By Nancy Phelps
Each year I wait with great anticipation for the International Trickfilm Festival of Animation and the 2013 20th anniversary edition did not disappoint me. As befits a milestone 20th anniversary special guests abounded. The venerable British master of puppet animation, Barry Purves, presented 2 programs of his films, and a screen play workshop he titled “The Naked Animator”. Alas, Barry did not appear in the altogether but he did bare the naked truth and some harsh realities about a life devoted to puppet animation. Barry is such an entertaining speaker that I would go out of my way anytime to listen to him read the telephone book which I am sure would be most eloquent with numerous funny asides so the opportunity to hear him talk about what still drives and inspires him to continue to create after 35 years in the land of puppets was a rare treat.
Barry’s Gilbert and Sullivan is one of my favourite films and I was delighted to have the opportunity to see it on the big screen again. The only sad moments came when Barry lamented that his prints are sadly beginning to show the deterioration of age. Barry’s big wish was for someone very rich to come forward and pay to have his films restored before it is too late. I’m afraid that Barry’s beautiful films share the same fate with so many of our great films from the past as the colors fade. Organizations such as ASIFA Hollywood and Serge Bromberg’s Lobster Films in Paris are doing a great deal to restore and save classic films but sadly they can’t save everything.
The tireless Mr Purves also presented 2 programs of his favourite films. The programs Ball and Socket – Flesh and Blood and Shadows and Light featured some classic puppet animation films such as Jiri Trnka’s 1965 The Hand and the current festival super star Oh Willy.
Now that Serge Bromberg has stepped down as Artistic Director of the Annecy Animation Festival, he can devote his energy to film restoration and more time to a long standing love of his, performing live piano accompaniment to the extremely rare films which he has unearthed in cellars and attics. His latest edition of “Music and Animation: Retour de Flamme” includes such little know films as Symphonie Bizarre, Segundo de Chomon’s 1909 French film and some classic gem like Joie de vivre, the 1934 Hector Hoppin and Anthony Gross joyful romp through France. Unfortunately, the program took place several miles from Stuttgart in Ludwigsburg, so I had to miss it. The night of the performance was also Serge’s Birthday and several of us threw a celebration for him when he returned to the festival café.
I have known Saschka Unseld since he was a student and now, working at Pixar, he has directed his first short, The Blue Umbrella. The film is very different from the usual Pixar fare due to its photo realistic look. The closest I can come to describing the film is that it is an animated version of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg from the umbrella’s view point.
Following the screening, Saschka took us through the long process that takes place, from having the idea for story, to pitching it to John Lasseter and company, and finally through the production stage. He said that he got the idea for the film when he spotted a broken abandoned umbrella while walking down a rainy San Francisco street. We will all have another opportunity to see The Blue Umbrella in the theater because it will be the opening short screened before Pixar’s soon to be released Monsters University.
Bill Plympton’s workshops are always packed to overflowing. His master class Cheatin’, A Work in Progress gave his audience the rare opportunity to listen to Bill examine the process of making an independent animated feature film. Using his latest feature film Cheatin’ as his example he took the audience through the process of conception, writing, design, and finally selling the completed film.
David Silverman is a sure crowd-pleaser whether he is giving a Simpson’s master class or playing his tuba. Through the week, you could never tell when and where David and my husband Nik would turn up playing together, but it was a pretty safe bet that they would serenade the audience at the Simpson’s special.
Besides the live concert David took us behind the scenes of America’s favourite TV family which is celebrating its 26th year of production this year. He said that at the year’s end the team will have produced 559 episodes, which is close to a staggering 191 hours of material. I have no doubt that somewhere in the world an episode of the Simpson’s is on the TV 24 hours a day.
I always enjoy watching Russian animation and Natalia Lukinykh’s tribute to the anniversaries of 3 Russian studios was a treat. “The Great History of Russian Animation: One Year – Three Anniversaries” spotlighted the renowned puppet studio Soyuzmultfilm founded in 1953, Pilot Studio dating from 1988, and the school-studio SHAR which opened in 1993. Natalia’s program gave an overview of the impressive body of work the 3 studios have created.
