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Why is the Nature of Animation in Europe So Different from What is Being Created in the U.S.?

The second of three essays written by noted historian, author, and educator Karl Cohen to bring awareness to the present state of indie animated shorts and to stimulate a discussion that might lead to improvements; we continue with a discussion of how and why animation made in the U.S. and Europe evolved in such different directions in the second half of the 20th century.

Three Essays About the State of Animation in the U.S.


Animation is a remarkable form of art that has gone through countless changes since pioneering filmmakers discovered that film can do more than just record the world around us. The three essays being published on AWN (one below, the next two every two weeks) are about works where artists have used this art to explore the world of imagination, free of time or content restraints.

I believe these precious creative moments are often ignored by our mainstream society that favors well-advertised and skillfully promoted Hollywood animated features and TV shows. While the seven-minute animated cartoon once played an important role in our moviegoing, entertaining you before the feature, today that role is obsolete. While there have been many attempts to establish new permanent homes for shorts since then, at present, there isn’t a great platform to find quality animation. The medium resolution of the internet is not the ideal delivery system, and it still lacks a sophisticated, satisfactory guide to help you find the films you might enjoy seeing.

The purpose of these three essays is to bring awareness to the present state of independently produced animated shorts and to stimulate a discussion that might lead to improvements. The first essay, “Help! I Love Watching Animated Shorts,” discusses some of the ways independently produced animated shorts have been shown to the public since the decline of theatrical cartoons.

The second discussion, “Why is the Nature of Animation in Europe So Different from What is Being Created in the U.S.?” covers why animation made in the U.S. and Europe evolved in different directions in the second half of the 20th century. I contend those changes eventually altered the mindset of U.S. animators, and I believe those differences are why international animated film festivals that once presented lots of animated shorts made in the U.S. are now largely ignoring them.

The third essay is a collection of well-thought-out comments about the current state of animation by members of the animation community. Those comments tend to support the thesis of this study.

Essay 2: Why is the Nature of Animation in Europe So Different from What is Being Created in the U.S.?

  • The Rise of the Hollywood Animated Feature, a Remarkable Business Product
  • Alternative Concepts of Excellent Features in Other Parts of the World
  • Whose Opinion Is Correct About What an Animated Film Should Be?
  • What Do European Audiences Expect to See?
  • Fundraising in Europe
  • Fundraising in the U.S.
  • Do Animation Students in the U.S. Have Different Values than Their Counterparts Elsewhere in the World?
  • Conclusions

You may not pay much attention to what animation festivals in Europe are showing now, but only a few films from the hundreds of entries received from the U.S. are being selected for screening. I became curious as to why both Annecy 2023 and the Zagreb Animation Festival were only showing four works from the U.S. in their competition programs. For decades, these venerable festivals and others were showing a good number of entries from the U.S., as they were considered cutting-edge. That reputation was an important acknowledgement and those showings helped advance the careers of U.S. independent animators. I wanted to find out why so many films from the U.S. are now being rejected abroad. My research resulted in people telling me that the animation coming from Europe is often quite different in terms of budget, perfection of technique, and content.

My accompanying article, “Insights From People in the Animation Community,” includes some of the comments that this article is based on. After analyzing what I’ve learned, I now contend that animation in the U.S. started to evolve in different directions from what was happening in Europe in the second half of the 20th century – changes that eventually altered what U.S. animators were creating.

An easy way to explain the nature of that divide is to compare features made in the U.S., which are mainly made by what can be called the “Hollywood Formula,” with European productions. European artists use a variety of approaches that are quite different.

The Rise of the Hollywood Animated Feature, a Remarkable Business Product

Although you may not be comfortable with the notion, many in the business world see animated features as products. Walt Disney first demonstrated that features could be profitable, and that lines of toys and other things could be based on the film’s characters. He also learned you can lose a great deal of money making them. Snow White was quite successful, as were his films from the 1950s, but others were disappointments at the box office.  If Jungle Book (1967) hadn’t been successful, the studio might have ended production and might not have risked producing Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988). (Jungle Book had a budget of $4 million, made $13 million in the U.S. and $23.8 million worldwide.)

The uncomfortable revelation that American features are not created as wonderful expressions of artistic freedom was made clear in a 1981 statement by Michael Eisner. At that time, he was president of Paramount Pictures (1976–1984; he was head of Disney 1984–2005). In 1981, he wrote an infamous internal memo that stated what he believed: "We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective."

