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Caleb Wood Shares the Joy of GEORAMA 2016

Animation junkie and director of experimental gems ‘Bird Shit’ and ‘Totem’ explores the music-rich Japanese festival’s second edition.

February 2016 marks the second edition of GEORAMA, a non-traditional animation festival taking place in Tokyo, Japan, the brainchild of festival director Nobuaki Doi. As Nobuaki phrased it, “The aim of GEORAMA festival is to bring the best that contemporary animation has to offer to a broader community in Tokyo, and to shatter the bubble of the tightly wound animation community that is often difficult to infiltrate or to incorporate.” By curating a different style of events, a focus on collaborations between multiple artistic mediums opens up the gates of the festival to a wider audience that just animation fans.

There is no jury, no awards, no long ceremonies. GEORAMA is a breath of fresh air in the festival world, focusing purely on exposing audiences to work that pushes the boundaries of what animation is, and exploring how it can be communicated to an audience.

Half of the festival focused on exposing the work of international animators to Japanese audiences. The invited guests included Bruce Bickford, David OReilly, Don Hertzfeldt, and myself. The other half promoted independent animators inside japan, including collective Anime Sakka Zakka, Masanobu Hiraoka, and Ryo Hirano to name a few.

Over the first few days, all international guests were invited to talk on a widely known and yet underground online broadcasting channel called DOMMUNE. It’s a show that can only be viewed during live broadcasts, which are scheduled beforehand so viewers know when to tune in. Nothing is recorded though, so it has a unique energy every night. Bruce, David, Don and I all talked about a variety of things for the show. Bruce talked about having brains in his fingers. David and Don talked about their upcoming marriage. I don't really remember what I spoke about, but I do remember getting called an “animation junkie.” It was an amazing recording space as well, a full on moodily lit functioning bar, next to a recessed stage.

Don Hertzfeldt is becoming a notorious worldwide as animation film director, and he was proudly presented by GEORAMA as the festival's kick off event. World of Tomorrow sold out the screening venue well before the actual event took place. The man is a celebrity, in the best way. He even looks like Johnny Depp, seriously. He's also really damn good at Karaoke, and broke my heart by singing some Roy Orbison. When I think back on it, I think watching his film Rejected was my first experience watching independent animation from the U.S. The quotes from that film are ingrained inside me, and its unconventional approach at creating animated films left a mark on me just as I was learning to animate. I was delighted to meet the man on his first trip to Tokyo. It is strange though to hear his voice in real life, after having seen so many of his self-narrated films. It felt like I was being put into one of his stories, with the absurd setting of Tokyo as the backdrop. Calming and unsettling, at the same time.

David OReilly's work was next in the lineup, first as a solo commercial presentation which focused on career-based decision making and navigation of the new age title of being an animation director.

The second presentation was part of a screening duet with both David and Don's work, as well as a kawaii buddy “How You Get There” talk afterwards. I got the chance to get to know David much better on this trip. The man is a gentle genius with a grin. I'm very excited about the current trajectory of his creativity, as we all should be. He continues to push the limits of his abilities without showing any fear, and is consecutively raising the bar for us all. We had a blast running around Tokyo for over a week. It was bittersweet to see him head back before me -- I’d lost my buddy bakka gaijin (stupid foreigner) to walk the streets with.

Bruce Bickford's work exhibited in four different venues. The festival actually shipped a portion of Bruce's clay sculptures from his south Seattle garage to Tokyo. They were set up on the top floor of a boutique shop called VACANT off the main Harajuku Street.

He did a few Q&A's up there, and even did some sculpting throughout a day when the gallery was open. GEORAMA bought him one of those mini-trampolines, so I think I was feeling pretty good about it. After the events at VACANT were over, we packed up his work and sent it off to a very nice gallery called Yamamoto Gendai. It was there that Bruce's work was most elegantly presented, with one of a kind set pieces from his films on sale for museum archiving.

The other two events called Channeling with Mr. Bickford, curated by Naohiro Ukawa, the guy behind DOMMUNE, had live musical performances by legendary Japanese musicians accompanying Bruce’s film screenings. I attended the second night of the event, and the line-up was great: from the legendary figures EYE (BOREDOMES), Shintaro Sakamoto, Keigo Oyamada (Cornelius) and Yuko Ohno (Buffalo Daughter) to the uprising talent Shugo Tokumaru. Even if I wasn't completely familiar with who the artists were, I was definitely exposed to some wonderful musicians. It was intense, hot, and we were packed like sardines -- but it was beautiful. I have a theory that you could play anything with Bruce's films and it would end up screening pretty well. His work has a quality of chaos that can bounce off of anything and land like a cat. The performances were outstanding, and they set a new record for the most intense and energetic animation screening I’ve ever seen. Chihiro Tanikawa, co-producer of GEORAMA, was working hard to put everything together for the night. His experience managing artists in a wide variety of disciplines and mediums guided the festival to a successful series of excellent events.

