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Review: Anima Brussels Animation Film Festival

For me the New Year really starts when I go to ANIMA Brussels each year in the beautiful, historic Flagey. For ten days it becomes the center of the animation world.

By Nancy Phelps

For me the New Year really starts when I go to ANIMA Brussels each year in the beautiful, historic Flagey.  For ten days it becomes the center of the animation world.

Festival Co-ordinators Doris Clevens and Phillipe Moins.

The This is Belgium programs are always a highlight for me since they are a chance to see the newest works from of the Walloon and Flemish regions of the country I live in.  I had been curious to see Natasha, the new film by Russian born Roman Klochkov who has lived in Gent since he was seventeen.  Roman’s multi-award winning film The Administrators is a humorous, but all too true tale of government  bureaucracy run wild.  Natasha takes us into the world of immigrants trying to assimilate in a new world.

Roman makes good use of his distinctive style and sardonic humor in the tale of Nicolai, an emigrant bear from Russia who lives and works in a European zoo, living in the Russian ghetto.  He longs for his great love, Natasha, but when he is finally reunited with her things don’t go quite as planned.  As I watched the film I was sure that Roman had created another award winning animation and I was right.  Natasha received the SACD Award for the best film from the Flemish region.

The Grand Prix for the French speaking community went to La Boite de Sardines by Louise-Marie Colo.  The delightfully quirky film is the tale of a very tiny mermaid looking for love.  She finally finds it with a young fisherman but there are unexpected consequences.  The film was produced at Jean-Luc Slock’s prestigious Camera-etc. Studio in Liege.  La Boite de Sardines also received the RTBF Award.

In the past few years there has been a marked increase in feature films that deal with mature topics aimed at adult audiences.  Arrugas (Wrinkles), directed by Ignacio Ferreras, who was born in Spain and now lives in Scotland, is a tender and insightful film about Alzheimers.  Emilio is a retired bank manager suffering from the early stages of the disease.  When his son and daughter-in-law put him in a care home Emilio strives to maintain his dignity and adjust to new “friends” very different from those he would choose for himself.

The film treats a very difficult subject that will touch all of us at one way or another sometime in our lives without melodrama or predictable stereotypes.  The animation may not be the films strong point but the story, based on an award winning graphic novel by Paco Roca, and characters will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.  It is gratifying to see that audiences are responding to animation treating serious subjects as shown by Arrugus receiving the Audience Award for Best Animated Feature Film at Anima.

I originally saw Jib - The House in Annecy last year and I enjoyed it even more when I watched it again.  The story revolves around Ga Young, a young girl who moves to a run-down district of town when she loses all of her money in a mutual fund.  Ga Young discovers spirits that occupy the houses and she communicates with them through a magic bell that drops from a cat’s collar.  The spirits’ lives depend on the presence of people and they will die in an empty house.

As urban renewal threatens the district, Ga Young fights to save her neighbourhood and the spirits that live there.  The animation is rather simplistic but the use of still photographs, as opposed to animation, gives a real sense of the neighbourhood and adds an interesting dimension to a plight that is becoming  prevalent in a lot of cities where urban renewal and displacement of the poor is becoming all too common.

Jib – The House was directed by five students from the Korean Academy of Film Arts.  The Academy stresses cooperative feature filmmaking which accounts for the five directors listed in the credits.  It is a unique approach to student film making that seems to work at the Academy.  Students from the same school created the charming The Story of Mr. Sorry in 2008.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find the opening night film, From Up On  Poppy Hill directed by Goro Miyazakivery exciting.  Set in Yokohoma in 1963 this coming of age film about a young girl lacks the intriguing story and intricate art work that I have come to expect from Studio Ghibli.  One thing that wasn’t missing was the beautifully animated sea scenes for which the studio is so well known, but the characters were wooden and the animation not up to the quality I expect from the studio. Goro still has a ways to go before he can walk in his father Hayao Miyazaki’s shoes.

Midori-Ko is a new breed of Japanese animation.  Big eyed, snubbed nose cute little girls are replaced by Keita Kurosaka’s surreal and sinister characters.  Kurosaka’s brown charcoal and crayon drawings intensify the wildly imaginative and often frightening world of animals, people, and hybrid vegetables that  surround Midori-Ko. The title character, a young woman, tries to engineer a “dream food” that can put a stop to the famine that is raging in a futuristic Tokyo.  Her life is completely changed when she encounters a strange creature.  This film is definitely not for children and is eerie as any horror film.

