After months of watching animation from my couch, it was such a pleasure to attend a real live festival...
AN ANIMATION UNIVERSE THAT KNOWS NO BOUNDARIES
After months of watching animation from my couch, it was such a pleasure to attend a real live festival, and what better place to go than the beautiful island of Syros, Greece for Animasyros and the Agora. This year screenings were moved from the beautiful opera house to the courtyard of the Cyclades Labor and Employment Center housed in the magnificent Velissaropoulos Mansion. There were also daily screenings at other locations around the island.
Syros is the capital of the Cyclades and until the 1860s was the most important commercial harbor in Greece. Ermoupoli, the main town on the island, was the Greek capital for many years and has been inhabited by Romans, Arabs, Franks, and Venetians. The architecture is mostly neoclassical with exquisite squares and marble buildings and streets.
The International Competition was strong although I had already seen most of the films several times. The Parrot Lady by Michalis Kalopaidis was a pleasant surprise. Inspired by the true story of a woman living on the streets with her parrots because she didn’t want to die alone. The beautifully animated film is very timely with the coronavirus affecting so many older people who live alone in 2020. The jury awarded the film a Special Mention.
Kalopaidis is the founder of Zedem Media, Cypress’s largest and longest-running animation studio and The Parrot Lady is his first film as a director. I look forward to seeing more films from him in the future.
One of the most enjoyable programs was the Greek panorama. Angelos Spartalis is a very prolific filmmaker and painter. Her film The Fist Kiss was a favorite in the panorama. It captures the soul of a man trying to revive a relationship that has gone stale by taking his partner back in time to their very first kiss.
The hand-painted film is part of a series by the artist/animator titled Carre-Carre (How to Cope With Emotional Panic). The artist says it is “an artistic reaction to the ‘criminalization’ of handshakes, hugs, kisses, human contact in general”.
The award for the Best Greek Language Film was awarded to Effie Pappa for her charming music video The Little Elephant. The film was commissioned by singer George Hadjipieris to promote an album of his children’s songs. He is accompanied on The Little Elephant song by a children’s choir.
The #This Is EU – European Values Award was presented at Animasyros for the second year in a row by the Representation of the European Commission in Greece. Films from any country are eligible for the award. They do not have to be an EU production or co-production as long as they reflect the fundamental values for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.
This year’s winning film was Bear With Me by Daphna Awadish who lives in The Netherlands. The film is a documentary about immigrants who leave their homeland and cross borders, leaving everything familiar behind to live in a foreign country for the sake of love. With touching interviews Bear With Me reveals the many difficulties faced by people who immigrate to be with the person that they love. First and foremost, it is a film about love. Daphna is an immigrant herself having been born in Israel.
Along with the competition programs, there were an International Panorama, a Greek Panorama, and programs specially curated for children. A unique and important screening at the festival is the yearly Anima Pride program. Although there are animation festivals devoted exclusively to LGBT films and filmmakers, Animasyros is the only animation festival that I am aware of that devotes an entire program in its festival addressing LGBT subjects as a regular feature.
Of the 10 films in the program, my favorite was the Welch 2D Cwch Deilen (Leaf Boat) by Efa Blosse-Mason. The beautifully animated film tells the story of two women, Heledd and Celyn, who set off to navigate the scary, murky waters of their new relationship. It is a film about overcoming fear and learning to trust another person. The backgrounds were created using paints and oil pastels with digital animation giving the film a very rich feeling. Cwch Deilen is a film everyone can relate to, gay or straight. It was made as part of the United Kingdom’s Beacons scheme which showcases emerging writers and directors. It is funded by Film Cymru, BFI Network, and BBC Cymru Wales.
The two special programs of Czech animation were curated by Pavel Horacek. He is the program director of Anifilm, The International Festival of Animated Films in Liberec, Czech Republic. The first program featured films that were recent winners of the Czech Horizon Competition at Anifilm. The second one was devoted to works by students at FAMU (Film and Television School of the Academy of Performing Arts) in Prague. Founded in 1946 it is the fifth oldest film school in the world.
Animasyros has a strong connection to music. Members of the Greek National Opera have performed at the festival’s opening. ceremony in the beautiful Apollo Theatre which is modeled after La Scala in Milan. It was originally built as an opera house. Sadly, the opera could not perform this year due to the pandemic but the festival joined Athens radio station Melodia 99.2 to present a new collaboration called Ninety Seconds. The project brings to the screen via animation the lives of much-loved Greek singers who have left their distinctive mark in Greek music history. Each film will be framed by emblematic songs and the films will be directed by up and coming Greek directors.
The first film of the series is 90 Seconds For Moscholiou. Director Dimitris Kousandas wove together many bits and pieces to offer a fascinating account of the life of the amazing singer Vicky Moscholiou. The images move to the sound of the song Lonely People by Giannis Kalamitsis, one of the songs that Vicky is most famous for singing. This is a fitting project for Mlodia 99.2 to be involved in because it is the number one radio station for Greek music in the country.