It was a rare treat to see 2 of my favourite films on the big screen. Mitten by Roman Kachanov (Soyuzmultfilm, 1967) is a sweet story of a little girl who desperately wants a puppy despite her mother’s objections. Caution, the Doors Are Opening by Anastasia Zuravljeva made at School Studio SHAR in 2005 shows us 24 hours in the Moscow underground depicted with buttons, safety pins, and other sewing material. It is a delightfully clever film.
The 5 International Short Film Competition programs are the centerpiece of the festival. Once again this year festival co-directors Dittmar Lumpp and Ulrich Wegenast created a festive opening night gala, interspersing the welcoming speeches from dignitaries between screenings of the first Competition film program. As befits a 20th Anniversary celebration, Winfried Kretschmann, Minister President of the German State of Baden-Wurttemberg, Lord Mayor of the City of Stuttgart Fritz Kuhn and Malte Dringenberg , head of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Press Team delivered congratulations and praise of the festival. The FMX team members also added their praise of the strong co-operation that has developed between the festival and FMX. The 8 films that were shown during the opening covered a broad spectrum of styles and stories which gave the official guests the opportunity to see that animation is much more than just entertainment for children.
Miniyamba and Because I’m a Girl both deal with poverty and oppression. Because I Am a Girl presents a vivid picture of the reality that 1 in 3 girls around the world are denied an education due to poverty, war, or cultural discrimination. British film makers Raj Yagnik, Shona Hamilton, and Mary Matheson used over 2000 still photographs of 15 children in a Malawian village that they took over a 2 week period to create their pixelated depiction of how education can give girls a chance to move from poverty to opportunities for a better life. Because I Am a Girl is also the name of an international organization that commissioned the work. They strive to provide education to every girl worldwide.
Raj, the producer/director told me that he is usually a documentary film maker and that this was his first venture into animation. Sitting in the festival café talking to Raj it was chilling to realize that a few days after I met him in Stuttgart he would be leaving for Pakistan where he will be filming a documentary for the BBC in the same area where aid workers were recently killed.
French animator Luc Perez used charcoal drawings, tempera, sand and ceramics in Miniyamba (Walking Blues) to give a soft feeling to a very harsh reality. Thousands of people around the world leave their homeland every day to try to reach what they believe is a better life in Europe. The film follows Abdu, a young Malian, on his trek to reach “the promised land”. When he finally reaches the barbed wire at the Niger River Abdu can see the lights of the West but must face the harsh reality that there is no place for him there.
The film is music driven and Miniyamba is the name of a mythical boa constrictor that encircles a village where people cannot leave. A woman manages to charm the snake by promising to return to tell him about the world. According to Perez this story in various forms has become a song that every West African knows and symbolizes a Europe that prefers to build gates and fences rather than embracing the world.
Sonntage 3 (Sunday 3) is the 3rd part of Jocken Kuhn’s trilogy about Sunday outings. I saw the 2nd part a few years ago in Stuttgart and was intrigued by the animator’s very individual style. A painter by training, most of his animations are painted directly under the camera and then animated after with the addition of manipulated photographs. In Sunday 3 the protagonist has a blind date with German Chancellor Andrea Merkel. I was so involved in the visual impact of the film that I really missed a lot of the story. I look forward to seeing the film again so I can get the tongue in cheek irony that I think that I missed.
Oh Willy is familiar to most of us but it was a perfect addition to this program. I have seen the film many times, but it is so visually rich that I discover new touches with each viewing. This time I was fascinated by the way the tree bark breathed with a life of its own which I had never noticed before. Tram, Michaela Pavaltova’s celebration of female sexuality was the perfect finale to the opening night program.
After such a strong opening I wondered if the next four programs could keep up the momentum. There was nothing to worry about. I can’t possibly write about all the noteworthy films but I will spotlight a few of my favorites.
