By Nancy Denny-Phelps
The 17th edition of the International Trickfilm Festival of Animated Film, May 4 through 9 in Stuttgart, Germany was definitely bigger and better than ever. The only problem I had was that there was so much to see and do that I had to make some difficult choices. In addition to the five short film competition screenings there were four Tricks For Kids programs, four Young Animation presentations, four Panorama screenings, feature films, and a bevy of guests. A rare appearance by the legendary Bruce Bickford was a special treat. Bruce, an animation veteran of 40 years, introduced two of his films, the 45 minute Cas’l and Prometheus’ Garden. He also answered numerous questions from the sold out audience. In a separate program Monster Road, Brett Ingram’s 2004 film about the life and work of Bickford gave an intimate glimpse into the life and work of the self taught Claymation master who spent 6½ years working with Frank Zappa to create such films as Baby Snakes and Dub Room Special.
The competition programs offered some new surprises for me. Australian animator Darcy Pendergast’s Lucky is a total departure from his previous Claymation work. The non-narrative music driven film shows what can happen when an animator and his friends stay up all night with a camera and glow sticks. Darcy used the same process that you would use to write your name in the night sky with sparklers. The camera was set to a long exposure and images were painted in the dark sky with flash lights, glow sticks or anything else that emitted light. The process was repeated again, each take slightly modified from the previous frame to create an animated sequence. The results are beautiful, fanciful images.
In a totally different vein, Urte Zintler’s black and white drawings create a world of memories as an old woman sings a song. The film, Thoughts Are Free, is a touching remembrance of a beloved grandmother.
I have been a fan of Andreas Hykade’s work ever since I first saw The Runt. His latest animation Love and Theft is a totally different, but equally captivating piece of psychedelic imagery. Morphing animation loops take us on a trip through cartoon history from Betty Boop to Bill Plympton and beyond. The entire romp is set to a hypnotic musical score which increases in intensity in perfect unison with the images.
It is always a pleasure to see animation from China that is anything more than snub nosed little kids with big eyes or lumbering monsters. Lei Lei, a young animator from Beijing, China definitely displayed his independent nature in Magic Cube and Ping-Pong. The hand drawn on paper film was screened in the Young Animation Program. Lei Lei told me how difficult it is to be an independent animator in China, and that it is almost impossible to get any financial support from the government to create your work if you do not follow the approved path, leading into a cubical in an animation factory.
As always the daily Filmmakers Talk was a highlight of the festival. Christophe Erbes, children’s book author, media consultant, and animation expert lead the discussion with directors of films in competition in the festival café. He is an expert moderator thanks to his blend of animation knowledge, taste and a large dose of wit. It is always instructive to hear the directors discuss the making of their film, and I always look forward to this opportunity to learn more about how and why a work has been created. Christophe also hosts the nightly Short Film Competitions, introducing the directors who are in attendance on stage.
Tricks for Kids showed some of my favorite films. Several of the minute long episodes of Alexei Alexeev’s hilarious Log Jam series brought gales of laughter from the young audience. I must admit that no matter how often I watch Alexei’s delightful tales of the bear, rabbit, and wolf, 3 musicians who try to make their music in the forest, no matter what obstacles they find themselves up against. They always bring a smile to my face.
I enjoyed watching Lost and Found yet again. The magical tale of loneliness and friendship based on Oliver Jeffers’ award winning book has been beautifully brought to life by British animator Philip Hunt.
The Gruffalo by Jakob Schuh and Max Lang won the Trickstar for the best animated children’s film in competition. The half hour stop motion film is a magical tale of a mouse who takes a walk through the woods in search of a nut, told with a charm and humor faithful to the original well known children’s book by Julia Donaldson.
The four Best of Animation programs were grouped into screenings entitled Obsession, Lost in Sensation, Other Places – Other Times, and Life Forms. Obsession gave me a chance to see such classic films as Michaela Pavlatova’s erotic fantasy Carnival of Animals and Run Wake’s adult fairy tale Rabbit. I was especially happy to have the opportunity to see the Quay Brothers In Absenta, their 2000 film about a woman alone in an asylum obsessed with writing the same letter over and over. All 4 of the programs were perfectly programmed to take you from one beautiful, often dark, film to another.