The Media Literacy Program is an important arm of the festival aimed at the local community. This year because of the virus there were no special workshops for the elderly and disabled but there were two live ones and one via the internet. A workshop for 5th and 6th graders, Blue Animation/Blue Zoetrope, was conducted by Eleni Mouri and Fokian Xenas. The children made paper hearts that they put on the carousel of a zoetrope so they could see the magical illusion of movement. They also experimented with pixilation and created a short film.
The stop motion animated calligraphy workshop for teenagers was led by calligrapher Maria Genitsariou and animator Ioanna Giakoumatou. The students blended calligraphy with animation to create a multidimensional stop-motion film. The films made by both workshops were screened during the closing night ceremony.
For the adult audience, there was a ninety-minute online tour of London-based A+C Studio that specializes in stop-motion animation. Conducted by founder Dan Richards, the presentation focused on how the studio creates animation for advertising. It included a demonstration of how a stop-motion commercial is set up and shot. The masterclass ended with a question and answer session.
The Agora, in its sixth year, represents the market section of the festival. Held on four days concurrent with Animasyros in the Cultural Center of Ermoupolis, the Agora is designed for creative professionals worldwide to network. To that end, there are a series of presentations by people from all branches of the animation industry and representatives of organizations as well as the pitching forum. This is all presided over by Agora founder Marineta Mak Kritikou. Since all of Animasyros’ screenings were outdoors they were only held in the evenings which left all day for the Agora.
This year the Agora launched a new collaboration with the Annecy International Animation Festival and MIFA-Animation du Monde. Geraldine Bache, Head of MIFA Projects and producer Antoine Lietout of the French/German production company Laidak traveled to Syros to give a three-day intensive pitching workshop. The sessions were open only to participants in the pitching forum. Six projects in various stages of development from Greece, Cypress, and Portugal were selected from the more than fifty projects that were submitted. All presentations of the Agora were available online except for the pitching workshops.
The jury for the Pitching Forum was Geraldine Bache, Dutch producer and curator Tunde Vollenbroek, Agora Director Marineta Mak Kritikou, Antoine Lietout, and myself. Originally the one winning project would receive the prize of travel to the Annecy Festival in 2021 to present their film project at the MIFA Pitches. Ms. Bache was so impressed with the quality of the pitches that she generously extended the invitation to two projects along with a special mention which will receive a full MIFA accreditation.
The first project that we selected was Mesut by Cypriot director Alexia Roider. Her film, based on a true story, is about Mesut, a Turkish Cypriot boy who wants to learn to dance the zelbekiko, a Greek folk dance. The story is set within the historical context of 1974 when growing political conflicts between the Greek and Turkish governments disrupted life on the island and Nicosia became the last city in Europe to be divided by a wall. It is the story of a man who considered himself neither Greek nor Turkish. He just wanted to dance.
The second project selected was Oscar by Greek puppet animators Polyxeng Katsari and Martina Fykari. Oscar, a young orphan who lives alone in an abandoned mansion, finds himself entangled in a bizarre situation. The discovery of an old music box triggers a series of events that will eventually lead him to the family graveyard where secrets wait to be unearthed. The dark goth mystery is aimed at the 13+ audience. I particularly like this project because as anyone who programs a festival knows it is hard to find good films for this age group. The puppet of Oscar and the mansion which they showed at the pitching session were beautifully constructed and built in their tiny apartment during lockdown. I hope they are successful at MIFA with their pitch and I look forward to seeing the completed film.
We awarded a Special Mention to the Greek team of Fokion Xenos and Georgina Zachari for Travel Bug, a children’s television series. The episodes center around Louis, the laid-back beetle and Jason the hyperactive flea. The pair travel all over Europe inside little Pauline’s suitcase. As the girl and her parents visit different destinations the two bugs get to discover the true local experiences through microscopic adventures. The characters will be claymation with digitized backgrounds. Three seven-minute episodes are planned for each country.
Travel Bug is quite far along as far as funding is concerned, but they came to the pitching session looking for a co-producer. Their Special Mention comes with free access to the 2021 MIFA where I wish them luck networking and finding the right people to work with.
Professional presentations were held in the afternoons. Signe Baumane is always wonderful and funny. At her online presentation, she gave a behind the scenes look at her second feature film, My Love Affair With Marriage, which is currently in production. Following her talk, I had the great pleasure along with Festival Director Maria Anestopoulou to surprise Signe by presenting her with the 2019 ASIFA prize. Annually since 1985 ASIFA (The International Animation Association) has awarded a prize for outstanding achievements and a significant and innovative contribution in the field of animation. Since I nominated Signe for the award, I had the pleasure of arranging for it to be created and the location where it was presented.
The award is always a work of art created especially for the winner by an animator he or she admires. This year’s beautiful drawing was created by Joanna Quinn, a true master of the art of drawing. The picture depicts Beryl, the heroine of a series of Joanna’s films, running with a tiara in her hands to crown Signe “Queen of Animation”. It is a treasure indeed and a big thank you goes to Joanna for creating this unique award. Signe was extremely surprised and rendered almost speechless which is usually difficult to do with Signe.