It was under Eisner that a subsidiary of Disney, Touchstone, produced Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, with animation directed by Richard Williams. It showed that well-written animated features for an older audience could be profitable. That led Disney to produce The Little Mermaid (1989), followed by Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994). It was a highly profitable period, known as the Disney Renaissance, and its success resulted in other studios entering what became, and still is, a highly profitable era of commercial animation.

As for content, the format of most scripts followed the Hollywood Formula. The stories generally open with an impressive action sequence to draw the viewer into the film and get them revved up. Then they tell us just enough about the hero, the protagonist, to get us to admire him or her. They want us to love and cheer them on before letting us know about the problem the antagonist will create. The film then goes through what (hopefully) will be a series of growing and fascinating problems and resolutions (arcs). We hope the plot will have great twists, exciting action sequences, and clever resolutions before we get to the final act. The film’s final act will probably start at a low point and build to a wonderful, incredible climax. After the climax comes the final resolution; however, there may be an opening in the script that can lead to a sequel if the film does well at the box office.

When creating a film using the Hollywood Formula, it is important to set it in a fantasy world, so nobody will identify too closely with the film. Add lots of great surprises, but don’t include elements that will be controversial, that night hurt the film’s box office. Instead, the more nicer, glossy things that are put into the product, the more the audience is expected to love it.

Shows presented on TV for adults are also created around another somewhat standard format, the situation comedy. The first impressive animated series aimed at an adult audience was The Simpsons, created by Matt Groening. Each week, we get to enjoy what (again hopefully) will be a great animated situation comedy that features talking heads, with limited amounts of movement. Talking heads telling much of the story can help lower production costs. Action sequences require more time and money for artists to create. The situation comedy aimed at an adult audience can result in a highly profitable series, so this approach to animation is quite attractive to producers, studios, and networks, whose main objective is to make a profit.

The tremendous financial success of these features and television shows has resulted in the public assuming that they are seeing great animation. Therefore, many audiences have grown so complacent with these standard approaches to animation that they seem to ignore or reject other approaches, including those seen in imported features.

Films that stray too far from the Hollywood Formula risk failure in the U.S. Disney’s Fantasia (1940) didn’t break even financially when it was released, but it was profitable when it was reissued, especially in the 1960s. Fantasia 2000 has yet to break even. Yellow Submarine (1968, TVC London) also failed to break even at the box office, but King Features paid TVC a fixed price to make it, and King Features was making a profit from the Beatles TV series.

Alternative Concepts of Excellent Features in Other Parts of the World

You can discover dozens of impressive, animated features from Europe and other parts of the world that don’t follow the Hollywood Formula. Most people in the U.S. know little or nothing about foreign animation, especially in smaller population areas. When imports get shown in the U.S., the distribution and promotion is generally quite limited. That means the films’ producers should not count on their works being financial hits here. The works may be seen as wonderful artistic successes by people who get to see them, but much of the public never knows they exist, or, if they do, they have no interest in seeing them. Why? Probably due in part to the media not educating people about something of value that is different.

Notable examples are the family films by Tomm Moore and Cartoon Saloon from Ireland. His films have great stories and are exciting, charming, and beautiful. At times they are stunning works of art, but they do not open with enormous advertising and publicity campaigns. Box office records (from Box Office Mojo) show Secret of Kells (2000), by Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, grossed only $676,775 in the U.S.; their Song of the Sea (2014) took in $857,522 here; and Wolfwalkers (2020), by Moore and Ross Stewart, made $1,266,570 in the U.S. Those numbers indicate that thousands, not millions, of people saw their films in our country.

Another handsome work of art is The Red Turtle (2016), by Michaël Dudok de Wit from Holland. It had its world premiere at Cannes and was made with the backing of Studio Ghibli in Japan. Although it received critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination, it underperformed in the U.S. The U.S. gross was $921,974, while its worldwide gross was $6,591,789.

Japanese anime has lots of fans, but it is by no means as successful as films from Pixar, Disney, and other U.S. studios. While Disney and Pixar have had several releases that have grossed over $1 billion, a recent internet article states that “only six anime features have ever grossed more than $30 million at the U.S box office” and that “four of those came out within the past three years.” (James Lang, “It’s Time That People Really Start Taking This Seriously: Anime is Booming at the U.S. Box Office.” Animation Brew, 11/4/2022.)

