Animation Promoter Prescott Wright Passes Away at 71

Prescott Wright, a founder of the ASIFA-San Francisco Chapter, producer of the Tournee Of Animation for many years and a founder of the Ottawa Animation Festival passed away on Dec. 28, 2006, at a hospital in Albuquerque at the age of 71, reports Karl Cohen, animation professor/historian and president of ASIFA-SF.

He had been in slow decline for several years with Picks Disease, a form of dementia related to Alzheimers.

Wright was raised in the Bronx, New York, was stationed in the Army at Ft. Ord and went to Monterey Community College. In the mid-1960s he moved to San Francisco, where he worked at Brandon Films and then moved to Los Angeles to study film at the American Film Institute. He returned to San Francisco about 1970 to work on a graduate degree in film at San Francisco State University (MA 1975). While at State, he was asked to be a teaching assistant and then became a part-time instructor. He also worked again at Audio-Brandon (Tom Brandon had by this time merged his company with Audio Films) and was running Filmwright, his own small film distribution company as a part-time business.

While working with Brandon Films, a major film distributor of American and foreign features and shorts; he developed a keen interest in animation from around the world. He recognized animation as a great art form for adults, not just as entertainment for children. In the late 1960s, several of his friends with ASIFA-Hollywood (Bill Scott, Bill Littlejohn, Les Goldman and June Foray) decided to put together an international animation program to be shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It was rare to see quality animation in the U.S. at that time.

He was asked to head the project when they decided to show the program in other places (ca. 1969). Under his guidance the program became known as the International Tournee of Animation and he began to book the program at the San Francisco Museum of Art and other cultural institutions around this country, according to Cohen. He continued to organize and distribute the annual celebration until Expanded Cinema purchased rights to the program in the late 1980s.

He also served on ASIFAs international board of directors (ASIFA is the international animation association with over 30 chapters around the world) when, before the Iron Curtain fell, "the organization helped bridge the gap between East and West by helping animators from Eastern Europe attend festivals in the West, to visit studios in the Europe and N. America and to show their films in-person," said Cohen. "President David Ehrlich, Howard Beckerman, the late Charles Samu and others worked hard to further international relations and to arrange for these screenings in cities with ASIFA chapters."

Wright was also an advisor to the Ottawa and other major animation festivals. He served a year as director of the Denver Film Festival, helped start a festival at Foothill College and was involved with many other cultural events.

More recently Wright worked for a year for Disney as a recruiter and then worked in the Philippines and India as an instructor, as well as in development with emerging animation studios.

In 2004, he was made an honorary president of the Ottawa festival, which he was unable to attend the event.

Ehrlich, who teaches at Dartmouth and was an international ASIFA board member for many years, told Cohen about Wright, Pres and I go back to 1979, with my first Annecy Festival. He was very kind to my wife and me, graciously introducing us to his friends from around the world and making us feel less awkward and shy. A year later he surprised me by choosing one of my abstract films for the 16th Tournee, over the objections of his more conservative co-producers. Perhaps it was the laughter that would burst from him, or the way he'd always look you directly in the eye, but he absolutely refused to allow any of us to view him as the important personage that he really was. We became good friends through the years, spending hours on coast-to-coast phone calls talking about ASIFA until I ended up running for the Board myself. Pres always had so much vitality and he's done so much for animators and for animation throughout the world, it's sad to see him so ill. I hope what Karl is doing now to convey our words to Pres will let Pres see just how much we love him and are grateful for all he has given us.

"I doubt that ASIFA-SF would exist today if Pres hadnt been so dedicated to his love of animation," said Cohen. "He was a guiding light for me and I know his advice and suggestions were helpful to many other people who love this art form."

Wright's daughter Maureen Wright, her family, and his brother Roger Wright from Florida and a few friends will have a small ceremony in his honor in Santa Fe in the first week of January. His ashes will be buried with full military honors at the Santa Fe National Cemetery (TBA). The Aspen Funeral Alternatives in Albuquerque is handling the arrangements, (505) 323-9000. Maureen Wright's email is motimeslip80@msn.com.

Cohen said, "We will dedicate some time at our Fri., Jan. 5 ASIFA 12th Night Party to honor his memory. Im also inviting those of you who knew him to send our newsletter a memory of him to share with others for our February newsletter." Send submissions to karlcohen@earthlink.net.

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