The opening of the festival featured puppet artist Manuela Linshalm and her life-sized puppet Miss Gretta
I have always wanted to visit the Tricky Women Festival so when I was invited this year, I was happy to accept the invitation even if only attending from my living room. For 20 years the festival has been exploring social and political issues from a feminist and artistic perspective and has shined a light on inequality in new and surprising ways. All of the more than 140 films that I watched over the five days of the festival were made by women.
The short opening of the festival featured puppet artist Manuela Linshalm and her life-sized puppet Miss Gretta, who acted as MC. Following the half-hour opening, viewers had two choices: the first competition program or the first Up and Coming selection that featured the best Student and young talents films. Since all programs ran for forty-eight hours after their initial screening, I had ample time opportunity to see both programs.
Just when I thought that I had seen every animated film made in the last two years, up popped MOM- The Worst Punishment on my screen in Competition 1. In a crosswalk on a distant planet, Nonnonyani murders the mother of an annoying child that won’t stop throwing a loud temper tantrum. When she is brought up before the intergalactic court, Nonnonyani is sentenced to the worst punishment in the galaxy - to be transported back to Earth and become a mom in Korea.
After giving birth she has to endure a nightmare of ridiculous expectations and rigorous pressures put on women and mothers in a patriarchal society. Although set in the patriarchal society of Korea, it is a universal subject since most women everywhere are expected to run a household, raise “perfect” children, and hold down full-time jobs.
Su-Kyoung Kim and Kyeong-Wook Ja from Korea used a graphic art style for their 7-minute film that made me laugh and wince in alternate moments.
Another favorite film was Anastazja Naumenko’s We Hope You Won’t Need to Come Back. These are the words spoken by the parents of a young woman immigrating to the west in search of a better life. The 9-minute film explores what it is like to deal with day-to-day life in an entirely new culture in a foreign language. The woman is now dealing with the expectations she brought with her as well as those that other people have of her. As her new life begins to unravel it takes a physical as well as a mental toll on her and her body literally begins to come apart until she finally returns to the comfort and safety of home and family.
The Exploring Realities Animated Documentary program was especially strong. Katarzyna Warzecha’s 11-minute film We Have One Heart is about a young man discovering the father that he never knew while growing up. After his mother’s death, Adam finds letters written by his Iraqi Kurdish father to his Polish mother. Before Adam’s birth, his father was forced to leave Poland and return to Iraq to renew his visa and they both assumed that he would just be gone a short time. While he was in Iraq the Iran/Iraq War broke out, he could not leave the country, and was conscripted into the army. After a while letters from his wife stopped arriving and his mother told Adam that his father was dead.
Using animation and archival material we follow Adam on his search for his father and their eventual meeting after forty years. Adam, like his father, is a musician, and he created the soundtrack for the film. Katarzyna has known Adam for a long time and when he told her his story, she knew it would make a compelling film.
eadem cuts: The Same Skin challenges the viewer to think about how our first impressions influence our judgments about people. In this personal film, John, the filmmaker Nina Hopf’s twin, talks about identity, body, and gender. In summing up his life he says “I don’t have to say I’m John, I used to be a woman. I just want to be seen as who I am today”. To create this 5-minute experimental animated documentary Nina used over five hundred photos and prints that belong to her and her brother.
Catcalls, by Laura Stewart and Anna Berezowsky, is a film every woman can relate to. New York artist Sophie Sandberg collects stories of harassment on her city’s streets and writes the offensive words in chalk where they were spoken. The dialogue in the Canadian animators’ film was selected from Sandburg’s stories, and the stop motion animation represents women as cats and men as dogs to address a serious issue that women do not find complementary or humorous. The filmmakers used cat and dog puppets because cats are a bit afraid of dogs and many women are afraid of being out alone in a big city. Men never call another man to tell him they got home safely after a night out, but women often do call the friend they were out with to let them know that they arrived home safely.
I was extremely moved by Mizuko/Water Child. In Japanese there is a special word, Mizuko which translates as water child, to refer to a miscarried or aborted pregnancy. Through a Buddhist ritual of grief called Mizuko kuyo, parents are able to spiritually return their water children to the sea and come to terms with their grief. There is no word in English for this ritual.
