From September 26 until October 1 we went to the island of Syros to experience the wonderful Animasyros Animation Festival.
ANIMATION AND ANCIENT GREECE
The first animated short film created in Greece was The Duce Narrates (O Duce afighete) by Stamati Polenaki. The film, an anti-fascist satire, was designed in 1942 on the island of Sifnos during the World War ll Italian occupation of Greece. The actual film was shot in Athens in 1945.
After the liberation of Greece, there was a bloody civil war (1946 – 1949) followed by a severe economic depression. Although one or two animated films were made each year, Greek animation did not thrive.
The Ancient Greeks often decorated pots with figures in successive stages of action; spinning the pot creates a sense of motion and action. Greek-born animator, writer, and Professor Emeritus at ENSAD in Paris Georges Sifianos has written extensively about movement on early Greek pottery.
His most recent research in this field concerns animated figures found on the Parthenon’s Frieze. During this year’s Animasyros’ Agora, Professor Sifianos gave a presentation on Phidias the Animator: Movement Analysis in the Parthenon’s Frieze.
It is widely acknowledged that Phidias was one of the greatest sculptors of Classical Greece. What was not realized until recently is that he also seems to have been an expert on movement analysis. This expertise was used in the construction of the Parthenon’s frieze as a basic structural feature. The positions of the figures remind the viewer of the actual “key positions” of an animated film according to Professor Sifianos.
During his presentation at the Agora, he, with the aid of specially prepared films, presented the “hidden animations”, which revealed that Phidias created an animated work in Greece over 2,000 years before there was animated cinema.
When I was invited to participate in my first Agora, which was held in Athens in 2018, I didn’t know much about Greek animation and I was not very impressed with most of the Greek films and projects that were pitched at the Agora. With the exception of one or two animators, like Joan Zhonga, their work was seldom seen at festivals. Zhonga is a specialist in stop-motion animation primarily with puppets and plasticine. He began his career in 1982, after graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Tirana, Albania. Over the years his films have won awards at many international animation festivals such as Annecy, Hiroshima, and Fantoche to name but three.
This invisibility in the animation scene has all changed, and Greece is now producing some very strong films. In 2023 at the Annecy International Animation Festival, the oldest and largest gathering of animators in the world, the Greek national delegation was well represented with their own booth at MIFA, the market arm of the festival.
Gegone in the Museum of Eufyrosby by Joan Zhonga competed in the Annecy Television Series Competition. The film is set in the Kerameikas Museum in Eufyros where the tomb of a young boy is located. In the film, the image of the boy on the top of the tomb comes to life and talks about his dream of becoming a worthy citizen of Athens. The film was produced by Greek Public Television (ERT).
In the Commissioned Films competition, A Flammable Planet by Yannis Konstantinidis and Christos Lefrakis was screened. The film was commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and NOMINT, a London-based creative house, specializing in thought-provoking content and visual production. The film’s aim is to raise awareness about catastrophic wildfires, which are increasing in intensity and frequency every year. They wreak havoc on people, nature, and animals throughout the world. Along with the two films in competition, the ASIFA Hellas Pavilion at MIFA screened thirty projects in development, production, or distribution.
The 2023 edition of Animasyros screened 270 films. The eight competition sections were for feature films, international short films, TV and commissioned films, the student competition, Hellenic films, the K.I.D.S. competition, and the animapride competition. Sixteen films competed in the Hellenic competition. Claw Machine by Georges Salameh was named the Best Greek Film. The film is a 13-minute immersion into the experience of being uprooted. The city is under siege - do you fight back or migrate? This is a topic that is all too relevant today.
My favorite Greek film this year was Cat Postale directed by Zacharias Mavroeidis. It is the story of Chantal, a young female cat who has grown up in a seaside tourist village. When tourist season ends, the village becomes a ghost town, and the tourists who have been feeding all the stray cats during the summer have disappeared.
Chantal embarks on an odyssey across the small island in search of a peculiar monk named Aquarelle whom she believes is destined to be her foster parent. The story is based on Mavroeidis’ book Seven Souls in the Mouth.
