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40th ANIMA BRUSSELS ONLINE 12 – 21 February 2021 Brussels, Belgium

Anima Brussels had a year to prepare its online edition and all of their hard work paid off...

     It is hard to believe that at this time last year we were watching cinema in the Flagey and partying together. Anima Brussels was the last live festival before the word Covid-19 became a part of our everyday lives.

     The festival had a year to prepare its online edition and all of their hard work paid off. I am sure there were some panic moments behind the scenes, but everything ran smoothly for the viewers at home. Except for the five Children’s Feature Films, which were not available because their Belgian distributors are still hoping for theatrical releases, all of the films including the adult Feature Films, were available online throughout the entire festival.

     One of the things that I enjoy about this festival is that since this is one of the first festivals of the year there are always films in the six Best of Shorts and It’s Belgian categories that are recent releases that I have not seen before.

      One such film in the Shorts Competition was Step into the River, Weijia Ma’s fifteen-minute film based on a story the animator heard as a child. This film is an indictment of China’s one-child policy that led to some families drowning infant girls in the river at Ma’s village in hopes that the next baby would be a boy.

Step into the River

     The film is the story of Lu and Wei, two young girls living in a small village on the bank of a river who both have a special relationship with the river. One of them was thrown into the river as a baby and was saved by a village fisherman. The other girl would not have been born if her older brother had not died. He was sent down the river as was the local practice so that his spirit wouldn’t haunt the village. Weijia said in an interview that this is a very political topic that adults avoid and won’t talk about. She wants the audience to experience this part of China’s history from a child’s point of view. The film left me thinking about the value of human life, and under what circumstance does someone have the right to take a human life.

     Step Into The River was first conceived when Ma was a student at The Art Institute of Chicago, and the project was selected for MIFA pitching at Annecy, where she met her French producer. The film appears as a rich moving watercolor, with backgrounds drawn with toner on draft paper then scanned into the computer to do the color correction and lining before it became the final background. The animation was drawn by hand directly in the software and then combined with the background, giving it an overall beautiful effect.

      In a film based on superstition and folklore set in Russia, Dmitry Geller brings to the screen the tale of The Mistress of Copper Mountain. Set in the Ural Mountains where there are copper mines, the miners have their own goddess, the Mistress of Copper Mountain. She watches over the underground treasures and is the keeper of the mining profession’s secrets. She will not open her secrets to just anyone.

The Mistress of Copper Mountain

     In the film, a rare emerald is found in a mine and it passes from one owner to another. It doesn’t bring happiness to any of them and as each of them learns the secret of the mine he loses his life; every Goddess demands her human sacrifices.

     The Copper Mountain refers to the Gumyoshevsky mine, the oldest mine in the Ural Mountains near the town of Yekaterinburg where Dmitry is originally from. The Mistress of Copper Mountain is a legendary goddess from Slavic mythology, a Russian fairytale character who in folk tales is depicted as an extremely beautiful green-eyed young woman who wears a malachite gown. She became a well-known mythological character throughout Russia after the publication of Paval Bazhov’s collection of Ural Mountains folk tales called The Malachite Box in 1939.

The thirteen-minute mystical thriller is made with drawn animation and cut-outs. The story is complex so it deserves a second viewing to catch all of the nuances. The film has no dialogue but the story is carried along with beautiful music. In an email conversation with Dmitry, he told me that he wanted to use composers that are associated with the film’s setting as he himself is. Part of the score was written by Grigory Dulesov, a rock composer, and music for two extremely dramatic scenes was composed by the symphonic avant-garde composer Oleg Paiberdin. The Mistress Of Copper Mountain won the 2020 Grand Prix at the prestigious Open Russian Festival of Animated Film in Suzdal, Russia.

The two professional and the one student It’s Belgian programs proved that animation is alive and well here. Mosaic, co-directed by sisters Imge and Sine Ozbilge, challenges the viewer’s perceptions of the Middle East. It shows a positive vision of cohabitation between people of different cultures and faiths.