Hayao Miyazaki is considered one of Japan’s great film artists, and Spirited Away (2002) is considered by many critics a great film. It won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, which helped make it Miyazaki’s highest-grossing film in the U.S. When it was first released here, it only grossed $10 million, while its worldwide total was $275 million. Thanks to reruns, it has now grossed about $30 million in the U.S.

Miyazaki’s films don’t even get shown in many parts of our country. People who book films for theaters don’t bother to show foreign features in many locations because they believe there is not enough of an audience for them. You need to sell enough tickets to make it worthwhile to pay for the basic daily costs of running the business, and many bookers don’t want to risk booking foreign films, even for very short runs.

The media needs to do its part in educating the public about the value of imports. They are simply ignored in many towns and cities. The press coverage of new films in San Francisco is so bad that the main daily newspaper, The Chronicle, doesn’t even tell you what is playing at local movie houses anymore. 

There are, of course, a few impressive financial success stories, such as Nick Park’s delightful stop-motion comedy Chicken Run (2000, Aardman Animations, UK). It was produced with money from DreamWorks, and it was distributed with an expensive ad campaign. It grossed $106, 934,564 in the U.S. and $224,874,811 worldwide.

DreamWorks went on to produce two more films with Aardman, but the third film, Flushed Away (2006), flopped. That gave CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg a reason to terminate his five-picture contract with them. When he ended his company’s relationship with Aardman, he said, “While I will always be a fan and an admirer of Aardman’s work, our different business goals no longer support each other.” I believe he was indicating he is first and foremost a businessman, and that they are artists who don’t share his concern for making as much money as possible.

Two other non-Hollywood Formula features should be briefly mentioned. Yellow Submarine may not have broken even, but it showed that an animated musical could be made for a teen and adult market. Later, Ralph Bakshi's Fritz the Cat (1972) received an X rating, which helped its box office and again showed animation isn’t just for kids. It was made on a $700,000 budget in the U.S., and it grossed over $90 million worldwide. It once again proved that sex sells.

Whose Opinion Is Correct About What an Animated Film Should Be?

In the last 30 years, different opinions about what makes a great animated film have developed among U.S. and European producers. Studios in Hollywood have fine-tuned their concepts to the point where a release can make over $1 billion. European films and films from the Middle East make a lot less, so they are made on much smaller budgets. That doesn’t necessarily make them less visually interesting, and some excel at great original content for adults, while others are wonderful stories for kids.

It seems that people growing up in the last 30 or 40 years in the U.S. have subconsciously accepted the Hollywood and TV approaches as to what an animated film should be. We voluntarily brainwash ourselves into loving what we are used to seeing. Those opinions of what we like are different than those of fans of anime or the people who see features in Europe and the Middle East.

In the U.S., the financing of features can be so enormous that taking major risks is out of the question. It seems producers think the more money you spend on your production’s “bells and whistles,” the more profitable it will be. U.S. producers add lots of cool physical and computer-generated effects and other glamorous embellishments. They hire famous actors to do the voices and well-known composers to create the music. The prevailing opinion seems to be, “Why risk your money on unknown talent? Don’t accept anything less than the best that money can buy.”

Part of the director’s job is to make the film as much fun and exciting as possible. Audiences love being spectators in make-believe adventures. Fortunately, there seems to be an almost endless number of story variations, so sequels upon sequels are possible. Sequels are somewhat easier to make, as the audience knows from the first film who the heroes are and whom to hate. Audiences like seeing familiar characters. It is OK to recycle familiar artwork. The best news for producers is that many sequels make more money than the original feature.

In Europe and the Middle East, directors take a more pragmatic approach. They don’t work with Hollywood budgets, so they can’t afford all the bells and whistles. Also, many animated films are produced for an older audience, so the focus is to develop an intelligent script that will appeal to adults. That may include stories that relate to real-world situations. Recently, there have been releases that feature openly LGBTQ characters.

Extreme examples of non-kiddie scripts include Suicide Shop (2012), by Patrice Leconte from France, a fun Charles Adams-inspired comedy set in a grim world. When the Wind Blows (1986), by Jimmy Murakami and George Coates from England, depicts a grim, somber world after a nuclear explosion. Persepolis (2003), by Marjane Satrapi from Iran, is an Oscar-nominated autobiographical story about growing up in Iran in a family that didn’t support the repressive government. These are just a few of the many films in which directors are not afraid to open doors that stay shut in the U.S.

