Just like in Hollywood, it would seem that there is also a glass ceiling at the Annecy Festival.
It is a well-known fact that animation has been considered a man’s world for far too long. Even though Lotte Reiniger created the classic Adventures of Prince Achmed in Germany more than a decade before Disney made his first animated feature film, he always seems to get the credit for creating the first surviving animated feature.
At Disney’s studio, women were only considered good enough for such routine duties as ink and paint work. It wasn’t until 1938 that Retta Scott became the first woman to receive a Disney screen credit for her work on Bambi. Even though women do work in all branches of the industry now, Hollywood still has a glass ceiling that is very hard for women to break through, and very few women ever get the opportunity to direct an animated feature.
When I first heard that Annecy had decided to pay tribute to female animators in 2015 I assumed that women would play a big role in organizing the event. Alas, that does not seem to have been the case. The catalogue lists three men in charge of films and program planning, and under “Festival Direction,” it was not until I got to the sixth and seventh name on the list that I found a woman’s name, and they were not programmers! They were the Guest Hospitality Hostess and the receptionist. Just like in Hollywood, it would seem that there is also a glass ceiling at the Annecy Festival. I do believe that Marcel Jean is doing an excellent job of trying to bring the festival into the 21st century and has made some very positive changes but, I also realize that as Artistic Director he can only do so much and I feel that that was very evident this year.
The catalogue stated “We are not attempting to write the history of women’s animation . . . What was important for us was to be able to talk about the present and the future . . . .” There were eight programs devoted exclusively to films by women, the beautiful poster was created by former Annecy Crystal winner Regina Pessoa, for the first time in the history of the festival the juries were all comprised of woman, and an honorary crystal was awarded to French animator Florence Miailhe for her great contribution to animation, but where were the women whose films were presented in the programs?
I realize that the festival could not invite every female animator, but why not ask the women who have been honoured with the Cristal at least. Nine women have been awarded this highest honour over the past 55 year history of the festival. In 1979, UK animator Alison De Vere became the first woman to win the Cristal for best short film for Mr. Pascal. That was followed by Nicole Van Goethem of Belgium in 1985 for a Greek Tragedy. Sadly both of these women are no longer with us, but where were the rest of these talented women? Aside from Regina Pessoa, none of them were at the festival. When I asked Michaela Pavlatova, who took home a Cristal for Tram in 2012, if she had been invited, she said “no.” I assume none of the others were asked either.
Nina Paley won the best feature film Cristal in 2008 for Sita Sings the Blues and Anac Danion took home the Cristal in 2012 for Crulic: The Path to Beyond . They are the only two women to garner that honour for a feature film created without a male co-creator. Sita Sings the Blues was screened at the Open Air Theatre but Nina told me that not only was she not invited but she didn’t even know that the film was screened! She assumed that her French distributor didn’t bother to notify her. Nina e-mailed me that she is hard at work on her new feature fily Seder-Masochism which will be on festival screens in a couple of years.
French animator Monique Van Dijk-Renault e-mailed me to voice her disgust that none of her films had been included in the festival. Since her first trip to Annecy in 1967, Monique has always been known for being in the vanguard of feminist animation and the exploration of women’s sexuality on film. She has also served on the jury at Annecy as well as at many other international festivals. In her opinion “looking at the program, my feeling is that it (the program) stays very Annecy type . . . not very open. I was not there so it is difficult to talk about the atmosphere in general but for me it always was a rather macho festival”.
On the positive side there were eight programs devoted to women directors. This year we returned to the Bonlieu, the festival’s traditional home, which had been undergoing renovation for several years. Along with retrospectives of Florence Miailhe and Janet Perlman, one program focused on the work of Stacey Steers, who served on the Graduation Films and Off-Limits Short Films jury. Sadly Stacey’s beautiful work is not shown often enough at European festivals. I became a big fan of her films when I first saw Totem. The lovely gouache and watercolour animals serve to intensify the horror when you realize that they are all endangered species. The film is an examination of the age old relationship between man and animals. Stacey’s work in progress Random Forces was previewed in her program. The film is constructed from meticulously handcrafted collages. According to Steers website, when Random Forces is completed it will be a complex explorational journey to find transformational powers. After seeing the 8 minutes she has already completed I am looking forward to viewing the finished film.
Four other programs were part of the Women and Animation screenings. Women Filmmakers spotlighted French female pioneers in the world of animation from Mimma Indello’s work on La Decouverte de L’Amerique (Discovery of America) down to Jeannine and Christianne Clerfeuille ‘s 1960’s and ‘70’s cut-out films including 1880.
