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 Bilbao is always a wonderful city to visit, but when Anima Kom Animation Festival is taking place it is an even more magical place. 

    Bilbao is always a wonderful city to visit, but when Anima Kom Animation Festival is taking place it is an even more magical place. Festival director Pedro Rivero is not only an excellent programmer and noted scriptwriter, but he is also a superb host.

Festival Director Pedro Rivero

     The travel ban for most of Europe ended on 1 July so Nik and I were just able to travel to Spain before another travel ban was instituted.  Aside from the joy of seeing film on the big screen again after almost 6 months of lockdown, we were there to present the Anima Kom Lifetime Achievement Award to the amazing Nina Paley on the opening night of the festival at the festival venue Bilborock. It was also a great pleasure to be with other members of our animation family, although this year there were only a few foreign guests.

Nina Paley on the big screen accepting her award. L-R, translator Tim Nicholson, Nancy & Nik

     Unfortunately, it was not possible for Nina to travel to Spain from the United States so the award had to be presented live via Zoom. Following the presentation of the award, all 19 of Nina’s short films were shown. She has been invited to be a guest at next year’s festival.

     Anima Kom showed more than 120 short films in 4 competition categories: professional films, student, animation, the Laboral Kutxa (Basque short films), and music videos, which is a new category this year. There are also awards for the best female director, best script and an innovation prize along with the audience award.

Anima Kom’s mascot

     For me, the most interesting program was the Basque Film Competition. With a few rare exceptions, Basque animation is not screened at many festivals. One of these exceptions is the noted animator Izibene Onederra. Her films have been shown at numerous festivals internationally. Her latest film, Lursaguak.Scenes for Life was shown at Annecy Online this year. 

Lursaguak.Scenes For Life

     It was also my favorite Basque film at Anima Kom. The extremely dark story is about the role of the human condition in contemporary society. When asked about her 12-minute film, Onederra quoted the French feminist writer Helene Cixous who said, “We are living in times where millions of voles of unknown species are undermining the conceptual basis of an age-old culture”.  The film literally portrays this philosophy. It has no dialogue but the strong images are very unsettling.  Lursaguak.Scenes for Life requires more than one viewing to cut through all the layers and left me thinking about it long after I saw it. It is a very relevant film given the unsettling times we are living in not just with the Corona Virus but the worldwide political upheaval.

     Anima Kom is a festival that spotlights female animators. In addition to the usual award categories, the festival also honors the best female director. This year the award went to Nadja Andrasev from Hungary for her film Symbiosis. The audience also selected it as their favorite film.


     Nadja’s 10-minute 2D film titles, Symbiosis, means living together. In the film a betrayed wife begins to carefully investigate her husband’s mistresses, keeping a detailed scrapbook with hairs she removes from her husband’s clothes, discarded tissues, all manner of personal minutiae. Gradually her jealousy turns to curiosity about the other women who she sees in her mind as gazelles while she herself is a lioness.

     Symbiosis is all about obsessions, the husband’s constant obsession to conquer new women and the wife’s compulsion to learn about the other women. When the wife finally realizes that these other women are no more satisfied with their lives than she is, she finally makes peace with them and accepts that her husband is incapable of fulfilling anyone’s desires including his own.

     The Grand Prix was awarded to Pedro Casavecchia for the 6-minute dark psychological thriller Pulsion (Drive). The film explores abuse in a dysfunctional family. The dark feelings that a boy has accumulated during his childhood suddenly break loose after his mother’s death. From childhood animal abuse the feelings escalate into human death.

     Pedro is an Argentine CGI artist now based in London. He has worked in the lighting and environments departments on such films as Mary Poppins Returns and Avengers Endgame. Pulsion (Drive) is his directorial debut. He wrote, directed, and animated most of the production himself.

Pulsion (Drive)

     Along with the competition programs, there was KrazyKom. The 2-hour program of 22 films featured crazy, bizarre, and completely astonishing short films such as Patrick Smith’s Candy Shop. There are 11,926 pharmaceutical drugs available in the world the film tells us. This film shows 2,862 of them in a very fast-paced 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

     Also on the program was Guy Charnaux’s 8 minute, 3 act epic about a 7-year-old boy who can’t sleep.  He hears something coming from his parent’s room, some loud and disturbing noises. What can it be?

