By Nancy Phelps
This year the sun was shining down brightly on the Trickfilm Festival in Stuttgart in more than one way. Outside, the sky was a beautiful blue and in the screening rooms the films were as brilliant as the sun.
While the competition programs were strong and the feature films in competition offered some interesting surprises, and the highlight of the festival for me this year was the large number of special presentation screenings.
Five programs of African animation covered everything from an overview of current African animation to Revolutionary Films from Egypt and the Middle East. Revered Nigerian animation pioneer Moustapha Alassane introduced a retrospective of his work, which covers five decades. Known as the father of African animation, Moustapha uses animation to make people aware of his continent’s culture and to address its problems in a satirical way. FVVA: Femme, Voiture, Villa, Agent, his first feature (1972) is a satirical attack on Africa’s Nouveau Riche and their greed. Mr. Alassane was also a juror for the International Competition.
The timeliest program was Revolutionary Films from the Middle East. Dr. Mohamed Ghazala, director of ASIFA Egypt, asked African film makers to submit short animations dealing with the current political situation in North Africa and the Arab region. The films offered the audience a rare firsthand view of the political turmoil from people who are living through it.
The screening was followed by a discussion with four young students from the Middle East who have, although currently living in Europe, been directly affected by the current political situation in the Middle East. It is still not easy or safe for young people from countries such as Syria to speak openly since they all have family and friends still living back home. As one panelist said “My country has a very long arm.”
Unfortunately the programs were held in Ludwigsburg, a twenty minute shuttle ride from the main festival. I am afraid that even though the festival provided a shuttle bus back and forth between each screening many festival goers who would have liked to attend these programs didn’t go because they didn’t realize that they could see one screening and not have to spend the entire evening in Ludwigsburg. It’s too bad because they missed out on a rare opportunity to see a vast overview of African animation.
A beautiful new restored print of The Adventures of Prince Achmed was screened in the Musikhalle in Ludwigsburg to a packed house of primarily local residents. Nik and I have seen Lotte Reiniger’s 1920 amazing silhouette feature film many times with a number of original live musical accompaniments. We thought that composer Renaud Garcia-Fons captured the true feeling of the film in a way that we have very seldom heard. French Double Bass Player Garcia-Fons and his five piece ensemble showed me the film in a beautiful new way. They received a much deserved standing ovation from the enthusiastic audience.
I have seen Barbel Neubauer’s works on DVD but not on a big screen, so her retrospective was a real treat . I was captivated and amazed by her latest film Fractal Cycles. The multi-talented Austrian artist combines abstract avant-garde with new technology, plus she composes and performs her own music for her films. In 1998 Barbel received the Annecy Music Award for the music she created for her film Feuerhaus.
Barbel , who was also on the International Jury, described Fractal Cycles as “a journey through particles, fractal objects, and systems. The color of the sound/music changes according to the imagery”. See her work on her website:
This year Trickflm spotlighted Swiss animation with a number of programs focusing on the thriving Swiss animation scene. Isabelle Favez, one of Switzerland’s most talented young animators, represented her country on the International Jury and presented a retrospective of her work from her first student film in 1993 to a glimpse at her current project Au coeur de l’ hiver (At the Heart of Winter). Other Swiss Tricks programs highlighted independent animators, prominent studios and the renowned Hochschule Luzern –Design and Kunst (Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts Animation Department). The Swiss Consul hosted a reception at Café Schloßblick, the festival café.
No matter how many times I watch the films of Norman McLaren they always seem fresh. As part of the Visual Music Series fourteen of McLaren’s tests and finished films were put together to illustrate his research into what he called “animated sound”. He composed experimental music for his films by drawing directly onto the sound track area of the film or by photographing sound wave patterns onto that area. He was indeed a pioneer in the marriage of film and sound.
Cindy Keefer, curator at the Center for Visual Music presented two programs of abstract animation by the amazing Oskar Fischinger. Many of German born Fischinger’s films are tightly synchronized to music, so Keefer’s first program was devoted to his “Classics of Visual Music”. The second program featured rarely screened works such as early experiments and tests, his Berlin home movies, and advertisements.
The Center for Visual Music is a Los Angeles, California based non-profit archive dedicated to visual music, experimental animation, and avant-garde media. Visit their website to see a list of their archived work. Some of it can be seen on line at:
There was a four part retrospective which paid tribute to the East German stop motion puppet animator Kurt Weiler in honor of his 90th birthday. His fanciful films, spanning from 1963 to 1985, combine subtle humor and plays on words with thinly disguised social humor. Andre Eckardt of the German Institute for Animated Film describes says Weiler “does not show real things, but the reality of things” which I think sums up the films perfectly. It was a great opportunity to see a large collection of work by one of the true masters of puppet animation.