Mosaic

Set in Damascus, the oldest city in the Middle East, a young Muslim Kurdish student, a violinist, and a Christian girl, her best friend, live in the same apartment building and are pieces of a cultural mosaic in the city.

The inhabitants of Damascus live in peaceful harmony until a little black cloud that has been hanging over the city expands with angry loud noises and turns into an all-consuming monster called war.

Visually the film reminds me of a Persian miniature painting that is delicate and yet complex, telling a story. Mosaic needs a couple of viewings to catch all of the details.

Imge and Sine were born in Turkey but think of themselves as nomads, having lived and studied in several different countries. Currently, they live in Belgium, but who knows where the wind will carry them off to next.

Mosaic won the RTBF-La Trois Award at Anima. The award guarantees the acquisition of the film’s broadcast rights by RTBF, a public service broadcaster delivering radio and television services to the French-speaking community in Wallonia and Brussels.

Iza Cracco’s film, Gloria, is a poignant portrait of a woman consumed by loss and grief. The film starts on a happy note as a couple is preparing for the birth of their first child. Gloria goes into labor as a storm rages outside. On the way to the hospital there is a terrible auto accident and she not only loses the baby but her husband is also killed.

Gloria

After the accident, Gloria cuts herself off from the outside world. Slowly, with a great deal of courage, she manages to put the pieces of her shattered life back together and can move on.

The eleven-minute film has no dialogue but words are not necessary to convey the sorrow and torment that the main character is going through. With so much sorrow, loneliness, and death all around us right now it is good to see a film that has a light at the end of the tunnel and reminds us that this too will pass.

Anyone who remembers Nicolas Keppens' previous film, Wildebeest, about a couple on safari in Africa, knows that he has a very strange, twisted sense of humor laced with irony. His latest film Easter Egg is a coming of age story set in a boring, small Flemish town. Jason is an insecure, lonely adolescent who longs for the approval of the older, cooler but just as lonely Kevin.

When Mr. Ming, owner of the local Chinese restaurant, commits suicide, Kevin and Jason hatch a plan to capture the restaurant’s collection of exotic birds that Mr. Ming freed before his death. The duo figure that they can sell the birds for a lot of money and we find that nothing is simple or goes as planned with these two.

Easter Egg

The fourteen-minute film is dramatic and humorous at the same time, as when Jason says “Kevin once made me drink poison. But as a joke. Then he usually cries and I get to choose what we do”. When Jason gets his head stuck in a free-standing fence that stands in the middle of the Chinese restaurant lawn while searching for birds it is funny when Kevin leaves him there during a heavy rainstorm until he begins to feel sorry for Jason and returns to help him.

Keppens has said that the film was inspired by events from his adolescence. He grew up in a small Flemish village, had an older friend, and the baker in the village also killed himself.

Easter Egg took home The Best Belgian Short Film Award.  It also won Best Animated Short Film at Short Film Fest Leuven and it was selected for Berlinale Shorts. Sometimes crude, but always entertaining, this is a film to watch out for and so is the up and coming director Nicholas Keppens.

Real-Life Stories offered eleven diverse looks at real-life situations. In All Her Dying Lovers Anna Benner and Eluned Zoe  Aiano investigate a story that began as a rumor during World War Two in Trebon, a town in what was then Czechoslovakia. The story involves a nurse who contracted syphilis after being raped by an enemy soldier. To get revenge she seduces and infects numerous German soldiers. When the officers finally figure out what was happening to their men, the nurse is shot by a firing squad.

The interviews with residents of Trebon are juxtaposed with scenes of the nameless nurse going about her everyday life. All of the interviewees said that they didn’t know if the story is true or not but that they had heard it all of their lives. An unknown person put up a plaque in Trebon that reads “To the girl from Trebon who fought the German occupiers”. 

Whether the story is true or not, the six-minute hand-drawn film is a fascinating story to me because I have attended Anifilm Animation Festival in Trebon and have seen the plaque. Since I don’t speak Czech I had no idea what the memorial was for.