     Zinebi, the Bilbao International Festival of Documentary, Short, and Animated Film, is held annually in November. During Anima Kom a program called Zinebi Women screened films by female animation directors whose short films were screened at last year’s Zinebi Festival.

     Masterclasses were presented by Juan Luis Gonzalez, Amy Winfrey and Peter Merryman, and Nik and me. This year Nik and I were honored to open the festival before the award to Nina with our Toons and Tunes program. In it we trace the history of animation from its early beginnings with the Fleisher Brothers down to the present through the musical soundtracks on the films. Along the way, we screened films and talked about why their music is important or innovative.

Nik and I presenting Toons & Tunes

     For instance, Joie de Vivre, the 1934 Hector Hoppin and Anthony Gross film, was the first animated film to have its own original symphonic score. The music was composed by Hungarian composer and pianist Tibor Harsanyi. Joie de Vivre is such a lovely film. It tells the story of two lovely young women who go skinny dipping. They see a young man who they think is spying on them. In their hurry to dress one of the young ladies forgets a shoe. When the young man runs after them to return the lost shoe the girls run from him. The line drawings of the two young girls show them moving in tandem through a series of adventures until the young man finally catches up with them. This is such a lovely, beautifully drawn film. Unfortunately, it is seldom screened.

Juan Luis Gonzalez at his presentation

     Lighting artist Juan Luis Gonzales from Madrid was the senior lighting artist on the film Klaus. He is also a painter. In his presentation, he talked about the importance of light in the visual arts, especially in cinema and animation. After a general discussion about why light is one of the most powerful tools to use when telling a story, Juan Luis went on to focus in on his work on Klaus. When asked, “What was the biggest challenge of your work on Klaus?”, he replied that lighting the hands and hair movement was most difficult. He spent 10 months working on the lighting. He also told us that this was his first job on a serious animated film, but that his background in painting was most valuable in his film work.

     Following a screening of the Free Churro episode of BoJack Horseman, series directors Amy Winfrey and Peter Merryman joined us via Zoom. They talked about their experiences on the production of the hit Netflix series. The pair explained the process of creating an episode, from the first visualization of a script to creating the storyboards, designs, and final animation. They told the audience that every episode has a similar process, but always presents new challenges and opportunities to the crew.

     No trip to Anima Kom would be complete without lots of fabulous meals and gatherings at local watering holes. Bilbao has wonderful food, and being a late-night city, there are many fun bars.  Pedro, consummate host that he is, also planned two excursions to the nearby seaside.

Director and Student Competition Jury member John Leeuwerink drinking Bilbao style

     As a group, we took the train to Algorta, 14 kilometers North of Bilbao on the Nervion River. There we were met by two of Pedro’s friends who live in the town. Ana Hormaetxea is a scriptwriter and was a member of the Anika Kom scriptwriting jury, and Eguxkine Aranzibia, a writer.

     Our first stop on our tour was the historic Vizcaya Bridge, the oldest hanging bridge in the world. Designed in 1893 by the Basque architect Alberto de Palacio, the bridge connects Algorta to the town of Portugalete across the river.

     The area around Portugalete was the site of iron mines, and the impoverished miners and their families lived in that town while the mine owners lived in splendor on the other side of the river in Algorta.

Vizcaya Hanging Bridge

The gondola crossing the river

     De Palacio planned the 50-meter-high pillars on either side of the bank to ensure that the tall ships of that era could pass unimpeded. The bridge has an upper pedestrian walkway. Suspended from it is a gondola that can carry up to 6 cars and dozens of passengers from one side of the river to the other. It was the first bridge in the world to carry people and vehicles in a suspended gondola. The bridge is still in use, running every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day. In 2006 the Vizcaya Bridge became a world heritage site. 

