I love going to Norway but I've only been there in the Fall. Going there in the Summer this year was a bonus.
TWO SEASONS IN NORWAY and THE BEST OF NORDIC/BALTIC ANIMATION
I thoroughly enjoy being on selection committees, so when Anders Narverud Moen, Director of the Fredrikstad Animation Festival, invited me to be part of the selection committee for the festival in July I was very excited. I love going to Norway but have only been there in the Fall. Going there in the Summer this year was a bonus.
Unlike many other festivals, the films were first sent to me at home to watch and evaluate. Then the festival brought me to Fredrikstad for the deliberations and final decision-making with the other two members of the committee, animator and VR artist Gina Thorstensen from Oslo and Anders.
We three worked very well together, usually all of us agreeing on the fate of a film. The entire process took us just one intense day. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Gina and although I have known Anders for quite a while, it was lovely to get to know him much better. He was a tremendous host, treating Gina and me to a marvelous dinner at a sushi restaurant and a night of good conversation at a local bar after our day of hard work. I also discovered that Fredrikstad has the best pulled pork sandwich that I have ever had with a wonderful pickled red cabbage.
The bus trip to and from Oslo Airport to Fredrikstad was beautiful. The trees were all green and beautiful wildflowers were all in bloom instead of the leaves turning colors and starting to fall which is what I am used to.
Being on the selection committee meant that I was invited back in October for the festival. The Fredrikstad Animation Festival is the oldest and largest animation festival in the Nordic region dating back to 1994 and the Animerte Dager in Oslo. Fredrikstad is one of nine animation festivals that nominate films for the prestigious European Animation Award Cartoon d’Or.
The centerpiece of the festival is the Nordic/Baltic competition. Films in this category compete for the Grand Prix, Best Nordic/Baltic Short Film, and the Audience Award. The short film jury that chose the Grand Prix, Best Nordic/Baltic film, and Best Student Film were animator/performance artist Sara Koppel, freelance programmer and curator Niels Putman from Belgium, and Konrad Hjemlin from Norway. Konrad made the multi-award-winning film The Harbourmaster about a swan that went from being a beloved town icon to becoming a wanted criminal.
They awarded the Grand Prix to Milly Yencken for her graduation film The Eastern Rain. The Australian-born animator is studying at The Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn. Her film ponders the question “What would we do if it rained indoors instead of outside”? In their statement the jury said “This brave film fluidly blends its circular narrative with a powerful artistic and poetic visual language, effectively presenting something both abstract and expressionistic. In this surreal world, the wonderous, colorful brushstrokes that meet with shades of gray are supported by a meditative and equally strong soundscape -ultimately drenching us as if we are dancing in the rain”.
I was quite happy to see the Best Nordic/Baltic Short Film Award go to Blush – An Extraordinary Voyage by Liti Yli-Harja of Finland. The story revolves around an eighteen-year-old Finnish-Kosovan boy named Fatu and his best friend Rai, a young woman on the autism spectrum. Fatu is about to go out in public wearing makeup for the first time and is scared. Luckily Rai is there to support him through it all.
I agreed with the jury when they said “ . . . While on the surface it’s a deeply personal depiction of a charming friendship, the film also tells a bigger story concerning our society’s prejudices and does it all fabulously”. A complete list of all of the winning films is at the end of the article.
My particular favorite film was Doris & Bettan -Marabella Mayhem by Swedish cartoonist, illustrator, and first-time director Ellen Ekman. This film is Thelma and Louise meets Wonder Woman. Doris and Bettan are two retired, but certainly not retiring, women enjoying the sun on a beach that they have visited for years together. Topless, smoking, and sipping cocktails, they are thoroughly enjoying themselves. Since their last visit, a luxury hotel has been built and has taken over the beach. After complaints about the two women from a hotel guest, the manager tries to kick Doris and Bettan out. Oh boy, is he in for a surprise? I have not laughed so long and hard at a film in quite a while.
Along with the excellent film programs, there were numerous special events and exhibitions. One of my favorites was a VR project created by my fellow selection committee member Gina Thorstensen. Kabaret is an interactive VR experience about synchronized coral spawning and a singing shrimp who worries about the future. The piece is playful, yet thought-provoking, taking the viewer from the edge of our galaxy to the depths of the ocean, ending up on a coral reef in mating season, but all is not well. I was charmed when a cute little squid came and sat on my hand but also quite aware of the challenges the VR gave to the viewer about the necessity to save coral reefs.
Kabaret is part musical, part documentary and is completely magical. Gina emailed me that “... the title of the piece, Kabaret, is a wordplay on the Norwegian dish of seafood and peas in aspic and musical cabaret. The concept got lost at some point in the production, but it serves as a framework to create the story and I think that it is fun, even if no one understands the connection anymore”.
Sara Koppel is a unique voice in the world of animation and performance art. She began animating on paper as a fourteen-year-old punk in 1984 and she is still at it. Her multi-award-winning films such as Little Vulvah and Her Clitoral Awareness deal with adult issues such as gender, sexuality, and the environment.