Ermoupoli, the capital of the island of Syros is full of friendly stray cats who lounge on soft chairs at bars, in store windows, and at restaurants. They are fed by store owners, restaurants, and tourists. Most of the cats are plump, healthy, and have good glossy coats. The island is home to several cat gardens where felines can get food and water and rest in the shade during the heat of the day. There is also God’s Little People Cat Sanctuary for sick or injured cats and abandoned little kittens. When visiting the island, if you are lucky enough to be adopted by a cat, you can legally take it home with you, but first, you must have it fully checked out by one of the island’s vets who will also give it the necessary vaccinations. Then you must obtain an animal passport for your new family member.
Twenty-two films were in the Animapride Competition and for the 5th year the #This Is EU Award – European Values was presented by the Representation of the European Commission in Greece. All films in the festival which promote the fundamental values of the European Union are eligible for the award whether they are from an EU country or not. According to Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, there must be respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.
This year’s winning EU Award film, My Name is Edgar and I Have a Cow, by Filip Diviak from Czechia (The Czech Republic) is a particular favorite film of mine. Edgar’s ordinary life is disrupted by a newborn calf that he sees on a tourist trip to a slaughterhouse. When he learns that the calf is destined to become a schnitzel, he buys it and takes it home. As the calf grows into cowhood, Edgar’s comfort zone is pushed to the limits by his love for his cow.
For the fourth year in a row, Animasyros and radio station Melodia 99.2 cooperated on an animated biopic about the life of a much-loved Greek singer/songwriter who has left a distinct mark on Greek music history. The biopic, created by an up-and-coming young director, is created around one of the musician’s best-known songs.
Ninety Seconds for Manos Loizos utilizes mixed animation techniques to portray significant moments in the songwriter’s life and work. The film centers around his beloved song Everything Reminds Me of You. The song was originally sung by Haris Alexiou with lyrics written by Manolis Rasoulis and music composed by Manos Loizos.
The film was made in collaboration with the Department of Multimedia and Graphic Arts at Cyprus University of Technology. It was based on a script written by Melodia 99.2 and Animasyros. The directors were Panagiotis Christou and Sokratis Sokratous. The animators were Dimitris Zonias, Stavros Kazakos, Eleftheria Papadopulou, and Despina Sorrokou. Professor Charalambos Margaritis oversaw the film’s direction and animation and edited the film.
Along with the many animation programs, Animasyros believes in giving back to the local community with the Media Literacy Program. Led by Greek animator/educator Elena Pavlaki, the program for people with disabilities was inspired by ancient Greek painted pottery. The group brought well-known images of pottery to life with animation.
The workshop in collaboration with the Elderly Care Center of Syros-Hermoupolis for senior citizens recreated familiar images from Greek history and animated them. In a two-day workshop for children, the young people learned the basic techniques of stop motion and sand animation. Teenagers had the opportunity to learn sand animation by creating their own interpretation of Ulysses’ Odyssey.
Netherlands animators Jantiene de Kroon and Remco Polman led a three-day adult workshop where the participants revised and distorted Ancient Greek myths using cut-out animation that they created and filmed.
Manos Mastonakis conducted a ceramics workshop where participants could make a replica of an ancient Greek frying pan. Dating back to around 2700 -2200 BC, the early Cycladic artifacts were found in the Aegean Islands. They are flat, circular disks with a handle usually made from earthenware. The pans were usually decorated with incised designs associated with the sea, stars, and female fertility.
Along with the workshop held on the island during the festival, Animasyros organizes activities for all ages year-round in Athens, in other Greek cities, and on the Greek Islands.
Running concurrent with the festival is the four-day Agora. It is spearheaded by Marineta Mak Kritikou, known as Mak, a multi-media director, specializing in documentaries. The Agora is now in its 9th year. Created to serve as a networking opportunity, not just for Greek animators, but for professionals from around the world, the Agora fosters collaborations between directors, producers, and distributors worldwide.
Meaning an assembly of people, agora is defined as the marketplace in ancient Greece. Agora Syros presents masterclasses, individual presentations, and round table discussions. The heart of the Agora is the Pitching Forum. The Forum features a three-day pitching workshop, led this year by Tunde Vollenbroek, co-owner and producer of the Dutch animation house Studio Pupil. Three projects from Greece, and one each from Lebanon, Romania, and Israel were selected for presentation to the audience and pitching jury. Unfortunately, Maria Brudasca from Romania had to cancel at the last minute, so only five projects were presented.
