Encounters animation programmer Kieran Argo delves into this year’s Oscar-qualifying international competition.
Based in Bristol, the U.K.’s Encounters is the leading short film, animation and virtual reality festival in the region, providing a unique platform for emerging and established filmmaking talent. Alongside its highly-regarded Oscar-qualifying annual international film competition, Encounters offers year-round support, personalized training courses, and a variety of touring programs. This year’s edition kicks off September 25 and runs through September 30 with a full lineup of screenings, special events, networking and more.
Animation Programmer Kieran Argo has worked in animation for more than 25 years, with a résumé that firmly establishes him as Encounters’ very own guru of all things animation. That includes 15 years working at Aardman, where he promoted a number of favorites including Wallace & Gromit and established the studio’s international events and exhibitions department, as well as year-long stint at the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo.
Argo helped establish Encounters and served as a Board Director for 12 years, and has been the festival’s Animation Programmer since 2010. In recent years he has been responsible for delivering a number of professional development events, including the Encounters Producers Courses and a range of training events for the Random Acts (Channel Four/Arts Council England) filmmakers in the Southwest of England.
AWN had a chance to ask Argo about this year’s program, which includes 71 short films in international competition across six main programs, and an additional six programs mixing both live-action and animation. Read the Q&A below, along with a selection of Argo’s personal short film picks from this year’s international competition.
AWN: How many submissions did you receive this year, and how many films were selected to compete?
KA: Encounters receives a modest volume of around 600 short animation films each year. This year 71 films were selected for international competition across six main programs. There are a further six mixed programs containing both live-action and animation films derived from the submissions.
AWN: How does the selection process work?
KA: Pre-selection was managed differently this year. The process involved dividing the submissions between two pre-selectors using a shared spreadsheet as our main record. This year Encounters commissioned the skills of Laura Tofarides and Ben Mitchell, both excellent animators in their own right and each with unrivalled working knowledge of the U.K. industry. They worked their way through their lists and wrote comments and recommendations as they went.
I also watched every submission and I’m pleased to say I shared nearly all the assessment decisions made by Ben and Laura. Once the initial pre-selection stage was completed I performed a second round of viewing and allocated as many films as possible to the loosely themed programs. The frustration here was (as always) not being able to find space for all of the good films in the pre-selection longlist.
AWN: Tell us about this year’s jury members.
KA: The invited animation jury this year consists of three outstanding women: Aneta Ozorek, Director of Klik Amsterdam animation festival; Nina Gantz, BAFTA-winning director of Edmond (2016); and journalist and music producer Nancy Denny-Phelps. We are delighted to welcome them to Encounters this year to deliberate the awards.
AWN: Who are some of this year’s special guests?
KA: This year we are also delighted to welcome the cinematographer Dave Alex Riddett (Senior Lighting Cameraman on most Aardman productions). In the recent past we have welcomed Michael Dudok de Wit (The Red Turtle), Pierre Coffin (Despicable Me), Glen Keane (Dear Basketball) and Richard Williams (Prologue).
AWN: What are some of talks, screenings or master classes at this year’s edition that you’re especially excited about?
KA: There are a number of screenings I’m particularly looking forward to this year. I always look forward to the annual Filmakademie showcase and am blown away by the standard and quality of their work.
I’m delighted to say there’s a screening of Ghanaian animation this year. There’s also a couple of programs of Latvian animation and a selection of Georgian animation celebrating Bristol’s twinning with Tblisi.
New for this year, instead of the usual “meet the filmmakers” talks, we will be trying a new format running three talk events called “animation today.” These will be open-mic but also moderated sessions open to all attendees to discuss any issues or topics that they wish to raise. I can predict the issues of Brexit might be raised just once or twice!
Another highlight this year and one close to my heart, I’m really looking forward to a special 25th anniversary screening of Bristol’s very own The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (bolexbrothers, 1993). bolexbrothers was established by Dave Borthwick and Dave Alex Riddett in the early 1990s. Dave Alex Riddett will introduce this screening along with Mike Gifford, the Production Manager from the film. This dark dystopian film written and directed by the much-missed Dave Borthwick (who died in 2012) was being made at the same time as Nick Park’s The Wrong Trousers at the other end of the same road. The creatives involved in Tom Thumb (and of course, the much more widely known Aardman) went on to contribute to an incredible golden decade of British animation.
AWN: You’re one of the founding members of Encounters -- how have you seen it evolve over the years? Is there anything new for this year that you want to highlight?
KA: Encounters, now in its 24th edition, has grown from an initial trial celebration weekend of film to an internationally respected festival. It took quite a few years to establish the festival on the international circuit and requires a great deal of effort to maintain standards and expectations. The one thing that is consistent with Encounters is the core staff’s care and attention placed on not just the quality of the films and all other events but, crucially, the festival experience of filmmakers and attendees.