Animated Architecture seems to be an interesting new festival topic. The Monstra festival in Lisbon this March had a special presentation of an animated film by architects, accompanied live by a dancer who interacted with the image and musicians. Trickfilms’ Animation Architecture program was a selection of videos made by architects to render both actual building projects and futuristic architectural projects. The videos incorporated music, graphics, and text to bring blue prints to life.
To celebrate 50 years of the Sandman short stories which have lulled children to sleep for several generations, the festival premiered Sandman, a German feature that combines stop-motion and live action. The look of the main animated characters stays very true to the original drawings from the books. The tale is a charming story about the theft of the Sandman’s bag of dreams by Habumar, a villain, who wants to give everyone bad dreams. I watched the film with a very young audience who were completely enthralled. The backgrounds and lighting design were beautiful, but the live actors seemed totally out of place and were very distracting to the animated beauty of the feature. I am sure that the film, geared to the youngest audience, will delight them as much as the books do.
Another beloved children’s book The Moomies by Finnish /Swedish illustrator and writer Tove Jansson is being brought to life on the screen in time for the 65th birthday of the cuddly little characters. This production is a new stereoscopic 3D version of a Polish-Austrian stop motion film that was made in the late 1970’s. The conversion of the original footage, a felt-puppet animation shot on 35mm film through layers of glass will be Finland’s first 3D film. We were only shown the trailer for the film, but I watched the footage with both the 3D glasses on and off and was pleased to see that the film was enjoyable to watch either way. I was told that since the target audience is 3 to 8 year old, the director wanted to make sure that even the smallest child who might not be comfortable wearing the glasses for a long time could also enjoy the movie. The film’s new theme song, The Comet Song, was composed and performed by Bjork who is an avid Moomin fan herself. The film premiered at Cannes this year and I am looking forward to having the opportunity to see the entire film soon.
During the day the Festival Garden provided a lovely place to relax with friends over a beer or visit the Activity Tent where guest animators gave demonstrations and talked about their films. A portion of the tent was given over to future animators to try their hand at making a zoetrope or modeling clay figures.
At night the beer garden turned into a large, open air screening room showing feature films from the festival free to the vast audience spread out on blankets. Even wet skies could not dampen the audiences’ enthusiasm when director David Silverman took to the stage to introduce The Simpsons Movie. Other night time offerings ranged from Madagascar to Mary & Max.
David Silverman, an avid tuba player, and my husband, Nik Phelps put together a “festival band” with Australian composer, musician Martin Kennedy on harmonium, Alexei Alexeev and his guitarlele (smaller than a guitar but bigger than a ukulele), and animator/percussionist Darcy Prendergast on ice bucket. Unfortunately Nik was only able to be at the festival for one night due to pressing work deadlines. The band made good use of their one night thoug. They played in the festival café until they closed, then continued to make music until 6 AM at a local bar. Chinese animator Lei Lei, who is an amazing rapper, joined the band on other evenings. The combination of tuba and rapping in Chinese defies description.
Running concurrently with the Trickfilm Festrival, May 4 through 7th, was the 15th FMX Conference on Animation, Effects, Games and Interactive Media. Billed as the “biggest expert meeting of the minds in Europe”, over 3,000 international animation specialists, visitors, and young talent attended the simultaneous presentations. Unfortunately my festival schedule was so packed that I didn’t get to spend as much time as I would have liked at FMX. When I was there the 10 conference halls were packed. Of special note was the 2 day Animation Production Day, a financing platform which brought together creative guests seeking funding for their projects with funders in pre-arranged one on one meetings. I wish that FMX began a day or two before the festival so that I could have devote an entire day exploring the numerous events that the conference offered.
Sunday evening the 400 seat Gloria 2 Theatre was completely full for the closing ceremony and the awarding of the Trickstar statutes. A complete listing of winners and jury members is at the end of the article. A party in the festival café followed the awards. When the café closed we moved to the now empty Activity Tent in the festival garden to make music and party late into the wee hours.
The 17th International Trickfilm Festival had all of the wonderful films and events that you would expect from a major World Class Festival but still retains it’s personal, warm, welcoming atmosphere. Directors Dittmar Lumpp and Ulrich Wegenast are most gracious festival hosts. Guest Coordinator/Program Director Andrea Bauer and Philipp Haarmann, along with the entire amazing festival staff were never so busy that they wouldn’t help a festival guest who had a problem. Their dedication to making the festival experience special was proven when they moved mountains to bring Nik to Stuttgart for just 20 hours so that he and David could play music together.