The pitching jury was made up of Belgian producer Viviane Vanfleteren, creative producer Agne Adomene of Lithuania, and Portuguese animator Bruno Caetano, with Mak and I rounding out the pitching jury.
After much deliberation, the jury selected The Fall by Greek animator Stefanos Pletsis. The film charts the journey of a child who, as he grows up, uses the knowledge and way of thinking that his father taught him to achieve his goals in life. The narration is done through two parallel stories, one set in 1972 and the other one in 2008. In 1972 the viewer follows a child and his father as they go to watch the launch of a NASA manned space mission. In 2008 the action takes place on a space station where an astronaut is in danger. The connection between the two stories is slowly revealed.
The award for winning the Pitching Forum is a presentation of the winning project at MIFA 2024 as part of a three-year strategic partnership between Annecy and Animasyros with the support of the French Institute of Greece.
This year there was a lineup of events dedicated to Greek animation at the festival as well as the Agora. Renowned animator/director Joanna Quinn and her partner writer/producer Les Mills are both extremely talented and very witty, so the two sessions of Greek Animation Talks with animators who had films in the Greek Competition they moderated were very entertaining. During the Greek Animation Talks, animators had the opportunity to talk about their films and the challenges that they encountered during their creative process.
French producer Ron Dyens, who founded Sacrebleu Productions in 1999, gave a delightfully humorous presentation about his company’s wide range of short and feature films which have won numerous awards, from the short film Sunday Lunch in 2016 to Marona’s Fantastic Tale in 2020. When I see that a film is a Sacrebleu Production, I know that it will be a quality work.
At Annecy 2023 I had the opportunity to watch Sacrebleu’s latest feature film Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Apparently, I wasn’t the only person who liked the film; it received the Annecy Audience Award and will open in theatres on the 13th of December 2023.
Each year at the Agora I host ‘In Conversation With ...’. This year I had the privilege of talking with Viviane Vanfleteren, the founder of Vivi Films, an independent Belgian film production company based in Gent. The company’s credits include The Triplets of Belleville and The Secret of Kells, which were both nominated for an Academy Award.
In 2009, Viviane and her coproducers from Les Armateurs and Cartoon Saloon won the Cartoon Movie Tribute Award for European Producer of the Year. She is also one of the producers of the hit feature film Titina which screened at Animasyros. The film is the mostly true story of Italian airship engineer Umberto Nobile and his beloved dog Titina, the first pet dog to go to the North Pole in a Zeppelin.
Of course, we talked about the film, how Viviane became involved in the film, and how and why the decision was made to tell the story of an airship expedition to the North Pole in the 1920s from the perspective of a dog.
We also talked about how Viviane got into producing animation; The advantages and disadvantages of being a female producer, and how she juggles work with her home life. She is a delightful person and I thoroughly enjoyed our talk, which was much more a conversation than an interview. You can listen to our conversation as well as all of the other Agora presentations on YouTube at:
New this year at the Agora was Animation Speed Dating. The sessions were powered by Enterprise Greece, the official investment and trade agency of the Greek State. Fifteen Greek creators participated in 15-minute meetings with prominent members of the animation community. Participating professionals were writer/director John Musker; writer/director Ron Clements; Producer Ron Dyens; Viviane Vanfleteren, producer; director/producer Bruno Caetano; producer Amit Gicelter; Agne Adomene, producer; and distributor Laure Goasguen. Quite an impressive group!
John Musker and Ron Clements were at the festival to talk about the making of the 1997 Disney film Hercules which they wrote and directed. Unfortunately, Clements did not appear because he became sick while at Syros, but Musker had plenty of stories to keep the audience fascinated. John brought rarely-seen drawings, rough animation, and visual development art. In 1985 John, Ron and members of the production team took a research trip to Greece for the film and John showed us photos of them mugging for the camera at historic sites on that trip.
Musker’s new 4-minute short film, I’m Hip, was also screened in the Short Film Competition. John took David Frishberg’s song I’m Hip, as the soundtrack for the film. In the short film, a self-absorbed cat, in a jazzy song and dance routine, proudly proclaims how hip he is. The world is less than impressed. The in-joke is that Musker, who is well known for his caricatures, has scattered many of his renderings of friends, family, and colleagues throughout the film.