When I see bad animation I usually don’t write about it, but George the Hedgehog is SO bad that I am compelled to warn my readers not to go near it.  The Polish feature directed by Wojtek Wawszczyk is billed as a “distant cousin of Fritz the Cat”, but unlike Fritz the humor is completely banal and there is no way George can be compared to R. Crumb’s notorious character.  This film is just pointless and gross, not clever and funny.

The Futuranima programs are presented by animation by animation professionals and they cover a broad spectrum of the animation industry.  They talk about their career experiences and current projects.

Most enjoyable of the seven programs for me was the 1½ hours that I spent listening to revered layout artist Roy Naisbill and animator/layout artist Fraser MacLean talk about Setting the Scene:  The Art and Evolution of Animation Layout ( which also happens to be the title of Frasers new book).  Roy and Fraser met and became friends while working on Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Their relaxed conversation was packed with information.  Roy’s career began as an SFX animator on 2001: A Space Odyssey while Fraser spent time at Disney.  The duo used numerous film clips to illustrate their points, and the highlight for me was Roy talking the audience through his layout for the classic opening sequence of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  His explanation of the use of shadows in the Baby Herman/Roger chase scene illustrated to the audience that what seems like a small matter to the viewer is a vital part of the finished film.

Roy Niasbitt showing his layout designs to audience members (photo: Renaud Fang).

Unfortunately Roy had to leave the day after their presentation, but Fraser was at the festival several days longer.  He was often to be found in the festival café sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge about animation layout with students. I was lucky enough to be there when talked about his work on various filmsand showed us his drawings for the projects. I will never look at shadows and backgrounds in animation the same after their master class. I have just received a reviewing copy of Setting the Scene: The Art and Evolution of Animation Layout and look forward to reviewing it.

Fraser MacLean and Nancy.

The program What Comes After A Degree?, designed for animation students to learn some of the realities of life after school, had a large audience.  Recent graduates Steven De Beul of Beast Animation and Jeremie Mazurek of Enclume spoke about their respective paths to success.  They also showed examples of their work as animator, producer, and director.

Spanish and Swiss animation was in the spotlight this year with numerous retrospectives, special presentations, and guests.  The two part Best of Spanish Animation presented 23 recent works.  A few years ago most people weren’t aware that Spain has a vibrant animation industry but with the recent success of films such as Chico & Rita and Birdboy, a new group of young animators has brought Spain into the animation spotlight.

Samuel Orti, better known as Sam, is a perfect example of this new breed.  He has gained worldwide recognition as a master of claymation.  Sam has worked at Aardman Studio on various projects including Wallace and Grommit and Chicken Run.  Along with his freelance work he is also the founder of the Spanish production studio Conflictivos.  Sam’s film Vicenta was short listed for the Oscar this year.

Sam.

I had an opportunity to watch Sam work his magic when he demonstrated his claymation techniques in his three day workshop for professionals and students. Film goers had the chance to get an up close look at characters and sets from Sam’s films in the exhibition room which was totally given over to his work.  His intricate constructions with attention to the smallest details must be seen in person to be fully appreciated.

Nancy and Georges Schwizgebel toasting his

As part of the focus on Spain a Spanish-Belgian professional meeting for animation producers was organized by Brussels Invest and Export along with AWEX to encourage co-productions and collaborations between the two countries.  The daylong meeting offered a chance for pitch sessions, one on one meetings, and presentations on funding opportunities as well net working opportunities.

In the Country of the Helvetions, a collection of 16 short films,spotlighted thebeautiful craftsmanship that marks Swiss animation.   The program gave the audience a chance to see classic films by such well known animators as Georges Schwizgebel, Jonas Raeber, and Isabelle Favez.  Isabelle was a member of the Belgian National Competition jury this year and presented a retrospective of her touching, humorous works.

Best Professional Short Film Award.

Isabelle Favez being interviewed by Stephanie Coerten (photo: Renaud Fang).

