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Stuttgart: A Splendid Festival

William Moritz reviews the ninth Stuttgart Animation Festival which took place from April 3 through April 8, 1998 in Stuttgart, Germany.

The ninth Stuttgart Animation Festival took place from April 3 through April 8, 1998. I flew in on Swissair, and I thought the festival had begun early since the videos on passenger safety were all computer animations, with svelte passengers who could really bend double and curl up to get the life vests from under the seats. Stuttgart is a fine old city, with elegant palaces and gardens that were home to the princes of the Swabian state of Baden-Wurtemburg, and imposing modern skyscrapers from its more recent hosting of major industry, like the Mercedes-Benz company. It rests on the Neckar river which flows from Heidelberg in the north to the Danube and the Black Forest in the south, one of Germany's finest vineyard stretches. Stuttgart also boasts a superb Art Museum that seemed to have two good examples of everything, as well as a wonderful temporary exhibit of more than 100 photos and objects by Man Ray.

The main screening room, the Old Riding Hall, in the Maritim Hotel, was the center of Stuttgart festival activity. Photo by and © Bill Moritz.

A Well-Oiled Machine

The festival centered around the huge Maritim Hotel, where many of the festival participants stayed. The main screening room, the Old Riding Hall, was in this hotel, as was the festival information center. A portable tent just outside provided drinks, light snacks, and a convenient meeting or resting place for the festival goers. The second main screening area was a concert hall less than a block away which also contained a bar and restaurant, as well as exhibition rooms (with a display of Yoji Kuri's artworks), a special animation book shop, and a computer area where people could browse the Absolut Panushka animation web site. Three other screening places were a few blocks farther away in the lively downtown business district. Plus, a few special events, including demonstration workshops with the jury members (I overheard one festival-goer say that the highlight of the festival for her was being able to touch Barry Purves' puppets...) and an exposition of Ladislas Starevitch puppets and designs, took place at the more distant Film Academy in Ludwigsburg, which was easily accessible by subway (as was everything else...). The festival was well-publicized not only in local media, but also in Germany's major news-magazine Spiegel. Some of the screenings were attended by at least 40,000 people.

The Yoji Kuri exhibit was a rare treat. Photo by and © Bill Moritz.

The Programs and Events

The programs offered at the festival were rich and diverse. In addition to the regular competition screenings, a special Young Animation competition gave a $20,000 prize to one of the student films from 39 different schools worldwide. Another competition screening, "Tricks for Kids," provided an international selection of films for children every afternoon. A "Best of Animation" series concentrated on the 20 years from Norstein's 1975 Heron And The Crane to David Anderson's 1994 In The Time Of Angels. A series of feature animations included Raoul Servais' Taxandria, Pierre Hebert's The Human Plant, and Svankmajer's Conspirators Of Pleasure. Other programs screened films by the jury members; a survey of Japanese art animation as well as an anime retrospective; programs of commercials, MTV videos, special effects and computer graphics; retrospectives for Yoji Kuri, Magnus Carlsson, Marjut Rimminen, Jiri Brdecka and Marv Newland; and midnight shows of classic American cartoons, from Disney's Alice in the `20s through Betty Boop and George Pal's Jasper, Tashlin and Avery, to UPA's Mr. Magoo. If you'd already seen these, you could go to the usual midnight parties...

Left to right: Ron Diamond, Thomas Meyer-Hermann, Bill Plympton, Lea Zagury and Bill Kroyer at Stuttgart `98. Photo © Animation World Network.

Some 60 films in competition screened in six programs, which were repeated a second time for the convenience of the audience. Aside from the excellent projection -- a giant screen with clear focus in all the various formats -- the competition programs seemed unique to me, a veteran of dozens of festivals, in that obviously someone had looked at all the films carefully and put them together sensitively into programs of a certain common style, mood, and subject-matter, which made for smooth viewing and a heightened, comparative critical discrimination. The program booklet also listed filmographies for most of the filmmakers, so one could see the difference between someone like Daniel Szczechura who has made some 25 films since 1960, and others who just began a few years ago, or who have made only a few films. The Jury consisted of Russian Garri Bardin, Dutch (Canadian) Paul Driessen, German Thomas Meyer-Hermann, French Florence Miaihle, and English Barry Purves. The choices could not have been easy, because there were many fine and diverse films among those selected for competition. Since Stuttgart is held every-other year, films made in late 1996 were eligible for competition, which meant that a number of the films had been seen and won prizes at other festivals, an increasing problem with the proliferation of festivals... The unfortunate results, I suspect, is that those "deja vu" films really have a harder chance at the prizes, even if they are obviously the best

Craig Welch's How Wings are Attached to the Backs of Angels. Image courtesy of the national Film Board of Canada.

The Prize Winners:

The grand prize of $7,500 (15,000 DM ) went to How Wings Are Attached To The Backs Of Angels by Craig Welch, National Film Board of Canada -- a chilling surrealist guignol in the tradition of Jan Lenica, finely detailed cel animation, excellent Normand Roger sound.

Jury comment: "For its brilliant draughstmanship and the density of the icy, nightmarish atmosphere it creates."

State Capital Stuttgart Award: The equivalent of U.S. $7,500 (15,000 DM) went to Pink Doll by Valentin Olschwang of Swerdlowsk Film Studios in Russia -- tale, drawn on paper almost in a children's style, of a little girl whose mother has a lover and so, gives her a doll as a present to distract her, which doesn't quite work... Jury comment: "For its sensitive depiction of childhood anguishes."

