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Review: ANIMATION VOLDA 2011

ANIMATION VOLDA is a unique festival run by animation students at Volda University College in Norway. Volda is a town of roughly 7,000 people of which 3,000 are students and the festival is primarily for students and festival guests.

ANIMATION VOLDA is a unique festival run by animation students at Volda University College.  Volda is a town of roughly 7,000 people of which 3,000 are students and the festival is primarily for students and festival guests.

ANIMATION VOLDA began five years ago by renowned Volda University College Associate Professor of Animation Gunnar Strom.  This year’s three student festival organizers,  Anja Malec, Lara Zlatar, and Ivan Dujmusic, did a wonderful job of decision making, programming, and problem solving but I have a feeling that larger-than-life Gunnar was always around to offer assistance when needed.

Gunnar, Nancy and NikGunnar, Nancy and Nik

By Nancy Phelps

Although the festival is only three days long, there were  also two weeks of related activities.  The focus this year was on sound effects and music in animation.  In keeping with the theme, composer/musician Nik was invited to give a workshop at the University the week before the festival. “Film Music: Planning, Creating, and Recording “was aimed primarily at students in the music department but animation students were also welcome since it is important that they understand how to select music for their films and how to work with their composer.  The students created three short film scores during the workshop which they performed live at the festival closing ceremony.

Another unique feature of the Volda festival is that the guests invited to sit on the jury are actually selecting films for the Fredrikstad Animation Festival which takes place in November in Fredrikstad, Norway.  Marcy Page of the National Film Board of Canada, animator and music video director Mike Patterson, and I sat on the Professional Jury.  For two days we watched and discussed numerous entries. After selecting two programs by professional animation, we screened the commissioned films.

The professional jury hard at workThe professional jury hard at work

I always enjoy sitting on a selection committee and this was an especially good enriching experience as all the films were by Nordic or Baltic animators  It was an opportunity to view many films that I would never see otherwise.  I thoroughly enjoyed the company of my fellow jurors and Fredrikstad Festival director Trond Ola Mevassvik and Mangus Eide, festival coordinator acted as jury secretaries and kept the films rolling along.  In November I will attend the Fredrikstad Festival and look forward to seeing the audience reactions to our selections.

The selection committee for student films were award winning French animator Joanna Lurie, Norwegian art director/designer Simen Grankel, and Norwegian animator Sverre Fredriksen.

The first morning of the festival was devoted to a seminar on industrial animation organized by Gunnar.   The program is designed for both animation film makers and PR/ media firms in Western Norway ‘s strongest industries (ship building, off shore oil drilling, furniture making, and fishing). The topic, Why Animated Communication?, was introduced by Gunnar Strom.

One presenter was director/animator Lars Hegdal of the design and advertising firm Klipp and Lim located in Trondheim, Norway presented a group of their animated industrial films.  Marcy Page  from the National Film Board of Canada treated us to NFB commissioned films from their archive.  Norman McClaren’s 1959 Mail Early with music by Benny Goodman is a perfect example of an art film with a commercial message.  The hilarious Every Dog’s Guide to Home Safety, directed by Lew Drew (1987), proves that even tips on childproofing your home can be done with humor.

The seminar concluded with the premier of the  short HMS films made by Volda’s own Rain Dog Studio for Kleven Maritime.  Rain Dog was formed last year by seven students and Professor Dave King and they already have an impressive track record of industrial and personal work.   The studio is now the fourth largest in Norway. Their presentation was followed by a lovely lunch for participants which gave us a chance to have informal conversation.

In keeping with the festival theme of sound and music the opening night ceremony began with a live performance by musician/composer Stig Ulvestad.  Noted Swedish anima-doc creator Jonas Odell introduced his latest work, Tussilago.  Odell’s 2010 animation tracks the 1977 arrest of West German terrorist Norbert Krocher for plotting to kidnap Swedish politician Anna-Great Leijon.  Tussilago is the story of Krocher’s girlfriend who was among those arrested during the raids that followed.