Joanna has almost completed her latest Beryl adventure. In Affairs of Art the 59-year-old factory worker Beryl is totally obsessed with drawing and her fixation dominates her entire household. Her husband, Ivor, is Beryl’s model and muse and you can be sure that Beryl and her new passion wreak hilarious havoc. The film is a co-production between Beryl Productions International and The National Film Board of Canada. It is set for a January 2021 release.
Also online to talk about the making of Cartoon Saloon’s latest film, Wolfwalkers, were co-directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart. The film is set in Kilkenny, Ireland where Cartoon Saloon is located and is based on local legends that Tomm said he grew up hearing.
The story centers on Robyn Goodfellow who comes to Ireland with her father to wipe out the last wolf pack. While exploring the forbidden lands outside of the city walls, Robyn befriends a free-spirited girl, Mebh, a member of a mysterious tribe rumored to have the ability to transform into wolves by night. As the girls search for Mebh’s missing mother, Robyn uncovers a secret that draws her further and further into the enchanted world of the wolfwalkers and risks turning into the very thing that her father is there to destroy.
The grey wolf was once an integral part of the Irish countryside and culture, but are now extinct. The last reliable sighting of a wolf in Ireland comes from County Carlow when a wolf was hunted down and killed in 1786 for killing sheep.
As part of their presentation, Tomm and Ross showed a clip from the film. It looks beautiful and I am sure that it will be another big hit for the studio that has produced such modern-day classics as The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea.
Producer at Amsterdam’s Studio Pupil Tunde Vollenbroek gave the Agora audience insights and strategies to help animators release their short films online. She used her own projects as examples: Tabook which received two million views and Scrambled which exceeded forty million views.
I introduced the audience to some of the almost unknown significant women in animation’s history. I also talked about the need for more women in upper management of the animation industry in my talk Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling.
There were also several programs dealing directly with the Greek animation industry. The last speaker on the fourth day was Panagiotis Kyriakoulakos, Vice-President of ASIFA Hellos. The Greek animation community is celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary this year (1945 – 2020). In honor of that, his talk traced its history with an emphasis on the achievements of the last five years.
Of course, it wasn’t all work. Syros is a beautiful island with delicious food and a sparkling sea. Festival mealtime was a perfect place to meet and talk to other guests. It was a treat to finally meet Tomek Popakul over food. The Polish animator is thoroughly delightful. He told me that his next project will be very different from his multi-award-winning film Acid Rain. It will be about cats. I am sure that he received a lot of inspiration on Syros because it is an island where cats are everywhere.
I also got to know Zacharias Mavroeidis who is also planning a film about cats based on his novel Nine Lives Left. He said that the story was conceived while on vacation in Syros. Zacharias was staying in a guest house which two kittens had appropriated. They were enjoying food and attention from the tourists staying there. The cats made him wonder what happened to all the homeless cats on Greek Islands when summer is over and all the food giving tourists are gone? How do they survive through the winter?
On Syros, there is a cat café in a residential part of the island that is tended by the locals. It is not for humans to come pet and play with cats, but an outdoor location with food, water and shade for the cats to nap under in the heat of the day.
I am curious to see his film and find out how the young cat in his story survives as she goes on an odyssey to find a person to adopt her. At this point, Zacharias and his producer Maria Kontogianni are pursuing funding options.
Many, many thank you’s go to Vassilis Karamitsanis, President of Anima Syros; Festival Director Maria Anestopoulou; and Marineta Mak Kritikou, Agora Director for inviting me to be part of your wonderful festival. From the moment Nik and I landed at Athens airport and caught the ferry to Syros your hospitality was astoundingly generous and you organized everything beautifully. As I write this in cold, grey, rainy Gent I feel warm with all the beautiful memories I have of my visit to Animasyros and the Agora. I am already looking forward to being there again next year. If you are ever lucky enough to be invited to be part of Animasyros or the Agora don’t hesitate to say yes. It is a wonderful experience that you will never forget. The 2021 edition of the festival will be held from 22 to 26 September.
You can read more about the festival and Agora at: www.animasyros.gr
Grand Prize - “Flesh” (BR/ES) by Camila Kater
Honorable Mention - “Memorable” (FR) by Bruno Collet
Best TV & Commissioned Award - “Your Data Is Showing” (DK) by Anna Bonnen
Honorable Mention - “Lionverse” (HK) by Hayden Chun Hei Mok
First Prize - “The Storm” (FR) by Astrid Guinet
Honorable Mention - “Tamou” (IL) by Tom Prezman & Tzor Edery
The Best Greek-speaking Film - “The Little Elephant” (GR) by Effie Pappa
Honorable Mention - “The Parrot Lady” (CY) by Michalis Kalopaidis
The European Values Award awarded by the Representation of the European Commission in Greece - “Bear With Me” (NL) by Daphna Awadish.