In Fredrikstad, Sara mounted an exhibition of her augmented reality work with both sensual films and environmental themes, where her analog work is mixed with new AR technology. You could go to the festival website, scan a QR code and download the artwork to enjoy at home if you couldn’t visit the exhibition in person. You could also purchase a digital pass to the festival which gave you access to all of the films from the 19th to the 30th of October.
Riekeles Gallery, founded in 2021 in Berlin, presents and archives the art of animated background painting. Backgrounds are usually only on the screen for only a few seconds and although you would notice if they were not there, little attention is usually paid to them. The exhibition of Anime Architecture in the theatre lobby was the first presentation in Norway by the Riekeles Gallery of iconic anime backgrounds. It was an impressive exhibition.
Curator Stefan Riekeles first visited the studios of Tokyo’s animation artists fifteen years ago and discovered a treasure trove of image boards, technical layouts, and vibrant colored backgrounds from the golden age of Japanese sci-fi anime dating back to the 1980s. These works can stand on their own as pieces of art. His research in the field of anime backgrounds led him to write Anime Architecture (Thames and Hudson, 2020).
The festival exhibition showcased high-grade 1:1 reproductions of urban architecture made for the screen by Hiromsa Ogura (Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor – The Movie), Toshiharu Mizutani (AKIRA), Hiroshi Ohno (AKIRA), and Shuichi Kusamori (Ghost in the Shell, Metropolis). These acclaimed artists belong to a generation of illustrators who drew animation only by hand. Although today computer graphics are used across all areas of production, paper, pencils, and brushes are still their primary tools to create intricate attention to detail.
Stefan Riekeles presented Building Neo-Tokyo, the World of AKIRA as part of EDUFEST, a seminar aimed at students. Storm Studios, a visual effects company based in Oslo, and Fortiche, a creative, animation and production studio in Paris, Montpellier, and Las Palmas Spain were also part of EDUFEST. Charles Bouet, CG pipeline supervisor at Fortche and Espen Nordahl, head of VFX at Storm Studios talked to the students about how they create mind-blowing visual effects, their respective careers and what their day-to-day responsibilities are. At another session, there was an opportunity for students to bring their portfolios and receive a critique from a professional.
Two ART ON WHEELS vans were parked outside the entrance to the theatre. The project is a contemporary art exhibition aimed at children and young people. The new artworks are created by Zahars Ze, Jurgis Peters and Eva Vevere from Latvia and Oda Bremnes of Norway. ART ON WHEELS offers interactive exhibitions featuring four original artworks comprised of VR, sound, and kinetics with the theme of Creation of New Worlds.
Exhibition curator Sandra Kempele says, “We aim to create a positive experience of visiting a contemporary art exhibition. It should be a creative, active, and inspiring experience for children and youth, promoting the accessibility of visual art outside the capital city of Latvia. The ART ON WHEELS project initiates a dialogue between artists and students, actively involving children in the process of creating artwork and addressing topics that are important to children and youth”.
Children actively engage with the artworks using VR glasses and hands-on interaction. The exhibition also includes various activities relating to the four artworks. The two specially fitted-out mini vans visit schools, festivals, and art institutions throughout Latvia and Norway.
Although we are far from being children, Nik and I both took turns with the VR glasses. Even though the project is designed for children and young people we both thoroughly enjoyed it. The production that I experienced was very well made. I felt like I was moving around the solar system in outer space.
A major part of the Fredrikstad Animation Festival is Animation Production Day. It is designed for members of the Nordic professional industry to network and learn about new technology and ideas. Part of Animation Production Day is the Nordic forum which is a collaboration among several Nordic organizations within the animation industry. Studios present works in progress, discuss new techniques, and discuss the state of Nordic Animation as well as giving a historical look back at the industry. This year Liisa Vahakyla, Finnish journalist and executive director of Finnanimation, the network of Finnish animation producers, presented her new book on Nordic animation. The book examines the state of Nordic animation as well as presents historical information before moving on to present-day studios.
A panel of industry members from Norway and France discussed their experiences of working together on film production and how to distribute film to an international market. At a panel on co-financing your film several representatives from funding organizations such as the Norwegian Film Institute were on hand to introduce their organizations and talk about funding possibilities.
Dutch Director Hisko Hulsing has become known for the painterly quality of his work such as the semi-autobiographical film Junkyard. He also directed the Amazon Original series Undone. It is Amazon Prime Video’s first animated series for adults. He led a team of artists in creating a wide range of oil paintings that made up the backgrounds of each frame of the series which included 150 to 200 hand-painted canvases per episode. In his masterclass, Hisko talked about his methods and how he builds scenes and talked about his work with Amazon.
Each year the festival gives a Life Time Achievement Award. This year’s recipient was producer John M. Jacobsen. He is considered the grand master of Norwegian film, playing an important role in the establishment of the internationally recognized CGI, animation, and VFX communities.