Maria Lorenzo Hernandez, an animation teacher at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Valencia, Spain, is a keen observer of urban culture, in particular Valencia’s numerous street artists. Their vibrant mural culture is represented by such colorful names as Atilla the One, Disneylexia, and most prolific of all Chikitin, to name just three of the artists whose work enlivens the wall of the Old City, or The Gothic Center, as it is known.

Maria didn’t set out to make a film of street art when she began capturing photos of the artwork on her mobile phone. Of the more than 3,000 pictures she has snapped over the twenty-four years she has lived in Valencia, 1,200 were used in the final version of Urban Sphinx.

Along with the obvious large murals, Hernandez sought out very small, inconspicuous pieces that artists have put in such inconspicuous places as the backs of traffic signals or abandoned buildings.

Maria Lorenzo Hernandez

Urban Sphinx marks the first time that Maria has made film from her massive collection of images that are not her own drawings, a-la Paul Bush’s The Five Minute Museum. All of her five previous films have been hand-drawn. In 2015 La noche del océano (The Night of the Ocean) was nominated for a Goya, the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars.

Since this was the 40th anniversary of Anima Brussels, a special program was shown of films close to the festival’s heart and created by animators who have left their mark on the history of the festival. The list reads like the who’s who in animation. The screening got off to a great beginning with Peter Lord’s 1992 film Adam and ended in a bang with Alison Snowden and David Fine’s 1993 Oscar-winning Bob’s Birthday. Directors recorded special birthday messages that were shown before the screening.

Valentine’s Day often falls during Anima, and when it does the festival puts together a program for and about lovers of all shapes and sizes. One of my favorite affairs of the heart films is Tiivad (The Wings) by Estonian Riho Unt based on the correspondence between a fictional character in a book, inventor Jaan Tatikas, and the Renaissance genesis Leonard da Vinci. Tatikas was created by Eduard Bornhohe who is considered a pioneer of the Estonian historical novel. What begins in the film as Tatikas’ desire to fly turns into a love triangle between Jaan, his beautiful wife Liisa, and Leonardo. While Jaan is trying to fulfil his dream of flight his neglected wife might be the one who flies away.

The Wings

Riho is a master of puppet animation and is a versatile storyteller. From extremely humorous films like The Wings and Mary and the Seven Dwarfs to his unsettling and realistic animation The Master which won a Special Jury Award at Annecy in 2015, Riho can do it all. His award-winning 2005 film Brothers Bearhearts about three brothers Henry, Vincent, and August who are artists in Paris is one of my all-time favorite films.

Cockpera

One of the funniest films that I have seen in quite a while is Cockpera in the Balkans Now! Program. Kata Gugic’s short film was inspired by Aesop’s fable The Fighting Cocks and the Eagle. It is an “opera” set in a hen house. A tenor and a baritone rooster vocally duke it out in grand operatic style for the affections of the soprano hen until the fight is settled by an entirely different species of predator. What can you say about chickens singing opera? It’s as funny as the Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd opera scenes. The four-minute hand-drawn film was created while Kata was a student at The Academy of Fine Arts, Zagreb.

Passage

All eight animations in the Balkans Now! program were very strong. In Prelazak (Passage) Serbian animator Igor Coric deals with the ever-present tensions and memories of war in the Balkans. The main character in the seven-minute film is a boy who tries to flee a war zone with members of his clan. He survives the horrors of war but the rest of his relatives and neighbors are killed. The boy decides to get revenge by standing up to the enemy armed with a totem that he builds out of his clan's decomposing remains, a strategy that takes on an unexpected twist.

Marco Djeska’s All Those Sensations in my Belly is an autobiographical film narrated by Matia Anna Plese, a person who is mentally a woman born with a man’s body. In the thirteen-minute film, Matia Anna relates some of her experiences such as violent treatment by her classmates, the rejection of her best friend in high school when she discovered Matia Anna’s secret, and older men who were sexually curious. Matia Anna finally has come to terms with himself and the realization that he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. He is a woman.

