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10th ANIMA SYROS INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION FESTIVAL 27 September – 1 October 2017 Syros, Greece

ODE TO SYROS => Hermoupolis, the capitol city of Syros. From the moment the ferry docked, I fell in love with the island!


 My Aegean adventure began in Athens where I was met at the airport and taken to the ferry for the three hour ride to the island of Syros.  I was invited to be on the International Competition Jury for the 10th Anniversary edition of the festival and from the moment the ferry docked in Hermoupolis, the capitol city of Syros, I fell in love with the island.  The festival turned out to be as lovely and interesting as the island.

International Jury - Alberto Vazquez, Tomm Moore, Nancy and Yagos Antiochos

My fellow jurors were the Greek film critic and journalist Yagos Antiochos, Tomm Moore, Irish Director and co-founder of Cartoon Saloon, and Spanish animation director, illustrator, and cartoonist Alberto Vazquez.

  I had the opportunity to discover several new films in the International Competition.  Aenigma directed by Antonis Doussias and Aris Fatouros from Greece was a visual delight on the big screen.  The 3D film is a surreal journey inspired by the paintings of the Greek surrealist artist Theodore Pantaleon.  The animators describe their film as “a requiem to form, feminine Goddesses, eternal Eve, art”.  They certainly did pack a lot of beautiful images into 10 minutes of film.  Our jury gave Aenigma the prize for the Best Animation from Greece, Cypress, and the Diaspora which included 1.500 Euros provided by the Greek Film Center.

Irida Zhonga and her father Joan Zhonga with Nancy at the opening night party

Joan Zhonga is a master of Claymation and one of Greece’s most renowned animators.  As a stop-motion director/animator he has created numerous television series for Greek National Television and his films have been screened at such prestigious festivals as Annecy, Hiroshima, and Ottawa.  His latest film Ethnophobia is 14 minutes of playful fun set to a delightful musical score by Vanias Apergis.  As the red, yellow, green, and blue clans go about trying to destroy each other, with the aid of some fantastic looking creatures, they finally discover that their similarities are greater than their differences.  The drunken party scene where they finally all come together is hilarious.  Ethnophobia has won numerous awards including both Best Kids Film and the Young Audience Award at Fantoche this year, but it is not just a film for kids because behind the comic aspects of the film is the message that we are all in this together so we should put aside our differences and get along.

Anima Syros awards waiting to be given out

Our jury awarded the Grand Prix to The Ogre.  French animator Laurene Braibant has created a film whose delicate style enhances its beautifully grotesque story.  Full of complexes because of his gigantic size, the Ogre is terrified of eating least he reveal his ogreish self to the world.  At a business banquet he cannot restrain himself any longer and his true nature is revealed as it all goes wrong with a visually spectacular finish.

Our jury statement said that we were giving the Grand Prix to “A film that is distinguished for its artistic excellence, featuring an original design style.  At the same time, it is an insightful and inspirational commentary on human bulimia, greed, and self-destruction, with no trace of preaching or commonality”.

Along with Greek, International, Student, and Television and Commissioned Film Competitions the five day festival was packed full of other special screenings, masterclasses, and workshops.

This year Brazil is celebrating one hundred years of animation so the focus on Brazilian animation was very appropriate.  The first Brazilian animated film, O Kaiser, was made in 1917.  The political satire highlighted the empire building ambitions of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm.  Unfortunately the original film is lost but one image from the film which was printed in a newspaper still exists.

  Brazil now has a very active animation community as well as two world class animation festivals, Anima Mundi and MUMIA.  Along with the program of short animations dating from 2010 to the present, the 2016 Academy Award nominated film The Boy And The World was  screened as part of the tribute to Brazil.

The Film Fund of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg exists primarily to promote and foster an environment in which the country’s active film production industry can flourish.  It is known as the country to go to for co-productions and has been involved in many award winning projects.  Anima Syros’ focus on Luxembourg screened eight films.  Mr. Hublot is a French/Luxembourg co-production.  The story of a withdrawn, idiosyncratic little man who is scared of change and has his world turned upside down when a robot dog moves into his house.  It won the Best Short Animation Oscar in 2014 for Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares.

