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A Special 30th AnniversaryTrickfilm Festival of Animated Film 2012

Though there was just too much for anyone to see or do, if you can only attend one festival next year I highly recommend that you come to the TrickFilm Animation Festival.

By Nancy Phelps

This year was a very special 30th Anniversary for the Trickfilm Festival of Animated Film in Stuttgart, Germany.  My week began Monday evening, the night before the official festival opening, when I attended the opening reception for an exhibition of works by former students of Professor Albrecht Ades, founder of the prestigious Film Academy Baden-Wurttemberg in the nearby town of Ludwigsburg.  He is credited with ushering in a new era of modern German animation which was highly influenced by Czech works and laid the foundation for today’s thriving entertainment industry in the Baden- Wurttemberg region.

The large outdoor screen

From 1980 to 1991 some 30 films were produced in his class and the Professor’s strong motivating influence on his students is reflected in the works of some of the now famous animators who studied under him.  Looking at the graphic works in the exhibit, some by Thomas Meyer-Hermann, Andreas Hykade, Sabine Huber and Gil Alkabetz, I could see that they have taken their teacher’s motto “We must kill Mickey Mouse” to heart.

For the 2012 opening night ceremony, the festival staff chose a new format.  Instead of the usual round of introductions and speeches followed by a screening, the first competition program was interspersed among the introductory speeches.  The festival received a special birthday present when Malte Dringenberg, head of Mercedes-Benz Classic Press Office, who announced to the audience that Mercedes-Benz has become a very active festival sponsor.  (Stuttgart is the home of Mercedes-Benz.) Another high point of the evening was  the awarding of special Life Time Achievement Trixie Statutes to Professor Albrect  Ades and Gabriele Rothemeyer.  Ades founded the Trickfilm Festival and served as its first artistic director from 1982 to 2003.  Ms. Rothemeyer followed him in the position from 2003 to 2005, and succeeding her is Ulrich Wegenast, the present director.

Festival Directors Dittmar Lumpp and Ulrich Wegenast with Festival M.C. Markus Brock

I am sure that many of the dignitaries in the audience have never thought of animation as anything but children’s entertainment.  The festival went a long way to dispelling this misconception with the largely adult themed films they programmed for Competition One. The quality of the festival’s five Competition Screenings seems to get higher each year and this year’s opening night program didn’t pull any punches.

The first film, Abuelas (Grandmothers) by Afarin Eghbal was an emotional journey of an elderly Buenos Aires woman looking for her granddaughter whose mother was one of the hundred of the “disappeared”.  This is a subject that has been in the news recently but Abuelas took it to a personal level and showed that animation can tell difficult, powerful  stories.  Iranian born Afarin moved to London with her family after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and this is her first film.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Estonian animation so I was delighted to see Prohveti Sund (Coming of Oracle), Rao Heidmets’ amazing new puppet animation.  Rao’s knitted figures represent the slaves we all are to our imaginations and preconceptions and how complicated a journey it is to find our way out of our mental walls.  At the opening night party this film was the one most people were talking about and puzzling over.  I didn’t understand the film on first viewing.  It took me another viewing and a conversation with Rao before I fully digested the film.

Rao Heidmets and Nancy, toasting his film

Another thought provoking film, 366 Tage (366 Days), is based on German director Johannes Friedrich Schiehsl’s real life experiences doing alternative service as a paramedic.  Confronted with patients whose main problem was loneliness he discovered that his job was much more emotionally demanding than simply answering calls from them to attend to their physical needs.

Who Lasts Longer by Gregerio Muro from the Basque region of Spain confused many audience members because there were no subtitles and the dialogue was in Basque, a language incomprehensible to all but native speakers.  Even though I know I missed some of the films subtleties, especially the important last words, I understood the universal story of children playing the age old game of chicken that can end in tragedy.