I had an amazing interview with Marjane Satrapi when her film was released. My first question was not what she expected; I asked her what message she wanted the audience to get from the film. That thought-provoking question got her so excited that she spent over a half hour telling me how Ayatollah Khomeini, President Bush, and other politicians were dangerous fanatics. She feared what awful things might develop from their insane thoughts, (and she was right).

When I interviewed Ari Folman, a director from Israel who wrote and directed the Oscar- and Annie-nominated Waltz with Bashir (2008), he told me he made the film to warn teens in Israel who were of draft age not to believe in the media that glorifies being a soldier. He wanted them to know that when he was a soldier taking part in the invasion of Lebanon, it was a horrible experience. He shows what it was like being scared 24/7. It drove some of the people in his unit insane, and he shows that happening in the film. Although the film was seen by thousands of people in Israel, he told me most were mature adults, not the teenagers he wanted to reach.

What Do European Audiences Expect to See?

In examining the programming of festivals in the U.S. and Europe, it is obvious that audiences have different expectations. While Europeans may see and enjoy wonderful fantasies for kids, they are most likely looking forward to seeing intellectually challenging films, animated documentaries, surreal dramas, and other approaches to the medium.

Today, fewer animators in the U.S. appear to be making thought-provoking shorts that are likely to be successful with European festival selection committees and judges. I have been told by several people that festivals in Europe find that most of the entries from the U.S. today are disappointing. Why?

It seems that Europeans are used to animated features and shorts that are intellectually challenging and reflect real world situations. They also are used to a variety of topics and approaches to animation and sometimes works that push their art and content in bold new directions.  There are certainly fine films being made in the US, but today it seems too many short films that I’ve judged as entries into local film festivals, or have seen on the internet, don’t seem to have been made by people who took the time to refine their art or content, or they just don’t have really-interesting or important subjects or ideas to share with others.  It also seems that the number of successful experimental art films has gone down in recent years.

American animator Vince Collins, who has spent much of his life making experimental animation that he posts on the internet, recalls that “in the 70s, half the entries at Annecy were from the USA and there were no jobs.” Now most students in the U.S. go to college to learn animation techniques to hopefully get jobs. A lot fewer are trying to make impressive films that will get into festivals. A friend who has been to Annecy several times fact checked Vince’s comment.  He found that at the 1975 Annecy festival, 115 films were screened in and out of competition, and 23 of them were from the USA, including one by Vince. At the next festival, in 1977, 120 films screened and again 23 of them were from the U.S.

A shocking realization for me was finding out that some U.S. festivals reject excellent shorts from Europe because their content is too provocative. I have served on several festival selection committees over the years and have recommended impressive cutting-edge shorts that didn’t get selected. Why? Some of my recommendations were too controversial. Festivals in the U.S. rely on rich conservative patrons for financial support, so they tend to play it safe.

Fundraising in Europe

A major difference between US and European projects is that film projects in Europe can receive production money and services at what are called “pitching events.” Judges watch you present your proposal for the film you are working on and, if you win a prize, it can cover most or all of your proposed budget. They can be cash awards and/or production services. The competitions can be held in connection with festivals, film seminars, and other kinds of events. Some prizes stipulate that the cash must be spent in the country providing it, as that supports the local economy.

I suspect a lot more thought goes into developing a script, character design, and storyboard if you are entering a competition to win your needed funds and services. Today, there are people working in Europe as pitching coaches, helping animators improve their pitching skills. My friend Nancy Phelps is kept busy traveling around Europe to coach people on how to improve their proposals.

Fundraising in the U.S.

Federal funding for films in the U.S. hasn’t recovered from the drastic cuts Ronald Reagan made in the 1980s. While the Trump presidency eliminated the National Council on the Arts, Biden has restored it. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) still has a small budget to support film work.

Animation isn’t an official category, but an animated project can qualify as a media project. One needs a fiscal sponsor, which means you need to work with a nonprofit when you apply. If you have a project that will appeal to a broad number of people, consider applying to the NEA.