Carlo Vogele’s clever film A Furtive Tale was a Luxembourg/United States joint effort and took home the Canal + Creative Award at Annecy in 2012.  On his last journey from the fish store to the frying pan a fish sings his own requiem.  The very talented fish’s voice is actually a 1904 recording of Enrico Caruso singing Una Furtiva Lagrima from Act 2, Scene 8 of the Italian opera L’ elisir d’ amore by Gaetano Donizetti.  Carlo Vogele, who was born in Luxembourg but now lives in Brussels, was a guest at the festival and a member of the Student Jury.

As part of the celebration of Luxembourg Extraordinary Tales, five Edgar Allan Poe stories directed by Raul Garcia, was also screened.  The 75 minute film was a co-production between Spain, United States, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

Anima Syros emphasizes the participation of people with disabilities at the festival.  People With Disabilities – Ability programs included 15 films that addressed diversity and sensitivity.  The focus was on films that were created by disabled people to demonstrate that creativity is a basic primary vehicle which people with disabilities can use to assimilate into a wider social environment.  The films ranged from A Life With Asperger’s by Jamie Ekkens from the United States, an animated documentary that explores the challenges of growing up and living with Asperger’s Syndrome to Cradle, the story of a young man who returns to the United States after losing both of his arms in the war.  Director Devan Manney takes us into a world where the young veteran battles phantom arm  pains, prosthetics, and memories of his pre-war life while trying to find a sense of normalcy.

Several of the films in the Ability program were created in Syros at workshops for people with disabilities in previous years.  There Was A Great Map  was a collaboration between members of the Day Care Center for People With Disabilities, 6th grade students at the local school, and first year high school students during the 2015 Media Literacy Program, under the guidance of school teachers and special education instructors as well as animation teachers Christina Depian and Ioanna Giakoumatou.  A spirit of cooperation, learning, imagination, and creativity led the participants to make a 5’ 48” cut out film about knowledge and the art of communication.  All of the screenings of the disability program were free and the theatre wheel chair accessible.

A special cinematic tribute was paid to all of the member countries of the EU at 28 Animated Narratives For Europe.  Twenty-eight short films, one from each EU member state, were selected to represent the current European animation industry.  The impressive group of films ranged from the darkly melancholy multiple award winning Oh Willy by Emma De Swaef and Marc Roels from Belgium to La Soupe (The Soup) by Nico Synnos from Cypress.  The Soup is predominately drawn on paper with a very striking color palette of bright yellow, pink, and white.  The quirky story is about a man who has two chickens.  When one chicken gets sick the man kills the healthy chicken to make chicken soup for the sick one.  According to the description in the catalogue “This is a film that inverts our perception about priorities . . . and scratches the thin line between love, life, and nonsense”.  I don’t think that I got all of that out of the film but The Soup did leave a lasting impression on me and I want to see it again.

All My Friends were a group of screenings curated by friends who had attended and supported the festival over the past ten years and what a diverse group they are. From Laika Studio in Portland, Oregon who sent Henry Selick’s Moongirl (2005) to the presentation by the Syros International Film Festival of 8 Martha Colburn films is quite a leap.  The Film Festival also included Lost in Syros which was made at a workshop the US based Colburn led at the film festival last summer.

Anima Brussels has been a supporter of Anima Syros since its inception ten years ago so it was only natural that they be included in the birthday celebration.  For their contribution the festival selected Vincent Patar and Stephane Aubier’s A Town Called Panic: Back to School (2012).  Karen Vandenrydt , Anima Brussels programmer, wrote in the catalogue “. . . we chose one film that  represents the Belgian spirit very well.  It is made by a duo that we are very proud of and it combines craftsmanship, precision, and an irresistible sense of humor”.

This was the second year that Athens Pride participated in the festival.  Their contribution to the celebration was a 5 film program.  I especially enjoyed Lorelei Pepi’s Happy And Gay (2014).  The American animator created revisionist history in the style of a 1930’s black and white Hollywood cartoon musical as two gay mice couples go out for an evening on the town.

Claymation workshop

Workshops for the residents of Syros play a very important part in the festival.  The six workshops ranged from a hands on project for all ages to a group for people with disabilities plus a  special workshop aimed at seniors.