The Animation department of the School of Art and Design in Lucerne is the only one of its kind to offer studies at the University level.  Otto Alder, co-director of the animation program, introduced a program of recent films from the school which showed why the students’ high quality of work has been recognized at festivals worldwide.  A highlight of the program was Michaela Muller’s 2009 film  Miramare.  The film takes us into a slice of life on the Mediterranean borders of Europe, where holiday tourists relax in the sun while illegal immigrants struggle for a chance at a better life.  Michaela used beautiful, fanciful painted on glass animation to tell a very serious story of the harsh realities of the real world.

Otto is well known in his own right as an animation historian.  He has served as programmer for several festivals, is co-founder of the prestigious Fantoche Animation Festival and has served as a jury  member at many International Festivals.  In 2009 he organized the Lucerne International Academy.  An impressive array of experts in the field of animation was brought together by Alder to encourage deeper dialogues on animation.

ANIMA Brussels is held yearly during Carnival Holiday week so students are not in school.  Mornings and afternoons were donated to family programs.  Several years ago the festival treated the very youngest animation fans to a program of short animations from the classic The Little Mole series by Czech animator Zdenek Miler.  This year seven short films from Miler’s Cvrcel (The Cricket) series took us along on the adventures of the dapper, violin playing little cricket.  The theatre was packed with very small children who were enchanted by the films.  Their parents were equally enthralled as they relived memories from their own childhoods.

French director Jean-Francois Laguionie’s Le Tableau was one of the most visually stunning feature animations I have seen in quite a while.  The story of a painter who leaves his painting of a castle, flower garden, and an eerie forest unfinished is equally charming.  Three types of characters live in the picture: Toupins who feel superior because the artist has fully painted them, Pafinis who are missing some colors, and Reufs who are only sketches.  The Toupins have enslaved the Reufs and three Pafinis , Ramo, Lola, and Pen, set out in searcher of the human painter so he can complete the picture and restore order to the world.  Le Tableau is directed at children but the two other adults that I watched the film with were as enchanted as I was by the beautiful film.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Lady and the Tramp and I had forgotten what a delightful film it is.  The story of two dogs from the opposite side of the tracks that fall in love can’t help but go straight to your heart.  Lady and her adoring Tramp sharing a spaghetti dinner is as sweet and touching as any love scene ever put on the silver screen.  Even though the film was made over fifty years ago time has treated it very well.

After the screenings youngsters could try their hand at the workshop for children.  When I visited the workshop there was a room full of young people busy working on a robot film.  The project was set up under the direction of William Henne and the the Zorobabel Animation Collective.

The Children’s Workshop hard at work on their robot movie.

I am a big fan of Estonian animation so it was a delightful surprise to see Mati Kutt at the opening night party.  Mati is one of a group of talented puppet animators working at the renowned Nukufilm Studio in Tallinn.  The last time that I visited the studio Mati was working on his latest film, Taevaland (Sky Song) and I had an opportunity to see the story board and some of the puppets.  I have been anxiously waiting to see the finished film and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

On the surface the film is about Postman Rain who is delivering a letter to the moon, but the film is about so much more.  The web site says that the film is “an ode for all those who like to fly” and fly is exactly what I did as I watched this superbly surreal work.  Mati’s craftsmanship shines through in his beautiful puppets which are works of art in themselves.  He can turn everyday objects into fantastic creatures, like one made from a straight razor which is my particular favorite.  Sky Song is a multi-layered film that needs several views to peel away layers and I have a feeling no matter how many times I watch it I will always see new things.

ANIMA Brussels is one of twelve member festivals of Cartoon, the European Association of Animation Film, that nominates a film for the Cartoon d’ Or.  This year the award was presented in September to The Little Boy and the Beast, a serious, sensitive look at the effects divorce has on children.  German directors Johannes Weiland and Uwe Heidschotter have made a film that both children and adults can relate to and I am pleased to see them recognized for their work.  Festival goers had a chance to see The Little Boy and the Beast along with the other four nominees at the Cartoon d’Or 2011 program.

Blu is a familiar name in the world of graffiti animation and now a new breed of young animation artists are bursting onto the urban scene rubbing shoulders with graffiti and street art.  Street Animation was an opportunity to get an international look at what is being created with miniature cameras out on our pavement and walls.

