The 14th Euganea Film Festival takes place over 3 different weekends in 3 different Northern Italian cities where over 60 films were screened. The first weekend in the beautiful city of Este was devoted to animation. The documentary and short live action films were shown in two other cities on following weekends with different juries.
I have never spent much time at Italian animation festivals so I was delighted to accept the invitation to be on the animation jury of the 14th Euganea Film Festival. The festival takes place over 3 different weekends in 3 different Northern Italian cities where over 60 films were screened. The first weekend in the beautiful city of Este was devoted to animation. The documentary and short live action films were shown in two other cities on following weekends with different juries.
The festival sent all of the films in the animation category to me and my fellow jurors in a computer link and requested that we all watch them prior to the festival. I think that this is a terrible system. I don’t like to watch films on a small computer screen, especially not when I am evaluating films and selecting a winner for a festival. Some of the films I was supposed to watch would not open and I found out that my two colleagues had the same problem.
I feel that the jury should watch the films together so that they can discuss them after each screening. In the best of all possible worlds the jury should be able to watch the films with the regular audience.
There were 28 films in the animation category. Many of them such as “A Single Life” by the Dutch animators Job, Jaris, and Marieke and “Between Times” by Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata I have seen many times and written about before. There were some delightful new suprises also. The 6 minute Spanish animation “Don Miguel” by Kote Camacho relates the story of Eugenio and Don Miguel, the wealthy town pharmacist. Don Miguel, a very respected member of his community, only needs to sign a few documents so that the bank will finally lend Eugenio the money that he has asked for. But instead of signing the papers, Don Miguel offers to make him a deal. The starkness of the story is enhanced by the use black and white to tell a very harsh tale.
Unfortunately we did not have a separate children’s animation category. If we had I would have voted for “The Centipede and the Toad”. Anna Khmelevskaya has adapted an ancient fairy tale to the screen using beautiful colors and fanciful new character designs to tell the story of the supple, graceful centipede who arouses the admiration of all the other insects in the forest. Only the old toad who is haughty and jealous hates the centipede and one day the toad decides to get rid of the centipede. What follows is a battle of cunning and wits.
Juste De L’ Eau (Nothing Else But Water) by French animator Carlos De Carvalho is a strange, emotive tale. The story takes place in Lisbon at the time of the great maritime discoveries.
Explorers looking like pigs arrive in the harbor after a long voyage across the oceans. Everywhere in the city small groups gather to organise celebrations, dances, and to congratulate each other on their safe return. One young pig has the feeling of being completely isolated from the others as he wonders through his native city.
De Carvalho, who is a professor of image creation and art direction at Supinfocom in the Lille, France area used visuals, pacing, and music as well as attention to details in textures and colors to create the dream like visuals.
Euganea Festival was my first opportunity to see La Testa Tra Le Nuvole (Absent Minded) by Italian Roberto Catani, The synopsis in the catalog is “a child day dreaming during a school lesson is suddenly interrupted by his teacher”.
The absence of dialogue and the quietly disturbing hand drawn images along wth the sound design and music by Italian sound designer/composer Andrea Martignoni left me feeling very uneasy and anxious to watch the film again. I felt that there was so much more to the story than what I saw in one viewing.
I have now seen the film several times and I think that the child has a learning disorder such as dyslexia, at least that is the impression that the film gives me. The boy is obviously not stupid but the people around him seem to have no understanding of what he needs and only see him as daydreaming because he cannot grasp what the teacher is trying to teach him. This is a problem that happens far too often.
The jury selected La Testa Tra Le Nuvole (Absent Minded) as the best film at the festival.
Peter Lord was the special guest for the animation segment of the festival. On Saturday we traveled back to Padova where Peter gave a presentation at the San Gaetano Cultural Center to an enthusiastic, packed audience.