When I visited Greek animator Anastasia Dimitra’s 3 day workshop for seniors I was struck by the group’s enthusiasm.  Some participants were very busy with paper, colored pencils, and scissors creating objects for their short stop motion film.  Another group was busy shooting the film while a third set of people were composing a song for it.  Everyone was excited about what they were working on and eager to tell me about their part in the project.

Anastasia Dimitra (C) with members of her workshop for seniors

Syros does not have an animation school on the island but in 2000 the University of the Aegean opened its Department of Product and System Design Engineering on Syros.  A number of animation students from Athens had also come to the festival as volunteers and to attend a series of presentations which were designed primarily for the local and guest students.

Erik van Drunen, a member of the Student Jury, from the Netherlands gave a session with tips on how to “Pitch Perfect”.  Based on his work on advisory boards for several international films funds, Erik talked about the do’s and don’ts of presenting your project to potential financers.

Erik’s lessons were put to the test at a pitching session where six Greek projects were presented.  Director Irida Zhonga was prepared to pitch her eight minute project Man Wanted with a five page prospectus that was handed out to each audience member.  It was a well thought out presentation.  Her prospectus had a projected production schedule and an easy to read financial plan stating how much money had been raised to date, how much had been applied for, and how much co-production money the project was still looking for.  The art work looked good and the style fit the story, set in the 1950’s, about a young man’s fear of commitment which seems to be an age old problem.

Irida Zhonga pitching Man Wanted

Other pitches included Voyages, an animated television series based on interviews with people from around the world who have chosen or been forced to travel in search of a new place to live.

 My Name Is Igor also seemed interesting.  The presentation proposed an animated film to bring the concert hall and television audience face to face with composer Igor Stravinsky as he prepares for the world premiere of his magnum opus The Rite of Spring.  The project seemed to still be in a very formative stage but I would be interested to hear more about the film when they are further along.

At his presentation Academy Award nominated director Patrick Doyon (Sunday, 2011) gave an insider’s view into some of the projects he has directed.  He focused on his personal artistic approach and ways of adapting the creative process to fit the medium that is used.

Tomm Moore interviewed by Tunde Vollenbroek

Tomm Moore, co-founder and creative director of the 2D animation studio Cartoon Saloon, gave a very relaxed presentation sitting on the edge of the stage as he was interviewed by Dutch producer Tunde Vollenbroek.  Tomm has worked as a director on two films that have been nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the Academy Awards (The Secret of Kells, 2010 and Song of the Sea, 2015).  He has also worked as art director, story boarder, animator and illustrator as well as a comic book artist.  Tomm showed clips from his films along with pieces from Cartoon Saloon’s popular Irish children’s television series Puffin Rock which he worked on as a script writer.

The large audience also got a sneak peek at Cartoon Saloon’s latest project The Breadwinner which looks beautiful and I am sure will be another hit for the studio.

 Tomm became very animated when he started talking about his new project Wolfwalkers.  Set in 1600’s Kilkenny, Ireland, it is a Celtic folk tale about an eleven year old girl named Robin who is an apprentice wolf hunter.  Moore said the film which will complete his Irish folk trilogy is set to go into production in 2018 and hopefully will be ready for release in the summer of 2020.  What little I have seen of Wolfwalkers looks like another beautiful film in the Tomm Moore tradition.

Animaspyros, the festival mascot, was designed by Petros Christoulias in 2008.  When looking for a festival symbol the designer used the famous Cycladic figurines whose minimalistic form only has a nose on the face as a starting point.  The mascot was given vision by adding a big pair of black framed glasses.  The triangular shaped head and weak chin brings to mind a caricature of Woody Allen.  By emphasizing the nose and adding two simple legs Animaspyros symbolizes not only the location of the festival but cinema as well.

Animaspyros after his unveiling

For the tenth anniversary a statute of Animaspyros was created at the Athens School of Fine Arts.  Placed across from the Apollon Theatre the statute was unveiled at a special ceremony during the festival by Vassilis Karamitsanis, Festival President.