International ProSieben Award for Animated Film (to promote the acceptance of animation as an art form): $10,000 (20,000 DM) to The Great Migration by Yuri Cherenkov, produced by Folimage in France -- a charming story of migrating birds who get lost in a storm. Jury comment: "For a film flawless in every element."

Outstanding Children's Film: $2,500 (5,000 DM) to Charlie's Christmas by Jacques-Remy Girerd of Folimage -- very much in modern children's book illustration style, and nearly half-an-hour long. Jury comment: "This complex story is full of humor, humanity and touching observations."

Three Public Prizes were awarded by viewers of the regional television network (SÜDWEST 3), which broadcast a selection of films over a three-day period and tallied viewer response: $7,500 (15,000 DM) First Prize: Death And The Mother by Ruth Lingford of the British company Ownbrand Animation Ltd. -- a 2-D computer graphic which looked much like Masereel wood-cuts, telling the tale of a mother who pursues Death when he takes her child. $5,000 (10,000 DM) Second Prize: The Devil Went Down To Georgia by Mike Johnson, listed as a puppet film (though PDI got a credit) - charming visualization of the Charlie Daniels country music classic. $2,500 (5,000 DM) Third Prize: Wheel of Life by the British artist Vera Neubauer -- a very demanding 16-minute mixture of live-action and object animation on biblical and mythological motifs, with feminist and ecological overtones. International Mercedes-Benz Sponsorship Prize for Animated Film $20,000 (40,000 DM) scholarship-grant to Un Jour (One Day ) by Marie Paccou of the French company 2001 -- a sharp and moving 2-D computer animation, in a simple black-and-white graphic style again reminiscent of wood-cuts, depicting a woman's reminiscence about her husbands or lovers. This prize includes the realization of an independent production in conjunction with a one-year scholarship at the Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg. Jury comment: "For a film that dealt with a bizarre idea in a matter-of-fact way. We look forward to the next film." Landeskreditbank Baden-Württemberg Award for the most innovative film: $3,000 (6,000 DM) to Frühling (Spring ) by Silke Parzich from the Film Academy of Baden-Wurttemberg -- an object animation synchronized to Vivaldi's music, in which chairs, a table and forks cavort. Jury comment: "Surprising images choreographed to its soundtrack make a unique film." Stiftung Landesgirokasse Award for the best student film: $2,500 (5,000 DM) to Willy, The Voice Of Europe by Marion Thibau from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Gent, Belgium. Jury comment: "Even after several viewings by the jury, the film had lost none of its intelligent lightness. [The film] convinced the jury on the strength of its charming protagonist, its delicate irony and contemporary subject matter." $1,500 for the funniest film to Bill Plympton's Sex And Violence. Jury comment: "The joke about the key was more than enough to win this award." My Analysis... Most of these prize-winning films were very good, but I would have given some of the prizes to other films. Alexander Petrov's The Mermaid is an astonishingly beautiful tour-de-force of painting skill, and lovely in its romanticism. Though, it is two years old and has been seen at other festivals before I would have given it a prize nonetheless. Similarly, Hans Nassenstein's haunting evocation of war and its aftermath Fugue, with its surreal settings for puppet animation seems to me a great film, even if two years old. Solveig von Kleist's The Story Of My Soul also explored adult emotions with a striking graphic style and definitely deserved recognition with astonishing touches, like the birds settling on the telephone wires to form musical notes. In addition, Richard Reeves' seven-minute Linear Dreams, with both abstract images and music drawn directly on the film, was obviously in the great Canadian tradition of Norman McLaren. However, this independent, west-coast production had a vitality and beauty all its own, quite unlike McLaren, Sistiaga or other practitioners in the field, and deserved some recognition.

The Saint Inspector. © bolexbrothers.

The winners of some categories seemed problematic to me. Silke Parzich's Spring is a delightful film, but closely related to object animation pioneered by the Quay brothers and others (and hence, not all that innovative). Other competition films showed much more unique, adventurous techniques and ideas, such as Clive Walley's combination of live-action, animation and disembodied brush strokes of paint in Light Of Uncertainty, which fittingly evoked Heisenberg's "Uncertainty principle," and ultimately did it some justice. Aleksandra Korejwo's Carmen Torero, with its sinuous animation (using a feather) of tinted salt was quite fresh. Most problematic for me was "funniest film." I'm no fan of sick and twisted, and Bill Plympton seems very much of that school. I find his gags mostly tasteless, vulgar, and (even worse) predictable and repetitive. To me, the funniest film was Igor Kovalyov's Bird In The Window (another 1966 veteran), which may show that I'm sick and twisted, but Igor manages to make fresh social criticism at the same time he engenders real belly-laughs. I also preferred the quirky humor of Sylvain Chomet's Old Lady And The Pigeons,another subtle combination of fresh social satire with outrageous spoof. Mike Booth's puppet animation The Saint Inspector (from England's bolexbrothers) also combined truly quirky images with biting satire into very funny scenes. In addition Mark Gustafson's droll "puppet" animation Bride Of Resistor (from Will Vinton) broke new territory in social whimsy. It was a very rich festival for humor --The Great Migration and Devil Went Down To Georgia were plenty funny, as well -- so it was disappointing to see such a formula product win the prize. But I guess that's a small grumble against what was overall a splendid animation festival. Save up to visit Stuttgart X in April 2000. Visit the Stuttgart web site in Animation World Network's Animation village. William Moritz teaches film and animation history at the California Institute of the Arts.