For those who like their animation with a twist of the macabre, Night of the Living Dead fit the bill. The cult night provided an insight into three of the most sinister and successful Japanese anime features. Akira Nishimari’s Zombie Loan (2007) pits two doomed zombie hunters against the living dead. Dance in the Vampire Bund (Akiyuki Shimbo, 2010) enters the world of Vampires whose Queen agrees to cover the National debt on condition that the government approves the construction of a vampire resort. Last but not least the audience was treated to High School of the Dead, Tetsuro Araki’s 2010 tale of a zombie outbreak at a high school. All great fun!
Last year, the animated architecture program was such a success that a new edition was presented . Animated digital visualization has become the tool of choice for architects to render both actual building projects and futuristic visions. The digital videos presented in the program all use video, music, or graphics including music videos and games that are not traditionally connected with architects. It’s fascinating to see animation which is generally thought of as entertainment taken to a totally different dimension.
THE INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION
Along with all of the wonderful special programs the International Competition also provided many wonderful and sometimes off-beat surprises. Birdboy, directed by Pedro Rivero is based on Psiconautas, a graphic comicbook written by Alberto Vazquez. The twelve minute is a sardonic cautionary tale from Spain. Little Dinki starts off to school when a terrible industrial accident changes the lives of the people who live on Dinki’s island home forever. Now Dinki’s destiny lies in the wings of her eccentric friend Birdboy, a misfit who lives alone with his fantasies in the Dead Forest. Whether you like the film or not (I personally can’t imagine anyone not liking it) you won’t soon forget it.
Joachim Kuhn, noted German painter and animator, blurs the line between painting and moving image in his evocative Sunday 2, the second film in his Sunday Outings series. His new film follows the last performance of the Krause Theatre which is about to close. The film left me deeply disturbed with many unanswered questions. Was it a descent into dementia, a dream, or were the main characters, a mother and son, using the destruction of the theatre as a metaphor for their own changing lives. At the directors’ chat we had a very lively conversation with Kuhn which made in clear that his intent is to make everyone see what they see in the film rather than to interpret the characters for us. I am very anxious to watch Sunday 2 again.
I am a big fan of animated documentaries and the Australian duo of Wendy Chandler and Susan Danta made perfect use of the art form in Heirlooms. Ten complex personal stories, each told in one minute, artfully explores the internal landscapes of people’s heritage, what it means to be a citizen of Australia and a citizen of the world. The personal stories of men and women from diverse cultural backgrounds were inspired by cherished heirlooms and the universal tradition of passing down a family keepsake no matter how small or valuable.
Also from down under, New Zealander Alan Dickson’s debut film Preferably Blue presents a side of the Easter Bunny and Santa that our parents never told us about. Dickson’s hilarious film tells the tale of a hard drinking, anti-depressant popping, bitter Easter Bunny and how he manages to stop drinking and find peace and a new friend. We also get to meet the real Santa, not some shopping mall imitation. Santa turns out to be a pretty nice guy, just lonely. I am still laughing whenever I think of this film.
In a totally different vein German directors Martin Wallner and Stefan Leuchtenberg’s moving A Lost and Found Box of Human Sensation explores the question “Is there a due date for grief to end?” When his father dies unexpectedly, a young man trying to cope with his grief takes us with him on a powerful emotional journey through time and space. The film begins with the funeral and shows how feelings change throughout the years. We all have to deal with the loss of loved ones in our life and the film stirs up feelings that may have been hiding deep down inside of the viewer.
One of my favorite films in competition was The Boy Who Wanted to Be a Lion. Alois Di Leo’s beautifully hand drawn and paper cut out film is the story of a seven year old boy growing up in the 1960’s. He lives with a severe hearing loss which makes him feel isolated from his family and school mates. On a school field trip to the zoo he sees a lion for the first time and his life changes forever. Di Leo uses muted gold, yellow and brown tones of cut out paper along with the drawings to give the film texture and depth. Although this was Alois’ graduation film, it was competing in the International Competition because it was nominated for the Lotte Reiniger Promotion Award for Best Graduation Film. At the award ceremony we found out that the film won the award which is accompanied by €10,000 to help with the production of the first professional film. A complete list of all award winning films is at the end of the article.
I always look forward to the daily Directors’ Chats which give everyone a chance to meet the directors of the previous day’s films. Moderator Anna Henckel –Donnersmarch did an outstanding job asking probing questions and drawing out the quietest animators to talk about their work. She also encouraged the audience to ask questions and join in the discussion. I always appreciate it when a festival provides the chats because listening to film makers tell their own personal stories about creating their works always gives me new insights into the films.