No spotlight on women would be complete without a program on sex from the female point of view. The 10 films in The Mother and the Whore: Sex and Motherhood program was aroller coaster ride of emotions taking the audience from side splitting laughter to the brink of tears. The program focused on 2 of the main themes found in animation created by women. Signe Baueman’s 2 minute Juice illustrates the realities and contradictions of a man and woman’s dream world. The film is part of her Teat Beat of Sex series which was originally created for Italian television.
Joanna Quinn’s hilarious portrayal of Beryl, a housewife who is taken to see a male stripper for her birthday by a girlfriend, explores the lighter side of sex. Ruth Lingford’s beautifully etched-wood film Death and the Mother reminds us that no one will escape the grim reaper in the end. The true essence of motherhood encompassed in Marie-Josee Saint-Pierre’s Passages is the autobiographical story of the catastrophic birth of the animator’s first daughter.
Spain was the spotlighted country this year. It was not until Arrugas (Wrinkles) and Chico and Rita became international theatrical hits that Spanish animation came to worldwide attention. A few short Spanish films had been shown at festivals but most people were not aware that the country had a rich animation heritage dating back to the beginning of the 20th century.
As early as 1905 Spanish born Segundo de Choman moved from Spain to Paris to work with Pathe. There he became a specialist in camera tricks and optical illusions. It is theorized that de Choman is not as well-known as his contemporary Georges Melies because he was born in Spain and created the majority of his work in France so that neither country championed his work. The screening of his 1909 L’Araignee d’ or (The Golden Spider) at the festival made me realize that I need to explore more of his films.
During the turbulent period of the 1930’s and ‘40’s, political and social comics were all the rage in Spain and this was reflected in the animation. A retrospective program tracing the evolution of animation from this period included two prominent writer/directors, Ricardo Garcia Lopez and Jose Escobar. Lopez working under the pseudonym K-Hito produced his highly political films such as En los pasillos del Congreso (In the Halls of Congress) in 1932. Jose Escobar spent time in prison as a result of such films as El cascabel de Zapiron (The Rattlesnake Zapiron) in 1943 and Los tambores de Fu-Aguarras (The drums of Fu-Aguarras) in 1945.
The Franco regime made use of animation as government propaganda. In 1945 the repressive regime financed the production of The Enchanted Sword, the first European animated feature produced in color. Directors Jose Maria Blay and Arturo Moreno were clearly influenced by the work of the Fleischer Brothers and Disney, and their film went on to be a huge success in Spain.
Spanish animators have a unique sense of macabre humor which the 6 films in the Humor and Massacre program highlighted. The films ranging from 1917 to 2015 deal with political and/or social themes in extremely satirical ways reflecting conspiracy theory paranoia down to recent problems such as immigration, consumerism, and domestic violence. One of the masters of this art form is Samuel Orti and it was a great treat to see his 2010 film Vicenta on the big screen again. The 22-minute puppet animation relates the attempts by Vicenta to bring her husband back to life when he suddenly dies without revealing where he has hidden a fabulous fortune that he won in the lottery. Bringing him back to life proves much more difficult that she has anticipated, especially when she discovers that she is not the only person trying to locate the money.
Orti, (or Sam as he is known by his friends), is a master of claymation puppet animation. This year his first feature film Pos eso (Possessed) was in the feature film competition. I have written about this film at length in other articles so I won’t repeat myself but I urge everyone who appreciates classic horror films such as The Exorcist and The Shinning not to miss Sam’s hilarious homage to his favorite film genre.
This year seems to be rather lacklustre as far as short films go, but there were a few exceptions. So far, the best short film that I have seen this year is Riho Unt’s The Master. The 18-minute puppet animation is the story of a dog, Popi and a monkey named Huhuu who are waiting for their master to come home. One day it becomes clear that he is not coming home anymore. As the two animals try to survive, Popi becomes obedient and subservient to his simian companion Huhuu, who turns into a symbol of debauchery and lunacy. The film is based on a short story by the renowned Estonian writer Friedebert. Riho told me every student reads Popi and Huhuu in school in his country.
Riho creates his films at the Tallinn based Nukufilm Studio which is famous for its amazing puppet animations. The studio founded in 1957 is one of the oldest and largest stop-motion studios in Northern Europe. When I first watched The Master I completely forgot that I was watching puppets on a small set because it seemed so life size. I had the opportunity to see one of the approximately 3 foot by 2 foot sets and the two puppets at the Estonian Film Commission booth at MIFA and was amazed at the attention he gave to the tiniest detail in the miniature set. I was extremely happy that The Master was awarded the prestigious Jury Award this year.
