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Animation For Grown-Ups: 23rd International Trickfilm Festival Of Animated Film and FMX - 26 April to 1 May 2016 in Stuttgart, Germany

The motto of the 23rd International Trickfilm Festival was Animation For Grown-ups, and sure enough, the films shown at the opening night of the International Competition were very thought provoking.

The motto of the 23rd International Trickfilm Festival was Animation For Grown-ups, and sure enough, the films shown at the opening night of the International Competition were very thought provoking.

Kaputt (Broken) an animated documentary by Alexander Lahl and Volker Schlecht from Germany was based on interviews with two former political prisoners at the Hoheneck prison.  Hoheneck was the main prison for women in the former GDR (East Germany).  The 7 minute abstract monochrome drawn animation emphasized the harsh conditions in the prison such as punishment in the water room where women were forced to stand for long periods in a small windowless room which was flooded with cold water up to their necks. The women recounted how the inmates’ hair fell out and most of them lost their periods. 

Along with the terrible conditions of daily life, the film also addressed the issue of forced labor.  Women were forced to manufacture goods such as sheets, towels, and panty hose which were sold in the West at such stores as Ikea and Woolworths.  Kaputt premiered at the Berlinale-Berlin International Film Festival and it won the 2016 Grand Prix at the Stuttgart Festival.

Set between Beirut’s post-war climate of recovery in the ‘90’s and today’s general sense of a crumbling city, Waves 98 by Lebanon born Ely Dagher is the story of Omar.  The 15 minute 2D film follows Omar’s daily life growing up in the outskirts of a city, a life dominated by the mundane, his parent’s financial problems, and his lack of motivation.  His only escape is the time that he spends gazing at the city from his school’s rooftop.  One cold winter day Omar sees an intense beam of light shining through the grayness of the landscape that lures him into the center of the city where he explores and immerses himself in a world he never knew existed.  It is a world so close yet so isolated from his reality that it changes his life forever.

Dagher who now lives and works in Europe said that “the film is an artistic exploration of my current relationship with Lebanon, projected through the story of a teenager and set in 1989”.  Waves 98 won the Palm D’Or in the story film category at the Cannes Film Festival.

The screening ended on a humorous note with Café D’ Amour, a pixilated slap stick love story set in the 1920’s.  Café D’Amour is a magical café aiming cupid’s arrows at lonely customers.  Lewis, an elderly street performer meets Coco, a wealthy, chubby woman.  Coco has been disappointed by men but she is still hopeful and searching for Mr. Right.  The café spares nothing, magically moving chairs, coffee cups and pastry from table to table, to bring the two together.  Eventually there is success and the café can hang up another photo of a happy couple on its wall of trophies.

The director Benedikt Toniolo said that the 2 elderly actors did not realize how physically demanding that acting in the film would be - they were required to remain in poses which involved bending at the knees and other physical fetes for the frame by frame shooting and the elderly, overweight female actress ended up in the hospital after the shooting.  The film was nominated for the Lotte Reiniger Promotion Award which is give at the festival to the best student graduation film.

Of the 9 films in the opening screening, six were either very political or serious.  It is impressive that the festival opted to screen so many films that took effort and thought to watch when the screening room was full of important dignitaries such as Fritz Kuhn, Lord Mayor of Stuttgart and a representative from Mercedes-Benz who is a major festival sponsor.

One of the things that made this year’s Trickfilm Festival so special is that along with the usual International and Student Competitions, Children’s programs, and Panoramas, the festival included very topical work.  This year in co-operation with Stuttgart’s Umbrella Organization for Migrant Organizations, the festival presented 2 programs dealing with the plight of the ever increasing numbers of displaced people flocking to Europe.

In the screening Migration-Journey to the Unknown, eight films posed the question “Where do you go if your home is no longer a safe place to be?”  Michelle and Uri Kranot captured the eternal search for home in Hollow Land.  Soloman and Berta are two displaced people who arrive in a land that seems like utopia after their many journeys with their single treasured possession, a bath tub, in tow.  From their first optimistic moments upon arrival to their final feelings of disillusion and despair the film captures the state of being displaced whether it is by circumstances or choice.

