It’s not easy to organize a festival, let alone start one. Helping put together the OIAF for the last 26 years has been no cake walk (what exactly is a cake walk?), but we had the advantage of inheriting an already firmly established (albeit administratively fucked up) event. During those years I’ve also seen festivals come and go, particularly in the U.S.A. They’ve tried it in New York, Hollywood, Pasadena, Portland, Chicago, etc.… and it’s never really worked out. That’s a shame because with so many animation films being made, it’s never a bad thing to have more good festivals. Unfortunately, unlike many countries (including my own), the USA government has never been all that fond of supporting the arts. It’s pretty damn hard to maintain a festival, let alone get one going, without some steady state support (which is, ideally, balanced with private sponsorships). The bigger problem, though, was that most of these events just weren’t that good, helmed by folks who’d never been to an international animation festival in their life and whose idea of experimental animation was Ren and Stimpy. I mean, come on…regardless of your tastes (cartoons vs artsy-fartsy), you probably need to go to as many international animation festivals as you can, not just to get a sampling of the various works being made, but to get a feel for how organizations work, to meet audiences and filmmakers etc… It’s not really all that complicated - as Jeanette Bonds and her cohorts at the freshly squeezed GLAS animation festival discovered.
I just returned from the 2nd annual GLAS animation festival in Berkeley, California. It’s already the most interesting animation festival the U.S.A. has birthed. Despite a miniscule budget and rickity infrastructure, Bonds and team put together an inspired and challenging crop of screenings, discussions and installations. Inspired by festivals like HAFF, Fantoche and the OIAF, GLAS clearly prioritizes the indie side in their programming – with an emphasis on emerging talents, but also makes room for more interesting commercial orientated work (e.g. Brad Bird, Masaaki Yuasa). The festival has an intimate, casual, lo-fi feel. They don’t take themselves all that seriously and aren’t as rigid - though they are in need of some organizational tweaks - as some of the old school festivals , but they clearly take the animators and their work seriously – as they should.
I hope GLAS manages to do what other American animation festivals didn’t: survive. It’s what the American animation scene desperately needs…and well…Americans sure has hell need something positive and inspiring in their lives right about now.