The film by Kira Dane and Katelyn Rebelo focuses on the unexpected grief filmmaker Kira felt after terminating an unwanted pregnancy. Kira, who is Japanese American, and Katelyn used two distinct styles to tell the story. The filmmakers said that “the English sections of the film were meant to evoke the numb shock of discovering and choosing to end a pregnancy as well as the kind of detachment of the mind from the body that not only comes from having an abortion but also from growing up and living in a city as large and impersonal as New York City. To do this we wanted the visuals to be gritty, dry, and almost unnerving at times”.
The Japanese segments of the film represent Kira’s childhood memories of spending time by the ocean in Japan. Those childhood recollections represent the kind of assurance your body has when you are a child in nature.
The film is neither pro nor anti-abortion. It is about coming to terms with an action that, no matter how prepared you think that you are for it, still leaves a strong emotional impact.
As befits a 20th birthday, three special programs traced fifty years of animation history done by women. The oldest film in the programs was Maria Lassnig’s 1971 Self Portrait. Better known as a painter, Lassnig created the film using her own drawings which ran the gambit from realistic and surrealistic to abstract. She drew her moods, fears, thoughts, and parts of her life story that she then animated. She also did all of her own camera work as well as creating the soundtrack for the film.
No retrospective of women animators would be complete without a film by Susan Pitt. Her 1979 film Asparagus about searching and discovery, desire and contact was selected and is a feast for the eyes. There is so much detail that even though I have seen Asparagus many times I still discover new little details in Pitt’s beautiful film.
It was a delight to see a pristine print of Monique Renault and Gerrit van Dijk’s Pas a deux. Although Monique is one of the premier ladies of French animation, she has lived in the Netherlands for many years, where she made this film with van Dijk, her brother-in-law. Drawn on paper with colored pencils, the 5-minute film, made in 1988, sparkles with music that evolves from jive to tango to rock and roll to break dancing as celebrities from movies, politics, religion and art dance across the screen morphing one into another. Mickey Mouse dances with Betty Boop, who turns into Eve and he then becomes Fred Astaire. Liza Minnelli and John Wayne dance into a phone booth and Liza comes out the other side dancing with Superman. My favorite pairing was Miss Piggy with Charlie Chaplin.
The male dance partners were drawn by Gerrit and the female figures by Monique. Pas a deux won the 1998 Golden Bear, the top award at the Berlin International Film Festival, and it still stands the test of time. It is always fun to pick out the dancing duos as they progress.
Italian animator Martina Scarpelli’s Egg is a highly personal film about a woman attempting and ultimately failing to take control of her fears, in this case, her body and anorexia. She repeatedly tries to eat a hardboiled egg, ultimately fails and lets the egg die of starvation. The beautiful 2D/3D film is in stark black-and-white that accentuates the gaunt lines of the woman’s face and body. Egg won over forty awards, including the 2019 Tricky Women/Tricky Realities Audience Award.
Bringing us up to 2020, Martina’s official music video for Canadian singer/songwriter Kai, A Little Too Much, is the antithesis of Egg. Also in black and white, Scarpelli’s film depicts a woman letting go of herself and overcoming the fear of her own power.
Two films from Irushi Tennekoon’s Animate Her series were screened in the Work Affairs program. The series features individual short films about exceptional women living and working in Sri Lanka. The films use stop motion and experimental animation techniques to illustrate stories told by women using their own words. Renowned architect Amila de Mel spoke about spaces, architecture and her biography; marine biologist Asha de Vos talked about the blue whale skeleton that fascinated her as a child and inspired her career and also related the challenges of being a South Asian woman in the field of science.
Irushi said that she was inspired to create her ongoing project so that, “Through my work I hope to show that here in Sri Lanka we have our own heroines, with brown skin and dark hair, going to great lengths to excel at what they do. I was influenced by Western books and animations which featured largely white heroes and heroines. . . I want to challenge this by telling stories of real-life heroines and showing a group of women that I would have loved to have seen on screens as a child”.
Just as the animated poetry project has become international in scope, I think that this would be a wonderful concept to be taken up worldwide. Too many “box office” animated films still promote the white princess image and it would be wonderful for young girls all over the world to see heroines from their own cultures.
In the same vein, Ugandan Naseeba Bagalaaliwo’s Scalp Deep is an exploration into “what is femininity” and “how does hair define a woman in Africa”. The film was prompted by reactions from family and friends when the filmmaker had her own hair cut very short - comments ranged from “how could you do that” to “you used to be so pretty”. This film is a good example of how animation can address cultural issues and customs.