In the U.S., every state has an arts commission, but not every state offers money for worthwhile projects. I’m told the New York State Film Commission makes available grants up to $10,000. The California Arts Council (CAC) gives grants to both organizations and individual artists. There is one category where grants to established artists can go as high as $50,000 to complete a film. Thankfully, the current governor has significantly increased the CAC budget since he has been in office.

The San Francisco Arts Commission supports individual artists. Look for animation projects under media. Also, the Berkeley Film Foundation considers proposals to fund animation from both independent artists and students.

Today, some of the most impressive fundraising stories in the U.S. are about people who have used internet fundraising sites. Bill Plympton, Don Hertzfeldt, and Signe Baumane have been quite successful raising funds this way for their shorts and feature projects. In one case, the amount was well over $100,000.

A sad reality is that most filmmakers who make shorts today in the U.S. have very few chances to get paid to exhibit their work in theaters or on TV. (In the 1970s, I was in the Best of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, a touring program that was shown in commercial theaters that paid a rental fee for each screening.) There just isn’t much interest today by the people who run theaters to book programs of shorts. They may like them, but that time can be better spent selling popcorn. Another problem is that most shorts are not in DCP (Digital Cinema Package), the standard format used in movie theaters today.

If you have made a short in the U.S. and it is exceptional, your best bet may be to try and win festival prize money. You should consider entering foreign festivals, as media projects can be delivered online in many cases, and there isn’t an entry fee. Also, many festivals accept work in English, even though that isn’t the national language.

You might also consider organizing and presenting an evening of films that includes your work. I’ve attended a lot of these screenings and several of those programs were later shown by independent theaters.  I also made a documentary about Americans who have moved to Mexico.  Parts of it were shown by a local NBC affiliate.  You have to be creative in promoting your product.   

As for the internet, I only know of one animator who makes a decent living from it. Mark Fiore creates one-minute political cartoons each week that he syndicates. His customers include national magazines, newspapers that have websites, and fans who pay a nominal fee to subscribe to his weekly chuckle. He once told me his art makes fun of whatever pisses him off the most that week. His animation isn’t highly technical, but his editorial content can hit home runs. A few years ago, he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. There is no cost to visit his website (, where you can see a large selection of his work. His short, Cats Are Cute!, is below:

Do Animation Students in the U.S. Have Different Values than Their Counterparts Elsewhere in the World?

An animation education today can be expensive. So expensive that most young animators must find work as soon as possible after they graduate so they can start paying off their loans. State-run colleges are less expensive than private colleges, and many have excellent instructors and equipment. On the other hand, there are horror stories about for-profit animation training programs/schools that cost far too much and have graduates that can’t get jobs. If interested in the cost of tuition and other details, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s College Affordability and Transparency Center website. There is a section dedicated to animation training programs and careers.

Trying to become an outstanding artist making award-winning shorts is no longer a common objective in the U.S.  Instead, most students focus on learning to be skilled at creating hand-drawn, computer-generated, and/or stop-motion work by doing exercises. Students in better-rounded animation programs are also asked to complete one or more shorts to graduate, but not all schools offer excellent classes where students develop strong story skills. Those skills are needed to create exceptional works that might win the student recognition and a better chance of finding more interesting forms of employment. Vince Collins commented, “Now people study animation in USA to get a job, but in the 70s there were no jobs, so all the films were personal expression.”

One problem with some student work is that, while they become proficient in the basics, they are weak in creating content. Many have trouble breaking from the idea that their work has to be seen as a real experience. They do not understand how to use surrealism effectively. I’m a firm believer that students need to see a lot of animation to learn a variety of ways to create a great story. They need to see what others have done, and they need to study and analyze those works. Learning from the past can be an important part of one’s education. They also need to go to festivals to see the latest work and to meet their contemporaries.

Luckily for students, there are thousands of excellent shorts posted for free online, but students also need a guide to introduce them to some of those amazing works. I’m writing such a guide, and websites like Cartoon Brew and AWN post articles about all kinds of shorts. I believe animation is a great art form and I also believe what Richard Williams and other directors have told me: animation is not only a great art form, it should be a lifetime learning experience.

A solid animation education is not a quickie intensive course of study. There are schools with intensive training programs designed to get you an entry-level job in only a few months, but people who have taught at such schools say that too many of their students simply can’t keep up with what they need to do each week. That results in students burning out as the programs are simply too intensive.