The Canadian team of Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis’ Wildlife, based on the stories of settlers on the Canadian prairie  in the early 1900’s, added a touch of irony to an already thought provoking program.  There were also a few lighter moments such as Argentinean director Juan Pablo Zaramella’s Luminaris. By and large this was a very sobering program, and it was only the first competition.

Canadian animators Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis

Some highlights from the other four competition screenings included Bulgarian born director Theodore Ushev’s latest film Nightingales in December.  A new film by Theodore is always a treat and his work usually requires repeat viewing to understand what he is saying.  His latest film, a metaphorically surreal trip into memories, is his most personal and accessible film.  The acrylic paintings on small pieces of paper gives the film a densely textured feeling which is intensified by the how Theodore puts the images together in a way that is alternatively powerfully volatile and melodic.

Theodore Ushev and Nancy

Chinese animator Chen XI is beginning to assemble an impressive body of work for such a young man.  Grain Coupon is Chen XI’s third film in a trilogy about life during different periods in Chinese history.  It is set in the 1970’s during the Cultural Revolution when people needed a special stamp to obtain the much sought after coupon.  Forging a coupon was a special art and this is the story of one such forger.

His previous two segments of the trilogy are The Winter Solstice (2008) and A Clockwork Cock (2009) which were both well received on the European Festival circuit.  During the daily director’s chat Chen XI told us that his work is not funded by the Chinese government and therefore will never be shown in his native country.

My favourite film in the competition was Russian animator Svetlana Filippova’s beautifully evocative Where Dogs Go  To Die.  Svetlana’s 2007 animation Three Love Stories was a beautiful film about human love and this film is about love and devotion of another sort, between a man and his dog.  Her story of a young man’s longing to return to his past and his beloved dog that was left behind when he left his mother’s home is intertwined with the dog’s story of patient waiting and in the end not wanting to cause his master pain and suffering when his end is near.  She used sand and coffee powder to tell a sensitive story that any dog lover who has lost a beloved canine friend can identify with.  Her training under great Russian masters Yuri Nortstein and Edvard Nasarov is evident in her use of muted colors and attention to detail.

There were so many other excellent films in the International Competition that deserve a mention.  I do want to make special note of Kim Jan-Ki’s Herstory.  The film chronicles the little known story of the Korean “Comfort Women” who were taken to Java to service Japanese soldiers.  Kim’s poignant anima doc is narrated by one of the few surviving “comfort women” Chung Seo-Woon in her own voice.  Herstory (I like the play on words in the film’s title), along with other survivor’s stories, are archived in a Korean museum devoted to these women who were victims of WWII.  This film is a perfect example of the power of animation to tell a story that would be unbearable to watch in live action.

The Young Animation Competition was also very strong.  One film  that stood out to me, Karbeste Veski (Fly Mill)   Anu-Laura Tuttelberg’s graduation film at the Estonian Academy of Arts.  It is a beautifully crafted stop motion puppet animation that tells the story of a miller who lovingly raises ducklings.  While he dreams of setting them free some day, hunters come to shoot birds in the field next door.  It was inspired by photos that Anu-Laura took from an attic window looking out upon an autumn field.  The hunter puppets were inspired by 1850’s German fashion dolls, the miller was modelled on antique Japanese dolls.

Anu-Laura Tuttelberg with puppets from her film

Having seen of the feature films already, the one delightful suprize for me was the Japanese film A Letter To Moma. Director Hiroyuki Okiura takes us into the world of young Moma in a delightful 2D film that deals with big issues.  Moma has an unfinished letter from her recently deceased father that only says  “Dear Momo”.  After Momo moves from Tokyo to a remote Japanese island with her mother she embarks on a strange adventure that leads her to three mischievous imps and the realization that the move to the island is somehow connected to her father’s letter, and festival catalogue listed the film as suitable for children six and over but I think that the story of loss and searching will touch every family member.