The previous evening we had watched the films in competition for the Best Baltic/Nordic Industrial Movie and the opening ceremony concluded with the announcement of the winners.  The 10,000 NOK first place prize went to the Swedish firm The Study for Unthink:  Simplicity.  The jury, Antonia Guigova, head of Industrial Relations and Reputation at NCE Maritime, Jan Lade, head designer at Ekomes, and Torgeis Sanders, media director/producer at Ginpville, called the winning film “an infomercial at its very best.  You can view it at:  www.thestudy.se/hiq5

The tie for second place and 5,000 NOK each was shared by Team Generus 2010 from Norlum, Denmark for 2010: Save the Children and Statoil fromToxic of Norway.  The cash awards were sponsored by the Ulstein Groupand Kleven Maritime.  A reception for festival guests followed at theRokken, the official festival café.

Over the next two days each of the ten guests presented a program.   I led off on Friday morning screening with some of my favorite music driven animations.  After lunch renowned composer Normand Roger shared excerpts from films that he has worked on during his rich and varied career as a composer and sound designer at the National Film Board of Canada.  He stressed the variety of roles that music and sound play in animation and the importance of the music complementing the film rather than detracting from it.  These are principals that anyone who has worked in animation already understands but is most important for the students to hear.

Magnus Eide, Nancy, Marcy Page, Nik and Normand Roger in the hotel

Magnus Eide, Nancy, Marcy Page, Nik and Normand Roger in the hotel

I had never met Candace Reckinger or Mike Patterson from Los Angeles so I was very curious to see their presentation.  The husband and wife team have an impressive record of creating award winning commercials and music videos for MTV, having worked with such artists as Sting, A-Ha, and Paula Abdul.  Candace won a Grammy for Abdul’s Opposite’s Attract video.

The pair also teaches at the USC School of Cinema Arts and recently co-directed Pictures at an Exhibition.  The symphonic visual music project was commissioned by Michael Tilson Thomas for the opening of the New World Center in Miami.  The building by architect Frank Gehry was designed to bring classical music performance into the 21st century.

Their 35 minute animation was conceived to be screened with live symphonic accompaniment to visualize Modest Mussorgsky’s symphony Pictures at an Exhibition which was written to commemorate a friend of Mussorgsky’s picture exhibition at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.  The piece contains 15 sections, each done in a different animation technique by a group of Reckinger and Patterson’s USC students.  The images were projected on 5 massive screens at the New World Center.  Even though we saw it on a single screen in the festival theater, the total effect was  awe inspiring.  Read more about the project and see an excerpt at: cinema.usc.edu/news/article.cfm?id=9885

The second half of the session was devoted to Jonas Odell.  In keeping with the theme he talked about “The whats and whys of sound and music in animated short films and music videos.  When I think of Jonas I always associate him with anima docs but as co-founder and partner of Filmtecknarnstudio’s productions he has scripted, co-scripted and written the music to a number of the studio’s productions.   His reputation as a music video director includes working with Erasure, Goldfrapp, and U2.  His work with Franz Ferdinand earned him the Breakthrough Video of the Year at the 2004 MTV Music Awards as well as a Grammy nomination.  It was fascinating to see another side of this multi-talented animator/director.

The next day NFB producer Marcy Page shared animation production stories with the audience.  Having worked with some of the film board’s giants such as Torill Kove (The Danish Poet), Paul Driessen (Oedipus), and Windy Tilby and Amanda Forbis (When the Day Breaks and their latest film Wild Life), Marcy has a wealth of knowledge and she shared with us details about all facets of animation production from film structure and timing to sound design.  She is well known for her generosity in sharing her knowledge and this presentation was no exception.

Following Marcy’s presentation the final two guests to speak were Simen Grankel, Art Director/Senior Designer at Dinamo Design and Sverre Fredriksen, animator and director, both from Norway.  Simen showed a number of very clever idents for Norway’s TV2 and several of its sister channels and NRK (the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation).  He discussed the difficulties of creating clever, entertaining short station id’s that hold the viewers attention.  As art director of the opening titles for the Eurovision Song Contest he had to marry visual images and sound to create an opening presentation viewed by millions of people across Europe.