What animation students consider good or great animation is partly based on what they have seen growing up. Most likely that means formula features and TV shows. That is why I believe people need to see other approaches to animation. It was a revelation for me to discover Norman McLaren when I was about 12, but do students today see much or any of his amazing work? Do they see the work of other impressive artists who have been funded by the National Film Board of Canada since 1941?

As for students I’ve met in Europe and Israel, I’ve been quite impressed with several that have gone on to make names for themselves by having their films seen in festivals. Some have found employment as animation teachers. A well-rounded liberal arts education may be a luxury today in the U.S., but I’m told educational institutions in Europe offer more scholarships, funds for projects, and equipment.  Many students can spend more time developing their own shorts as well as getting a general education.  In some countries in Europe, there is no tuition cost for a college education.

Perhaps a well-rounded education should include both being able to create your own personal films and to work on a team. Both experiences can be important, as many prize-winning student shorts come from European schools where teams of students produce them. If you look at where the student films come from at Stuttgart, Annecy, Zagreb, or the Student Academy Awards in the U.S., you will see which schools appear to have the strongest curricula.

I believe the wide variety of films shown at international festivals reflects on how sophisticated and well educated our society has become. I applaud seeing films in the U.S. that deal with controversial issues, including climate change, but I have wondered for a long time why Europeans are addressing other issues that our artists ignore.

When I was invited to lecture in China about 20 years ago, I met students who were quite different from those I’ve met in Europe, Israel, or the U.S. They did exercises in classrooms with long rows of computer stations. At the Beijing Film Academy, I gave a two-hour illustrated lecture in an auditorium filled with at least 300 people. I felt the enormous size of the spaces and the large numbers of people may have turned the students into serious, hard-working workers, and that competition in that environment might be too intense. Apparently, most of the students find employment on animation assembly lines in a growing industry that takes pride in how many hours of animation they can produce in a year.

As I was writing this, I got an email from the Jilin Animation Institute (JAI) in China. It boasted, “The employment rate of graduates keeps over 90%. A large quantity of graduates has been working in well-known enterprises and in the industry of animation, game, digital media, and mass media in domestic and abroad, and they are becoming the dominant talents in the industry.”

I’ve also met a class of students from Taiwan who were in the U.S. to get a better perspective on our animation industry. I was left with the impression that they too were focused on just learning a trade. I was asked to discuss with them our country’s industry today, but our two-hour program was cut short. Their bus had to leave for one of the main highlights of their visit to the U.S. They were anxious to get to a large out-of-town discount shopping mall to buy some of the wonderful things that are less expensive here than in Taiwan.


I hope this article sheds some light on why there are such differences in animation from different parts of the world. I believe that Hollywood animated features and TV series have influenced the U.S. public into thinking that their shows are so wonderful/fun that there is no need to bother watching other kinds of animation. The belief that animation is for kids still exists, and there are adults who are quite satisfied with juvenile shows.

To return to the thought that sparked my interest in writing this report – why are European festivals rejecting so many films being made in the U.S. today? Someone who wishes to remain anonymous surprised me when he said, “As for film festivals, the U.S. is being left behind because the U.S. is frankly too busy with its egocentric superiority complex to think anything could possibly be better than these 50 states. I think it is part of the reason international festivals no longer look towards us. They just don’t see anything all that interesting anymore.”

At first, I was taken aback by his brash negative statement, but then I flashed on TV images of people holding up giant foam rubber hands with one finger pointing upwards and shouting, “We’re number one!” I also thought of the almost hysterical crowds who believed their leader could make America great again (did he?). I assume there really are many people who are quite satisfied with life as it is and have no desire to expand their interests.           

Film festivals should play a greater role in increasing the quality of entries. Right now, many U.S. competitions charge entry fees that are simply too high for “starving artists,” while European events are usually free to enter. Why should festivals even charge artists to enter? After they have spent months or years creating a work, why not eliminate the entry fee and offer more attractive prizes as an incentive for people to enter the competition? If the festival is charging the public an admission fee, another incentive is for every filmmaker whose work is shown to get paid something. Festivals can contact local merchants, businesses, corporations, and foundations for prize money. Festival programs will of course acknowledge the donors. (Note:  One recent break is that in the past, filmmakers had to pay print costs, entry fees and shipping costs, but online delivery of digital work eliminates those expense.)