Letter to Moma was Okiura’s first film since 1999 and I hope that we do not have to wait that long again for another one of his beautiful cel animation movies.  As good as it was I was really pleased that the jury gave the Best Feature Film award to Arrugas (Wrinkles).  I have already written extensively about this poinent film but it was a pleasure to be able to meet and have a long chat with producer Manuel Cristobal in Stuttgart.  He told me that when he first came across Wrinkles he thought it was “a Spanish Persepolis” and he is right because both stories deal with being locked in a personal prison that is caused by circumstances that the main character didn’t create.

The Tricks for Kids programs are a delightful break from more serious films.  Not only is the animation refreshingly charming but it is wonderful to sit in a theatre full of four and five year olds who are intently watching the screen and laughing in the right moments.  There are programs designed to appeal to three and four year olds as well as programs with more adventurous films such as The Gruffalo’s Child for older children as well as two Cartoons for Teens programs.  It is very encouraging to know that our future audience is already learning to watch quality animation.

This year the Trickfilm Festival paid homage to the important role silhouettes and paper cut outs have played in the history of animation.  Countless numbers of animators have been inspired by German animation pioneer Lotte Reinger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the first preserved feature length animated film.  Lotte Reiniger – Dance of the Shadows is a new sixty minute documentary superimposing the artists own life experience onto her work.  The film contains newly discovered footage which shows her at work in Canada on The Rose and Ring (1979)which is based upon a story by Thacheray.

The project is the work of the Department for Film and Television Science at the Institute of Media Studies, Eberhard Karls University in Tubingen, Germany.  Lecturers and students studying for a Masters Degree, supported by a professional team and the town museum of Tubingen worked together on this ambitious project which shows us a personal side of a great director.

Reiniger considered Bruno J. Bottge her successor in the world of silhouette animation.  The two program retrospective of his work, one for children and the other for adults, showed exactly why Reiniger passed on the torch to Bottge.  Although the Dresden animator passed away in 1981 his work remains as fresh and entertaining as when they were made.

Michel Ocelot brings the art of silhouette and cut out animation into the present.  His beautiful films range from fairytales and folk tales to music videos.  Michel’s fourth feature, Azur et Asmar, a fairy tale fantasy which he wrote and directed in 2006 was selected for the Quinzaine des Realisateurs in Cannes as well as numerous awards at many animation festivals.  In 2007 the multi talented Ocelot created a silhouette video for the Icelandic singer Bjork’s song Earth Intrudes. There were also three programs of recent films that combine silhouette animation with live action.

Tom and the Slice of Bread With Strawberry Jam and Honey is a popular TV series known to every small German child.  The character Tom is the product of the very fertile mind of Thomas Meyer-Herman, founder of Studio Filmbilder and the talented animator Andreas Hykade who brings Tom to life.  In a theatre packed with happy youngsters and their parents we were treated to the new Tom short on the big screen.  Adding to the fun the Bee Band played and there was a live appearance by Tom’s slice of bread with strawberry jam and honey.  The fun was led by MC Hykade.  For an hour I forgot the outside world and became a kid again.

The Bee Band and the Slice of Bread with Strawberry Jam and Honey with creator Andreas Hykade after the afternoon screening

Hungarian animation was spotlighted this year.  Although I am very familiar with the work of Gyorgy Kovasznai thanks to Brigitta Ivanyi-Bitter’s through book on his life and work, my knowledge of other Hungarian animators was sadly lacking.  Two screenings of the History of Hungarian Animation filled in many of the missing gaps from early 1950’s children’s films to the absurd and satirical depictions of 1960’s life during the socialist era behind the Iron Curtin.

Geza M. Toth, founder of KEDD Animation Studio in Budapest took us behind the scenes of one of Hungary’s most successful present day studios.  KEDD is celebrating its 10th  Anniversary this year and has an impressive body of work behind it.  They created the very cleaver short Maestro which was nominated for the Academy Award in 2007 as well as Berry and Dolly which is the most successful pre-school age series on Hungarian television.  Toth was a member of the International Competition Jury this year.

