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Getting the 2020 Festival Season Off to a Good Start: ANIMA, THE BRUSSELS ANIMATION FILM FESTIVAL, 21 February to 1 March 2020 - Brussels, Belgium

I can always look forward to 10 days of exceptionally high-quality programming at  Anima Brussels, and the 2020 edition was no exception.

  

   Anima Brussels signals that another year of festivals has begun for me.  The festival is my home festival, so it is near and dear to my heart.  I can always look forward to 10 days of exceptionally high-quality programming and the 2020 edition was no exception.

     Dogs have always had an important role in animated films.  On opening night master storyteller Anca Damian’s charming film Marona’s Fantastic Tale, a dog story with a difference was screened.  In the film, Marona, a small mixed breed stray dog, looks back on her life after suffering a serious accident.  She remembers her puppyhood, times on the street, and her various masters who she has given her unconditional love to.  Written by Anca’s son Anghel Damian and coupled with her beautiful animation, the film tells a story that will touch even the hardest heart.

Marona’s Fantastic Tale

    The story is not only entertaining, but it also has a lot to teach us about life.  Anca describes the film as a modern modern-day fairytale about the big and little things in life.    She goes on to say “The destiny of Marona is both simple and essential, individual and universal.  Live in the present; enjoy the small things; stay deeply connected to others – these are a dog’s lessons of happiness for humans”.  Even though Marona’s Fantastic Tale has a very clear message, it is not preachy.  It is a film that will be thoroughly enjoyed by the entire family without being the usual “family family-friendly” pabulum.

Anca Damian and Theodore Ushev

Anca works in both live live-action and animation often tackling difficult subjects.  Her 2011 Crulic: The Path to Beyond is a biographical film about Claudiu Crulic, a Romanian citizen who died in a Polish prison while on a hunger strike.  The Her 2015 film The Magic Mountain is an animated documentary combined with adventure and fairy tale elements.  It is the story of Adam Jacek Winkler, a Polish anti-communist who fought against the Soviet Union in the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s.  She is currently in pre-production on her new project titled The Island.  It is an animated adult feature film on the topic of immigrants, the refugees from African and Arabic countries that are currently flooding into Europe. 

  Jacob, Mimi and the Talking Dogs is another feature feature-length film where dogs play a major role.  Latvian director Edmunds Jansons introduces us to Jacob, Mimi and a pack of talking dogs led by a dog aptly enough named Boss.

  Jacob is sent to spend the summer with his know-it-all cousin Mimi and Uncle Eagle.  At first, things don’t go well at all for Jacob.  The change from city life in downtown Riga to the old historic suburb of Maskachka is extreme for him and Uncle Eagle’s parenting style is unique, to say the least. 

Jacob, Mimi and The Talking Dogs

  Everything changes when Jacob learns that Mimi’s favorite local park is about to be demolished and turned into a high rise building.  He agrees to help his cousin come up with a way to stop the construction.  Using the skills he has learned from his architect father and help from the band of talking dogs, led by Boss, who befriends Jacob and Mimi, they take on the corporate conglomerate that is threatening Maskachka’s quaint way of life.  The moral of the film is that anyone, no matter what your age, can make a positive impact on their community if they are willing to work hard and are open to a little creative thinking.

  On a personal note, something that I thoroughly enjoyed about the film was the extremely accurate way that the film portrayed the Maskachka district.  I stayed with friends in that area on a visit to Riga so I have seen the wooden houses that are still occupied that are shown in the film.  The district derives its name from Maskavas iela (Moscow Street) which runs through the entire district.  It was the only area in Riga where Jews were allowed to live during WW II, when Riga was occupied by German Nazis.

  I am a big fan of Estonian animation so I couldn’t miss the 85 minute Old Man Cartoon Movie.  I laughed so hard throughout the entire film and so did the rest of the packed Anima audience.  Osker Lehemaa and Mikk Magi have created a totally crazy, absurdist dark comedy road movie unlike any other I have ever seen about the hunt for a milk cow who is let out of the barn by the bored grandkids.  The cow goes off to discover the world and grandpa, in his electric wheelchair, with grandkids in tow, take to the road to find her. 