He began by telling us how he and David Sproxton met at school as teenagers and shared a passion for creating animation. In 1972 the BBC asked the duo to create a super hero for them and thus a studio was born. Peter told us that the name Aardman came from putting aardvark, which Peter and David thought was a funny word, with Superman, a comic book hero that they both admired.
A few years later the plasticine person named Morph was born. In 1980 Morph became the star of a series “The Amazing Adventures of Morph”. In 1985 the now well established creative duo, Peter and David, were joined by the skilled animator and director Nick Park. The rest is history.
In 1990 “Creature Comforts directed by Nick Park won an Oscar for the Best Short Animation. In the subsequent years the studio won two more Oscars. In 1993 “The Wrong Trousers” featuring Nick Park’s characters Wallace and Gromit took home the Best Short Animation Oscar and Wallace and Gromit did it again in 1995 when “A Close Shave” won the Oscar.
Among the most recent works created by Aardman Animation is Wallace and Gromit in their first feature film, “The Curse of the WereRabbit” in 2005 which won an Oscar in 2006 for the Best Feature Film Animation. In 2011 “Arthur Christmas” appeared on the big screen and in 2012 “Pirates! Band of Misfits, directed by Peter Lord garnered the studio another Best Feature Animation Oscar nomination.
The latest feature film produced by the studio is “Shaun the Sheep The Movie” (2015). Based on the adventures of the loveable Shaun the Sheep and the rest of the flock which Nick Park originally created as a 15 minute BBC television show.
On Sunday evening “Shaun the Sheep, the Movie” was screened in the Piazza Maggiore, Este’s large public square. Peter and Shaun introduced the film to a large audience of all ages. Following the screening Peter and Shaun answered questions from the audience and posed for photos with an endless number of fans.
Throughout Peter’s presentation he was joined on stage with by his old friend Francesca Ferrario. Francesca not only acted as translator but also talked about her time working at Aardman Animation. After receiving her fine arts degree in Italy she was accepted into the animation training course at Aardman Animation and then went on to work as a model maker on “Chicken Run”.
The presentation ended with Peter screening 3 of his personal projects. In 1991 he directed “Adam”. It is his take on the hand of God creating Adam, who must learn the ways of the world and can only hope for a companion. The minute long claymation is based on the beginning of the Book of Genesis. It was nominated for an Academy Award and it won a BAFTA, the British equilivant of the Oscars as well as the Audience Award at the 1993 Annecy Animation Festival.
In 1996 “Wat’s Pig” garnered Aardman Animation’s sixth Oscar nomination and the second nomination for Peter as a director.
The third project was the grand finale of the show. Morph, created by Peter in 1977 from plasticine, Morph starred in a series of stop motion comedies of one minute each. In 1980 Morph became the star of the series “The Amazing Adventures of Morph” and 2013 saw a new series of 15 one minute episodes were launched on the web. Morph travels everywhere with Peter who photographs him on their adventures and then posts the pictures on Facebook.
One of the photo ops in Este was on a stroll around Padova that Francescia took us on after Peter’s talk. We were in the local market arcade where Peter was taking pictures of Morph strolling down the arcade. Everyone was curious about what was going on and one woman who has a market stall there insisted that we come with her so Morph could be photographed in her stall. Morph was given a big piece of watermelon which he obligingly “took a big bite out of “ for the camera.
We ended the stroll around town at the café without doors, on a street with no name, and a garden without grass. The majority of the space functions as a regular café but a large room in front is for students, artists, and poor people who can come in and read, write or enjoy the newspaper and are not expected to buy anything no matter how long they stay. This is a centuries old tradition and I’m sure that many radical plots were hatched there.
While we were in Padova, Peter and I were taken to visit Scrovegni Chapel which contains the world famous frescos by Giotto. I had seen pictures of the frescos and knew what they looked like but nothing prepared me for the breath taking experience of seeing the best preserved Giottos in the world in person.
In 1300 the rich nobleman Enrico Scrovegni acquired the grounds of the old Roman arena where he planned to build an elegant Town house. Next to it he had a chapel built and dedicated it to the Holy Virgin for the soul of his father, Reginaldo the usurer, mentioned in the 17th century canto of Dante’s “Inferno”.