Two programs devoted to propaganda films demonstrated the power of animation to entertain while serving as a vehicle for propaganda.  The earliest films shown were made during WW I.  They were designed to lampoon and ridicule the enemy and to promote the sale of war bonds.

The films flourished during WW II when they were created in almost every country.   I was fascinated to learn that Mickey Mouse played a leading role in both French and Japanese propaganda films.  Florian Schmidlechner illustrated his presentation Animation for Victory – International Animated Film Propaganda with animated examples from 10 countries to show how various filmmakers tackled the same issues in such different and yet similar ways on both sides of the war.

In a companion program, Animation Under the Swastika – German Animation Film Between 1933 and 1945, Rolf Giesen talked about Hitler and Goebbels’s love of Disney films, particularly Snow White.  Giesen devoted a large portion of his presentation to crazy, megalomaniac projects of the Third Reich that never came to fruition.  One of the strangest was the attempt by them to create a European animated film company including a professorship for humor.  The project was doomed to fail from the start when the company was placed under the management of a Goebbles aide who prior to 1933 was employed in a meat factory.

With six screening rooms close together in the center of town and an additional one in the nearby city of Ludwigsburg there were more screenings than anyone could possibly watch.  As if that weren’t enough there were many other festival events  plus a festival beer garden which was the perfect place to enjoy conversations with friends while sipping a cold beer under the trees.

Nik Phelps, Giannalberto Bendazzi, legendary Italian film historian, and Egyptian animator Mohammed Ghazala with Nancy

Festival beer garden and the outdoor screen

Every time I visited the Tricks For Kids tents in the festival garden they were a bee hive of activity with something for every young person to explore.  They could create optical toys to make their drawings move and learn the basic principles of animation.  In a tent for especially for teens, participants created and animated their own pixel characters on computers.  Their work was shown on the large outdoor screen in the evenings.

In addition to the drop-in tents there were formal workshops.  Young children became acquainted with cut-out animation under the direction of Sabine Huber.  Older students created their own video games and produced animation.  A tour of Chasing Carrots Studio gave the young game designers an opportunity to see how the pros go about creating video games.

For several years there has been a large outdoor screen in the park adjacent to the beer garden showing a free feature film in the evening.  Two years ago a giant screen made its debut which is capable of screening films as clearly and bright in broad sunshine as they look at night.  Beginning at 2 o’clock every day a variety of short animations were shown that would appeal to the entire family.

Nik playing along with animation on the outdoor screen at the Festival Patrons’ reception

It was wonderful to stroll through the garden and see festival participants sitting on the grass next to local resident enjoying the films.  I am sure that many of the then had never seen quality short animation before.

Each evening a free feature film was screened on the outdoor screen.  The programs ranged from Chico and Rita to Rango.  A popular new addition to the screenings this year was the nightly “Curse Along With South Park” karaoke sing alongs.

The festival is constantly looking for new ways to reach out to the community and when I heard about the Animated Fashion Award Competition, I was a bit sceptical, but it turned out to be a very nice evening.  The idea to bring the animation community together with the fashion world was the brain child of festival co-director Uli Wegenast.  Thanks to his forward thinking and a partnership with the upscale fashion and lifestyle  department store Breuninger’s, fashion designers and clients were shown an innovative new way for young fashion designers to showcase their new ideas to a wide audience with the use of animation.

Thirteen animators vied for the 2,000 Euro award donated by Breuninger’s was won by Yoshi Tamura, from Planktoons in France. The screening of the thirteen films was followed by a fashion show and a party on Breuninger’s luxurious roof garden.  Dancing to the DJ and the well stocked open bar   were great but the delicious chilli and the spectacular view of downtown Stuttgart at night were really fantastic.  I found a few problems with the Animated Fashion Competition, but for a first time adventure into new territory it was a definite success and I look forward to seeing how it develops and grows in the future.

