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15th AnimaSyros and Agora 20 – 25 September 2022 Hermoupolis, Syros, Cyclades, Greece

AN ANIMATED ISLAND IN THE SUN

     Syros is a magical island any time of the year, and for six days every September AnimaSyros and the Agora transform it into a wonderland of animation. This year the theme of the festival was equality, diversity, solidarity, and acceptance. In keeping with the theme, the opening night film was Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee. The animated documentary tells the true story of Amin Nawabi who was forced to flee Afghanistan at a young age with his mother and siblings when the Mujahedeen took over Kabul. Now 36 years old, living in Denmark, and an academic with an impending marriage to his longtime partner, Kasper, Amin must confront a painful secret that he has kept hidden for 20 years. The story in Flee is true although Amin is not his real name for reasons that become obvious when you watch the film.

Flee

     This year Flee made history when it was nominated in three separate categories at the Academy Awards: Best Documentary, Best International Film, and Best Feature Film. It won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and Best Animated Feature Film at Annecy, to name just two of the many awards the film has received.

     The ten films in the Anima Pride Competition covered a wide range of important aspects of the LGBTQ+ community. In Eyes and Horns, Marta Kai Kepata from South Korea fights a violent struggle between being male and female. Her exploration of masculinity begins with the Minotaur. It goes through a violent struggle between being male and female as lines blur and boundaries between the sexes merge.

     Romanian animator Serghei Chiviriga tells the story of a teenage boy who is confused by the entire world and his own body. In Sasha, he is forced to discover, in a strange manner, the truth about his sexual identity by confronting his “other half”. The jury awarded Sasha top honors in the Anima Pride category.

Sasha

     The film that stood out for me in the Anima Pride Competition was the historical animated documentary Butterflies in Berlin – Diary of a Soul Split in Two. Director Monica Manganelli uses a stunning Art Deco style of animation to tell the story of Alex who feels like a girl trapped in a man’s body. In 1933 he/she moves to Berlin, then the capital of sexual freedom, looking for a place to discover his sexual identity.

     Thanks to an encounter with eminent sexologist Doctor Mangus Hirschfeld, Alex became the first transsexual in history to undergo surgery. Unfortunately, that happened at the same time as the rise to power of Adolph Hitler and the National Socialists which turned the capital of sexual freedom into the most repressed city of all time.

Butterflies in Berlin

     The Italian/German 30-minute coproduction uses a mix of 2D animation, motion graphics, cutouts, computer animation, old photos, collage/pastiche, and matte paint–concept art. The director conceived each shot as a painting, a homage to a different artist. Based on actual events, anyone interested in history will find Butterflies in Berlin a fascinating film.

     In the past few years, the Greek animation industry has grown in size and quality as evidenced by the 20 films from Greece, Cyprus, and the Diaspora in the Greek Hellenic Competition which has become an important part of the festival. The record number of films ranged from topics about Greece to a poignant story about a man facing financial ruin.

     Aoos/Vjosa: Source of Life for Nature and Anthropos, created for the Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos by Theodoros Vakrinos, Dimitrios Gazis, and Ioannis Skouras follows a maple leaf as it travels on the Aoos/Vjosa River from its source in Greece to Albania where it flows into the Adriatic Sea. It is considered to be one of the last free-flowing rivers in Europe. Except for a hydroelectric dam at its springs, it flows for 272 kilometers without any artificial obstructions.

     In Christmas Present Konstantinos P. Kakarountas poses a problem all too many people throughout the world are facing. When the financial crisis destroys your life and your only goal is to save your family, what drastic measures will you resort to?

     I thoroughly enjoyed Kavapivi (Canary) by Chrysoula Koroves and Marios Gampierakis. The jury agreed with me and selected it as the Best Greek Film. The film tells the story of a canary born in captivity and a miner born into his fate deep underground. The pair form a special bond of friendship until a violent incident occurs. The story is well written and the use of charcoal on paper gives a gritty feeling to the film that enhances the harsh environment that the film is set in.

Canary

     AnimaSyros is an extremely all-inclusive festival with many other things going on besides competition screenings. The Media Literacy programs are an important part of the festival. They are designed to give the community an opportunity to participate hands-on in the festival and learn about animation by doing in workshops.

