Deanna Morse gives an insiders perspective on the selection process at the Zagreb Animafest 2004.
We faced 1,507 entries in 14 days. I tossed and turned the night before we began, as my brain calculator churned. If we work 10 hours a day if we give each film 10 minutes, that would be well, what about 12 hours a day, five minutes a film These numbers were rattling in my brain. The previous festival had 978 entries -- this was an increase of 50%!
I am an animation artist. I know all too well the time, effort and passion required to make an animation. My goal in selection is to treat every film with the respect that I would want a committee to give my own animation. But those numbers were daunting films were leaping over a fence, like fluffy cartoon sheep, but not sleepy sheep. (Later, I saw hundreds of films in my dreams in fast-forward.)
Now, weeks later, I am sleeping fine again. I am proud of the process. We judged the films respectfully and with care. Of course, some people will not agree with our choices. There is skillful work being made by animators around the world. Now, 245 of those titles will be screened at Zagreb. I can promise it will be a dynamic festival experience with engaging, visually stimulating, edgy and challenging work.
Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films: Animafest
The World Festival of Animated Films Zagreb Animafest 2004, is a well-respected festival with a long tradition of supporting independent animation art. Founded in 1972, this biennial festival has survived challenges facing all festivals: funding uncertainties changes in administration, technological changes, plus a terrible war. Through all this, Zagreb Animafest continues to celebrate a singular identity: animation as art. Margit Antauer, also known as Buba, has impressively managed the festival for years. This festival has integrity. It works effectively on budget, and spends the money where it will have impact on filmmakers and festival quality. It is one of six animation festivals for the Academy Awards nominations.
To celebrate its 30-year anniversary, last year the festival published Z is for Zagreb. As a testament to its character, for each year it included plus and minus comments -- always trying to improve.
ZAGREB is one of the few partner festivals with ASIFA (Association Internationale du Film dAnimation). Founded in Paris in 1960, ASIFA has developed guidelines with festivals to ensure that filmmakers will be treated with respect. In particular, there are rules about the use of the work, return of the films, entry fees and financial support for filmmakers attending the festivals. You can read the current guidelines at www.asifa.net.
More than 200 people involved in animation (filmmakers, students, educators, journalists, and producers) have indicated they are planning to attend Zagreb 2004. If a film was selected for competition, they will receive some subsidy -- meals, hotel and/or some travel reimbursement, based on a formula.
They will find the city of Zagreb is easy to navigate, with everything in walking distance, and a city tram. Considered the ideal city of the 19th century, there are some fabulous art nouveau tiled buildings and doorways. Its a walking architectural museum.
The Selection Process
Of course, during selection, it doesnt matter where you are. We were in a dark room with boxes of videotapes and stacks of notebooks, each page representing the voice of an artist. Sometimes we were shaken back to reality by a cooing pigeon, or the daily cannon blast that heralds noontime. But for the most part, we were immersed in the process. We stayed alert and engaged, assisted by the impeccable organization of materials and videos by Buba and her staff.
My selection committee teammates were each involved in the contemporary international animation scene. One is oTTo Alder, the founder and director of Fantoche Film Festival, programmed animation for the Stuttgart Festival for many years. A regular at festivals, he knew many of the films that were entered. Kine Aune, an award-winning animation producer from Norway, has been active in animation for decades, and had worked for years in television and with Bob Godfrey. These two are seasoned and were very task-oriented. My festival background is similar. I have judged or served on the selection committees for more than three dozen festivals, including several SIGGRAPH competitions, the Hiroshima International Animation Festival and the Ann Arbor Film Festival. A fourth jury member from Croatia came down with the flu and was unable to join us.
Our role was to evaluate and select the most competitive. We didnt sit back and enjoy each film, as in a festival or theater. Instead, we constantly asked questions: Does the film have a strong voice? Is there a consistent or unique style? Does the film show skillful use of imagery, concept, sound, structure, editing or other techniques? Does the film touch an emotional chord? Is it sincere in presenting a form or idea? Is it masterful? Is this a film that you would want to view more than once? The goal is not to have every frame of film projected, but to try to meet each piece on its own terms, and to work independently to measure the success of each entry. Its an active, consuming process. Its hard work.
