Animation World Magazine, Issue 1.12, March 1997
Letters to the Editor
The following two letters were sent in reply to Chris Robinson's "To Be or Not To Be An ASIFA-Sanctioned Festival," which appeared in the January issue of Animation World Magazine.
This article came as a great surprise to me. Not the overall message--we had been talking freely in Zagreb, I had encouraged Chris Robinson to air all his feelings on ASIFA, which were the standard feelings festival directors get at some time. I remember in 1971, at my first Annecy festival, I was helping backstage (I have been helping for some time now), when the then festival director was protesting against ASIFA--notwithstanding his being the president of the French ASIFA group. This is normal--filmmakers think about their precious works, festival directors think about their festival and their budget and their position. It is not the same point of view, and we have to adjust.
The surprise came from a public attack with what looked like hate, and a number of somewhat twisted statements on an association of animators. It is not expected from a festival director, and may not give a good image of the celebration he is in charge of, which I regret.
I'll briefly point at some inaccuracies (I have gone into more detail on the ASIFA-International home page):
Board members "more concerned with the prestige and benefits of their position." As everywhere, there may be one or two interested (and ill-informed) individuals, for the rest the notion of "prestige and benefits of their position" is an amusing sally, all being suckers agreeing to spend their time and money on obscure chores nobody will ever be thankful for.
"Festival reviews based on the hope of return invitation rather than honesty." It is quite an accusation. Well, whether the review is good or bad, we are invited. We do send our critiques, but not in the spotlight (critiques in a letter do not have the same meaning as critiques on a stage, like here). At any rate, the printed review is mainly the opinion of its author (there is not a censure committee), but we all are aware of the work a festival involves and of the respect we must show to the many people who gave themselves to it.
"Children workshops." Picking on ASIFA about the workshops for the young ones is a strange idea, as well as objecting to children commenting on children rights.
"ASIFA-Canada." In Zagreb, Chris Robinson's assessment of the help from ASIFA-Canada, an exemplary group, was very positive. Now it is the opposite. I'll let Montréal and Vancouver comment, if they wish.
"ASIFA finally contacted us. Unfortunately, all they wanted was to take advantage of the ASIFA rule that obliges festivals to cover all board members' accommodations and pass expenses." Not 22, but one board member asked for it. It was not to go to one more festival, he already had got more than his fill, but to help in a precise way, which he did.
"The ASIFA board recently revised its rules without any festival directors being present." Quite a number of festival directors took part, including the director of the Ottawa Festival: we insisted on having Chris Robinson's opinion.
"Most of us have no idea how one becomes elected to the board." At the same time Chris Robinson was perfectly registering his own candidacy to the ASIFA board! Information comes in ASIFA News and the Secretary General answers letters . . .
But of course it is very interesting to get critiques, it is a way to progress.
Communication, for instance, should be improved--being on the board is open, anyone can be a candidate (granted that one has been a member for two years), a new board is elected every three years, all members throughout the world cast their votes. This may not be known well enough. And this is a call for immediate candidacies.
In other respects, more means should be found, without alienating our absolute independence.
I'll point to a critique I have made previously: "The festival must pay for accommodation of all board members, 22 maximum." (The number of board members is actually less than this, and all of them are never present in one festival. Still it can be a burden.) This has been kept as festivals agreed. It is a way to help representatives from many countries meet, which is one of the things festivals are here for. Some festivals go further, offering the board one or two days more, so the working meetings can take place under good conditions.
I agree on guests being of some use to festivals. This happens perhaps more often than Chris Robinson thinks at the moment.
One word about "festivals violating ASIFA rules." Sometimes it is not so, sometimes it is. I am afraid it is in the course of nature, and I must not hide from the public that ASIFA does not have tank divisions to deploy around the festival venue. (The strongest action is not giving patronage anymore; it has happened before, with results.) But these rules--independence, fairness, respect for films and filmmakers--have set necessary and strong standards which cannot be overlooked anymore. Breaches are precisely seen as breaches and are fractional, disputed and changeable phenomena.
The Ottawa Festival can survive without ASIFA, and vice versa. Nevertheless, I hope we shall find harmony between members of the same family, and that the Ottawa Festival will develop into a center of goodwill, creativity, and joy.
This was the New Year's wish from the president of an association full of defects, an irrational grouping which goes without any help, nevertheless attracting mad people from 60 countries.
In a recent article published on the Internet, M. Chris Robinson, the new director of the Ottawa festival, severely criticized ASIFA, the animation association, both the International organization and its Canadian chapter, ASIFA-Canada.
M. Michel Ocelot, president of ASIFA and M. David Erhlich, vice-president, have already responded to M. Robinson. We strongly encourage you to read their replies. However, we, at ASIFA-Canada, feel obliged to answer M. Robinson's provoking diatribe although you can be assured that we all hate wasting our time with such non-productive polemic.
