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GLAS Animation Festival Brings the Spirit of Independent Animation to the West Coast

GLAS Animation director Jeanette Bonds discusses the evolution of the fledgling festival as it enters its third edition with a powerhouse lineup including special guests David OReilly, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Ruth Lingford, Réka Bucsi, Boris Labbé and more.

The GLAS Animation Festival kicks off its 2018 edition in Berkeley, CA on Thursday with a robust programming slate that includes four competition categories of outstanding independent short films from all around the world. Outside of the competition lineup, other festival highlights are a conversation with David OReilly, the creative mind behind last year’s mind-boggling Everything, along with special guests Phil Lord and Chris Miller, retrospective screenings of work from Ruth Lingford, Réka Bucsi and Boris Labbé, and a closer look at director Jorge Gutierrez’s VR short for Google Spotlight Stories, Son of Jaguar. GLAS 2018 will also include screenings of Japanese director Masaaki Yuasa’s two animated features from 2017, Lu Over the Wall and Night is Short, Walk on Girl, and will host what’s billed as an “incomplete introduction” to the Zagreb school of animated films.

New this year is the FXX Elevation Award, sponsored by FX Networks. This new award recognizes excellence in animated filmmaking and will honor a film in competition that embodies distinctive characters, bold storytelling and a singular point of view. The winning director will receive a $25,000 grant to develop an original animated project with FXX.

Leading up to the festival, which runs March 22-25, AWN had a chance to sit down with GLAS Animation Festival director Jeanette Bonds to discuss the evolution of the event, this year’s highlights, and --gasp! -- her personal short film picks for the just-concluded Academy Awards. Read the full Q&A, which has been edited for length and clarity, below:

AWN: GLAS has been called one of the most important international animation festivals to launch in the U.S. in recent years. Can you talk a little bit about what you think makes a festival important, and was that your intention going in?

Jeanette Bonds: Everyone who curates at GLAS is a filmmaker, and we all attend a lot of festivals, so from the start we wanted to make something that felt as exciting and fresh as some of our favorite international festivals, like Ottawa, Zagreb, Chitose, Holland, or Fantoche. One part we really wanted to emulate was the egalitarian feeling at these festivals -- how easy it was to meet and hang out with like-minded filmmakers -- and the kind of communities that mindset helped cultivate. Oftentimes we have to travel overseas or to the other side of the country to be able to get these kinds of experiences, so we wanted to branch out and make something that specifically had that same kind of independent spirit, but in the United States, in our backyards, essentially.

AWN: Tell us about the festival’s newly-launched FXX Elevation Award, which provides a $25,000 grant to develop an original animated project with FXX.

JB: This is the first year that we’ve opened up our sponsorship packages to include opportunities for sponsors to create an award in their name, and we are really glad that FX stepped up to the plate.

FX attended the festival last year and saw the high caliber of work being produced in the international independent animation community. Since GLAS is always working hard to champion that work in the U.S., it made sense that they could become a part of supporting and encouraging that type of work. They really just wanted to become a part of that, support and recognize that, and encourage it.

AWN: That is exciting. Have you developed relationships with other industry partners?

JB: We’ve been working since the very beginning to develop relationships with industry partners and create new sponsorship opportunities for them. This year, we have more than 30 industry partners, including FXX, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and GIPHY, as well as media and hotel sponsors and partnerships with other local businesses. It’s exciting to see the momentum that has continued to build, and we’re looking forward to announcing new partnerships during this year’s festival.

AWN: Okay, let’s talk a little bit about programing. GLAS has greatly expanded the number of programs over the course of its first three years. Looking ahead, what are some of your goals for the festival as it continues to grow?

JB: First and foremost, we would love to be able to bring more guest speakers to GLAS. We also want to be able to secure funding to provide lodging for filmmakers in competition. That’s such an integral part of some of the more established film festivals, and we really want to be able to bring it to the independent animation communities in California and the U.S.

For many filmmakers, traveling on the festival circuit can be quite a burden on the pocketbook, and not everyone can afford to do it. So, it’s really about broadening the community, and hopefully inspiring people who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to this work. It allows a larger conversation, more integration, and the opportunity to share in the knowledge of people from all over the world. Some of the closest relationships that we have personally are people we meet at festivals who live somewhere else entirely; we only ever meet in places where we don’t actually live! That is such an exciting thing. It’s inspiring to be able to have this sense of community.

As it relates to programming, we want to continue to increase the number of installations and performances, and provide hand-on workshops. We also really love having these one-on-one conversations with established animators and filmmakers, like the ones we’re having this year with Phil Lord and Chris Miller, David OReilly, Réka Bucsi and Ruth Lingford. We would love to be able to have more conversations and retrospectives with individuals like these and delve deeper into their creative process.

AWN: As the festival has expanded, it has opened up its focus to include more commercial work. How have you been able to strike a balance between that independent spirit on which the festival was founded, and continues to focus on, and these more commercial projects? There are a lot of independent artists who do commercial work -- a lot of it really outstanding -- so it must be great to be able to showcase some of that.

JB: Absolutely. We think, for most animators working in the U.S., a blend of independent and commercial work is pretty reflective of their day-to-day practice. A great example of this is Late Night Work Club, which sort of sets that typical demarcation in the name itself, making independent work at night while maintaining a commercial practice during the day. For an animator like Kirsten Lepore (who was a guest at the first edition of our festival), the balance is really fluid, her independent and commercial work reflect each other in really interesting ways and are equally fantastic. We also love filmmakers like Henry Selick, who has made extremely successful commercial films but has also pioneered a singular artistic vision that has inspired a generation of animators.

AWN: Many festivals, even well-established ones, struggle with attendance. How have you been able to help drive attendance for GLAS?

