The Independent Spirit
The terms "independent" and "feature film" are not often thought of in the same breadth when it comes to animation. The conventional wisdom still sees independent animators as filmmakers who toil away producing highly personal and/or experimental short subjects. Unlike their live-action counterparts, making an animated feature is seen as beyond the scope (financial and otherwise) of most animation artists.
The truth is that there is a growing number of animators who are making feature films outside the mainstream. Some have gained funding from television, specialized distributors or even out of their own pockets. In this issue, we look at a sampling of filmmakers who have taken various roads to making independent features.
Perhaps the most persistent of independents in this area is Bill Plympton, whose wild and wacky shorts have given him an almost cult following. Although his first feature effort, The Tune, was far from a runaway success, its initial box office reception has not stopped him from going ahead with I Married a Strange Person. Mark Segall recently visited Plympton at work in New York and reports back in "Plympton's Metamorphoses."
R.O. Blechman, despite the critical acclaim gained by his two hour-long specials for public television, Simple Gifts and L'Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier's Tale), has still found it difficult to find backing for his various feature projects. In his rather uppity and cutting essay, "Transfixed and Goggle-Eyed," he ponders the current state of feature animation and of the hold Disney has on the psyche and pocketbooks of Hollywood and filmgoers alike.
The iconoclastic Brothers Quay have long been known for their stop motion puppet films. However, their entry into features was recently made via the live-action The Institute Benjamenta, which also includes animation. Suzanne Buchan, in "Shifting Realities," reports why the medium's most famous twins, despite appearances to the contrary, are not about to abandon animation.
Elsewhere in England, Dave Borthwick has a habit of using live-action actors as animated puppets. Combined with conventional stop motion model animation, Borthwick and his colleagues at bolexbrothers have created their own pixilated universe. Several years ago, he ventured into features with The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb, and in "Instinctive Decisions," discusses his methods and his plans for the future with Frankie Kowalski.
Although it may be hard to conceive of Don Bluth as an independent, his apostasy in leaving Disney back in 1979 to go on his own was very much an act of independence. It was also a move that generated considerable enthusiasm and hope for the future of animation. Jerry Beck, who was a sometimes close witness to these events recalls what it was like in his "Don Bluth Goes Independent."
In "Lotte Reiniger," William Moritz chronicles the career of one of animation's truly great pioneers. For those who still associate the beginnings of feature animation with Disney's Snow White, it is a useful reminder of the richness and sophistication animation could and did achieve in its early years.
Gene Walz, in "Cabin-Fever Animation," provides the first of what will be an ongoing series of regional roundups, focusing this time on Winnipeg. The city has emerged as a center of innovative filmmaking far from the beaten track, Walz reports on Cordell Barker's foray into CGI, as well as other local talent. Meanwhile, Donna La Breque, in "The Trance Experience of Zork Nemesis," examines the role played by animation in the latest update to the Zork computer game phenomena..
This issue ends with John Dilworth's review of Mamoru Oshii's cybertech thriller, Ghost in the Shell, while Frankie Kowalski offers up some Desert Island picks from a variety of independent filmmakers who, at one time or another, have indulged their fantasies about making animated features.
I suppose this is in the way of a help wanted ad, which I guess is nothing to be ashamed of. So, here it goes--Animation World Magazine is looking for writers and artists who would like to contribute articles, film/TV/interactive/book reviews or news items, as well as cartoons or comic strips.
Although I sometimes have delusions of being a world renown expert in animation, there is no way that either me or my Associate Editor, Frankie Kowalski, can be aware of all that is going on in today's rapidly expanding animation universe. For instance, as of this writing, Animation World Magazine has been "visited" by readers from at least 52 countries, and the number is constantly growing!
So, I extend my invitation to please email me with your ideas and/or request a list of our requirements and what we pay. (It's not much, but we do pay contributors.) Although English is our main language, we will accept submissions in other languages; in such instances, we will probably publish the piece in both the original language and in English. (However, it does speed things along if you submit queries in English or French.) Thank you.
- Harvey Deneroff (firstname.lastname@example.org)