Sverre spoke about creating the sets and characters for his stop motion video When I Am King for Dutch rock star Tim Knol.  Using an old wood burning technique called pyrography he soldered endless amounts of wood to create the  intricately burned images.  Later he told me that it took an average of five hours work per second of animation over a two month period to create the intricate three dimensional sets.  You can find this amazing music video on U-Tube.

Screenings were designed especially for the Volda community and the University students with a focus on Nordic/Baltic student films.  The Student Competition Jury selected the films for the Student Competition at the Fredrikstad Animation Festival from the three student programs which were also shown to the public.  The only award given in Volda was a Special Mention to a student film.  The winner received travel and accommodations to the Fredrikstad Festival.  This year the honor went to Joni Mannistos for Swarming (Kuhina) which you can see at:

http://joinmannisto.weely.com/animation.html/

The Cat Returns, Hiroyuki Morita’s 2002 film was listed in the catalogue as a children’s film but it is a film that can be enjoyed by all ages as was proven by the packed audience.  It is a magical tale of a young girl, a cat prince who lives in a magical world, and a cat statute that comes to life.  I hadn’t seen the film in several years so it delighted me just as much as the first time I saw it.

A late night Spike & Mike’s Sick and Twisted screening followed by a performance of the latest incarnation of the German based disco era sensation Boney M was a hit with the crowd.

The Director’s Choice program featured a selection of international animation selected by the three festival directors.  It included Ruth Lingford’s Little Deaths, Bird Boy by Alberto Vazquez and Pedro Rivero and the Quay Brothers2010 Maska among others.  It started with student juror Joanna Lurie’s latest film The Silence Beneath the Bark, a tender nocturnal tale where curious little creatures discover the beauty and fascination of snow.  After it was shown she did a brief Q and A session with the audience.

The closing ceremony opened with Nik and his workshop students performing the scores for three films that they had worked on all week.  That was followed by the announcement of the winner of the Student Film Special Mention.  The ceremony ended with all guests called to the stage where we were introduced.  We were each presented with a unique handmade Volda Festival ceramic plaque as a special memento of our visit.

Trond Ola, Jonas Odell and Sverre Frederiksen relaxing after the closing night party

Trond Ola, Jonas Odell and Sverre Frederiksen relaxing after the closing night party

Even with all of the lectures and screenings there were still lots of parties.  Gunnar hosted a sumptuous spread of food for guests and friends at his home overlooking the fjord.  I have never tasted smoked salmon that was so rich in flavor and tender as the local salmon that we were served.  Gunnar’s home is full of mementos celebrating his long career in animation and visits to festivals worldwide.  In October a new accolade was added when he was awarded the AAMAT Statute for his lifelong contribution to animation and film.

Estonian animator Hardi Vollmer and Nancy at Gunnar's homeEstonian animator Hardi Vollmer and Nancy at Gunnar’s home

The sun was shining down brightly on the garden party at the Yellow House where the festival organizers hosted the gathering.   With a lovely spread of food and lots of space, the garden was a perfect place for good conversation and relaxing in the sunshine.  Festival organizer Anja Malec, who lives in the Yellow House, also threw an after party on opening night were we partied late into the night.

Gunnar Strom and his Norfolk terrior at the Yellow House garden partyGunnar Strom and his Norfolk terrior at the Yellow House garden party

As many of my readers know I love boats so I was thrilled with the boat trip organized for us.  We were taken out into the fjord in a beautiful old wooden fishing boat.  As the sun set we ate shrimp and drank wine and some people tried their hand at fishing but I am afraid that they are much better animators than fishermen.  Luckily we didn’t have to depend on their catch for dinner.  When we arrived back on the dock a beautiful spread of food and drink had been laid out on the deck of a neighboring boat.