Ron Diamond, Animation Fashion Awards juror, with Nancy

Along with all of the excellent animation the Stuttgart festival has become a major center for the businesss end of the animation industry.  The 2012 Business Platform for Spatial Communication was held at the Mercedes-Benz Museum.  The networking platform was an opportunity for participants to meet agency representatives and business companies to explore new and innovative uses of animation by the corporate sector.

To emphasize the connection between the renowned car manufacturer and the festival, the screenings of the very popular Trick for Kids programs are slated to take place at the Mercedes-Benz Museum next year.  Shuttle buses are planned to carry festival goers between the main festival and the Museum.

The Crazy Horse Session – 48 Hour Animation Jam is always exciting to watch.  Six two-person teams have to develop an animated film in 48 hours.  The competition is open to animation students at international schools, independent animators, and animation producers under the age of 30.  Anyone is free to drop by their busy workroom to watch the teams in action.

Each team must use the same character, Trixi the festival mascot or the Trickstar festival award statue, to tell a story between thirty seconds to two minutes.  This year’s winners were Kristen Campbell and Sitji Chou from Canada for Trixi Goes To The Movies.

A special presentation at the festival cafe introduced us to WOA (World of Animation).  The network on You Tube hopes to become the world’s leading address for all styles of animation.  Trickfilm Festival is WOA’s exclusive festival partner which adds a great deal of creditability to the network and it will help to provide content.  The network is due to go on line in the Autumn of 2012.  The organizers plan to present a wide range of animation from around the world which will be catalogued by subject such as comedy, children’s animation, etc.  All formats, styles, and film lengths will be welcome.

The network will be free of charge to both viewers and animators.  Filmmakers will be paid for their work, per hit, by advertising revenues.  There are obviously a lot of details still to be worked out but the idea does have interesting prospects.  You can learn more about the project at www.worldofanimation.eu

Running concurrently with the festival was the 17th FMX (Conference on Animation, Effects, Games, and Transmedia).   The four day event has become the leading European conference on the technical side of animation and is the ideal complement to the festival screenings.  The crowded conference, located a few blocks from the screening rooms, featured presentations by some of the leading names in the digital industry.  An entire afternoon master class was devoted to Dylan Sissor, Pixar’s main Renderman expert, for example.  Between lectures, master classes, numerous workshops, project presentations, and special movie screening the technophiles at FMX were kept very busy.

The Market Place on the FMX trade floor gave companies an opportunity to present current trends, products, and services in professional graphics, 2D and 3D animation, 3D rendering and much, much more.  In the recruiting hub 23 renowned animation, VHX, and games studios gave people looking for employment a chance to make all important face to face connections.  My favourite hall was the school campus balcony where I had a chance to meet students and faculty from twenty-eight different schools from around the world.  It is always refreshing to see the latest work and if what I saw there is any indication, the future of animation is in good hands.

Animation Production Day, co-sponsored by the TrickFilm Festival and FMX, has become one of the key business platforms for the international animation industry.  APD selects the most promising projects and invites the creators to meet with industry professionals to discuss financing opportunities and production strategies.

The action packed festival week ended on Sunday evening with the awards ceremony and closing night party.  With its tremendous success again this year the Trickfilm Festival has emerged as a major world class event.  The festival has managed to grow without losing its personal atmosphere. Each animator and guest receives lovely hospitality regardless of how “important” they are.  I want to thank the entire festival staff for everything they did to make my visit job so much easier.  I also tip my hat to the army of volunteers who worked tirelessly to answer questions and were always on hand to help us anyway that they could.

Renowned Belgian animator Raoul Servais presenting a copy of his biography to Nancy

Last year the festival had an estimated 75,000 visitors and I am sure the numbers were much higher this year.  A Festival pass, giving a visitor access to all events, is a very reasonable 80 Euros and single screening admissions are 9 Euros so the festival is very affordable to Stuttgart residents.