Matia Anna talks frankly about what it means to be a transsexual. Using 2D animation combined with rotoscopy, Djeska treats his subject honestly using such vivid imagery as representing a group of hostile men as a pack of wolves, and there is a disco scene that is a riot of color. All Those Sensations in my Belly is a joint Croatian/Portuguese production.

This year the Anima Focus country was Korea, celebrating Korean Independent filmmakers. Two of the feature films that were part of the focus were among the most bizarre films that I have seen in quite a while, and I loved them both.

Motel Rose

Motel Rose is directed by Eun-a Yeo. Behind all of the glamour of a big city with fancy shops and tall buildings, there is a red-light district where the Motel Rose is located. Mina, a middle school girl, takes a job there as a cleaner during her school holiday to help support her family. There she meets Hannah, a girl who is obsessed with a pop singing idol named “Rose”, who she resembles.

 Hannah sells herself at the Motel under the name Rose, and being the youngest and most beautiful girl at the brothel, she is a big hit with the men who fight over who can pay the most money to be with her. The other “girls” at Motel Rose are jealous of Hannah/Rose and angry that she has stolen their clients. The beautiful Hannah doesn’t plan to be a prostitute all of her life and dreams of being a real superstar.

Being the only person near Hannah’s age, Mina becomes friends with her and eventually wants to look and act like “Rose”. Everyone’s dreams and desires go up in smoke and no one lives happily ever after or gets out alive.

The seventy-seven-minute film has every perversion anyone could possibly imagine short of bestiality. There is the sleazy client who tells Rose that he is an influential agent who will make her famous. The brothel owner’s son drills holes in the ceiling of the girl’s rooms so he can watch them from the attic while they are at “work”. Lust and envy abound everywhere in Motel Rose and I ended

up having no sympathy for anyone in the film.

As strange as Motel Rose was, it was nothing compared to Beauty Water. Director Kyung-hun Cho’s first feature film is a horror/thriller as well as a commentary on the murderous lengths that people will go to to be beautiful.

Ye-ji has been fat and ugly all of her life, ridiculed at work for her appearance and told by her parents that she will never get a husband. After being publically shamed on social media, Ye-ji discovers Beauty Water.

Beauty Water

The instructions are simple: 1) mix Body Water and water in a 4 to 1 ratio, 2) submerge your face and body in the liquid for twenty minutes, 3) sculpt your face and body. Ye-ji is suddenly drop-dead gorgeous with the perfect face and body. The modeling jobs pour in and she thinks she has found the man of her dreams until the side effects of Beauty Water kick in and everything starts to unravel in a murderous plot twist that I didn’t see coming.

The film is adapted from a popular webcomic, Tales of the Unusual by the cartoonist Seong-dae. If you like good horror films that are well animated and have lots of plot twists and turns this is the film for you. I loved both Beauty Water and Motel Rose and want to get the DVDs because these are the perfect films to show at movie nights with friends once we are allowed to have friends again.

Animated Nights is always a fun time at the festival, starting late in the evening and going until the wee hours of the morning. Normally there are three programs that show films that are submitted to the festival but not selected for any other program. Usually, the screenings are broken up into three parts with an intermission in between each segment when a band plays and the festival bars are open and there is a pajama contest on stage. I especially missed Mistress of Ceremonies Stephanie Coerten’s lovely outfits and looking forward to seeing what she would be wearing during the pajama contest. Stephanie was on camera during the opening and closing ceremonies; she also moderated some of the Futuranima but it wasn’t the same as having her onstage introducing the programs and filmmakers, and being a bubbly presence like a glass of good champagne.

Mistress of Ceremonies Stephanie Coerten, photo curtesy of Gilles Moins

This year with everything online we could watch all of the programs in our pajamas and didn’t have to go any further than our kitchen for a drink, but somehow Animated Nights wasn’t the same without all of the laughter, catcalls and general silliness. Putting on a CD between programs just wasn’t the same as listening to the live band and hanging out with friends.