The Agora was a rare opportunity to hear many wonderful speakers steeped in knowledge. Anyone who has the opportunity to attend the business arm of Animasyros and the festival itself should be sure and take advantage of this valuable opportunity.
Of course, we didn’t work the whole time we were there. Every evening there were receptions with delicious food and drink. One evening there was a lovely reception at the Kois Mansion. Built in 1860, you enter the home via an imposing marble staircase. The ceiling of the ballroom depicts the gods of ancient Greece: Zeus, Hermes, Themis, Apollo, Dimitra, and Athena along with four leading features of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottomans in 1821. The ceiling fresco is completed by a frieze painting. Our host Stavros Kois provided delicious food and drink.
The Kois Mansion is available for private tours given by Mr. Kois. While in Syros I recommend a visit to the mansion so you can see how rich Hermoupilis, the capital of Syros and the Cyclades, was in its heyday both culturally and financially. The streets of Syros are literally paved in marble.
On another evening the party was located at the lovely Cultural Center of Hermouplis. The center has a beautiful marble balcony that overlooks the town’s central square. During the week Nik learned that Joao Gonzalez, director of Ice Merchants, was also an accomplished pianist. He composed and performed the music for his multi-award-winning film. At the party at the Cultural Center Nik and Joao performed a bit of music together and it is rumored that there will be another performance at the Cinanima Animation Festival in November.
I can’t thank Festival Director Maria Anestopoulou and Vassilis C. Karamitsanis, Festival President enough for making me a member of Team Animasyros, as the International Programme Consultant and a member of the International Selection Committee. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Agora Coordinator Marineta Mak Kritkou, who invites me to have stimulating conversations on stage with interesting people every year at the Agora as well as serving on the Pitching Jury. I am already looking forward to Animasyros 2024.
You can find the daily Agora schedule at:
The 2024 edition of the festival will take place from 24 – 29 September
The ANIMASYROS 2023 Awards:
27 (Flóra Anna Buda, FR/HU, 10’38”, 2023)
Special Mention International Competition
Drijf (Levi Stoops, NL, 14’59”, 2023)
Best Student Film
Carp Xmass (Anna Heribanová, CZ, 7’58”, 2022)
Special Mentions Student Film
Dodo (Yi Luo, DE, 12’36”, 2023)
Special Mention Student Film
Above the clouds (Vivien Hárshegyi, HU, 13’32”, 2022)
Best K.ID.S Film
To Be Sisters (Anne-Sophie Gousset & Clément Céard, FR, 7’20”, 2022)
Special Mention K.ID.S Film
Corvine (Sean McCarron, CA, 10’30”, 2022)
Best Animapride Film
Pipes (Kilian Feusi & Jessica Meier & Sujanth Ravichandran, CH, 4’03”, 2022)
Special Mention Animapride Film
Maurice's Bar (Tom Prezman & Tzor Edery, FR/IL, 15’, 2023)
Best Greek Film
Claw Machine (Georges Salameh, GR, 13’48”, 2023)
Special Mention Greek Film
Watering Hole (Foivos Chalkiopoulos, GR, 7’06”, 2023)
Best Agora Pitching Forum Project
The Fall (Stefanos Pletsis, GR)
Best TV & Commissioned Film: Music Video
Météores (Agnès Patron & Morgane Le Péchon, FR, 4’30”, 2023)
Special Mention TV & Commissioned Film: Music Video
I Inside the Old I Dying (Joaquín Cociña & Cristobal León, CL, 3’10”, 2023)
Best TV & Commissioned Film: TV Episode
Tufo (Victoria Musci, IT, 26’, 2023)
Special Mention TV & Commissioned Film: TV Episode
Fail in Love - A Chair for Two (Cécile Rousset & Romain Blanc-Tailleur, FR, 4’17”, 2022)
Best TV & Commissioned Film: Commissioned
Potato Falls (Janina Putzker, DE, 1’, 2022)
My Name Is Edgar and I Have A Cow (Filip Diviak, CZ, 7’47”, 2023)
Special Mention #ThisisEU Award
Cold Soup (Marta Monteiro, PT, 9’50”, 2023)
Audience Prize Feature Film Competition
Titina (Kajsa Naess, NO / BE / EU , 91’00’’, 2022)