Arrival-Together Forever dealt with what happens next when an immigrant remains in a country.  Hanna Heilborn and David Aronowitsch brought to life the story of 2 young Sudanese boys who were captured by slave traders.  Their anima doc is based on recorded interviews with the pair who calmly relate the enormous horrors of their ordeal and eventual rescue with a maturity and eloquence that is far beyond their years.

DEFA was the most prolific and creative of the film studios that survived and prospered in East Germany. Two political programs featured films animated by DEFA artists between 1954 and 1989.  Although I have read about the studio I had never seen any of their films on the big screen and I found it to be an amazing experience.  In the 1954 film Katzenmusik by Lothar Barke, crazed teenagers dance rock and roll.  Otto Sacher described the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States in Sensation Das Jahrhunderts. The most intriguing film of all, Guten Tag Herr H. by Klaus Georgi, poses the question of how Adolf Hitler might get along if he reawakened in the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1960’s.

The Trickfilm Festival always stretches the boundaries between animation and other disciplines.  This year four programs explored the connection between opera and animation.  The program devoted to arias opened with Canadian animator Kim Thompson’s humorous All the Great Operas (In 10 Minutes).  Created in the style of Monty Python, 11 opera plots told in 10 minutes had all of the suffering, adultery, incest, and suicide with 38 deaths that most operas have.

Smoked Sprat Baking in the Sun is Estonian animator Mati Kutt’s 1992 updated version of the opera The Golden Cockerel, where everything is turned upside down.  The Golden Cockerel was originally created by Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov and Mati with his usual sense of absurd humor has taken his opera parody to a new level.

The most interesting interpretation of animated opera was Keiichiro Shibuya’s 85 minute The End – The Vocaloid Opera.  Shibuya features Japanese pop sensation Miku Hatsune in his opera without an orchestra or human vocalist.  The performance is constructed from multi-screened 3D images and electronic sound.  Unlike traditional operas with singing principals, masses of supernumeraries, and lavish sets, the only performer in The End is Hatsune as a virtual animal character whose voice originates from a voice synthesizer.  She begins her journey through film by asking herself “Will I die?”  Traveling through a virtual world accompanied only by Shibuya’s score of minimal techno, modern, and contemporary classical music and sound art, Miku goes in search of the paradox of her own existence.

The festival has a strong connection to the local community, and the finale of the animated opera series was a special program on the massive LED screen on the Schlossplatz (the large grassy town square).  The free evening of outdoor opera for the entire family led off with a program of opera related shorts films.  The screening kicked off with Sidney Opera House/Living Mural, 15 minutes of brilliant graphic visualizations set to music projected on the exterior of the Sydney Opera House.  The program also included a screening of the great German animator Lotte Reiniger’s 1933 interpretation of Carmen in her iconic silhouette style.  The selection of 6 shorts ended with the 29 minute Opera Vox: Rigoletto by British master puppet animator Barry Purves.

The highlight of the evening was the live transmission of Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto from the Stuttgart Opera House.  The live open air screening of the opera was presented in conjunction with Opera Stuttgart.

The big outdoor screen viewed from the beer garden

Over the years the massive LED screen has become a focal point throughout the festival week.  The screen is so bright that during the day amination from different programs were screened starting at 2 PM so people can sit in the beer garden or on the lawn and watch film while they eat, drink and relax.  Each evening a feature film for the entire family such as The Little Prince, Peanuts the Movie, and Inside Out was screened and even rain didn’t discourage people from turning out to watch the films.  They just sat under their umbrellas to enjoy their picnics and the film.