The ten days of ANIMA Brussels were so packed full of films, friends, and special events that it was impossible to see and do everything.  I am sorry that I only got to see a few minutes of the Cosplay events.  Animated Night, the Saturday night film extravaganza that continued into the wee hours of the morning, screened over 40 short animations. Between each group of films there was dancing to a contraband and drinks in the lobby/bar.

Cosplay participants.

A group of Belgian animation students spent the week at the festival creating a group film about Aids phobias.  The ambitious project looked really good when it was screened at the closing night ceremony.

In keeping with the street art theme, the theater lobby and the walls upstairs in the café/bar were a perfect gallery for the large art works by the Versus Art Group.  Versus (Lucie Burton, Izemo, Hero, Los Hermanos, and Denis Meyers) are part of a loose collection of Belgian Street Artists who work under the motto “Making Belgium beautiful one piece at a time”.  Belgium has a rich tradition of street artists and you can see creative examples on the Belgian Street Artist web site at:  www.streetartbelgium.com.

Lobby Art by Versus.

I owe a grateful thank you to everyone who made my 10 days at the festival such a wonderful time.  Once again this year festival organizers Doris Clevens and Philippe Moins put together a wonderful combination of films, special events, and guests.  I am indebted to press and guest co-ordinators Karin Vandenrydt and Noemie Meert for making my job so pleasant and easy by showing me numerous acts of kindness.  A special nod of appreciation to Stephanie Coerten who introduces all the screenings, interviews guests on stage and presides over the closing night ceremony.  I am continually amazed that with all the hours Stephanie spends running between screening rooms that she has time to do her homework so she can ask filmmakers just the right questions.  I am already looking forward to the 2013 edition of the festival.

Our lovely presenter Stephanie Coerten (photo: Renaud Fang).

You can see more pictures and see a complete listing of all the festival events at:  www.animafestival.be

2012 Juries and Award Winning Films

International Competition JURY AWARDS:

International Competition Jury: Anik Le Ray – France, Isabel Herguera – Spain, Erik van Drunen – The Netherlands

GRAND PRIX ANIMA 2012 The Wonder Hospital - Beomsik Shimbe Shim

BEST PROFESSIONAL SHORT FILM AWARD Romance - Georges Schwizgebel

BEST STUDENT SHORT FILM AWARD Kuhina - Joni Männistö

BEST CHILDREN’S SHORT FILM AWARD Dodu - O Rapaz de Cartao (Dodu - The Cardboard Boy) - José Miguel Ribeiro

BEST MUSIC VIDEO AWARD Björk “Crystalline” - Michel Gondry

BEST ADVERTISING AWARD Canon “Parade” - Dante Ariola

AUDIENCE AWARDS:

AUDIENCE AWARD FOR BEST ANIMATED FEATURE, SPONSORED BY FEDEX Arrugas - Ignacio Ferreras

AUDIENCE AWARD FOR BEST CHILDREN’S ANIMATED FEATURE La Colline aux coquelicots / From up on Poppy Hill - Goro Miyazaki

FLUXYS AUDIENCE AWARD FOR BEST SHORT FILM Luminaris - Juan Pablo Zaramella

AUDIENCE AWARD FOR BEST STUDENT SHORT FILM Flamingo Pride - Tomer Eshed

AUDIENCE AWARD FOR BEST CHILDREN’S SHORT FILM L’Envol du chat - Clément Doranlo

ANIMATION NIGHT AUDIENCE AWARD FOR BEST SHORT FILM A Morning Stroll - Grant Ochart

PARTNERS AWARDS:

BETV AWARD FOR BEST ANIMATED FEATURE Colorful - Keiichi Hara

National Competition JURY AWARDS:

National Competition Jury:

Paulette Smets-Melloul – Belgium, Isabelle Favez – Switzerland, Steven De Beul - Belgium

GRAND PRIX OF THE FRENCH COMMUNITY La Boîte de sardines - Louise-Marie Colon

SACD AWARD Natasha - Roman Klochkov

SABAM-AWARD Duo de volailles, sauce chasseur - Pascale Hecquet

TVPAINT AWARD Shattered Past - Boris Sverlow

PARTNERS AWARDS:

BETV AWARD Adonaissance Trip - Madeline Feuillat

RTBF AWARD La Boite de sardines – Louise-Marie Colon

CINERGIE AWARD Dans le Cochon tout est bon - Iris Alexandre

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

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