“Fantoche, It’s Fantastic” is what I saw when I first went to the website for the Fantoche International Festival of Animated Film, and happily the festival certainly does live up to this claim. The historic spa town of Baden is a perfect setting for a festival; ruins of Roman baths were just down the street from our festival hotel but the films in the multiple screening rooms were fresh and up to date.
There were four International Competition programs which screened some of the most popular films from 2010, such as Olga and Pritt Parn’s Divers in the Rain and Anita Killi’s Angry Man, both of which have already won an array of awards at festivals all over Europe as well as in Japan, at Hiroshima.
I had not seen In a Pigs Eye by Japanese director Atsushi Wada, but I was immediately taken with Wada’s surreal snapshot of the life of a family and an ever expanding pig. The film needed no dialogue, telling the story in clean lines; I was not at all surprised to see Koji Yamamura’s name listed as an adviser when the credits rolled. The jury seemed to agree with me, awarding In a Pigs Eye the Grand Prix.
My Childhood Mystery Tree is a children’s fairy tale that adults will also recognize themselves in while they watch the film. Russian/Armenian animator Natalia Mirzoyan uses beautiful drawn images in subdued colors to take you into a little boy’s dream of losing his teddy bear. In his search for his beloved teddy he destroys his childhood world and enters adulthood. In the directors’ chat, Natalia confessed that she did not want to lose her childhood and that the film is based on a reoccurring dream that she had. She gave me a copy of her film and every time that I watch it I find new depth in it. I look forward to seeing more films from this young animator.
As I watched Leonid Shmelkov’s Dog Walking Ground I had the feeling that I had seen this film before. The characters, style and story seemed so familiar but I knew that I had never seen it before. When the credits came up, Ivan Maximov, one of my favorite animators, was listed as Shmelkov’s professor. Leonid has learned his technique well, but I hope this talented young man will strike out in his own direction with original design and ideas on his next project instead of turning out an overly long copy of his great mentor’s work.
If the two programs of Swiss Film Competition films are any indication, Switzerland is in no danger of losing its place in the forefront of professionalism and creativity in the animation world. I was captivated by Miramar when I first saw it at the festival in Poznan, Poland. Swiss animator Michaela Muller presents an idyllic vision of a family trip to a Mediterranean Beach which turns to gritty reality as the two children break out of the safety of their gated tourist community and quickly find that life outside the gate has nothing to do with the safe life of their camping site when they stumble upon an illegal immigrant’s shack. Michaela’s background as an illustrator and painter is very evident in her use of paint on glass to create this visually stunning film. One beautiful scene of the family silhouetted inside their tent lit by the camping lamp and seen from the outside has stayed with me since I first saw the film months ago. The Swiss Competition Jury selected Miramar as the best Swiss film.
Heimatland was inspired by the recent Swiss law passed by voters banning the building of minarets on mosques. Directors Andrea Schneider, Loretta Arnold, Marius Portmann and Fabio Fridli used puppet animation to portray the stereotypical Swiss patriot whose idyllic life is shattered when a man with a foreign appearance moves into the apartment next door, causing the wildest fantasies to rise to the surface of his very sensitive Swiss mind. Heimatland is just the sort of story that animation is perfect to tell; the kind of story which could be offensive in live action but in animation is satirical.
2011 was proclaimed the year of the fairy tale at Fantoche. If anyone knows about casting magic spells, animators do, and to that end the festival, with the assistance of guest curators put together several programs of fairy tales that were definitely not for children. Since the 19th Century, satirical versions of fairytales have been used to point out social injustice. Fairytale adaptations span a wide diversity, ranging from faithfully classic adaptations of the original stories such as Lotte Reiniger’s silhouette animation The Gallant Little Tailor to unconventional adaptations of Cinderella such as La Jeunne Fille et Les Nuages by the Swiss animator Georges Schwizgebel or the surreal puppet film Allerleirauh from German animator Anja Struck. The Wonder Tales program pushed the traditional notion of the moral fairy tale with such films as Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty which transforms a traditional bedtime story into a very funny, biting comment on gender, youth, and the Grey Panthers.
