic Children’s Film.  Their choice was Captain Awesome:  The Rumble in the Concrete Jungle.  This year the festival in conjunction with the local newspaper, Fredrikstad Blad, and Fredrikstad Kino launched an on line audience vote for the Best Feature Film.  The winner of the coveted statue , Tintin, was announced at the end of the ceremony.

Time always seems to fly by at the Fredrikstad Animation Festival.  All too soon it was Saturday evening and time for the closing ceremony and the awarding of the Golden Gunnar’s to the films in competition.  I was delighted when the jury announced that the winner of the Best Nordic/Baltic Short Film was Anne Kristin Berge for PL.ink.   Norwegian animator Anne Kristin’s talents are recognized in Scandinavia and I hope that this award will bring her work to the attention of a wider audience.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Life Time Achievement Award.  The recipient is selected by the Festival Board of Directors in recognition of meritorious service to the world of animation.  The entire audience was on their feet applauding and cheering when Board Chairman Jan Gisle announced that the 2011 recipient was Gunnar Strom.  Founder of the Fredrikstad and Volda Festivals, beloved teacher at Volda University College, and mentor to many young Norweigen animators, Gunnar is indeed a worthy recipient.  The Fredrikstad award statue was created by noted sculptor Piotr Sapegin and inspired by Gunnar, so it is only fitting that Gunnar now has his very own Golden Gunnar.  It was the perfect ending to a wonderful festival.  The members of the Juries and a complete list of all winners are at the end of the article.

A big thank you and job well done goes to Festival Director Trond Ola Mevassvik and Co-director Magnus Eide.  They create a well run, event packed festival with new surprises every year, and treat each guest with gracious Nordic hospitality.  I look forward to my visit next year to see what new treats they will have for us all.

Festival director Trond Ola Mevassvik and coordinator Magnus Eide

You can learn more about and contact the Fredrikstad Animation Festival at: http://www.animationfestival.no/

…………The Award Winners………….

Lifetime Achievement Award Gunnar Strøm

The real Gunnar with his Golden Gunnar.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is decided by the festival board: chairman Jon Gisle, and board members Julie Ova, Trine Vallevik Håbjørg and Bjørn Heidenstrøm.

Best Nordic Baltic Student Film Kuhina/Swarming Joni Männistö – Turku Arts Academy

Special Mention: The Backwater Gospel Bo Mathorne – The Animation Workshop

Best Nordic Baltic Commissioned Film AIDES ‘Smutley’ Josh Thorne – againstallodds

Special Mention: The Pirate Olov Burman – Meindbender Animation Studio

Special Mention: Gullblyanten 2010 / The Golden Pencil 2010 Christian Ruud – Toxic

Best Nordic Baltic Short Film PL.ink Anne Kristin Berge – Storm Studios

Grand Prix Mankeli / The Mangel Jan Andersson, Katja Kettu – Indie Films

Audience Award Escape of the Gingerbreadman!!! Tod Polson – The Animation Workshop

Best Nordic Baltic Children’s Film Captain Awesome: The Rumble in The Concrete Jungle Ercan Bozodgan – The Animation Workshop

Nancy Phelps has produced music for animation for the past 16 years. She has written about animation and animation festivals for such publications as Animatoons, Film/Tape World, Reel World andthe ASIFA/San Francisco news magazine and is a member of the ASIFAInternational Board. In 2006, Nancy and her composer/musician husbandNik Phelps moved from San Francisco to Gent, Belgium, where they nowhave their home. Check out her blog here.

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