John began his career in the film industry at the age of 15 as a bouncer and program manager at his local cinema on the outskirts of Oslo. His extensive career has involved film distribution and the development of the emerging video industry but he is primarily known as a producer. In 1997 he created Norway’s first full-length animated film, Solan, Ludvig og med Reverompa (Gurin with the Foxtail). Jacobsen has produced 4 full-length animated films and over 50 animated TV episodes featuring Elias, den lille redningsskoyta (Elias, the LittleRescue Boat) and Blekkulf. Elias was nominated for an Emmy. His 2008 production, Max Manus is the biggest Norwegian box office success in modern times with 1.2 million tickets sold.
John M. Jacobsen is indeed a worthy winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award. I am sure that he will continue to be a major force in the Norwegian Film Industry for a long time to come.
My job at the festival was to introduce the Nordic/Baltic professional and student films in competition and moderate the director’s chat, which I really enjoy doing. Instead of just asking questions, I try to initiate a discussion between the animators on stage and encourage questions from the audience. Seven films were represented at the discussion and I was very pleased that the animators interacted with each other. The audience got into the spirit of the conversations and asked excellent questions.
A big thank you to Anders Narverud Moen for inviting me to be part of the festival and to his staff and volunteers who were all so kind and helpful. I had a wonderful time at the festival and look forward to returning sometime in the future.
The 2024 edition of the festival will take place from 24 -27 October 2024
You can find out more about the 2023 edition at animationfestival.no
GRAND PRIX - THE EASTERN RAIN by Milly Yencken.
Jury´s motivation: This brave film fluidly blends its circular narrative with a powerful artistic and poetic visual language, effectively presenting something both abstract and expressionistic. In this surreal world, the wonderous, colorful brushstrokes that meet with shades of gray are supported by a meditative and equally strong soundscape – ultimately drenching us as if we ourselves are dancing in the rain.
AUDIENCE AWARD - NUN OR NEVER! By director Heta Jäälinoja.
BEST NORDIC-BALTIC SHORT FILM - BLUSH – AN EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGE by Iiti Yli-Harja.
Jury´s motivation: Out of all the Nordic-Baltic short films, this one truly has something special. From the DIY crafty visuals to the clever metaphor use and documentary dialogue, every aspect of this film screams of authenticity. While on the surface it’s a deeply personal depiction of a charming friendship, the film also tells a bigger story concerning our society’s prejudices and does it all in fabulous fashion.
BEST NORDIC-BALTIC FEATURE FILM - ROSA AND THE STONETROLL directed by Karla Nor Holmbäck.
Jury´s motivation: We are delighted to announce the winner of the best animated feature at Fredrikstad Animation Festival; A heartwarming film celebrating the power of friendship and the courage to let go of one’s fears. The film with its beautiful backgrounds, transports the viewers to a magical world of wonder and imagination. The accompanying music further elevates the storytelling, immersing the audience in the emotional journey of its characters.
BEST NORDIC-BALTIC STUDENT FILM - MANO by Toke Madsen.
Jury´s motivation: By minimalistic means, this film creates an entirely believable world in just a few minutes. Told through an intense atmosphere and impressive character design, the narrative tropes of dysfunctional families are used wisely to celebrate the resilience of brotherhood, something actually worth fighting for. If only we could have stayed with these brothers a little bit longer.
BEST NORDIC-BALTIC CHILDREN’S FILM - THE MUSIC FACTORY directed by Alf Martin Løvvold and Cina Espejord.
Jury´s motivation: A very cool film. Fun with 3D, and the images were very lively.
SPECIAL MENTION - THE SWINEHERD directed by Magnus Igland Møller and Peter Smith.
Jury´s motivation: Silly and cool.
BEST NORDIC-BALTIC YOUNG AUDIENCE - THE PHOTO THAT CAME TO LIFE directed by Mikk Magi.
Jury´s motivation: Very creative. Scary, cool, scary, cool, and funny. A great story about daring to try new things.
SPECIAL MENTION -
PADDLE BOAT directed by Samppa Kukkonen.
Jury´s motivation: A very important and good story. Take care of nature and family.
BEST NORDIC BALTIC COMMISSIONED FILM - THEO MYLING – MY HEART IS IN LIMBO by director Håvard Skeide Glad.
Jury´s motivation: We focused on both good storytelling and technical execution (Also there’s always the wow effects to consider). The film really stood out because it used a 90’s video game style to tell an emotional story with beautiful abstract visuals. A music video with a good story arc, which can be a difficult balance in music videos. A nostalgic and mysterious style that suits the sound perfectly (with a cool drive).
A super fun commercial extremely well executed both technically and artistically.
Special mention goes to TROLLI GOONIVERSE by directors Renee Zehan and Lars Ellingbø.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
John M. Jacobsen, one of Norway’s greatest film producers, has been honored with the festival’s Lifetime Achievement award. John M. Jacobsen is being recognized for his contributions to the animation film industry, as well as his efforts to elevate the importance of visual effects in Norwegian cinema.