A new Estonian film is always exciting for me and Priit Tender’s Ussinuumaja (The Maggot Feeder) certainly met my expectations. The film is based on an ancient Chukchi folk tale in a book of native stories which have traditionally been passed down orally. The book has never been translated into any language except Estonian. The tale of a seal hunter who plans to throw his barren wife into a well he has built and filled with maggots is full of creepy animated creatures. My favourite is an eerie spider with a human face and multiple pairs of eyes up her high forehead.
As visually fascinating as the surreal imagery is, Priit’s tale of his trek to visit the land of the Chukchi is even more bizarre. The Chukchi people are one of the largest indigenous native groups to come from the coastal region ranging from Siberia to the Bering Strait (Kruprik). Priit and a friend undertook an arduous overland trip, traveling much of the way over the snow in an old army tank because there are no roads anywhere near the village he went to. He told me that he plans to turn the live footage he shot into a documentary about his visit to this remote region and the people who inhabit it. His stories about the people, their culture and traditions which are dying out are sure to make a very interesting film.
A new film by Theodore Ushev is always something that I look forward to. His Gloria Victoria was a visual treat in stereoscopic 3-D. It is the 3rd part of Theodore’s trilogy that began with Tower Bawher and Drux Flux. For Gloria Victoria he has edited individual drawings to form an almost overpowering deconstruction of good and evil to condemn wars against humanity, greed, and the metamorphosis of men into beasts. The entire visual effect is heightened by the music of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony # 7. Usually I find 3-D unnecessary and bothersome but I was so absorbed by the powerful images that I completely forgot about the 3-D until the very ending of the film when the images did leap out of the screen.
Thomas Stellmach’s latest film Virtuos Virtuell is as different from his 1977 Academy Award winning short Quest as can be imagined. Thomas and visual artist Maja Oschmann used hand crafted ink images created by such diverse methods as drawing, dropping ink onto paper and into water. The abstract images, inspired by the overture to Louis Spohr’s opera The Achymist, leaves viewers free to create their own story as they listen to the music. I’ve watched the film several times and I’ve discovered that what I see in the images changes as I listen to the opera overture depending entirely upon my mood.
The project was funded in part by the Louis Spohr Museum in Kassel, Germany. There, the storyboard drawings, layout images, original ink drawings and completed film sequences were exhibited from 30 May to 7 October 2012. Thomas told me that at the exhibition viewers could experience the wide range of emotions that music evokes in images by selecting various new compositions to listen to while looking at the images.
For the first time this year, the Tricks for Kids competition programs were held at the beautiful Mercedes-Benz Museum which is located far enough away from the main screening rooms that you had to take a festival shuttle bus to get there. Unfortunately I never did make it to any of these screenings because a trip to the museum took almost all afternoon. I understand that on the weekends the Mercedes-Benz theatre was packed to overflowing and families had to be turned away.
I missed seeing the Children’s Competitions, “Tricks for Kids”, which I always enjoy as well as the fun and energy of the children’s jury running in and out of the press room but obviously plenty of local residents and their children enjoyed the Mercedes-Benz theatre screenings and reaching young audiences is the first priority of these programs.
Two “Cartoons for Teens “ and a few “Tricks for Kids “ screenings were held in the downtown theatre. The highlight of these programs for me was the Best of Shaun the Sheep presentation. I am a big fan of Aardman Animation Studio’s Shaun and try never to miss the adventures of the dim witted farmer, his ever vigilant dog Bitzer, the evil pigs, and of course Shaun and the rest of the flock and try never to miss it on BBC.
Along with several episodes of the show we were treated to a special Making of Shaun the Sheep documentary. It was a rare opportunity for a behind the scenes look into the Bristol Studio where the small handcrafted figures are created and filmed. The highlight of the show was a personal appearance by Shaun himself, who danced on stage to the Shaun the Sheep theme song . The show was introduced by animators from Aardman who worked on the show and they revealed that a Shaun the Sheep feature film is in the works.