The Wall of Animation

A new feature at the festival this year was The Wall of Animation.  A 65 by 10 meter façade of the Breuninger Department Store on the market square was transformed into a work of animated art by professional poster artists.  It was fascinating to watch their progress over several days as they brought to life iconic character designs created especially for this project by such internationally known animators as David Silverman, Michaela Pavlatova, Ivan Maximov, Regina Pessoa, Bill Plympton, and Raul Garcia.  Of course Shaun the Sheep was there too!

In the Game Zone

For this edition of the festival the Game Zone was expanded and occupied an entire building.  It was the place for gaming enthusiasts of all ages to play the latest games and exchange views on gaming trends.  A mini workshop on game development gave teenagers the opportunity to learn how to plan, design, and program their own PC games.  The Game Zone was curated by Sabiha Ghellal, Professor of Mobile Interaction and Game Design at Stuttgart Media University.

Nik playing with Stuttgart jazz musicians from the Music Academy

The festival café was the site for daily chats with directors.  On two evenings there was music at the café where Nik played with local musicians.  One afternoon I had the honor to moderate the book chat at the café with animation historian and author Giannalberto Bendazzi and Hannes Rall.  Giannalberto is an old friend so it was delightful to talk to him about his Animation: A World History.  The three volume set thoroughly covers all facets of animation and animators from the beginning of the art form to the present.  The books are an invaluable reference source for everyone in the animation world.

Nancy with Giannalberto Bendazzi and Hannes Rall at the book chat

Hannes Rall’s Animation-Film: Concept and Production takes the reader step by step through creating a script and storyboard, character design, production design, the principles of animation, and their application.  The book also thoroughly covers different techniques ranging from stop-motion to 3D computer animation.  It is lavishly illustrated and contains an 8 page glossary.  Unfortunately the book is only available in German at the present time but Hannes told me that plans are underway for an English version.

Would you trust your festival to these men? L-R Daniel Suljic - artistic director of Animafest Zagreb, Otto Alder - former director of Leipzig Film Festival animation program, Andreas Hykade - FMX executive director and Chris Robinson - artistic director of Ottowa Int. Animation Festival

In 2015 there were 2,500 accredited guests and approximately 80,000 total visitors to the festival.  This year many of the screenings were completely sold out, so the Trickfilm Festival can consider itself not only a top-notch festival for animators but also a great asset to the community.  The only fault that I can find is that there was so much to see and do that it was impossible to watch everything that I wanted to see.  The festival gives over 6,000 Euros in prize money but the real proof that it is serving the community at large is the new FANtastic Award of 1,000 Euros.  Spearheaded by Doctor Dorothea Kaufman, a group of long time festival fans got together to select their favorite film and give it the FANtastic Award.

The FANtastic award team with Ulrich Wegenast, managing director ITFS (L)

Running concurrent to the festival for 4 days, was FMX, Europe’s largest conference on animation, special effects, games, and transmedia.  This year the main theme was Blending Realities.  FMX looked at the different types of realities experienced in special effects and how these realities are becoming increasingly important for people working in digital entertainment.

Trying out the latest VR equipment at FMX

Virtual Reality (VR) was very prominent at FMX. At the VR production stage visitors could experience it first hand and try out the newest state of the art technology.  There was also a 3 hour VR workshop designed to help developers jump into developing high quality VR games.  At the FMX VR Jam a few small teams competed to create new VR projects over 4 days.

FMX is really three events in one.  The conference arm of the event attracts top professionals from all over the world to give presentations, workshops, and panels such as Ed Hooks’ Acting For Animation masterclass and a series on sound design covering such diverse topics as sound design for visually strong films and the art of making foley.

Motion capture demonstration at FMX

The market place had 2 rooms of booths with representatives from studios, hardware and software companies and a book store.  There was also an area for school presentations with both professors and students in the booth so you could get a very balanced idea of the pros and cons of each school.

Nancy with AWN's Dan Sarto at the FMX Cafe

The third arm of FMX was the networking platform.  The center of this was the Recruiting Hub where attendees met with over 2 dozen potential employers from around the world.  Participating studios also gave presentations about recent and upcoming projects.  Of course you could just sit in the FMX café and network because everyone passes through there at some point.  In the 45 minutes that I sat there I saw and talked to many people that I knew.