In some selection committees, I have served on what is called a blind jury, not knowing the names of the entrants. But, of course, we are not blind. We recognize artistic styles, and recognize films from previous festivals. At Zagreb, we had a typed printout with the entry information sheet for each film. Some times, after reading the synopsis, I would give a film another chance.
Our goal was to make the festival broadly representative of the highest quality work, and to gather a pool of films that would create solid programs for audiences and a jury to screen, evaluate and award prizes.
People ask me what was the best film you saw? I dont know. There were many pieces that were memorable. Some will make you think, some will entertain you, some will make you laugh and I can guarantee that some will make you sit up in your seat.
Non-Scientific Observations on Common Elements
You would think that after spending more than two weeks viewing some 1,500 films, you could make some overview statements about the nature of animation being produced in 57 countries in the world today. Well, it is not so easy as you might think.
Oddball coincidences occur. One day, we saw five films in a row where the filmmakers chose to work in black-and-white. This tendency of working in black-and-white or using monochrome palettes was so prevalent, I started keeping a count. Of 823 entries, 177 fit into that category.
The committee agreed that sound design very strong. We noted that there were few political statements, but many films about family and social problems. oTTo commented that the U.S. independent scene was thriving, after recent years when we said it was dying. Kine observed that many animators were using the animated documentary form to tell real life stories. We all celebrated the many good animations from Taiwan, which we had not seen previously. Of course, there were great films from Estonia, the National Film Board of Canada, Japan and Russia, as we have seen in the past several years.
I kept a list of repeated elements: images, actions or themes that I saw in at least two film entries. I like to share these lists with my students. I call these common tendencies.
Common Tendencies from 1500 Zagreb Entries
- Starting the film at the start of the day, often with an alarm clockMany flats/many apartments explored in the animationKitchen is a popular room!The theater, the stageTaking place in a cinemaPrisonsLighthousesStars or fields of starsVoyeur looking through a keyholeWatching TV with a remoteLooking into a windowLooking in a mirrorDancing a tango
- Referencing or making a tribute to old filmsWe are liberated through ART!Documentary animationsAnimation that critiques popular mediaThe memory of warSoldiers make friends with children
OBJECTS and CHARACTERS
- Adam and EveEggsPiratesGangstersDogs. Dogs. Dogs. Dogs peeing, Dogs pooingFrogsPenguinsButterfliesRats and miceA fly makes a face at the cameraStriped shirtsCardboard box: as a prop, a home, or a characterCuckoo clocksSkulls and skeletons, bones, agingMucus, especially nose pickingEyes falling out
MOST POPULAR COLORS: Black, white and redMOST POPULAR SOUND: a heartbeat
In 1998, when I served on the selection committee for the Hiroshima International Animation Festival, I compiled a list of tendencies and commonalities to share with my students. This was published in our fall 98 ASIFA Central newsletter Frame by Frame www.asifa.org/animate.
After the Zagreb selection, I went back to my list from Hiroshima, to see if my non-scientific list of tendencies had much overlap. Here is what I found. There were eight areas of overlap between Hiroshima 1998 and Zagreb 2004.
- Starting the film at the start of the daySkulls and skeletonsAnimated DocumentariesPrisonsStars and fields of starsButterflies DogsStripes
This is not to say that these tendencies need to be avoided. We selected films that had these tendencies, and in Japan, several went on to win awards. But for the selection committee, if the content or style is fresh, is might have a better chance, or at least not be met with a moan!
Some Final Suggestions for Filmmakers
Dont use complicated terms like dystopia or doppelganger on your entry forms. One video per tape, labeled well, legible handwriting.Films about waiting, sleeping, and snoring are hard for selection committees.What you about to see and to be continued are big mistakes.Try to hook the viewer right away.Shorter is better. At the end, we were fighting to trim minutes.Dont give up. Enter your films. Different selection committees make different choices.
And if your film is selected for an important festival like Zagreb Animafest, feel celebrated. And by all means, go to the festival!
Deanna Morse is an animation artist and a professor in the School of Communications at Grand Valley State University, Michigan. Her Addy and award-winning DVD, Move Click Move, includes a variety of animation techniques and more than 200 behind the scenes production stills. It is distributed by Facets and available at http://faculty.gvsu.edu/morsed/. Proceeds are building a scholarship fund.
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