Recreating Wheatfield with Crows

Loving Vincent was screened at the festival.  In conjunction with Studio Bauhaus, the Greek production company that coordinated the visual artist’s team from Greece that worked on the film, a gigantic live recreation of the Van Gogh painting Wheatfield With Crows was painted in the main town square by the Greek team that worked on the film.  The painting process was also recorded in a time lapse video.

Ceiling of the Apollon Opera House

The main screening room for the festival was the magnificent Apollon Theatre.  Workshops and other events and screenings were held through the city.  The Apollon Theatre began life in 1864 as an opera house.  Built by the Italian architect Pietro Sampo, the impressive building is styled after the magnificent Teatro alla Scala in Milan.  The Athens based Greek National Opera began its collaboration with Anima Syros in 2015 and for the 10th anniversary opening night festivities three renowned members of the Greek National Opera preformed  popular arias’  from operas by such noted composers as Mozart, Rossini, Puccini, and Verdi.  The acoustics in the theatre are perfect and it was a rare treat for anyone who enjoys opera.

Members of the Greek National Opera performing opening night

Hermoupolis, names after Hermes the ancient god of commerce, is the best preserved neo classical city in Greece.  The festival arranged for a guided walking tour so that guests could learn more about the history of the beautiful city and enjoy some majestic views.  The Church of Dormition of the Virgin, built in the early 19th century, is impressive in its own right but it also contains the most important art treasure on Syros, an original El Greco painting.  No one is sure when or exactly how the Dormition of the Virgin arrived at the church.   Until 1983 the painting was not even recognized as a work by El Greco.  That year a visiting scholar thought that he recognized the work of art as an early El Greco.  After cleaning and authentication it was confirmed that it was painted by a young El Greco somewhere around 1562 to 1564 when he was between 19 and 21 years of age.  His signature is very obvious on the painting.  That makes the painting the earliest known work by El Greco in existence and it can be seen hanging in the entry way to the church.

Theodore performing on the town hall steps

Of course there were parties and free open air screenings in Miaoulis Square but the most spectacular event took place following the awards ceremony on the closing night of the festival when guests and residents of Syros were treated to an open air concert when Theodore performed live on the Town Hall steps in the main square.  The multi-instrumentalist, composer, and performer has developed a unique style mixing classic rock with traditional Greek music which he and his band displayed at the concert.   Their performance was accompanied by a spectacular laser light show that lit up the Town Hall beautifully.  The concert was followed by a party at a waterfront restaurant with tasty snacks and drinks.

Festival director Maria Anastopoulous, L, at lunch with festival guests

It was magical to wake up every morning to the beautiful Aegean Ocean right outside my hotel window and I did manage to go swimming a couple of times.  The beauty of Syros was only matched by the warmth and friendliness of the people of the island and the food was delicious.  I cannot thank Vassilis Karamitsanis, President of Anima Syros and Festival Director Maria Anastopoulous enough for inviting me to be part of this special anniversary year.  They, along with their fabulous staff and volunteers, did everything possible to make my stay very memorable.  You can learn more about the festival and see more pictures at:

Here is to the next 10 years of Anima Syros!

From Anima Syros I flew to Poland where I was a coach for pitching sessions which I will write about in my next article.


International Jury:  Yagos Antiochos, Greece; Tomm Moore, Ireland; Alberto Vazquez, Spain, Nancy Denney-Phelps, Belgium

International Competition:

     Grand Prix:  L’Ogre (The Ogre) – Laurene Braibant, France

     Special Mention:  Nighthawk – Spela Cadez, Slovenia/Croatia

TV & Commissioned Films:

     Grand Prix:  The Junction- Chilly Gonzales & Peaches – Patrick Doyon, Canada

     Special Mention:  Blue – CNN – Moth, United Kingdom

     Prize for the Best Animation From Greece, Cypress, and the Diaspora:  Aenigma – Antonis Doussias & Aris     Fatouros, Greece

Student Competition Jury: Myrto Lavda, Greece; Charalambos Margaritis, Cypress; Erik van Drunen, The Netherlands; Carlo Vogele, Luxembourg

     Grand Prix: O Matko! (Oh Mother!) – Paulina Ziolkowska, Poland

     Special Mention:  Cipka (Pussy) – Renata Gasiorowska, Poland