I have so many vivid memories of my time at the festival. If I could only attend one festival a year, the Trickfilm Festival in Stuttgart would be it.
INTERNATIONAL COMPETITIONJury: Kathrin Albers, Hamburg; Dave Chua, Singapore; Les Mills, Cardiff; Igor Prassel, Ljubljana; and Saschka Unseld,Los Angeles.
GRAND PRIX: State of Baden-Wuerttemberg and City of Stuttgart Grand Award for Animated Film (15,000.00 Euros)A FAMILY PORTRAIT – Joseph Pierce, Great BritainLOTTE REINIGER PROMOTION AWARD for best graduation film presented by MFG Film Funding, Baden- Wuerttemberg (10,000.00 Euros):SAM’S HOT DOG – Great BritainSPECIAL AWARD: MUSIC FOR ANIMATED FILM : Sponsored by GEMA Foundation (5,000.00 Euros):LOVE & THEFT – Music by Heiko Meile, Animation by Andreas Hykade, GermanySWR-AUDIENCE AWARD:SINNA MANN (ANGRY MAN) – Anita Killi, Norway
YOUNG ANIMATIONJury: Chiara Magri, Chieti; Andre Eckardt, Dresden; and Hannes Rall, Singapore.AWARD FOR BEST STUDENT FILM: Sponsored by MFG Film Funding Baden-Wuettemberg (2,500.0 Euros)PARADE – Pierre-Emmanuel Lyet, France
TRICKS FOR KIDSJury – Lisa Marie Hagele, 10 years old; Charlotte Huppenbauer, 11 years old; Maren Spohie Sautter, 9 years old;Wendelin Sander, 11 years old; Lorenzo von dem Knesebeck, 11 years old; and Philipp Wand, 11 years old.
AWARD FOR BEST CHILDREN’S ANIMATED FILM: Sponsored by Nickelodeon (4,000.00 Euros)THE GRUFFALO – Jakob Schuh and Max Lang, Great Britain
ANIMOVEJury – Karsten Kiilerich, Copenhagen; David Silverman, Los Angeles; and Andrea Wilson, Berlin.AWARD FOR BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: Sponsored by SUPER RTL (2,500 Euros)PONYO – Hayao Miyazaki, Japan
UNDER COMMISSIONJury: Kathi Kappel, Berlin; Thomas Meyer-Hermann, Stuttgart; Franco Moretti, Milan; Armin Pohl, Stuttgart; Michael Preiswerk, Stuttgart; and Uli Weber, Stuttgart.AWARD FOR ANIMATED COMMERCIALS AND MUSIC VIDEOS: Sponsored by Mackevision Medien Design GmbH (2,500.00 Euros)HARMONIX ‘THE BEATLES: ROCK BAND’ INTRO CINEMATIC – Pete Candeland, Great Britain
GERMAN ANIMATION SCREENPLAY AWARDJury: Kirstian Luffe, Munich; Eckart Fingberg, Berlin; Oliver Huzly, Berlin; and Ullrich Wegenast, Stuttgart.GERMAN LANGUAGE SCREENPLAY FOR AN ANIMATED FILM: Sponsored by Universum Film GmbH (5,000.00 Euros)LARS LEMMING – Heiko Martens, Germany
BEST OF THE BESTON LINE AUDIENCE AWARD: Sponsored by Kulturgemeinschaft Stuttgart (1,000.00 Euros)AH POOK IS HERE – Philip Hunt, Great Britain/Germany
GERMAN VOICE ACTOR AWARDAWARD FOR THE BEST VOICE ACTOR IN AN ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: (2,500.00 Euros)Oliver Kalkhofe – B.O.B. in MONSTERS vs. ALIENS, USA
CRAZY HORSE SESSION 48 HOUR 3D JAMBEETLE AND CHEVAL, Denmark
Nancy Denney-Phelps has produced music for animation for the past 15 years. She has written about animation and animation festivals for such publications as Animation World Magazine, 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. Nancy writes extensively about animation on her blog, http://sprockets.animationblogspot.com/