My favorite Fairy Tale screening was Same but Different: Variations on Little Red Riding Hood. From a pre-code Betty Boop in Dan Fleischers Betty Boop: Dizzy Red Riding Hood to delightfully outlandish Eastern European adaptations such as Piotr Dumala’s darkly humorous Little Black Riding Hood, the 10 films in this program were but a fraction of the hundreds of animated retellings of this age old classic tale.
There was one fairytale program designed to enchant young audiences without giving them fears of nightmares but by and large the fun was reserved for adults. Five films made up the Fairytale Feature Films program, most of which could be enjoyed by the entire family. The first feature animation to be produced in full color, the 1937 Disney classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, looked as beautiful as the first time I saw it on a big screen when I was a child.
Jiri Trnka’s Bajaja proved once again that puppet animation and fairytales go together. Seeing any film by Hayao Miyazaki on the big screen is always a treat and the pristine print of his My Neighbor Totoro made it a double happiness. For an older audience, Lotte Reiniger’s immortal classic The Adventures of Prince Achmed was screened with live musical accompaniment.
Other feature films included The Fantastic Mr. Fox which was screened following the opening night ceremony, The Illusionist, Chinese animator Liu Jian’s Piercing I, Elemi from Japan, and Metropia, all of which I have written about in other articles.
My favorite film at the festival was the beautifully animated feature Kerity, La Maison Des Contes (Kerity, House of Tales). Director Dominique Monfery has captured perfectly the world of a young boy who can’t learn to read despite all of his efforts and a great deal of teasing from his sister. When he inherits his aunt’s library of fairy tale books everyone thinks that it is a strange gift, but he is swept into a world where the characters in the books come to life reveling the secrets in the pages of the books. I don’t want to reveal the events that lead up to Nathaniel learning to read, but he does because it is the only way he can save his new friends who are in grave danger. This sensitive portrayal of a child overcoming a learning disability will be especially meaningful to anyone like me who has lived with dyslexia all of his life, while the beautiful hand drawn artistry of the film and the beguiling story will enchant every member of the family. The film will be released to theatres in December.
Sixty years of filmmaking in Croatia was celebrated with three separate programs introduced by the well known Croatian animator, musician and professor Daniel Suljic. The Early Years –A Golden Age presented films from the 50’s and 60’s including Dusan Vukotic’s Surogat (1961). This was the first non-American film to win an Academy Award in what was then classified as Short Subject – Cartoon. It still holds the honor of being Croatia’s only Academy Award winning film. Flying High showcased the Golden Age of the Zagreb Film Studio from the late 60’s to the early80’s. New Generations featured works by the new generation of Croatian animators such as Veljko Popovic whose film She Who Measures has won multiple awards. New Generations showed that creative animation is once again alive and well in Croatia and a program of films from current students at the Zagreb Academy of Fine Arts quickly assured me that a great tradition of animation will be carried on through the next generation.
On Friday evening the Croatian Cultural club of Baden hosted a reception at the festival cafe with singers and dancers in traditional dress. Delicious native pastries and savories and fine Croatian wines helped to transport all of us to Croatia for several hours.
Additional programs consisted of a showcase of Don Hertzfeldt shorts, an impressive program of student films from the German School of Art and Design Kassel, and a retrospective of productions by FilmTecknarna from Stockholm, Sweden. Founded in 1981 by Stig Bergqvist, Jonas Odell, and Lars Ohlson to nurture their interests in graphic design and animation, the studio now has a branch in New York City as well as the original Stockholm studio. Known for production of music clips, advertising spots and TV series for Scandinavian and the international market, they have remained true to their roots despite their commercial success and continue to foster personal films such as Jonas Odell’s Never Like the First Time, which has won awards at many international animation festivals.
Fantoche offered much more than just exceptional screenings. The four Coming Soon presentations gave me a chance to see features, shorts, and TV series that are still in the work-in-progress stage. Billed as a “pitching platform for specialists”, the two presentations that I saw whetted my appetite to see the finished films.
Marc Bertrand, who has a history of producing stereoscopic short films at the NFB of Canada, talked about his experiences as a 3-D film producer and presented part of his current project Les Yeux Noirs. Despite the technical problems with the 3-D screening, the story of a young blind boy looks like it will be an interesting exploration into the sensory perceptions of the blind in a playful manner. I look forward to seeing director Nicolas Lemay’s hand drawn, black and white adaptation of Gilles Tibo’s story.
Each afternoon “Meet the Artists” gave everyone an opportunity to listen to the animators speak about their films and ask them question in the relaxed atmosphere of the festival upstairs bar. The animators’ chat sessions are always one of my favorite events at festivals. I love the opportunity to delve deeper into the films that I watched the previous day and although I seldom change my opinion of a film I often will look at it differently the next time I see it after hearing an animator talk about their motivation and objective in making their film.
One special session was devoted to Swiss animators and I was especially interested to hear the creators of Heimatland talk about what motivated them to make a film about prejudice in Switzerland.
The “Animation and Game Design” series was launched at Fantoche last year. For the 2010 edition, students from Zurich College of Arts presented their fairy tale computer games produced especially for Fantoche. Festival goers could play the delightfully interactive fairy tale game that guaranteed no pre-programmed happy endings.
I also had the opportunity to watch new inter-active animation and small-scale computer games put together by students majoring in Game Design at the Zurich Collage of the Arts and the Animation Department of Lucerne University of Applied Arts and Sciences. Their experimental workshop,” In Between Animation and Game Design”, explored the interfacing of animation and game design. There were also lectures and panel discussions on the many different relationships between gaming and animation. Every time I went into the area set aside for the gaming seminar, there was a buzz of activity.
The festival provided a great central meeting place with the outdoor café/bar where you could always meet up with friends. Late at night the action moved upstairs to the festival bar. On three separate evenings, stories came to life as pairs of animators drew on overhead projectors to illustrate their interpretations as tales of the fantastic, erotic, and eerie were read aloud by master story tellers. After the stories, the bar turned into a disco and different DJ’s, including Croatia’s Daniel Suljic provided dance music to keep us all warmed up as the nights cooled down.
The most fun event of the festival was the traditional Festival Staff vs Guests Football (Soccer) Game. I was surprised to see animators that I have known for years and never had a hint that they were so athletic and experts at the game. Otto Alder, co-founder of Fantoche, professor and co-director of the animation department, Lucerne School of Art and Design and brilliant animator, was a star on the field. Fernando Galrito, director of MONSTRA Animation Festival in Lisbon could also really move quickly. Nik had never played football before in his life but he took to the game immediately even fielding one shot with his head. He charged around the field with his little red trumpet in his hand, blowing charges to spur the visiting team on.
Last year the festival staff suffered a bad defeat at the feet of the visitors but this year they got their pound of flesh by beating the visiting team. The game ended with champagne and snacks all around.
Opening and closing receptions were held in the in the galleria of the main cinema with hors d’oeuvres, drinks and good conversation. On opening night, welcomes were extended by Stephan Attiger, Mayor of Baden and Hans Ulrich Glarner, Head of the Canton Aargau Cultural Department, as well as members of the festival staff and organizers. A public screening of Fantastic Mr. Fox followed the opening, but some festival guests, having seen it previously at festivals, retired to the festival center where drinks and a festive dinner awaited us.
At the closing night ceremony I was delighted by the handmade green cloth awards that were presented to the winners. Each one was totally unique and certainly deserves pride of place in any home or studio. This year the International Jury selected a winner in a new category called “High Risk” for the film which “ attaches greater significance to innovative film production”. The premier award was given to Andreas Hykade for Love & Theft . Andreas told me that he was extremely happy to be honored for a film that the jury said “assumed a simplicity of form – without compromise”.
A complete list of all winning films, the juries, and their comments are at the end of the article. As we all celebrated the winning animators and the end of a wonderful festival with a feast under the festival tent, the heavens opened and torrential rains poured down. Inside the dining tent Nik, Rolf Bächler and Daniel Suljic broke out their instruments and played music to dine, dance and just enjoy listening to. Later in the evening, the party continued, with dancing into the wee hours of the night in the upstairs bar. It was sad to say goodbye to friends old and new; my time at Fantoche contains so many lovely memories that I won’t soon forget my wonderful week at this fantastic festival.
Duscha Kistler, Artistic Director of the festival, and her amazing, hardworking staff not only put together a wonderful selection of films but also did everything possible to extend gracious hospitality to is all. It’s not easy to run a festival but the FANTOCHE crew actually looked like they were having as much fun as their guests were.
Nik and I were not leaving until Monday evening so the next day I took the opportunity to explore the charming town while Nik went to soak his football sore body in the baths. In the afternoon, a very dear Swiss friend who lives in Bern met us, and we took the bus up the mountain outside of town to the beautiful Restaurant Baldegg. Nestled in a perfect mountain setting we were high enough up to see the Alps in the distance. With a delicious meal, good conversation with an old friend and the perfect setting, time flew by and all too soon it was time to go back down the mountain to catch the night train to Amsterdam for the KLIK Animation Festival.
Our adventures in Amsterdam will follow soon.
INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION JURY
Hervé de Crecy – France
Tatsutoshi Gon Nomura – Japan
Ursrla Palla – Switzerland
Michaela Pavlatova – Czech Republic
Adam Pugh – Great Britian
Introduction: We were pleased with the selection of the films, which we felt showcased a good cross-section of contemporary animation. Whilst it wasn’t easy to make a decision, this was symptomatic less of our indecisiveness as a jury and more to the through that the festival team has taken with their programming.
BEST FILM - In A Pigs Eye – Atsushi Wada – Japan
For its rigor, restraint and innate sense of the absurd in creating a world of obsession, repetition and ritual which revels in ambiguity yet retains its own internal logic.
HIGH RISK – Love & Theft – Andreas Hykade – Germany
For assuming a simplicity of form – without compromise, for building its own narrative via a hypnotic powerful visual and musical experience.
BEST STORY – Divers In The Rain – Olga Parn & Priit Parn – Estonia
For it’s complex story which in an original way combines reality with imagination, dreams with daily routine and humor with critical observation of society.
BEST SOUND – Divers In the Rain – Olga Parn & Priit Parn – Etonia
The jury is convinced about the rich and complex sound composition of this film. The sound of falling rain accompanies as a basic rythum through the parallel worlds of the woman and the man and developes to a leading part of the animation.
BEST VISUAL – Get Real – Evert de Beijer – Netherlands
At first you might think that the color of this film is lurid or gaudy, but the mix between the computer graphics and drawing creates its original style. It clearly shows the difference between the real and imaginary world, and how the boy is so addicted to playing games.
NEW TALENT – Kuchao – Masaki Okuda – Japan
The animation develops with Japanese old rhythm. Water colored animation moves brilliantly. We sympathized with the warm handmade touch.
AUDIENCE AWARD - Sinna Man (Angry Man) – Anita Killi – Norway
SWISS FILM COMPETITION JURY
Marc Bertrand – Canada
Andreas Hykade – Germany
Vjera Matkovic – Croatia
BEST SWISS FILM – Miramare – Michaela Muller
HIGH RISK SWISS FILM – Cronache Marxiane – Laura Solari
SPECIAL MENTION 1 – Schlaf – Claudius Gentinetta & Frank Braun
SPECIAL MENTION 2 – Der kleinere Raum (The Smaller Room) – Cristobal Leon & Nina Wehrie
AUDIENCE AWARD – Heimatland – Andrea Schneider, Loretta Arnold, Marius Portmann, & Fabio Friedli
BEST CHILDRENS FILM (Selected by Childrens Jury) – Der prazise Peter (Percise Peter) – Martin Schmidt - Germany
AUDIENCE AWARD – Der prazise Peter (Precise Peter) – Martin Schmidt - Germany