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Fantoche: Switzerland's Experiment - A Critical Review

Thomas Basgier reports on the second annual Fantoche Festival in Baden, Switzerland, a festival which prides itself on screening the best in experimental and alternative animation.

There is a difference between the theory of a festival and the practice. Fantoche, which took place for the second time from September 9-14 in a small Swiss town called Baden not far from Zurich, is a good example of that. The intention was to be different from other festivals, to focus on the innovations in the field of animation, reduce the competition's attraction and present programs with unusual subject matter in order to establish new connections...

Thomas Basgier, oTTo Alder and Ron Diamond. © 1997 Animation World Network.

Innovation...A Definition

But, in fact, "innovation" means all and nothing. To realize such a goal seems to be rather easy for the organizers of Fantoche: you only have to avoid established names and incorporate mostly student films. That's the simple reason why, for example, Phil Mulloy's new film The Chain was not in competition. He is already too famous which is a strange way to program a festival.

As at every festival, the competition programs were, of course, the most attractive screenings to attend. The concept of some of the other programs were quite old fashioned ("Best of the World") or not very clear in presenting termini which are already established in film science. For example, during Fantoche we received a completely new impression about everything that we knew as "psychedelic film."

Polish animators Jerzy Kucia (left) and Piotr Dumala. © 1997 Animation World Network. Don't miss our interview with these two filmmakers in an upcoming issue of Animation World Magazine.

The Good and The Bad

It is true. There is a difference between the theory of a festival and the practice but that doesn't mean that Fantoche has no qualities of merit. The atmosphere was quite nice and intimate and the competition presented, despite all of the high demands about non-defined innovation, many convincing and original films. In fact, it was in general a much better competition than that of the last Annecy Festival. The retrospectives were also of a very high standard. Jerzy Kucia, Piotr Dumala, Oksana Cherkassowa and Vera Neubauer were all honored. The festival was also a good starting point to discuss the connection between animation and the Internet and the possibilities it presents for filmmakers as both a medium of art and for distribution, financing, etc.

On the other hand, the organizers should take more care about the projection, which is really the heart of a festival. The equation is quite simple: bad projection = bad festival. The organizers should also think about moving the festival to Zurich. There, they can expect a larger and more interested audience. Baden is really a contemplative place but after 10:00 PM it is as lively as a cemetery.

Marjut Rimminin (left) and Clare Kitson celebrate their win. © 1997 Animation World Network.


At the end of the Festival we also had a contemplative, little scandal. The jury, consisting of Nag Ansorge, Oksana Cherkassowa and Jayne Pilling, couldn't come to an agreement about the prize for Best First Film. The final result in this case was, indeed, quite unsatisfactory. Two films had been discussed in the last round: Walentin Olschwang´s Pink Doll and Grandmother by Andrei Zolotuchin. Russia against Russia. The prize went to Grandmother which is definitely the weaker film. Pink Doll is a great animated nightmare about a little girl who projects her aggressions against her mother's lover on her new, pink doll. The doll starts to fulfill all of her fantasies - until the bitter end. The question is, do we see only fantasies or do the fantasies become reality? A dark subject in dark colors. Oksana Cherkassowa was so angry about this (wrong) decision that she didn't attend the awards ceremony.

Fantoche organizer Frank Braun (left) and Swiss animator Robi Engler. © 1997 Animation World Network.

However, no doubt about it, the best film of the competition won the first prize. Many Happy Returns by Marjut Rimminen, a Channel Four production, is a combination of puppet and live-action elements. The subject is rather delicate: child abuse (remember Marjut Rimminen´s former film The Stain). There is not only emotional perplexity, but also a lot of strong images. The film is wonderful and very suggestively composed. It is like a kick in the kidneys. It was worth the visit to Fantoche to watch this film. In two years we will attend Fantoche again, hoping to see an improved festival with less theory and more practice, and to discover yet another masterpiece. One masterpiece is even more than you can expect...

For a full list of Fantoche's winners, please see below.

Thomas Basgier is the European representative for Animation World Network. He has a strong background in animation as well as communications and multimedia. For more than ten years, he has organized programs for international festivals, and published numerous articles on the subject of animation. From 1987 to 1992, he organized and programmed one of the premiere European animation festivals, the International Animation Film Festival of Stuttgart. He also specializes in the conception and realization of multimedia and Internet projects. He is currently working on such projects with one of the biggest communication agencies in southwest Germany.

Many Happy Returns by Marjut Rimminen. © Channel Four Television.

The international jury of Fantoche was comprised of Jayne Pilling (U.K.), Oksana Cherkassowa (Russia) and Nag Ansorge (Switzerland). Out of 49 films in competition, they selected the following prize-winners:

  • First Prize (5,000 Swiss francs): Many Happy Returns by Marjut Rimminen (United Kingdom). Jury comments: "This film is a moving narrative with an intelligent use of the evocative potential of modern cinema."
  • Second Prize (3,000 Swiss francs): How Wings Are Attached to the Backs of Angels by Craig Welch (Canada). Jury comments: "The highly rational construction of this film creates a surrealist atmosphere which is very impressive. With this the film demonstrates that human nature cannot be manipulated by technical wizardry."
  • Best First Film (5,000 Swiss francs): Grandmother by Andrei Zolotuchin (Russia). Jury comments: "For its graphic qualities and its simple and sincere narrative."
  • Honorable Mentions: Un Jour by Marie Paccou (France), and Lost Momentum by Scott Sona Snibbe (U.S.). Jury comments: Two films which each match visual inventiveness to original ideas."
  • Public's Choice Prize (3,000 Swiss francs): The Grande Migration by Youri Tscherenkov (France).