Participants in the Media Literacy Programs

     A workshop for people with disabilities, led by Athens animator Elena Pavlaki, worked on films with Imagine A Better World as their theme. Inspired by art created by refugees, the filmmakers imagine and interpolate on film what it feels like to be forced to leave your home and go to a country where you are unwanted and feel uncertain about what the next day will bring.

     Animator and graphic designer Margarita Simopoulou, in collaboration with the Elderly Care Center of Syros – Hermopolis, worked with senior citizens to create Letter from the Past. With the idea of a letter as their starting point, the group used testimonies from the first generation of Asia Minor refugees in Syros to delve into the past. This year marked the 100th anniversary of the Greco-Turkish War. At the end of the war in 1922, Greece absorbed an estimated 1.2 million Asia Minor Greeks who were forced to flee Turkey. They brought the stories of the refugee’s journeys and lives in their new homeland onto film using charcoal to create the images.

     There were also workshops for children - two different ones for teenagers, and one for adults. The Media Literacy Program continues throughout the year in both live and online formats. They are held not only in Athens and Syros but throughout Greece.

Danie lNikolaou and Maria Christos with Nik at the opening night party

     In its third year, the animated biopic series Ninety Seconds is a joint project of AnimaSyros and radio station 99.2 in Athens. It commemorates on film the lives of Greek songwriters and singers who have left their mark on the country’s musical history. A song is selected by Radio Station 99.2 and AnimaSyros for which they also create a script. With the emblematic song as a starting point up-and-coming young directors Maria Christou and Daniel Nikolaou from Cyprus created Ninety Seconds for Manos Eleftheriou.  Manos was a poet from Syros. The song Allos gia Chios (Another Fled to Chios), based on his words was released in 1972.

Hermoupolis

     The festival is based in the beautiful city of Hermoupolis, named after Hermes, the ancient God of Commerce. It is the capital of Syros Island and the best-preserved neoclassical city in Greece. The heart of the festival is the majestic Apollon Theatre which was built from 1862 to 1864 by Italian architect Pietro Sampo. The theatre is a symbol of the city’s wealth and power in the 1800’s. Culture and Art are still deeply rooted in the city’s history.

Apollon Theatre

     As well as screenings in Hermoupolis the festival brings animation to other cities on the island. This year the AnimaSyros team took on a new challenge. They have taken over Hermis, the island’s winter cinema, which has been abandoned for many years. They plan to bring this historic cultural space back to life while retaining its nostalgic taste of old Hermoupolis.

     An important resident of the island is Animaspyros, the festival mascot. The figure was created for the festival’s 10th anniversary in 2017 by participants in Professor George Lappes’ Sculpture Workshop. The little fellow with the big glasses and two skinny legs permanently lives in the Hall of Syros at Hermoupolis City Hall.

     AnimaSyros is not only important to the island but to the entire country. As a mark of the esteem in which the festival is held,  Katerina Sakellaropoulou, President of Greece attended the festival’s closing night ceremony.

 Marineta Mak Kritikou, Agora Director

     Over the 8 years of its existence, the Agora has grown from a two-day event to four very busy days. The Agora is a separate section of the festival devoted to the business wing of Greek and International animation. It features presentations and round table discussions by eminent members of the animation community. It also provides an excellent opportunity for networking and fostering collaborations and synergies between directors, producers, distributors, and other professionals in the world of animation.

Joanna Quinn and Les Mills

     Along with all of the other programs at the Agora two Master Classes were held. First animator par excellence Joanna Quinn and her writer/producer husband Les Mills gave the audience a behind-the-scenes look at how they work together to create their award-winning films. From idea and script development to character development they stressed the importance of acute observation.

     Freelance French producer Olivier Catherin took the audience through the ins and outs of international co-producing with France. Using three films that he has produced, Kiki of Montparnasse which won the César Award in 2014, Franzy’s Soup Kitchen which is a French/Republic of Georgia coproduction, and Granny’s Sexual Life which he co-produced with Slovenia, he covered why you should choose the co-production route. He also outlined what possibilities are specifically available in France for co-productions. Olivier also outlined what challenges and difficulties one should consider when working with France.