The festival spotlighted programs of animation from India, Africa and the Arab world. Anand Gurnani, co-founder and managing editor of Animation Express.com from Mumbai, India curated two programs as well as sitting on the AniMovie Jury. The first program of short Indian animation gave us an overview of what independent animators throughout India are doing. The second screening was billed as Truly Desi Tadka – A Blockbuster Spectrum of Indian Animation in a 3 Act Structure. Act 1 was a studio retrospective showing work from India’s iconic studios Eeksaurus, Animagic, and Vaibhav. Act 2 gave the audience a look at TV series and feature film promos of released and upcoming projects. The 3rd Act showed Raju & I an animation about children’s rights and the CGI/VFX film Mystic Evolution.
My friend Sekhar Mukherjee, head of the animation department at the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, India introduced a program of films by students at NID. The feature length Hey Krishna which traces the mythology of Krishna’s childhood also received its German premiere as part of the spotlight on India. After the programs there was a party with delicious Indian treats.
Solomon Maramba who lives and works in Zimbabwe was part of the Young Animation Jury. He also presented Across the Limpopo, a selection of shorts from animators across the Limpopo River that divides Zimbabwe and South Africa. Several very short pieces from South African animator Tim Mostert featured his popular TV character Speedy. The adventures of Speedy, his family, and his favourite football team are also read by over 6 million people a day in the South African newspaper Daily Sun. Most of Across the Limpopo content was for adult audiences.
The second program Jungle Beat was a series of 13 family friendly 5-minute episodes of the CGI animated series Jungle Beat. The series focuses on a variety of animals and the rather bizarre things that they encounter in everyday life.
Mohamed Beyoud, artistic director of the International Festival of Animated Film Meknes (FICAM) screened current animated films from the Arab world. Animation in the Arab World spotlighted films from Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Palestine. Many of the films were explicitly political covering such topics as oppression, war, and violence in the region.
A panel discussion on Animation, Media, and Politics in the Arab World led to an intense discussion of how cultural changes brought about by the Arab Spring have affected work and production conditions of artists and filmmakers. The panel - Mohamed Beyoud, Fadi Abdelnour, director of the Arab Film Festival in Berlin, and Anja Turkan, an independent social media expert also tackled the difficult topic of how do activists use animation and the media as an instrument of political communication and how crisis and change are reflected in animation and media.
A special 20th Anniversary Program was selected by 20 long-time friends of the festival. They selected their favourite film that was screened at past festivals. Each guest also wrote a short explanation of why they selected their favorite film. Selections ranged from Johannes Weiland’s The Little Boy and the Beast selected by programmer Iris Loos because it is “a film that continues to move me even after watching it several times . . .” to Bill Plympton’s 1990 25 Ways to Quit Smoking. Franziska Specht said she selected this film because “the mixture of the grotesque and delicate drawings still has a particular attraction even two decades later”.
Along with the myriad of screenings, workshops, and school presentations there were numerous special events aimed at professionals. The 2 day Animation Production Day co-hosted by the festival and FMX offered an opportunity for producers to meet one on one with distributors, investors, and potential co-production partners to pitch their projects. 32 potential projects from 11 countries were selected for the 2013 APD event.
The German Animated Screen Play Award is for German animated feature film projects. In conjunction with the Screenplay Award 6 screen writing workshops were conducted by renowned animators and authors.
Once again the Animated Fashion Award promoted the link between young fashion designers and animators giving them an opportunity to develop new and innovative ways to present their products. The Animated Con Competition was open to professional animators who have created an ad for a noted ad agency or private client.
The Crazy Horse 48 Hour Jam is open to 2-person teams from around the world. Each team must develop a 30 second to 3 minute animation in just 48 hours using Trixie, the festival mascot, or the award statuette Trickstar. The teams are judged on their skill at storytelling, graphic design style, and ability to use animation software. The public was invited to look over the participants’ shoulders as they worked away. The annual 24 Hour Jam competition is open to students from International Film Schools, free-lance animators, and animation producers who are 30 years of age or younger.
The first few days of the festival, the sun shone down bight and warm. After a long, hard, cold winter the festival garden was the place to be. The incredibly massive LED screen sponsored by Mercedes-Benz was once again in the festival garden area. It was amazing to look at. Even in the brightest sunshine the films are as bright and crisp as if I were sitting in a dark theatre. The continuous free screenings of shorts all afternoon attracts festival participants and local residents who take a break in their busy day to relax on the grass and watch films.