If I have one complaint about the festival it is that there was just too much for anyone to see or do but if you can only attend one festival next year I highly recommend that you come to the TrickFilm Animation Festival.  You can see more photos and the daily festival short film as well all the festival news at www.ITSF.de.

New York director Dustin Grella and Nancy

Festival awards:

International Competition

Jury: Heitor Capuzzo, Singapur; Tine Kluth, Bristol; Ralf Kukula, Dresden; Jaroslav  Rudiš, Prague; Géza M. Tóth, Budapest

Grand Prix

State of Baden-Württemberg and City of Stuttgart Grand Prix for Animated Film. 15.000 Euro

Posledny Autobus (The last bus) by Martin Snopek, Ivana Lauĉikov Slovakia 2011

Lotte Reiniger Promotion Award for Animated Film

Award for the best graduation film. 10.000 Euro sponsored by MFG Film Funding Baden-Württemberg.

Heldenkanzler by Benjamin Swiczinsky Germany 2011

SWR Audience Award

6.000 Euro sponsored by Südwestrundfunk SWR

Atlas

by Aike Arndt Germany 2011

Meckatzer Lena-Weiss-Award

5.000 Euro sponsored by Meckatzer Löwenbräu

Body Memory

by Ülo Pikkov Estonia 2011

Young Animation

Award for the best student film. 2.500 Euro sponsored by the Landesanstalt für Kommunikation Baden-Württemberg (LfK) and the MFG Film Funding Baden-Württemberg.

The Making of Longbird

by Will Anderson Great Britain 2011

AniMovie

Award for the best animated feature film 2.500 Euro sponsored by SUPER RTL.

ARRUGAS (Wrinkles) by Ignacio Ferreras Spain 2011

Tricks for Kids

Two prizes are awarded: Award for the best children’s animated film. 4.000 Euro sponsored by Nickelodeon Award for the best animated series for children 2.500 Euro sponsored by Studio 100 Media GmbH

Zing

by Kyra Buschor und Cynthia Collins Germany 2011

Award for the best animated series for children:Mia and me: Talking to unicorns by Gerhard Hahn

Germany 2011

Cartoons for Teens

2.500 euro sponsored by Nippon Art

Botanical Nightmare by Thomas Lucas Great Britain 2011

German Screenplay Award

Award for the best German screenplay for an animated feature film, 2.500 Euro.

Fritzi war dabei by Beate Völcker

Animated Fashion Award

Award for animated short films in the field of fashion. 5.000 Euro sponsored by Breuninger

Reflexion

by Planktoon, Yoshi Tamura France 2012

German Voice Actor Award

Award for the best voice actor in an animated feature film. 2.500 Euro.

Andrea Sawatzki „Der gestiefelte Kater“ Paramount, USA 2011

Animated Com Award

12.500 Euro, sponsored by Fraunhofer Institut IPA, Mackevision, KSPG AG, Animation Media Cluster Region Stuttgart, Daimler AG

Category Advertising + Main Prize Clover „Way Better“ Shy the Sun, Strange Beast Main Prize: Fraunhofer IPA sponsored by 5.000 Euro Category Advertising: Preis: 2.500 Euro sponsored by Mackevision Medien Design GmbHCategory Technologie Red Bull Music Academy World Tour Pete Candeland, Passion Pictures Award: 2.500 Euro sponsored by KSPG AG Category Communication in Space Magic Box - State Grid Pavillion Prof. Uwe Brückner, Atelier Brückner GmbH Award: 2.500 Euro sponsored by Animation Media Cluster Region Stuttgart

Special Prize Mercedes-Benz Classic: 60 Jahre Mercedes-Benz SL Mercedes-SL Black Owen Trevor, Passion Raw Award: 2.500 Euro sponsored by Daimler AG

48h Animation Jam – Crazy Horse Session

Trixi Goes to the Moving Pictures by Kristen Campbell & Sitji Chou

Canada 2012

in cooperation with M.A.R.K. 13

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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 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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