Over 950 people packed into a venue called LIQUIDROOM in Ebisu, and the sound waves got out of control, truly bringing new life into films I’ve seen countless times. By connecting the music scene with animation, the live music screenings attendance was shatteringly brilliant, roping in a larger audience than animation could ever bring in on its own.

It should be a standard practice for animation festivals to host live concerts, mandatory even. I don't even want to go to a festival unless there's going to be some crazy insane live element to it, because what's the point? Once you've seen something like what GEORAMA accomplished, everything else seems pretty fucking boring. Bruce has always been an enigmatic character, often hard to perceive in the flesh, but his work exists on a level frequently referred to as legendary. GEORAMA showcased him in the best form I’ve seen yet, in that way where you feel your hair stand on end, with electricity roaming across your scalp and down your spine.

GEORAMA also included a joint screening of Japanese animator collective ANIME SAKKA ZAKKA, and online animation collective Late Night Work Club. To be honest, watching the first edition of Late Night Work Club is pretty agonizing for me (I’ve seen it so many times), so I only stayed to watch ANIME SAKKA ZAKKA's line-up. It was beautiful, made me tear up, made me feel like I had a heart still beating in my chest. Then I realized, ANIME SAKKA ZAKKA is a collective of entirely women film directors. That made me think, Ghost Stories from LNWC might be so dry, harsh, cold, because out of all the directors from the first release only two were women. I applaud ANIME SAKKA ZAKKA for their beautiful work, and look forward to seeing more of their films in the online and festival circuits.

I was a late edition to the festival's line up. I snuck my way in by asking Nobuaki if I could come during the New Chitose Airport Animation Festival in 2015. We were both drunk, so he said yes, on a couple of conditions. I would create some live animation during the fest, write a report, and do a live animation battle with the incredibly talented Masanobu Hiraoka. The installation was quite fun to make. I attempted to make a looping piece of animation using 12 separate paintings. Each one would be a single frame in the animation. It ended up working well enough, and I sold them all for about $15, each out of love.

Masanobu Hiraoka’s work and recognition has rapidly been growing in popularity in the west as his involvement with networks such as Adult Swim continues to rise. If you check out just a few of the best animations on Vimeo, you’re bound to view one of his superb films. I've been watching him for a few years, and have always been impressed by his diligence in technique and expressive movements. We've both created work with kinetic similarities, so before the festival started we decided to have a live animation battle during our double retrospective screening. The result was extremely satisfying, very related to call and response forms of dance, and became a natural beginning to a new collaborative film between us. I'm extremely appreciative that this collaboration was born out of GEORAMA, and look forward to sharing its results in the near future.

The most outrageous tradition of Nobuaki Doi's events, is without a doubt, the “Metamorphosis Animation All Night Screening.” Basically, he curates a screening that lasts from midnight until around 6 am, whenever the trains start running again in the morning. His long-time friend Kei Oyama paints an amazing poster for each event, and they promote through Facebook, Twitter, etc.

On the night of the screening, everyone fills into the theatre and watches experimental animation until dawn. This is no easy feat, especially when you are already tired as hell from working whatever insane hours your job already demands (Referring to Japanese work ethic). This year's screening was particularly memorable, with Son of White Mare by Marcell Jankovics screening, which is one of my favorite animated features. Along with super vibrant and sexually aggressive work by Sawako Kabuki, Don't Hug Me I'm Scared by Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling, and a beautifully animated old archival Japanese short Abandoned Cat Tora-chan. In addition to a multitude of strange and bizarre short films, the ending note of the screening was by far the most challenging film watching experience of my life, a film called ∑ 3000. I don't even know where Nobuaki found this film, the kind you hate and love simultaneously. Put on top some extreme fatigue, and you get a unique viewer experience full of rage, hate, disbelief, hysteria, exhaustion, etc. I remember looking around the theatre wondering who was watching -- pretty much everyone had fallen asleep except about 20% of the audience, who's eyes were struggling to keep up with the absurd attacks from the screen. My mouth was open, scoffing myself to death, in pure disbelief.

All in all, GEORAMA was one of the best festival experiences for me. It was a great pleasure to be invited to come and participate as a guest. I had so many unique experiences that are not really pertinent to this article, but as Bruce Bickford would say, “It's just that... I’ve got this story file at home, and it’s FULL of stories!” Great food, karaoke, friends, animation, Tokyo, Nobuaki Doi, Chihiro Tanikawa, Bruce Bickford, David OReilly, Don Hertzfeldt, The festival's staff and volunteers, the musicians and managers, the audiences. Everything was excellent, on every level.


Caleb Wood's picture

Caleb Wood is an experimental animator whose work highlights a passionate sense of visual design and wide ranging use of techniques.