In 2010, Riho created what is still my favorite animation, Brothers Bearheart, based on the Ivan Shishkin painting Morning in a Pine Forest, which hangs in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. I visit the painting every time I go to Moscow.
While I was at the Estonian MIFA booth I was happy to run into Norwegian animator Anita Killi who I had not seen in quite a while. Her 2009 film Sinna Man (Angry Man) won numerous awards but I had not seen her in quite a while. Over bottles of delicious Estonian beer, Anita told me that she had been ill, which has kept her from working, but I am happy to say that she is on the road to full recovery and has begun work on a new film.
A new film by Australian animator Adam Elliot is always an anticipated treat and Ernie Biscuit did not disappointment me. Ernie follows in the line of Adam’s other award winning films such as Harvie Krumpet which won three awards at Annecy as well as the Academy Award for Best Short Animation in 2004 and Mary and Max which received the Grand Prize in Ottawa and the Annecy Cristal for best feature in 2009. The title character of Adam’s new film is a deaf Parisian taxidermist whose world is turned upside down when a dead pigeon arrives on his doorstep one day. Fate somehow lands him in Australia. Noted Australian actor John Flaus provides the narration as he has on several of Adam’s other films.
Adam describes his films as “clayographies”, clay animated biographies loosely based on his family, friends, and acquaintances. He told me that “despite the lower production values and static nature of this film, it is quite fast paced and there are plenty of moments and details that can be missed”. He added “Ernie is a deliberately lighter and fluffier film which I made for my own sanity and to regain my passion for the art form. “ Adam made the film almost single handed, writing the script, animating, directing, and editing it on his own, and he says that he really enjoyed the process and creative control that this gave him. He also said “I wanted to make a film where there is a much happier ending than in my other films”. He is now in the early stages of writing his next film. You can keep up to date with what Adam is up to on his website: http://www.adamelliot.com.au
The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) has a reputation for producing high quality films and giving strong support to animators from around the globe. Each year at Annecy the NFB holds a press conference to introduce their latest projects and the directors whose films are screening at the festival. Julie Roy, NFB French Animation Studio Executive Producer, and Michael Fukushima who heads the English studio, gave us a look at what is new. The quality of this year’s crop of films lived up to my expectations.
I particularly enjoyed Carface by Claude Cloutier. A 1957 Chevy Bel Air preforms an ironic take on the old Doris Day song Qie Sera,Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) the radiator grill morphs into a pair of lips, crooning the reassuring lyrics while a Busby Berkley style choreographed choir of cars sing backup and “dance”. The scathing satire of the power of big oil companies is cloaked in the carefree contemporary attitude toward the threats these companies pose to our planet.
In 2007 Cloutier directed Sleeping Betty, a hilarious parody of the French writer Charles Perrault’s version of Sleeping Beauty which won numerous awards. Carface marks his return to cartoon style films after his serious The Trenches in 2010 about Canadian soldiers in World War I.
Izabela Plucinska is a master of claymation and Sexy Laundry, her new 13 minute film, takes her talents to new heights. Her look at how one tries to keep sexual attraction alive and rekindle the flame after 25 years of marriage is touching and yet humorous. Based on the stage play by Vancouver based playwright Michele Riml, Sexy Laundry is the first film Polish born, German based Izabela has made in conjunction with the NFB.
A new film by the two time Oscar nominated Cordell Barker (The Cat Came Back, 1988 and Strange Invaders, 2001) is always exciting. His new film If I Was God . . . is no exception. The film is a darkly whimsical stop-motion exploration of the difficult gateway between childhood and adolescence, which he said was inspired by his own memories of a particularly awkward day in 7th grade. Cordell uses a variety of techniques from traditional hand drawing to stop-motion puppets, which gives the 8-minute film an organic, hand-made feel and transports the viewer back to that day growing up, a day that you would not want to remember.
The biggest surprise at the festival was saved for the closing night ceremony when legendary animator Richard Williams took to the stage to introduce his latest project Prologue. The 6 minute short film stands on its own but Richard says that when finished it will be a feature length film. With his characteristic sardonic sense of humour, 80 year old Williams has subtitled the project “Will I live to finish it?”
Richard Williams was quoted in the Guardian newspaper recently as saying “What I’m interested in is that nobody has been able to handle realism (in animation). It‘s just been embarrassing. So I’m doing graphic realism, these things are obviously drawings, but it will go into adult territory and will be grim, but also funny and salacious and sexy ... I know that I can. All I need is some time and 5 or 6 assistants who can draw like hell”.