Evening on the fishing boatEvening on the fishing boat

The day after the Festival closing Gunnar took Candace, Michael, Nik, and I on a memorable trip across another fjord (which meant a beautiful ferry ride) and up into the mountains where we got to see the spectacular beauty of the area surrounding Volda.  The hills are dotted with little stone cabins with grass growing on the roofs.  Daughters of local farm families stayed there during the summer when they brought the family cattle and sheep to graze in the mountain pasture lands.  Once a week a family member would arrive with fresh supplies and take the milk away.  Now the beautiful little cottages, often built against a gigantic rock, are used as private holiday cottages.

Gunnar Strom, Candace Reckinger and Mike Patterson at the milkmaid's cottagesGunnar Strom, Candace Reckinger and Mike Patterson at the milkmaid’s cottages

As if the sheer beauty of the mountains were not enough, our host took us to the historic Hotel Union Oye.  Built in 1891 for the aristocracy and upper classes of Europe who came to climb the majestic Summore Alps, paint in the lush Norangdak Valley, or just relax for months at a time each year.

Queen Victoria was among the renowned guest.  Kaiser Wilhelm II’s private yacht, The Hohenzollern, could be seen anchored nearby when he was in residence.  Both Arthur Conan Doyle and Karen Blixen  came yearly to hike and write.  Blixen’s boots are still in one room.

As befits a historic hotel, legend has it that there is a ghost of a young girl, Linda, who fell in love with a handsome aristocratic member of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s party.  Although her affection was returned he realized that the love was doomed because of their class difference and he committed suicide.  Devastated by his death she drowned herself.    Hotel guests who have stayed in the blue room, which was once occupied by the handsome young officer, have heard, felt and even seen her ghost.

The historic Hotel Union OyeThe historic Hotel Union Oye

Gunnar treated us to a meal in their historic dining room that was one of the most delicious I have even eaten.  The melt-in-your-mouth steak came from a locally grass fed cow and the vegetables tasted as if they had just been plucked from the garden.  We ended by having tea and coffee on the veranda overlooking the beautiful meadow, which made me feel as if I were back in the 1800’s.  Gunnar presented us with a beautifully illustrated book tracing the history of Hotel Union Oye, the famous guests, and the rich history of the area which I treasure as the perfect rememberance of a wonderful day.

Volda may be a small town but with a population that is made up of almost half students there is a lot happening.  One evening we attended the monthly movie night hosted by Volda animation professor Dave King who is a UK transplant.  Dave has great movie taste and it was a real treat to watch and sing along with one of my favorite films Little Shop of Horrors while eating popcorn and  enjoying the bottle of red wine that Dave includes with the price of admission.  After the film there was dancing to a local DJ.   A truly fun night!

Nik and I were fortunate enough to get to spend two weeks in Volda, so Gunnar arranged for us to stay in a top floor apartment of a lovely home owned by friends of his.  Nik had a nice work space and I spent hours watching the ferries cross the fjord from our living room window or gazing at the mountains from our balcony.

On one of our last days in Volda our hosts Anne Steinsvik Nordal and Olev Egsett took us to the other side of the Volda fjord that I had been looking at for two weeks (yet another lovely ferry ride). We visited Anne’s old family farm.  From there we drove to the couple’s beautiful water front cottage where we ate a delicious deer stew.  Olev is not only a superb cook but also an exceptionally talented woodworker.  One of my most treasured gifts from our memorable visit to Volda is a beautiful wooden butter knife made by Olev.

Animation Volda 2011 is so full of memories that I could write a book about our two week there.  There are so many people to thank but first and foremost our deep thanks go to Gunnar Strom, Anja Malec, Lara Zlatar, and Ivan Dujmusic for inviting us to be part of Animation Volda.  Also our gratitude goes out to Anna and Olev for providing us with such a lovely home away from home and especially for the delicious plums from their garden that they kept leaving on the stairway.

If you are ever lucky enough to be invited to be part of Animation Volda you will be guaranteed a wonderful time.  I hope that we will be lucky enough to be invited back again sometime.

Check  out Animation Volda at:    http://www.animationfestival.no