The sole feature-length film at the festival was My Favorite War about director Ilze Burkovska-Jacobsen’s childhood memories of growing up in a small Latvian town during the totalitarian Soviet occupation from 1970 to 1990. At one time, Ilze was a proud leader in her local Soviet youth organization. From playing war games on her grandfather’s farm to facing the reality of frightening air raid drills at school, she slowly came to the realization that the Soviet Union was not the happiest country in the world, as the people of Latvia were constantly told.
The film uses cutout animation with family photos and archival footage to tell Ilze’s story. She felt that this mix allowed her to approach reality from both sides. The film’s title, My Favorite War, is an ironic nod to the many war films that children growing up in Soviet-era Latvia were forced to watch in school.
The Latvian/Norwegian co-production took nine years to complete. During an interview at the festival, Ilze said that the film took so long to make because it took her a while to realize that it had to be a personal film. She was encouraged to make it about herself when she saw Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and realized that a great story can be told from a personal perspective.
Lest the film sound too serious, as in any life, there are many humorous moments, but the core of the film tells of a very tragic period of history. The film won both the Feature Film Contrechamp Award and the Prix du Jury Senscritique at Annecy in 2020 as well as Latvia’s National Film Award Lielais Kristaps for Best Animated Film as well as the Best Animation Director award. I wholeheartedly recommend this film for the entire family.
Ilze, who lives in Norway now, is known for her documentary films but this is her first animated documentary. She is currently working on a short documentary about three teenage girls whose mothers left to work in the West, leaving the children with their grandmothers.
While preparing for the 20th Birthday edition, the festival asked people what film they would most like to see and over half of them mentioned Caroline Leaf’s Two Sisters. The short animation is about the intimate relationship of two people who are connected, not romantically, but through family ties, and what happens when this relationship is disturbed by a third person. It is the story of light and dark, inside and out. Caroline made the sensitive film on 70mm IMAX film because she needed a large frame to scratch on the surface of the film.
Along with the screening of Two Sisters, the award-winning animator gave a masterclass and held a separate interview. Caroline began animating in 1968 when she enrolled in the one-year animation class taught by Derek Lamb at Harvard. While a student she made her first sand animation, Sand or Peter and the Wolf. Following her graduation, she made her second film, The Owl Who Married a Goose at the National Film Board of Canada.
Caroline revealed that she has always struggled with writing stories and so turned to folk legends and books for her inspiration. She also didn’t storyboard or make animatics because she worked alone and said that by working alone so much in a dark room, she developed a love/hate relationship with that room.
Caroline told the audience that she is burned out with under-the-camera animation so she now paints, primarily abstract pictures. Interestingly, she primarily works standing up; with the painting on the floor. She uses a long-handled brush and walks around the canvas, painting so that it looks good on all sides. Originally Leaf took a year off from animating and rented a house in Ireland. It was there that she decided to take more time off from animation to paint.
Interviews with Signe Baumane are always entertaining. For her Tricky Women interview, she was joined by her producer, lighting designer, and real-life partner Sturgis Warner to talk about their current project My Love Affair with Marriage which is nearing completion after six years in the making. It is a musical with 23 songs. Signe said that the main character Zelma IS her. You can learn more about the making of the feature film on the My Love Affair with Marriage website: www.myloveaffairwithmariagemovie.com. You can also become a part of the movie by making a financial contribution to the project. Signe still needs post-production money and every little contribution, no matter how small, is a help. I am looking forward to seeing this film.
Signe feels strongly that we all need to work together to change the perception that animation is for children. She has adult stories to tell and is not interested in telling children’s stories. I, for one, am very glad that she makes meaningful, beautifully animated films for adults.
When asked how she got into animation, the Latvian-born animator told the audience that it was quite by accident. She studied philosophy for five years at Moscow University, learning how to brainwash people. After completing her studies, she was supposed to go back to Riga and teach Marxist/Leninism but ultimately, she didn’t want to impose her authority on anyone else. She said that five minutes after graduation in Russia, you have to have a job and she didn’t know what she was going to do. A girl sitting next to her in a class looked at her doodles and told her she should make them move. Signe started organizing these doodles and made an animatic and it was love at first sight.
When people ask Signe “Why do you animate? She replies “Why do birds fly?”