I could definitely tell that the images were drawn, but the human figures are much more realistic than in any other animated film that I have ever seen. Richard often says that before anyone ever begins to animate, they need to master drawing the human figure and Prologue definitely proves that he is a master of that art.
MIFA, the business and industry arm of the festival, celebrated its 30th Anniversary this year with more masterclasses, keynote speakers, and conferences than ever. Along with pitching and recruiting sessions the massive MIFA market place is mind boggling to walk through with every conceivable new product on offer to try out and animation companies pitching their latest films to distributors. With 2,450 accredited guests and 513 exhibitors it is the largest industry market in the world.
I made time to visit 2 MIFA presentations given by Pixelatl from Mexico and ICEX, the Spanish Trade and Investment Organization. Pixelatl is an association that works to enhance Mexican productions and expand their audience within Mexico and abroad. Jose Inesta, CEO at Pixelatl, told me that one of the biggest challenges facing his country’s film and animation industry is the need to convince the Mexican audiences to watch locally produced programs. Right now they prefer to view foreign productions.
One of the main projects of Pixeltal is Fronteras, which teaches stop motion to vulnerable groups and native communities to help them document their native languages, stories, and mythologies. Another is Ideatoon, a Mexican contest that seeks out ideas for animated series. The project promotes the creation and development of properties that can potentially become international hits. The competition is open to all Mexican studios, production companies, animators, and producers. The winners receive advice from experts in the industry and financing to produce a pilot. 154 ideas were submitted this year and a jury selected the top 16, which then went on to a pitching session before an international jury. The 2014 finalists were presented to the MIFA audience. From the wide variety and quality of what I saw Mexican animation has a bright future ahead of it.
Ideatoon festival, headed by Jose Inesta, is a yearly celebration of animation, video games, and comic books. The next edition will take place 9-13 September in Cuernavaca, Mexico. You can learn more about the festival and how to submit your film for the 2016 edition at: www.elfestival.mx
Spain is very active in animation production, especially in the area around Valencia. At their MIFA presentation I learned a great deal more about what is happening in the rest of the country. The first order of business was a look at 14 new animated features, television shows, and short films with a brief introduction by each director. I was amazed to learn that Spain has 5 free children’s television networks so there is a vast market for new content. The opportunities and advantages for co-production with Spain and what the country can bring to the table was the next topic of discussion. We were told that because this is an election year the government has allocated more money than usual to the film and animation industry. They have also raised the tax credits for foreign investors. Depending upon the project and the region there are additional possibilities for co-production financing. Just to remind us of the other big incentive to spend time working in Spain a reception followed with delicious black pig, cheese, and of course Spanish wine.
You can spend every waking hour at Annecy watching film, but if you are at the festival to pitch a project or look for job opportunities the parties are the place to be. I received an invitation to the opening night ceremony but for the first time in the many years that I have been attending Annecy I did not receive an invitation to the party that follows at La Plage so I can’t tell you about it. Ironically, Nik, who is my photographer did not receive an invitation to the ceremony but was invited to the party. The press office is quite aware that we work as a team. This year more than ever it seems as if they set out to make my job of writing about Annecy even more difficult than usual.
Each year my favourite social event is the German Film Commission/Stuttgart Trickfilm Festival party. Guests are taken by bus around the lake to a lovely restaurant with tables dotting the green lawn that extends down to the water’s edge. There are tables ladened with delicious food and it is the perfect place to visit with friends in a relaxed atmosphere away from the constant hustle and bustle of the festival.
Friday the place to be was at the Dream Works picnic, where Shelly Page is always the perfect hostess. When not playing host, Shelly is head of International Outreach at Dream Works in Shanghi. Everyone who is anyone in the animation world can be counted on to turn up at the picnic. Usually tablecloths covered with cherries, strawberries, and sandwich making materials dot the lawn under the trees, but this year there were some tables with food and drink along with the usual tablecloths. When I asked Shelly about the change, she laughed and said “None of us are getting any younger”, although when you get a group of animators together we do act like big kids.
Wednesday, Nik and I were invited to a lovely dinner hosted by France Television. After a short bus ride around the lake we arrived at a lovely complex of the Foundation Merieux - “La pensieres”, where we were treated to a delicious formal buffet with sumptuous scallops and a wide array of French cheeses and fondue. Excellent French wine was poured and the French pastry was as delicious as it was beautifully displayed and of course tasted delicious. The restaurant’s patio was the perfect place to watch the sun set on the lake.
In years past so many countries hosted their parties on Thursday that it was impossible to visit any of them for more than a few minutes. This year some of the events were moved to Wednesday, which was a welcome change. For the first time I got to spend a relaxed couple of hours at the Danish Party before heading off to the Swiss cocktail party.
Nik and I began Thursday with the Cartoon Network picnic at La Plage. We finally caught up with Brooke Keesling, who we haven’t seen in years, at the picnic after looking for her all week. Brooke is now with Disney. Back in her student days at Cal Arts, Nik created the music for her Student Academy Award winning Graduation film Boobie Girl, which was the first animated short ever screened at Sundance. She is just as bubbly and full of life as she was in her student days.
We also caught up with Jamie Badminton, co-founder of Karrot Animation in London, at the picnic. I have known Jamie since he was a student at Arts University Bournemouth. It has been a pleasure to watch his career bloom in just 10 years from a struggling young animator to heading a company that has the number one UK children’s show, Sarah and Duck, on CBBC. The television series about 7 year old Sarah and her quacky best friend Duck also won the BAFTA in 2013 and 2014 for the Best Pre School Animation.
This was a very long social day where we were at so many different receptions I can’t even remember all of them. It ended up at the Zagreb Animation Festival party and then finally to the Belgian beer party very late that night.
Friday night is always reserved for Annecy+. This year Bill Plympton, the third member of our team was not at Annecy but we were lucky to have Signe Baueman there to join Carole Martinato and I at the microphone. Once again Annecy+ took place on the Annecy-Off Boat Cygne. From a very strong program of films, the audience voted Cupido, The Kik Music Video by Dutch animator Natali Voorthuis to receive the top prize. Natali was delighted when presented with a drawing by Bill Plympton. Music was provided by the Annecy+ band headed by Nik and Rolf Bachler.
Unfortunately unbeknownst to Carole and I, the owner of The Cygne had scheduled another event to begin before Annecy+. Even though we were assured that they were going to be very short, they dragged on and on. Our audience arrived on time but some of them left when the boring program lasted past our start time. It’s too bad that this happened because some wonderful films were screened. We will make sure that this does not happen again next year.
Nik and I began our Saturday picnic in the park several years ago and now it has become a tradition. Unlike most parties at the festival, no one needs an invitation and everyone is welcome. Each year it grows in size with people outdoing themselves to bring wonderful food and beverages. Once again this year Sam and his wife Flora brought a wonderful cured Spanish pigs haunch complete with the traditional carving machine which he tirelessly manned. The Mexican delegation arrived with a case of cold Mexican beer and our Russian friends brought delicious caviar to add to all of the yummy treats.
Aside from eating, drinking, and music there is the Joanna Quinn/Skwigly Rounders Match. The game is perfect for animators who are anxiously awaiting the awards ceremony to burn off all that excess nervous energy. Joanna began the game at the picnic many years ago and always provides the much coveted trophy which is presented to the most valuable player on the winning team. Since Joanna was not at Annecy this year, she sent Katie Steed to organize the game and explain the rules. Katie, an animator, was also a member of the British 2012 Olympic Badminton team. She is also an avid Rounders player.
Rounders has been explained to me as softball for dummies but even though I don’t understand it everyone who played seem to have a great time. Joanna told me that she is hard at work on her latest project and she and she hopes to bring Beryl in her latest adventure to Annecy next year.
Whether you were a spectator or participant, the paddle boat race is always great fun. After copious amounts of food and drink we took to the lake in the paddle boats. There are no rules except that each boat must go around the island and then back to the dock. Boats can have as many people as you want in them, splashing, shoving your competitor’s boats, and using any other form of obstruction is encouraged.
By the time we finished that exhausting event it was time to sit on the lawn, drink some more and just relax.
Saturday night brings the closing ceremony and the announcement of the jury’s decisions. As well as Riho Unt’s Jury Award for The Master, I was delighted to see my old friend Suresh Eriyat receive the Cristal for a Commissioned Film, Rotary Fateline. His 1 minute 48 second animation describes efforts by the Rotary Club to provide free e-learning opportunities in 10,000 schools across India. Suresh is a pioneer in using animation and design in advertising in India and the founder of Studio Eeksaurus located near Mumbai.
The closing night party is always bittersweet. After a very intense week of film and friends, it is sad to think that you will not wake up the next morning and see everyone, but it isn’t ever really goodbye because I know that I will see so many friends at other festivals throughout the year. Next year at Annecy, France will be the spotlighted country.
From Annecy, Nik and I travelled to Sardinia where we had a lovely holiday with six other members of our family who are scattered all over the globe. After a week of sun and relaxation I headed off to two festivals in Italy which my next two articles will be about and Nik went back home to get back to work.