Scrovegni commissioned Giotto to decorate the chapel with frescos which were probably done between 1303 and 1305 and cover the interior walls and ceiling. The reason that these murals are the best preserved of all of Giotto’s work is because thanks to his wealthy patron he could afford to use lapus lazulie for his blue instead of the usual tempera blue which has faded over the centuries in many of his other works.
On another day Francescia took us to visit the beautiful Villa dei Vescovi. The villa, a perfect example of grand Italian civil architecture, was built between 1535 and 1542 as a holiday home for the Bishop of Padova, Francesco Pisani in the rolling Euganean Hills.The Bishop transformed the villa into a venue for an intellectual circle frequented by leading literati and humanists of the period; men whose thoughts and writings left an indelible mark on Italian culture.
The rooms were truly beautiful but even more spectacular were the views from all sides of the terraces which ran around the entire house. From one side you can look out over the vineyards that stretch as far as the eye can see, from another side you had a view of the beautiful Euganean Hills and from yet another terrace you could see the sweeping expanse of rolling lawn and what was once the formal drive leading up to the villa.
Peter Lord and I were the only special guests for the animation portion of the festival and we both stayed at the lovely Agriturismo Barchessa. The Barchessa began life as a stable for the horses kept by the owners of the elegant main villa near by. Now it is a beautifully restored bed and breakfast with four very spacious suites. With a lovely large sitting room, kitchen, and spacious bedroom I felt like a princess in my beautiful villa.
I was lucky enough to spend a few days with Francesca Ferrario in her lovely home in Padova before we went to Este for the festival. Even though she was very busy working on an animated film commissioned by UNESCO she took me out for some memorable meals.
I have fallen in love with with the food of Northern Italy. It is very clean and fresh tasting with out being drowned in sauces. One evening Francesca took me to a tatoria where we ate outside under a massive grape arbor. My pasta with mushrooms was so simple and yet very delicious. I could really taste mama in the kitchen cooking it. A few blocks from Francesca’s home I could walk to the wine shop. The delicious wine was poured into my own bottles direct from the barrel and cost three Euros for two litres
In Este the festival treated the guests to a delicious lunch al fresco at a restaurant in the Euganean Hills where we were served several types of pasta dishes and meats. I have never eaten donkey before and I discovered that it is delicious.
Another meal was at a restaurant inside of the wall surrounding the castle and garden of Este. At this meal we were joined by several of the animators whose work was screened at the festival. It was a great opportunity to talk to them about their works. The films were also screened in the castle gardens on a large outdoor screen.
After the three days in Este I spent a few more days with Francesca. On my last evening in Padova we met up with several of her friends at the Portello River Festival in the Portello area, along side one of the Padova canals called Piovego, where most of the different universities are located. It was a perfect place to enjoy a few beers under the strings of colored lights and big old trees. Of course you had to be very careful not to fall down the very steep canal banks because the tables sat very close to the canal edge. After the very hot days the cool of the evening was the perfect time to go out to the beer garden. It was also the perfect way to end my visit to Padova and Este. The next morning I boarded a train to Rome to begin my next adventure at La Citta Incanta which I will tell you all about in my next article.
I can’t thank Francesca Ferrario enough for being the perfect hostess and introducing me to the pleasures of Padova and the Euganean Hills. A big thank you goes to the festivals artistic directors and organisers, Susanna Boetto, Giacomo Ferigioni, Marco Trevisan, and Marco Segato for inviting me to participate in the Euganea Film Festival and arranging for my travel and wonderful hospitality while I was there.
A special thank you to Giacomo Ferigiani who taught me a lot about the history and food of the area. He also gave me a lovely cookbook which will be a continual reminder of Este when I try to duplicate the delicious receipts in the book.
You can find out more about the festival at www.euganeafilmfestival.it