The festival trailer was created by Renee Zhan. She describes her work as dark, internal images that explore the ugliness of beauty. The visuals for the trailer came from her 2018 short film Reneepoptosis, which is about a world built out of Renee’s tears. She also wrote the poem that accompanies the trailer. She explained that “I wrote this brief poem hoping to capture the idea of renewal or rebirth after the difficult year 2020 we have all just experienced. I wanted to convey a hope for the future and brighter times ahead”.
The five days that I watched films at the Tricky Women/Tricky Realities Festival was time well spent. The programs were beautifully curated and the live presentations entertaining and insightful. A complete list of all the winning films is at the end of this article.
I would like to thank Waltraud Grausgruber, co-founder and director of the festival, for inviting me to tune in to the Tricky Women/Tricky Realities Festival. It was great fun and I am sure it is even more fun if you can be there in person. If you are invited to be part of the 2022 festival, when hopefully we can all travel again, I urge you to accept the invitation. You can find out all about the festival and check out what films were shown in the 2021 edition at: www.trickywomen.at
WINNERS TRICKY WOMEN/TRICKY REALITIES 2021:
International Competition Jury:
Kandy Kugel, United States; Amelie Loy, Austria; and Maryann Mohajer, Iran/United Kingdom
Tricky Women/Tricky Realities Award worth 4.000 Euros donated by VdFS
• Step into the River (FR/CN 2020) by Weijia Ma
Jury Statement: The film talks about a sensitive subject that very much needs to be discussed. Fantastic storytelling through beautiful imagery and with great subtlety.
Q21/MQ Artist-in-Residence-Award (3-month scholarship to live and work at Q21 under the Artist-in-Residence-Program):
• To the Dusty Sea (FR 2020) by Héloise Ferlay
Jury Statement: The Dusty Sea is a closely observed yet respectful and loving portrait of family dynamics. The narrative doesn't take sides, but gives space to every family member's needs and emotions. The skillful animation and the mise-en-scéne complete a beautiful storytelling.
NeoTel Award, worth 3,000 Euros, donated by NeoTel Telefonservice GmbH & Co KG
• Chloé Van Herzeele (FR 2019) by Anne-Sophie Girault and Clémence Bouchereau
Jury Statement: The film captivates through a unique story and clever utilization of sand animation. It bemoans the disappearance of underground art cinemas with an actual underground theater - the disappearance of film reels with reels of film stock deteriorating into gases and powder. Anne-Sophie Girault and ClÈmence Bouchereau's choices of images, design and movement enhance this film which could only have been expressed in this way.
Special Mentions by the Jury of the International Competition:
• Carrousel (BE 2020) by Jasmine Elsen
• Ghosts (KR 2020) von Jee-youn Park
Sabine & Nicolai Sawczynski Audience Award International Competition, worth 1,000 Euros:
• I'm Here (PL 2020) von Julia Orlik
Hubert Sielecki-Award for an Austrian Animation, worth 500 Euros:
• Collapsing Mies (AT 2020) by Claudia Larcher
Statement by Hubert Sielecki: Inspired by the architecture of Mies van der Rohe, two-dimensional photographs of three-dimensional objects in virtual space are translated back into an artificial third dimension and stacked on top of each other. In this way, the artist also constructs a minimalist, abstract image of movement. The drone-like tone enables a meditation mood despite increasing tension. An experimental marvel!
Up & Coming Jury:
Oona Valarie Serbest, Austria; Julia Tudisco, Hungary; and Renee Zhan, United States/ United Kingdom
• Love is Just a Death Away (CZ 2020) by Bara Anna Stejskalova
Jury Statement: The jury was impressed with the film's masterful marriage of the cute and the gruesome. The directress told a unique and compelling story full of surprises through the eyes of an unexpected and lovable protagonist. For this as well as for its ambitious technique and production, the jury thought this film deserved this recognition.
Special Mention by the Up&Coming Jury:
• At the Other End of the Table (FR 2019) by Lise Rémon
Jury Statement: We were impressed with the directress's ability to express complex and authentic emotion through simple, charming animation. The film is a relatable exploration of relationships, of coming together and apart. They have found also that the theme of human connections and missed connections was especially relevant and captured the spirit of the times we are living in today.
Up&Coming Audience Award
• Love is Just a Death Away (CZ 2020) by Bara Anna Stejskalova
Austrian Panorama Audience Award
• Child's Play (AT 2021) by Lisa Hasenhütl
• KLITCLIQUE - Auto (AT 2019) by Anna Spanlang & G-udit