After dark the big screen showed recent releases including Madagascar 3, Frankenweenie, and Pirates. The free screenings were designed as an outing for the entire family to picnic and enjoy a movie. They were packed on the warm Spring evenings. Even when the weather turned cool and rainy at the end of the week, people still braved the elements to watch the film from under their umbrellas.
Activity tents in the garden had projects for all ages to participate in. One afternoon you could create your own Shaun the Sheep under the watchful eye of experts from Aardman Studio, who were happy to give advice and help young model maker’s with their creations.
The busiest tent by far was the Tom & the Slice of Bread With Strawberry Jam and Honey area where fans of the popular long-running show could draw TOM pictures, solve TOM puzzles, play TOM games, sing TOM songs and immerse themselves in all things TOM. Young fans also had the opportunity to meet Andreas Hykade and get their own personalized drawing from the man who brings TOM to life.
For older festival goers the Game Zone tent delved into all aspects of the relationship between animation and games. Along with lectures and presentations by international experts there were hands-on workshops and laboratories as well as a chance to try out new on-line games.
This year there were over 80 thousand visitors to the festival and many screenings were sold out. One of the things that I enjoy most about the Trickfilm Festival is the feeling it has of a small, intimate event where I can see all of the guests at the festival café sometime during the week and still watch first class programs. Even with the large number of visitors this year the festival still kept the intimate feeling for guests. Festival Managing Director Dittmar Lumpp told me that the festival has grown as large as they want it to be and they will not actively look to expand it more.
All too soon, it was time for long-time MC Markus Brock to host the closing award ceremony. Usually speeches by politicians are very boring but the closing night words from Jurgen Walter, Secretary of State for Science, Research and Art were very encouraging. The Green Party minister talked about how important the arts are and that he and his party are committed to supporting them. He congratulated the Trickfilm Festival on 20 successful years and promised continued support of animation in the Baden-Wurttemberg area. Very welcome words from a politician when the arts seem to be suffering from terrible funding cuts and support world-wide.
The most touching part of the evening was when the International Jury, comprised of Daniel Kothenschulte, Frankfurt film and art critic, Romanian short animation producer Mihai Mitrica, French animator Marie Paccou, Puppet animator Barry Purves, and animation director Jakob Schuh of Germany took to the stage to announce their decisions. The honor of announcing the Grand Prix winner was given to Barry Purves. He announced the winner by saying that the award goes to a film that is a masterpiece – Oh Willy! This is high praise for the film from a man who is considered a master of puppet animation and has created several films that are considered classics. The closing night party was a joyous celebration of a wonderful week of film and friends.
As if 5 days packed full of screenings, workshops, and special events were not enough, the 2013 FMX Conference on Animation, Effects, Games, and TransMedia ran concurrently for 4 days. If there is one fault that I can find with the festival it is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to see and do everything.
I owe a big thank you to Senior Program Manager Andrea Bauer for inviting Nik and I to the festival again this year. Andrea is always so busy all week long dealing with an endless string of problems but she always found time to help me when I had a question. I have come to value her friendship very much. I also want to give a special thank you to Anne Jagemann who handled our accommodations as well as Nora Hieronymus in the press office. The festival has a wonderful group of tireless volunteers who manage to stay cheerful and helpful no matter how many hours they work.
This year the Trickfilm Festival has taken its place at the top of world class animation festivals and once again I can honestly say that if I could only attend one festival a year it would be the Trickfilm Festival. I am already looking forward to the 2014 edition.