Futuranima is designed for the Belgian animation industry to connect and share information about the current state of Belgian animation, current trends, and projects underway at various studios.

Instead of being held in three intense, fully packed days as usual during the festival, the lectures, Q and A’s, and roundtable discussions on zoom took place over five days with three events per day.

Topics ranged from the exploration of possible links between animation and video games by using video game engines to create animated films, to a discussion on how remote working during the pandemic is affecting the animation industry. There was a virtual visit to four Belgian studios- Beast Animation, Dream Wall, Lunanime and Enclume, as well as a session with a group of independent animators who talked about balancing life and work at home during the lockdown and what projects they are working on.

Festival Directors Dominique Seutin and Karin Vandenrydt

Congratulations to Anima Brussels co-directors Karin Vandenrydt and Dominique Seutin - you did a wonderful job under extremely difficult circumstances. Kudos to all of the hard-working Anima staff and a special thank you to Marco Giancaterini in the press office who kept the press well informed and answered all of my questions promptly.

I missed seeing so many people that I normally have a drink with while catching up on the latest news, and discussing the films. I hope that we will all be back at the Flagey for the 2022 edition of the festival. The next edition will be from 25 February to 6 March 2022. There is a complete list of all of the winning films at the end of this article.

If you want to learn more about Anima Brussels go to: www.animafestival.be


AWARDS 2021

Jury Awards

 

© Autour de Minuit

Grand Prix Anima 2021 for Best International Short Film,
provided by the Brussels-Capital Region (2.500 €)

Empty Places
Geoffroy de Crécy
France

Jury statement:
Our current uncertain times remind us once again that, through their sensitivity, artists seem to sense the state of the world. In this unique year, we wanted to underline the depth and relevance of a film that took on a premonitory character over the past twelve months.


© Miyu Distribution

Creative Revelation Award for Best Student Short Film
(2.500 € provided by the Korean Cultural Centre)

Les Yeux grands ouverts
Laura Passalacqua
France

Jury statement:
A moving film that creates a vibrant, colourful and exceptional atmosphere that matches , --the dashing magic of adolescence.


© Bando à Parte

Special Jury Award

Elo
Alexandra Ramires
Portugal

Jury statement:
An exceptional film that reminds us of the never ending creative possibilities of black and white animation and tellsus an intimate and metaphorical story of the perfect fit in the most unexpected circumstances.


© ENSAD

Special Mention

À La Mer poussière
Heloïse Ferlay
France

Jury statement:
We would like to give a Special Mention to À La Mer poussière by Héloise Ferlay for the excellent use of puppet animation technique, which succeeds to create strong emotions and shows that happiness can be found in the most unusual places.


© Eurozoom

Award for Best Animated Feature

On-Gaku : Our Sound
Kenji Iwaisawa
Japan

Jury statement:
We chose "On Gaku : our Sound", by Kenji Iwaisawa, for its narrative inventiveness, sense of rhythm, subtle humour, surprising characters and the punk freedom that transcends the story in both form and substance.


© Lupus Films Ltd

Award for Best Short Film for Children

The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Robin Shaw
United Kingdom

Jury statement:
The film is an extraordinary completed masterpiece with an incredible graphics and animation and lots of brilliant ideas. The music score is delightful, the soundtrack elegant and the voices marvellously performed. The bewitching direction and perfect storytelling seduced us totally with a fine puzzle of very different emotions: humour, gently scarry, tenderness, strangeness, poetry, all approachable feelings for a very large audience, from children to adults.

 
Volunteers Award
 

© Michael Shanks

Animated Night Award  

Rebooted
Michael Shanks
Australia
 

Partner Awards

 

© Lumière

BeTV Award for Best Animated Feature of the official selection
(acquisition of broadcasting rights)

Josep
Aurel
France, Belgium, Spain

Jury statement:
We liked this sumptuous story about transmission of memory. It’s a film against historical oblivion, in which drawing is a character on its own. The jury had a cinematographic, and emotional crush on this film. It’s a beautiful and intelligent film.