Nik and Nancy hanging out with the guys at the FMX press party

Between the Trickfilm Festival and FMX it was a very packed 6 days proving once again that Stuttgart is the hub of animation in Germany.  A big thank you goes to Andrea Bauer, head festival programmer, for all of her kindness and help to make my visit to the festival so rewarding.  I also want to thank the entire staff of the festival for their hard work to make everything run so smoothly.

I recommend a visit to the Trickfilm Festival.  It is very friendly and full of interesting programs. The 2017 edition will take place from 2 to 7 May.  You can read more about the festival and find out how to submit your film at:


International Competition Jury:  Cav Bøgelund (Norway), Spela Cadez (Slovenia), Rocio Ayuso (United States), Jalal Maghout (Germany), Till Penzek (Germany)

     Grand Prix and 15,000 Euros:  Kaputt (Broken) – Alexander Lahl and Volker Schlecht, Germany

     Lotte Reiniger Award and 10,000 Euros:  Afternoon Class – Seoro Oh, Republic of Korea

Tele 5 Special Award Jury:  Michaela Pavlatova (Czech Republic), Puneet Sharma (India), Conrad Tambour (Germany) and two selected Tele 5 Viewers

     Award and 5,000 Euros:  Ivan’s Need – Veronica Montano, Manuela Leuenberger, and Lukas Suter, Switzerland

Young Animation Jury:  Ron Diamond (United States), Neyla Majdalani  (Lebanon), and Johannes Schiehsl (Germany)

     Best Young Animation and 2,500 Euros – Pro Mamu (About A Mother) – Dina Velikovskaya, Russia

The FANtastic Award Jury:  Karin Birk, Folke Damminger, Jurgen Frick, Sebastian Heck, Dorothea Kaufmann, Michaela Rehm, Karen Schmitt, and Seve Schoengarth

     Award and 1,000 Euros:  Toutes Nuancees (All Their Shades) – Chloe Alliez, Belgium

Tricks For Kids Jury (Ages 9 through 13):  Sofia Reichert, Nik Littkemann, Stella Draxler, Leonie Klaffke, Tim Rotter, and Joel Zeytun

     Award and 4,000 Euros:  Alike – Daniel Martinez Lara and Nicolas Matji, Spain

     Special Mention:  Simon’s Cat – A Trip to the Vet – Simon Tofielf, United Kingdom

Best Chiildren’s Series Jury:  Nick Cross (Canada), Raul Garcia (United States), and Eric Shaw (United States)

     Petzi “Schildkroteninsel (Rasmus Klump Turtle Island) – Michael Bohnenstingl, Paul Cichon, and Johannes Weiland, Germany

AniMovie Jury:  Marianne Khoury (Egypt), Ralf Schenk (Germany), and Esben Toft Jacobsen (Denmark)

     Psiconauttas, Los Ninos Olvidados (Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children) – Pedro Rivero and Alberto Vazquez (Spain)

Animated Con Award and 7,500 Euros:

     Coca-Cola:  Man and Dog –Kylie Matulick and Todd Mueller (United States)

German Voice Actor Award:

     Kostja Ullmann for Sam O’Cool

German Animation Screen Play Award:

     John Chambers for Die Olchis – der Film

Crazy Horse Sessions – 48 Hour Animation Jam:

     Team Lebanon – Lea Azae and Marylin Haddad

Local Hero Games Award –

Tobias Frisch – The Inner World (Germany)

SWR Audience Award and 6,000 Euros:

     Paniek! (Panic!) – Joost Lieuwma and Daan Velsink (Netherlands)

Amazon Audience Award and 5,000 Euros:

       Chateau De Sable – Quentin Deleau, Lucie Fonccelle, Maxime Goudal, Julien Paris, and Sylvain Robert (France)