15.000 Euro, sponsored by the State of Baden-Wuerttemberg and the City of Stuttgart
Belgium, France, The Netherlands 2011
Directors: Emma de Swaef, Marc James Roels
Lotte Reiniger Promotion Award for Animated Film
10.000 Euro, sponsored by MFG Film Funding Baden-Wuerttemberg
“KARA NO TAMAGO” (A Wind Egg)
Director: Ryo Okawara
Director: Yoriko Mizushiri
SWR AUDIENCE AWARD
The Netherlands 2012
Director: Hisko Hulsing
Award for the best student film
2.500 Euro, sponsored by Landesanstalt für Kommunikation Baden-Wuerttemberg (LfK) and MFG Film Funding Baden-Wuerttemberg
“EINE MURUL” (Breakfast on the Grass)
Directors: Erik Alunurm, Mari Pakkas, Mari Liis Rebane, Mihkel Reha
Director: Robert Löbel
Award for the best animated feature film
2.500 Euro, sponsored by RTL DISNEY Fernsehen GmbH & Co. KG, SUPER RTL
“ERNEST & CÉLESTINE”
France, Belgium, Luxembourg 2012
Directors: Benjamin Renner, Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar
TRICKS FOR KIDS
Award for the best children’s animated film
4.000 Euro, supported by Studio 100 Media GmbH
“SCHRECKEN OHNE ENDE” (Nearest and Dearest)
Directors: Michael Sieber, Max Stöhr
Director: Aleksandr Lenkin
TRICKS FOR KIDS
Award for the best animated series for children
“ROY: FOOT FAT FIT“
Director: Alan Shannon
CARTOONS FOR TEENS
Award for the best animated series, animes and cut scenes from computer games for youths
2.500 Euro, sponsored by Nippon Art GmbH and AV Visionen GmbH.
“DER NOTFALL” (Déjà-moo)
Director: Stefan Müller
“BØRNENES VERDEN” (The Children’s World)
Director: Paw Charlie Rawn
GERMAN SCREENPLAY AWARD
2.500 Euro, sponsored by Telepool GmbH
“MOLLY MONSTER – DER FILM“ by John Chambers
ANIMATED FASHION AWARD
2.000 Euro, sponsored by E. Breuninger GmbH
“FREITAG X-MAS MOVIES”
Directors: Claudia Röthlin, Yves Gutjahr
GERMAN VOICE ACTOR AWARD
RICK KAVANIAN, “Knight Rusty – Yesterday’s Hero Recycled“ (Knight Rusty)
Universum Film GmbH, Germany 2012
ANIMATED COM AWARD
Awards for the best applied animation in the fields of advertising, technology and spatial communication
Sponsored by Mackevision Medien Design GmbH, Animation Media Cluster Region Stuttgart, Daimler AG, U.I. Lapp GmbH
“THE REAL BEARS“
Director: Lucas Zanotto
2.500 Euro, sponsored by Mackevision Medien Design GmbH
“MTV EMA 2012 OPENER“
Director: Mate Steinforth, Commissioner: VIMN MTV World Design Studios
2.500 Euro, sponsored by Animation Media Cluster Region Stuttgart
“MASS EFFECT 3 – TAKE EARTH BACK”
Director: Istvan Zorkoczy, Commissioner: Electronic Arts/Bioware
Category Spatial Communication
“SWISS PAVILION EXPO YEOUSU: THE SOURCE - IT’S IN YOUR HANDS”
Director: Marc Tamschick, Commissioner: Präsenz Schweiz
Special Prize Mercedes-Benz Classic: Silver Arrows
2.500 Euro, sponsored by Daimler AG
“A RACERS SKETCHBOOK”
Director: Falk Schuster
Special Prize Lapp Connected Award
2.500 Euro, sponsored by U.I. Lapp GmbH
Director: Darko Vidackovic
48h Animation Jam – Crazy Horse Session
Antonio Jesús Busto Algarin, Martin Martínez Garcia (Spain)
In co-operation with M.A.R.K. 13, Landesanstalt für Kommunikation (LFK) and MFG Film Funding Baden-Wuerttemberg
ANIMATION CO-PRODUCTION FORUM Arab World (the countries of the Arab League) and the Caucasus region 2013 in cooperation with the Robert Bosch Stiftung
nominated for the Film Prize of the Robert Bosch Stiftung for International Cooperation
Sarah Kaskas and Michael Schwertel