Encounters may not be the biggest short film festival but, for me, it is certainly one of the best. Encounters manages to bring together creatives and professionals from disparate worlds; from both live action and animation, and allows the space to meet, learn and celebrate all things related to the filmmaking process. The festival has managed to remain pertinent to filmmakers, especially new talent, and has remained faithful to the independent artists as well as more established studios.
Encounters welcomes the mavericks, the experimental and the more mainstream producers in the belief we all have plenty to learn from our different approaches to storytelling. Change is necessary and inevitable but the festival also resists jumping on any bandwagon without good reason and remains true to the shared (educational and cultural) values of film, animation and storytelling. At Encounters we foster an environment where we learn from each other and celebrate the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
Ahead of Encounters 2018, Argo shares six of his personal not-to-be-missed picks from this year’s animation line-up, “representing the eclectic mix of styles and techniques from established and great new talent in competition,” he notes. “From popular and sentimental (in a good way) to more challenging independent films there is always a strong offering at the festival from the vibrant world of animation.”
Adina E “Changing” – directed by Yoni Goodman (Waltz With Bashir, The Congress)
Music Video • 3 min 54 sec • Completed Jun 2017
Animation Competition 1 – “Other Worlds” – 12:00 Wednesday, September 26
In the music video for Adina E’s song “Changing” a young girl runs away from home, feeling the need to escape the pain in her world. Not knowing where her path will take her, she heads out on a journey of self-discovery.
“People familiar with Goodman’s great work will recognize his skill in this music video at generating strong sentimental emotion from a sympathetic visual approach,” Argo comments. “Like his treatment of Max Richter’s ‘Forever Young’ (Bob Dylan) song in The Congress, Goodman manages to blend a strength of character with sensitive spatial/environmental awareness to make a great music video.”
Lost & Found – directed by Andrew Goldsmith & Bradley Slabe
Short Film • 8 min • Completed Feb 2018
Animation Competition 2 – “Happy Sad” – 14:00 Wednesday, September 26
In Lost & Found a knitted toy dinosaur must completely unravel itself to save the love of its life.
“This is a surprising stop-motion family drama from Australian duo Andrew Goldsmith and Bradley Slabe,” Argo says. “Never has a knitted toy created such tension. All aspects of the production are high quality, notably the sets, animation and lighting.”
Cadavre exquis – directed by Stephanie Lansaque & François Leroy
Short Film • 12 min 50 sec • Completed April 2018
Animation Competition 3 – “Animal Magic” – 12:00 Thursday, September 27
Cadavre exquis invites audiences to a visual, acoustic and odorous ballad through the wandering of a one-eyed dog. In the maze of Old Hanoi narrow streets, daily life and legend mingle on the syncopated rhythm of Hat Xam, the Vietnamese blues.
“In this mix of live action and animation, a one-eyed dog is faced with a moral dilemma,” Argo notes. “It’s not the easiest to watch but it makes you think and generates a strong empathy for the character and geography. The directors clearly have a love for all things Vietnamese and convey an excellent sympathetic knowledge of the region.”
Darwin’s Cave – directed by Joana Toste
Short Film • 13 min 3 sec • Completed Feb 2017
Animation Competition 4 – “Heterotopia” 14:00 Thursday, September 27
Darwin’s Cave explores the transmission of knowledge between mothers and daughters.
“This is a slow-paced film from one of Portugal’s leading female directors,” says Argo. “Darwin’s Cave is a story of inter-generational maternal comfort and knowledge is depicted beautifully in a distinctive hand-drawn style.”
Love Me, Fear Me – directed by Veronica Solomon
Short Film • 6 min 6 sec • Completed Jan 2018
Animation Competition 5 – “Rhyme, Rhythm & Reason” 12:00 Friday, September 28
Love Me, Fear Me asks “What would you be willing to do for them to love you?”
“Every year or so Encounters receives an exceptionally well animated clay puppet animation film,” Argo shares. “Love Me, Fear Me is one of those. The choreography and fluidity that director Veronica Solomon manages to achieve is remarkable. Solomon certainly knows how to squash and stretch!”
Via – directed by Izzy Burton
Short Film • 3 min 12 sec • Completed Oct 2017
Animation Competition 6 – “The State We’re In” – 14:00 Friday, September 28
Via is a short that encourages us to enjoy the journey that is life. Life isn’t about one particular moment or reaching some unfathomable peak, it’s about every moment that makes up this rich and ever-changing story that defines who you are. It’s about opening your eyes to the good things that happen every day, to the experiences you share with the people you love, and finding the silver linings or the lessons to be learnt in even the lowest times. It’s about making sure that when you reach the end of the road you can look back and smile because even though life had its ups and downs, ultimately it has been beautiful and fulfilling. Hence the name Via, meaning road or way in Latin, and subsequently becoming part of the English language meaning “by way of.”
“This is a fantastic festival-friendly short from Blue-Zoo animation in London,” notes Argo. “Bournemouth University graduate Izzy Burton has been at Blue-Zoo for the last three years and her talent knows no bounds in this wonderful rich tale of the journey through life and love.”