The four Tricks For Kids programs were programmed full of films that even the youngest festival goers could enjoy while the Young Animators screenings were intended for older older children. I watched film programs in both categories and there was a great variety of work that the entire family could enjoy.
There were so many workshops that if you went to all of them you would never get to see any film. Bill Plympton’s workshop drew a very enthusiastic audience. Bill is a big favorite in Europe and his workshops and films always have big crowds. Bill is very generous with his time for his fans and after each workshop he will draw a personalized picture for the patiently waiting audience.
Ron Diamond was joined by several former short animation Academy Award winning and nominated directors who shared secrets at his How to Get an Oscar presentation. Ron explained the submission rules and pitfalls that have caused some films to be disqualified. The directors talked about their Oscar experiences and the impact the Academy Awards had on their life.
Although I didn’t have time to be at most of the workshops, I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw of Animator and Editor – Worlds Apart? Author/director Andreas Hykade and editor/SWR Benjamin Manns spent the first half of their session explaining the steps involved in creating screenplays for their hugely popular German children’s television series Tom and the Slice of Bread with Strawberry Jam and Honey as the example.
In the second half of the workshop the participants wrote their own Tom screenplays, putting into practice the principles they had learned. I saw several of the presentations which were really clever and original, keeping to the feeling of the Tom series. Andreas and Benjamin critiqued each presentation and they both looked like they were having a great time listening to the ideas. Who knows, maybe some of the story lines will show up in the new season of Tom.
Thomas Meyer-Herman, producer of Tom, told me that this will be the last season of this long running show. Everyone involved in the project is ready to move on to new projects. Whatever the multi-talent crew at Stuttgart‘s Studio Film Builder moves on to next it is sure to be an exciting project.
The Crazy Horse 48 Hour Jam is always a very intense event. The live animation competition pits six international two-person teams against each other to create a short film in 48 hours using the festival mascot, Trixie, a gaily multi-colored horse in a short film of 30 seconds to two minutes in length. The festival provides the animators with source codes for various types of animation software and then they are on their own. Festival goers could visit the competition site anytime during the marathon to watch the teams hard at work. Dane Winn and Constantinos Mavromic Halis won the competition with their one minute 45 second film Layered. You can see all of the creations as well as festival pictures and a daily movie of festival events at the Trickfilm Festival website:
For the past several years the festival has worked closely with FMX, the Conference on Animation, Effects, Games, and Interactive Media. FMX which is held concurrently with the festival, 3 through 6 May, at a location near the festival site, attracts large numbers of industry professionals from around the world and is Nirvana for any technophile.
The four day conference featured numerous major guest speakers along with booths presenting the latest in industry technology. The afternoon that I visited the conference the multi-floored conference center was packed with people listening to lectures and trying out the state of the art technology. You can check out all of their activities at:
It’s no coincidence that FMX is held in Stuttgart. The city is one of the most prominent animation and visual effects productions center in Germany. In conjunction with FMX the Festival host Animation Production Day (3 and 4 May), a business platform for the international animation industry. Seventeen animation projects from eight countries were chosen for one on one meetings with forty-six participating companies. They met with producers, world sales companies, banks, and equity investors to discuss new financing channels and possible production options.
This year the Festival’s open air screenings were extended to the daylight hours thanks to a huge new LED screen that was bright enough to show films with brilliant clarity even in the mid-day sun. From 12 noon until after midnight, short and feature animated films were screened to a large audience.
With 170 films in the competitions plus another 800 films screened in special programs and over €61,000 in prize money, Trickfilm Festival has become a major international event. Even though it is becoming a large festival with an audience attendance of over 50,000, Stuttgart manages to retain the very personal feeling of a smaller festival making every one of the 2,000 accredited guests feel welcome and special. I want to extend special thank-you’s to Andrea Bauer, head of Program Management and Guest Coordinator Philipp Hartman along with the entire Trickfilm Festival staff for their warm, generous hospitality.
The six days of good film and fun parties slipped by much too fast. All too soon it was time for the Award Ceremony and Closing Night Party. It’s always fun to try to second guess the jury and pick your own list of favorites. On my way to my seat for the ceremonyImet Tono Errando, who along with Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal directed the outstanding feature Chico & Rita. None of the three had been at the festival all week and when Tono told me he had just flown in that afternoon I knew that Chico and Rita had added another Best Feature Film Award to their growing list of festival wins.
The beer and wine flowed at the closing night party along with the good conversation. I never say goodbye to Stuttgart, just see you next year and I am already looking forward to another six wonderful festival days in 2012.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF ITFS/Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film
AWARDS 2011INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION: