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Each year when Nik and I arrive in Annecy, France for the 45th Annecy International Festival of Animation, I cast longing looks at the beautiful blue waters of Lake Annecy with the back drop of majestic alps and I know that for the next 6 days I will only get fleeting glimpses of the scenic
wonders that have made Annecy world famous as a vacation destination. The sacrifice is well worth it, however, to have the opportunity to see 230 films representing 36 countries. With all of the festival's problems (and there are many!), it is still a rare opportunity to view animation that will never be seen in the United States.

Although I thought that the overall quality of the films was not as strong as in some past years, there were certainly some exceptions. John Canemaker's autobiographical film The Moon And The Son: An Imagined Conversation utilizes drawing on paper to let us become totally immersed in the turbulent terrain of a father/son dynamic as seen through John's relationship with his father. Although very different in style, this film had the same emotional impact on me that Dennis Tupicoff's works have.

Academy Award winner Koji Yamamura screened his new film The Old Crocodile, based on an old African legend with English dialogue. Der Park (The Park) from Nicolas Mahler of Austria was another a favorite of mine. Mahler combines humor with an ecological theme and we discover that a park is not always a happy place to be for the beings that live there.

According to Serge Bromberg, Artistic Director of the festival, this year the festival was "more streamlined and without love handles". Despite the fact that there was no opening night party and there were fewer programs in Panorama and Graduation Film programs, there were still plenty of special features. The Directors’ Chats, which Serge so ably hosts, were a great way to start the morning; with insightful comments from the previous day’s Short Competition animators over espresso and French pastries.

Canada was the featured country at this year’s festival. The Canadian animation scene, from the National Film Board, the Cinematheque Quebecois and The Ottowa Festival to greats such as Frederic Back, Jacques Drouin, and Norman McLaren to name but a few, were honored with 12 separate programs. The NFB presented a special 15 minute program of Stereoscopic Animation which ran continuously throughout the Festival, using very LARGE and fetching polarizing glasses. I was so taken with the four films, which used 3D as a tool to enhance rather than a gimmick, that I am writing an entire article about this experience.

Bill Plympton produced a sideline program, titled Plus Annecy, which turned out to be a great crowd pleaser. Using an outdoor wall of a local bar, Bill put together an excellent program of films that had either been rejected by the selection committee or placed in Panorama (which never gets as large an audience as the competition screenings). Much to the delight of the audience and in the fun spirit of Annecy, Serge Bromberg got the show off to a rousing start by delivering the "official welcome" just as he does for the Short Film Competition programs in the large theater. The audience was treated to such treasures as John Dilworth’s amazing "Life in Transition" (the only chance to view the film at the festival) and "The Fan And The Flower", a very atypical Bill Plympton work which I hope will not be overlooked because it is truly lovely, and such a delightful change of pace for Bill. Nik Phelps, who put together an international trio for the show, provided intermission music. The group featured Nik on clarinet, Swiss animator (and ASIFA International Board Member) Rolf Baechler on percussion and Norwegian animator Jesper Fleng on guitar. The event was a great success, the bar sold out of beer, and Bill was invited back for the next year right on the spot by the bar owner.

There were the usual rounds of afternoon and evening parties with lots of good French food and beverages. Dreamworks’ Shelly Tate again hosted a pleasant afternoon picnic under the trees in the lakeside park. It was a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends and talk business while sprawled on the grass eating cheese and sausage; washing it all down with lovely French wines. The Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Films hosted the nicest party of the week. Invited guests took a half-hour bus ride to the beautiful Hotel Restaurant le Clos Marcel on Lake Annecy. With the alps towering in the background so close it felt kike we could touch them, we gathered on lawn chairs scattered over banks of green grass, strolling while devouring a fine selection of appetizer and drink. We were then invited to dine on a sumptuous spread with ample carafes of wine and beer. Everyone ate in small groups; I was very lucky to spend three hours in conversation with Gunnar Strom and Priit Parn, talking about everything from animation to solving the problems of the world. The ride back was very mellow indeed! Unfortunately, Nik had to miss this perfect afternoon, as he was off rehearsing his trio for the Plus Annecy program that evening. The Dutch “genièvre party” (a potent juniper liqueur) in a sunny courtyard on one of the downtown canals left everyone in a very happy mood, and the Swiss held an lovely fete honoring Georges Schwizgebel’s book signing and exhibition of stills from his animations at a downtown gallery. A most special party was one of the last, on Friday night – the Zagreb Family party – a reunion of people who have attended Animafest, Zagreb’s World Festival of Animated Films, in Croatia. The only things missing were our fetching hats, which we were all issued at the Zagreb Festival picnic last year. Margit Antauer, Managing Director of the festival (affectionately known as Buba) gave us invitations to the 2006 Animafest, along with 2006 Animafest T-shirts. Surrounded by so many old friends once again enjoying the warmth and hospitality of Buba, it was as if we were back in Zagreb for a while. To end the week’s celebrations, the Saturday afternoon picnic and paddle boat race which Nik and I host is becoming another really fun tradition. A truly international group gathered by the lake to eat and drink and after copious quantities of both, we took to the paddleboats in the warm afternoon sun and raced out around a nearby island and back. Winners were awarded wonderful prizes by our official judges, Gunnar Strom of Norway and Rolf Baechler of Switzerland!

At the Awards Ceremony, as a special treat, there was a screening of the latest Pixar short “One Man Band” by..? This year, there wasn’t one clear favorite for the Annecy Cristal as there has been in some years past. The top award went to Australian Anthony Lucas for The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, and although several people I talked to did not agree with the judges’ decision, I quite liked the film. Using a combination of cutouts, animated objects, and 3 D Computer animation, the film is a gothic horror adventure about a failed aerial navigator who is given another chance. I especially appreciated the elaborate construction of the ship, but as strong and interesting as the story is, I think it is too long at 28 minutes. I talked about the Junior Jury awards in another article, and a list of all award winners follows at the end of this article. Some people that I talked to at the closing night party were disappointed that Morir de Amor (Dying of Love) about two aged parrots reminiscing about the past by Gil Alkabetz did not receive an award and I did like it a great deal also

The selection committee did an excellent job of grouping the films for the five competition programs, balancing them so that none of the programs left you wondering what was the jury thinking when they selected that as I have in some years past. Given what the jurors had to work with, I feel they did a good job and presented us with some interesting films.

It is always sad to say good-bys at the last night party but since Nik and I leave September 15 for the KROK International Festival of Animation in the Ukraine, we know that we will be back with many of our friends, old and new, in a very short while. After KROK Nik will be performing for a week in Scotland and then we travel to Northern England where we have been invited to curate a program of music driven animation for the Co-Operative Young Film Makers Festival. We will be back in San Francisco October 19th with many new stories and lots of exciting European animation.

The Award Winners!

Short films
The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello The Annecy Cristal Australia
Fliegenpflicht Für Quadrat Köpfe
Special distinction Germany
Canal J Jury junior aword for a short film Canada
Fliegenpflicht Für Quadrat Köpfe
Audience award Germany
FIPRESCI award Netherlands
Jean-Luc Xiberras award for a first film United Kingdom
City Paradise
Jury's special award United Kingdom

Feature films
Nyócker! The Cristal for best feature Hungary

TV series
Peppa Pig "Mummy Pig at Work" The Cristal for best TV production United Kingdom
SpongeBob SquarePants "Fear of a Krabby Patty" Special award for a TV series United States

TV specials
Cheval Soleil Special distinction France
Angry Kid "Who Do You Think You Are?"
TV special award United Kingdom

Educational, scientific or industrial films
Red Sheep Educational, scientific or industrial film award United Kingdom

Advertising films
Honda "Grrr" Advertising or promotional film award United Kingdom

Music video
Badly Drawn Boy "Year of the Rat" Award for best music video Canada

Graduation films
Skyggen i Sara Special distinction Denmark
Canal J Junior jury award for a school or graduation film United States
Award for best school or graduation film France
Jury's special award United States
Skyggen i Sara
Unicef award Denmark

Series for Internet
Long Distance Relationship Netsurfers award Australia