What will it take to introduce people to independent animation to let them decide for themselves if it can enrich their lives? I see Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022) as a film that introduces intelligent ideas without the audience feeling they are being preached to. Public television’s Brief But Spectacular series on the PBS News Hour introduces people subconsciously to the concept of the animated documentary. There are also impressive, well-animated segments in science programs shown on PBS and on other networks. The more the public is exposed to these and other uses of animation, the more interest some people should have in seeing non-Hollywood uses of the medium. Unfortunately, PBS does not have as many viewers as the major networks or Fox.

Perhaps a cable TV network or internet channel in the future will run regularly scheduled shows of animation for open-minded adults (not Adult Swim type of films), just as FM radio has special stations for jazz, classical music, and other kinds of content for adults. I hope colleges and universities with liberal arts departments will eventually offer classes in animation history/appreciation. Someday, there might even be serious classes in animation literacy and aesthetics.

Our government also needs to return to its support for the arts with grants and scholarships for artists and projects. Canada has the National Film Board, which produces exceptional films that tell the world that the country values the arts by supporting them. We used to have an active National Endowment for the Arts that funded a wide variety of projects. Other branches of the government also had discretionary funds available. I once helped a friend create a humorous water-conservation public service announcement for the government during a drought in the 1970s. (The Department of the Interior funded his 30-second PSA.) If political parties really want to make America great again, why don’t we revive funding for the arts? Supporting the arts makes a lot more sense to a lot of people than supporting a greater arms race. We are taught that we must protect our country with a strong military; however, that makes us mighty, not great. Increasing funding for the arts and humanities is needed if the U.S. is to be seen as a great nation!


I wish to acknowledge several people who have spent many years promoting animation as a fine art including Ron Diamond, Garry Meyer, Spike and Mike, Prescott Wright, Jerry Beck, Amid Amidi, Nancy Denney-Phelps, Harvey Deneroff, John and Faith Hubley, John Canemaker, Louise Beaudet, Curator of the Animation Section of the Cinémathèque Québecoise; David Ehrlich from Dartmouth College (he arranged for classic Chinese animation to be seen in the US in the 1980s), Charles Samu (he brought Eastern Block/Soviet animation to the US during the Cold War), George Manupelli (who founded the Ann Arbor Film Festival in 1963), curator Adrianne Mancia at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; Edith Kramer at the Pacific Film Archives (UC Berkeley), and Ron Haver at the Los Angeles County Museum.

I wish to thank the dozens of people mentioned who contributed their thoughts and memories to this study, including Jim Middleton, Deanna Morse, Ed Hooks, Vince Collins, Jerry van de Beek, Betsy de Fries, Mark Kausler, Sally Cruikshank, Signe Baumane, and Joanna Priestly. Also, to Ron Diamond and Gary Meyer, who sent me their insights that form the third article,

There are also several people who have contributed to keeping ASIFA-SF going over the years including Marty McNamira, Eihway Su, Paul Nass, Scott Kravitz, Martha Gorzcki, Ben Ridgway, Karen Folger Jacobs, Gail Silva, John Hays, Laura Tullos, Marcy Page, Pam Stalker, Liz Keim, Shirley Smith, Emily Beck, Ralph Guggenheim, Steve Segal, Steve Ng, Dan McHale, David Chai, Nik Phelps, The G Man and… Thanks to all of you! And a very, very special thanks to Denise McEvoy, my wife for 1001 things.

For further reading, you might enjoy my article The Unnatural History of Independent Animated Films on 16mm. His library of AWN articles can be found here. You can contact me with things to adds, delete, or argue over at


Karl is a noted historian, author, educator, and President of ASIFA-San Francisco. He has contributed articles to for decades; some were reprinted by The Guardian in the UK and other publications and websites. His most widely read article is on the CIA using animation as propaganda during the Cold War, first published on AWN. He taught animation history at SF State for 29 years and has lectured at other institutions and festivals in North America, Europe, the Middle East and China.  He wrote “Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators” and hundreds of articles. He’s presently working on a book tentatively called “Amazing Animation” as he believes animation at times is a truly remarkable and great form of art.

Karl Cohen's picture
Karl Cohen is president of ASIFA-SF and taught animation history at SF State University. He is the author of "Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators," as well as hundreds of articles about animation, many published by AWN.