© Je Suis Bien Content

Press Award for Best Short Film

Précieux
Paul Mas
France

Jury statement:
Précieux deserves praise because of the stirring way it presents some difficult questions about education and inclusion. Are children really taught to give everyone a chance and how to make others feel included? Or, do they instead learn to avoid uncomfortable situations and uneasy conversations? Does the main concern on the part of adults too often come down to damage control? These are questions writer-director Paul Mas asks in a sincere and unafraid manner. His unpolished characters, confrontational style and story development left us silent with a bitter taste in our mouths. Précieux doesn’t pretend to have the answers, but shows us how important it is to try and keep the conversations going.

 

NATIONAL COMPETITION

Jury Awards

 

© Miyu Distribution

Award for Best Belgian Short Film, provided by Sabam for culture (2.500€)

Easter Eggs
Nicolas Keppens
Belgium, France, The Netherlands

Jury statement:
We thought it was a very smart film with strong graphics, in a very disturbing, weird universe. The film was both funny and sad, it was ugly and beautiful at the same time, with characters that were kind of repulsive but who you grew to like and feel sympathy for. It was unlike anything we’d seen before and the ending was beautiful.


© ENSAV La Cambre

Grand Prix for Best Short of the Fédération Wallonie -Bruxelles, provided by the Fédération Wallonie -Bruxelles  (2.500€)
Amours libres
Emily Worms
Belgium

Jury statement:
The kind of film that changes perspectives without being militant. An intriguing storyline, gently told, intertwining in a beautiful dance with every animation part illustrating the story perfectly. 


© Miyu Distribution

Author Award provided by SACD (2.500€)

Hold Me Tight
Mélanie Robert-Tourneur
Belgium, France

Jury statement:
The jury was very impressed with the visual power and striking images of this film. The treatment of the night-time atmosphere with bright colours is very surprising and seductive. The film takes a frontal approach to the representation of the sexual act but in a very sensual and choreographic way. It is a fascinating film that reminds us that metamorphosis is the aesthetic basis of any animated film.


© HEAJ

Special Mention

Woods
Nicolas Gemoets, Carla Coder, Kelly Morival
Belgium

Jury statement: 
Although the film was a bit unfinished at some points, we thought it was very promising and we think that the people who made it will go far in the animation sector.

 
Partner Awards
 

© ENSAV La Cambre

BeTV Award (acquisition of broadcasting rights)

Scaphoide et métacarpes
Théo Guyot
Belgium

Jury statement:
The jury liked the story of how an unexpected event in your life can change the way you live, or how a dark period could be good at the end by changing the way you apprehend things. The film shows a melancholic, poetic atmosphere with great drawings. The haunting music that fits very well with the film.


© Miyu Distribution

RTBF – La Trois Award (acquisition of broadcasting rights)

Mosaic
Imge Özbilge et Sine Özbilge
Belgium

Jury statement:
We were charmed by the meticulous and talented graphics, taken from Middle Eastern imagery, myths and imagination. The colourful palette of a harmonious cultural mosaic nostalgically took us back to an age of possibilities where different cultures and religions co-existed before community abuses and their cruel procession of destruction came along. The beautiful visual metaphors are a gentle anti-warrior plea, an invitation to appreciate the universal melody of artistic language, the right to freedom of expression and the power of the imagination. A subtle but eloquent message runs through the profusion of images: reach out to those fleeing the monstrous battlefields, with their dreams and legends as their only baggage. A reality that is unfortunately anchored in our daily life and a shimmering and challenging humanist mosaic.


© KLIK! Distribution

Cinergie Award

Monachopsis
Liesbet Van Loon
Belgium

Jury statement:
We chose Monachopsis because it explores a little known theme. This film was made with a lot of originality, sensitivity and research on many levels. We were al deeply impressed.

        

  

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