One of Getxo’s many mansions

     From the foot of the bridge, we walked along the sea wall to Getxo. Along the way we passed many of the fabulous mansions, which are still privately owned and occupied. Eguxkine was a wonderful tour guide, telling Nik and me many facts about the architects and different styles of architecture of these fabulous 19th and 20th century.

     The three of us caught up with the rest of the group outside of a beachside restaurant where we had tapas and drinks and relaxed while some of the party were on the beach. From the restaurant, we went up the hill to the old village where we enjoyed a wonderful, traditional meal out under an ancient tree.

Lunch under the trees

     On another day we were once again taken by train, this time to Plentzia. Festival staff member Isabel Molinos had the tricky job of shepherding us there. Isa was also the person who had the difficult job of telling us all where and when to meet every day and making sure that none of us got lost, not just on our excursions, but also on our nightly bar adventures.

Animator and Basque Film Jury member Rianne Strommelaar, Jorn Leeuwerink and Isabel Molinos at the beach in Plentzia:


     In Plentzia we were met by Tim Nicholson, Anima Kom’s official translator. Tim is originally from Ireland but now lives in Plentzia where he works as a book and script translator.

     After a walk up the city steps, we arrived at the center of the old city and stopped for a drink and snacks at the neighborhood bar in the shadow of the 16th century Church of Santa Maria Magdalena. Then we descended to the other side of the hill to walk along the Plentzia River. The river runs into the Bay of Biscay. Nik, who I have always suspected is part fish, and several other members of the group took advantage of the opportunity to swim at one of the best swimming beaches in the area while others enjoyed a cold beer at a beachside bar.

Bodega Crusoe Treasure underwater wine cage. Photo - AFP

     Plentzia is also home to Bodega Crusoe Treasure, an underwater winery founded in 2013. The bottled wines are closed with a special stopper and sealed. The bottles are then lowered from a boat by crane 20 meters under the sea where they rest for 6 to 12 months in specially built metal cages. A member of the winery in a wetsuit then goes down to check the sensors that monitor the temperature and water pressure around the cage. The conditions underwater in total darkness and constant temperatures are thought to speed up the aging process and add complexity to the wine. I am sorry to say I cannot attest firsthand to the taste of the wine since prices for a bottle begin at 58 euros. You can learn more about the underwater aging process and see more photos at

     At Plentzia we had another delicious meal featuring local seafood before it was time to take the train back to Bilbao.

Our new masks from Bilbao

     It was a wonderful 8 days in Bilbao, full of so many lovely memories. There is no way I can thank Pedro enough for inviting us to be part of the festival. His hospitality and generosity know no ends. I also must thank Isa Molinos for her friendship and so many shared laughs as well as taking good care of us. A big thank you goes to the entire crew of Anima Kom who worked so hard to make sure that everything went off without a hitch given the difficult conditions they had to work under to put the festival online and prepare the Bilborock theatre by blocking off every other seat, making sure that people kept their masks on and used the hand sanitizer when we entered the theatre. The Bilborock Theatre is a former church that is now a music and theatre venue. Hopefully, things will be back to normal in time for next year’s Anima Kom which is scheduled for the end of June/beginning of July next year.

You can learn more about Anima Kom and how to submit your film to the next festival at

Festival Awards

Pulsion, Pedro Casavecchia (Argentina)

Freeze Frame, Soetkin Verstegen (Belgium)

Purpleboy, Alexandre Siqueira (Belgium, France, Portugal)

Time o´ the Signs, Reinhold Bidner (Austria)

Airhead!, Gaspar Chabaud (Belgium)

Daughter, Daria Kashcheeva (Czech Republic)

Sh_t Happens, Michaela Mihályi, David Štumpf (Czech Republic, France, Slovakia)

Star Bright, Mercedes Marro, Leno Miao

Lursaguak, Scenes for Life, Izibene Oñederra

Symbiosis, Nadja Andrasev (Hungary)

Symbiosis, Nadja Andrasev (Hungary)

Inside Me, María Trigo Teixeira (Germany)

MTV is My Friend, Radu Popovici (Romania)

Pile, Toby Auberg (United Kingdom)