JB: It’s actually really organic. We’ve been able to develop a presence on social media that lets us participate in an online community while also establishing our own aesthetic brand and making it clear the kind of work we like to showcase. At the same time, we want to keep things fresh and interesting. We don’t want to water down our curatorial vision to the point where people know exactly what to expect. So, we’ve slowly been expanding our reach, trying to establish definitively what our taste is, and also bringing out artists and showing films that animation fans would want to see.

AWN: Why is it so vital to have a showcase for independent animation?

JB: For decades, there’s been this struggle with animators trying to get other people to take animation seriously. The best way to do that is to take ourselves seriously. By showcasing the stuff that we’re really passionate about, and championing the kinds of works that aren’t geared toward a single focused demographic -- and broadening that up to mean anything from experimental film to high-concept video games, as well as more challenging narrative works, and non-narrative works, too. We try to cultivate a positive attitude about this -- it’s much easier to change a person’s perception of what animation is or what it can be by showing them something inspiring. We think the work itself makes the strongest case of all and kind of negates the need to define independent animation in opposition to other stereotypes the medium carries.

AWN: You received more than 3,600 submissions this year?

JB: We did. It was overwhelming!

AWN: How do you deal with that? Describe the selection process.

JB: We have a dedicated team of programmers. There’s GLAS co-founder Einar Baldvin, GLAS president Sean Buckelew, Pia Borg, Christine Panushka, Tom Brown and myself. We try to have a group of people coming from different backgrounds with different interests.

Basically, it goes like this: first we watch all the films, and then we rate them. After the rating process, we go through them again, and each of us makes our own individual list. Then we compile the lists, and start discussing the films. Anything that was ranked high, for the most part, almost always winds up being put into the festival. This is the point where we really get to dive in, and kind of nitpick, change things around, until we reach consensus. It’s really hard to pick. I would say the hardest part is at the end.

AWN: How’s that?

JB: It might seem like a lot of programs, but when it comes to actually picking the films, there is just never enough space to fit in everything we like. The final stages of selection are hard because there are really great films that just don’t fit in the program. I should also say that it’s also the most exciting part because it’s when the programmers get really passionate about what films they loved, and start to fight for films that were maybe overlooked by the other programmers. A lot of the films that get selected in this stage of process are the ones that we are most excited for people to see.

AWN: There’s a lot going on in this year’s program. What are some of the things you’re most excited about personally?

JB: The most exciting things, for us, are the competitions. One of the biggest reasons why we do this festival is to showcase independent work, and as filmmakers the competitions give us a lot of inspiration.

We’re thrilled to have David OReilly coming. His work is incredibly inspiring, and he’s helped transform a generation of independent filmmakers.

Of course, we’re thrilled to have Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Jorge Gutierrez, and Réka Bucsi, but personally I’m really excited to have Ruth Lingford and Jonathan Hodgson coming this year. Both of them have been such important figures in independent animation. Ruth Lingford is this pioneer feminist filmmaker making these very honest films about sex, and she’s just such a badass. She’s the head of the animation department at Harvard. Jonathan Hodgson did a talk at FMX last year, and it was just one of the most exciting talks I’ve ever seen. It’s funny, because it’s actually called “Making Boring Films About Boring Subjects.” But it was one of the most thrilling and engaging talks I’ve ever attended, and so we wanted to bring him and his films here -- we’re showing a retrospective of his shorts films in addition to a feature that he recently completed.

I’m super excited to have Sophie Koko Gate and the Skillbard crew. And Sawako Kabuki! Sticking with the sex theme, her film Anal Juice won the student category at Annecy last year. All her films are about a very graphic aspect of sex told in a really fun way, and she’s just really made her voice known, so we’re excited to have her coming to the festival.

AWN: Outside of the festival, what are some of the other programs GLAS is spearheading?

JB: Since the festival is in the Bay Area but we live in Los Angeles, we try to bring some of the festival programming down to LA, but we also do some programs specific to LA. For example, this year we did a program on independent animators from Los Angeles. We’ve had Henry Selick come down to do a retrospective of his short films. We’d like to do more of these things in LA, but we’d also like to do more in the United States as a whole, branching out to different communities and bringing screenings there, and introducing ourselves to cities like New York, Portland, and Chicago.

Another big goal for us is to create an international residency program. There just isn’t a lot of support in the United States for independent animators making the kinds of films that we love. So that’s something that we want to change.

AWN: So, the Oscars are behind us. If you could have picked the five short film nominees, what would they have been?

JB: Two of the nominated films from this year were GLAS selections (Garden Party last year and Negative Space this year), and we were super stoked for them. When independent animation gets that kind of recognition and attention, it’s good for everyone. But if I had to pick a few more nominees... can I make it six? The one film I was shocked that wasn’t on there was The Burden by Niki Lindroth von Bahr. I just couldn’t believe that it didn’t get nominated.

Other films that I really loved from last year -- and these are all Oscar-qualified films, by the way, so they were all eligible -- include Gros Chagrin (You Will Be Fine) by Céline Devaux, which we’ll be screening at the festival this year. I was surprised that Everything by David OReilly didn’t get nominated, since it was the first video game ever to have been qualified for an Oscar and that’s a pretty big deal. I would also have nominated Love by Réka Bucsi and Hedgehog’s Home by Eva Cvijanović. And the sixth one is Tomasz Popakul’s Black, which I think is a fascinating film.

These films are for the most part, on the narrative side. There are a lot of experimental or abstract, non-narrative films that we tend to gravitate toward, like The Reflection of Power by Mihai Grecu, Orogenesis by Boris Labbé or Hotaru by William Laboury. It would be terrific for films like these to get some recognition from the Academy.

AWN: Those are some very inspiring selections -- thank you for sharing them with us. We’ll see you at GLAS 2018!

JB: We can’t wait!

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.