Nancy interviewing Chris Nee

     I had the honor of interviewing American writer/producer Chris Nee on stage. She is a multi-award-winning creator and executive producer of such animated series as Doc McStuffins; Ada Twist, Scientist; The Little Doctor; and Vampirina. Her latest project is the Netflix series We the People which she co-produced with Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions.

     We the People aims to teach young people the fundamental principles of their civic rights as modern citizens in a new and entertaining way. The 10 three-minute music videos combine songs performed by contemporary artists with lessons on history and democracy. As part of her presentation, Chris screened a short film clip of the Obamas talking about why this project is so important to them. She also showed the 10 episodes.

        Chris Nee has received a Peabody Award given for distinguished achievement in the field of television production. She has also been awarded the Humanitas Prize for film and television writing, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Image Award, and an Emmy over the course of her career.

     The Agora features many presentations and round tables of particular interest to the Greek animation community. One round table addressed Institutional Support for Hellenic Animation. Another session presented seven Greek professors and animators discussing Animation in Greek Speaking Universities. They discussed the different applications of the art and techniques of animation across a variety of university disciplines and departments.

     For me, the heart of the Agora is the Pitching Forum. The event began with a four-day pitching coaching workshop led by Xavier Kawa-Topor and Catherine Totems. Catherine is animation consulent at L’Atelier des Sèvres animation school. Xavier is an educator, author, researcher, and director of NEF animation.

     Five projects under development were presented to the jury. Two were from Greece and the other three came from Portugal, France/Greece, and Estonia. The jury was composed of Xavier Kawa-Topor, Catherine Totems, Olivier Catherine, Agora director Marineta Mak Kritikou, and myself.

L to R - Vincent Tsuli, Marva Peponi , me, Catherine Totems (behind Nancy), Olivier Catherin, Agora Directior Mak Kritikou, and Festival Director Maria Anestopoulou

     All five projects were interesting and, in the end, the jury selected the French/Greek project Seasons of a Day by co-directors Mavra Peponi and Vincent Tsuli. The story of the poetic film is told by four young girls. The hand-drawn film will be made up of interlinking haiku verses.

 Nancy with Festival Director Maria Anestopoulou Festival President Vassilis Karamitsanis with his personal achievement award presented to him by the Municipality of Syros-Hermoupolis

     Many thanks go to AnimaSyros President Vassilis Karamitsanis, Festival Director Maria Anestropoulou, Agora Coordinator Mak  Kritikou and the entire Team AnimaSyros for making me a part of the festival family. I think of you all with fond memories until we are all together again next September on Syros.

Animasyros awards

ANIMASYROS 2022 AWARDS

International Short Film Grand Prix:   Dog-Apartment, Priit Tender – Estonia

Special Mention:  Steakhouse, Spela Cadez - Slovenia

International Feature Film Audience Award:  Flee, Jonas Poher Rasmussen – Denmark

European Values Award: #ThisisEU: Cured, Marton Csutoras – Hungary

Student Competition: La Bride, Nicolas Piret – Belgium

Special Mention: Persona, Sujin Moon – South Korea

TV & Commissioned Films: Funny Birds, Charlie Belin – France

Special Mention: The Thing, music video for the band The Smile, Cristobal Leon and Cocina – Chile

Anima Pride Competition: Sasha, Sergei Chiviriga – Romania

Special Mention: Cured, Marton Csutoras – Hungary

Children’s Films: Laika & Nemo, Jan Gadermann & Sebastian Gadow – Germany

Special Mention: Paper Planes – Siew May Khoo, Jay Septimo, Pamela Farhat, Michael Doumit – Lebanon

Greek Competition – Greek Film Center Award: Canary, Chrysoula Korovesi & Marios Giamperakis

Special Mention: Travel Bugs – Fokion  Xenos

AnimaSyros Pitching Forum: Vincent Tsui and Mavra Peponi for Seasons of the Day – Greek/French coproduction. The pair won a one-month residency with NEF Animation at their facilities at Abbey Fontevraud, France