First of all, let's remember that ASIFA-Canada is a non-profit association and the involvement of its members and of its board of directors is strictly voluntary. We are about 225 members and each year 8 to 12 of us are idealistic enough to volunteer our services in order to keep the organization running. (These volunteers he characterizes as "children" and "old boys"!) In the last 25 years, somewhere between a quarter to a half of our members have, at some point participated on the board, generally for a few years, then passed it on to fresh troops and went back to focus on their animation professions.
These are the people that M. Robinson says have "no real grasp of the organizational structure behind the festival". Yet does M. Robinson demonstrate any understanding of the organizational structure of our association? or the work required to maintain it? or the difficulties of being a bilingual organization stretched across this huge continent?
Before the festival, we received M. Robinson at one of our board meetings. By the way, M. Robinson is not a board member so we are surprised to hear him complain about not being always invited. Anyway, in reference to that encounter, he implies in his text that what was suggested to him was for the board members themselves personally and not to help improve the festival. It seems too that he did not appreciate that we would point out some deficiencies in what he presented to us. His international jury was to be exclusively North American and his international festival did not have significant retrospectives from outside North American animation.
We gave him some suggestions and contacts. Our suggestions were followed and that's one of the raison d'être of ASIFA--to advise festivals and push them to not take only the easy way.
ASIFA-Canada has been collaborating with the Ottawa festival since its very beginning as well as with the recent 96 edition in various ways. We never thought it necessary to detail our collaboration with the festival, saying we did this and that, but since M. Robinson hasn't found a better way to thank us other than to deny our role and insult those who gave their time, we think we should at least inform our members about these issues.
The festival relies on ASIFA-Canada to find an artist to create the official trophies for the festival. We administrate a budget from the festival and assume their production, packing and transport to the festival. The full budget is dedicated exclusively to the artist and the production costs.
We sponsor the "Public Prize"--its creation and cost and in the course of the festival, we distribute, collect and count the ballots and then present the Prize. ASIFA-Canada also prepares and organizes the Norman McLaren Heritage Award.
It is also a tradition to organize or participate in animation workshops and this year, at the festival's request, two of our board members volunteered to organize and conduct a children's workshop. 60 children participated.
We are sorry that M. Robinson's opinion of ASIFA-Canada has changed so dramatically from his positive Zagreb report to Michel Ocelot. We have great difficulty understanding his motivations for such negativity but sincerely hope that he can learn to maturely communicate directly with those he ceases to hold in favor before he flashes these glib displays on the Internet.
The ASIFA-Canada Board
Editor's Note: For more information, check out the ASIFA-International web site, which can be accessed from the Animation Village, Organisations section.
Jean Luc Xibberas & Annecy
I was rather disappointed to read the interview with Jean Luc Xibberas, the head of the Annecy festival ["Rendezvous In Annecy: An Interview With Jean-Luc Xiberras," by Annick Teninge, in the January 1997 issue of AWM].
This festival has come in for a lot of criticism lately as, although it is the biggest animation festival, it can also be the most infuriating. The embarrassment of the last festivals awards ceremony and the general organization upset enough people that ASIFA-International initiated a campaign to get people to write complaints to the mayor of Annecy, who apparently governs the festival.
A number of people did write, including myself, but, unfortunately, nothing appears to have changed. Mr. Xibberas does not seem to acknowledge the criticisms and your article makes no attempt to address them. Instead, the article comes across as little more than a puff piece. I presume this is because the journalist was Mr. Xibbera's assistant and so had little interest in presenting more interesting and difficult questions.
I know that a lot of people work very hard at Annecy to try to do the best job possible, nevertheless, it seems to be a given that the organization of the festival will be difficult to deal with. In my experience, the festival chose to arbitrarily recognize only one of us for our co-directed film, Bob's Birthday. My partner was not even invited to the festival and her name was not listed as a competition director in a number of the festival's publications. The reason? The festival simply does not recognize co-directors. Why? Just because they don't. That's the answer I got from the festival. No other festival I know has this policy and there is no reason for it. They don't have to pay the expenses for two directors, but they should not be allowed to arbitrarily pretend one of them doesn't exist. It is very insensitive to treat a filmmaker this way.
AWM would be an excellent forum to address this subject, especially in the run up to this summer's festival. Why not garner more opinions about the festival from people and present them to Mr. Xibberas for his response?
I, like so many other people, value the Annecy festival and am very eager to contribute my thoughts in the hope that things might be improved in the future.
Snowden Fine Productions
The author is co-owner with Alison Snowden of Snowden Fine Productions.
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