Old Man Cartoon Movie

  They have 24 hours to find the rogue bovine before her unmilked udder explodes which would create a massive lacto-nuclear mushroom.  Along the way, the group encounters a hippie festival in the woods, forest monsters, and a disgruntled lumberjack not to mention a mysterious “milkman” who also wants the cow for himself.  Somehow we are led to believe by the film that all of these dangers are commonly found in the Estonian countryside.

  Old Man Cartoon Movie won the feature film Audience Award at Anima Brussels.  Upon learning of the award Osker Lehemaa said “We were a bit anxious over whether foreigners would accept the film and understand the Old Man’s Estonian style humor.  It’s a pleasure to know that the Old Man is able to make people laugh beyond Estonia”.  This screening was the first time that the film has been shown outside of Estonia.

   In the short film competition, I was captivated by French animator Florentine Grelier’s Mon Juke-Box.  I have always loved juke-boxes so Florentine’s sweet 15-minute homage to her father struck just the right chord with me.  The film uses a broken vintage Jupiter juke-box, one of the Rolls-Royce brands of juke-boxes, to bring us into the world of Florentine and her father.

Nancy with Florentine Grelier

  As the film progresses we learn that her juke-box salesman and repairman father, Roland, has had a varied career but the longest longest-lasting is his juke-box shop.  When her Jupiter, a birthday gift from her father, breaks down she naturally calls him to repair it and so begins a trip into the past with Florentine and her father telling their story in their own voices.

  She told me that the film came about because “One day I heard, just by chance, an old piece of rock and roll and without understanding why I found myself crying.  Then I asked myself a terrible question, who will repair the juke-boxes when my father is gone?”  The song that she heard was one of her father’s favorites that he frequently played on his juke-box at home.

Mon Juke Box

  To recreate the colors and atmosphere of her Jupiter, Florentine used a combination of 2D animation with paper cut-outs and under the camera animation. She said that “The paper cut-outs let me keep the colors and light of the juke-box while the abstract animation was painted on glass”.

  During the making of the film, she told me that “I rediscovered my childhood hero in a new light, and my own memories resurfaced.  I told her that as I watched the film unfold I thought that her father is someone that I would like to meet.  She told me that the next time I come to Paris she would be happy to introduce me to him. I am looking forward to meeting him and even though he doesn’t speak any English I have a feeling that we will be able to communicate just fine.

  Mon Juke-Box received a Special Mention from the Anima Brussels jury.  The film was also awarded the Andre-Martin Award for a French short film at Annecy in 2019 and was shortlisted for the Caesars which is the French National Film Awards.

The VR exhibition room

  This year the festival inaugurated a VR competition which that had its own separate jury.  There were 5 immersive narrative experiences that you could make a special reservation to experience.  For me, the most exciting was Gloomy Eyes Parts 1, 2 and 3.  Created by the Argentinean duo Jorge Tereso and Fernand Maldonado, it is set in 1983 on a cold night in Woodland City where being a zombie is still illegal.  Like all of his kind, Gloomy is in hiding in the forest, away from bounty hunters.  It is a quiet night, but still, he tries to stay out of sight.

  As the story unfolds in diorama scenes that the viewer can actually lean into using the VR headset, Gloomy meets a human girl, Neka, and they fall in love.  This, of course, is forbidden in their world.  The premise of the story is that the sun got tired of humanity and hid vowing to never rise again.  Together the star-crossed lovers may hold the key to bringing light to the endless night in Woodland City.

Gloomy Eyes

  Gloomy Eyes is technically and artistically well done, playing with shadows and light most effectively.  It uses spotlights to direct your eyes to only one concentrated point at a time, not to a lot of background scenery, so your focus is on the characters and storyline.  A flash of light or a wildly animated shadow directs your eyes to follow the action as you slowly rotate around 360 degrees sitting in a swivel chair or standing up and turning.  The Gothic tale Gloomy Eyes Part 1, 2 and 3 are is narrated by the gravedigger who is voiced by the very recognizable voice of Colin Ferrell.

  Futuranima is the professional and business arm of the festival devoted to masterclasses, presentations by studios, and everything in between.  Comic books are an important art form in Belgium.  Many of these comics are the basis of European animated films.  At a Creative Pitch Session several comic book publishers, who own the licensing rights to a large number of comics that have never been adapted for the screen, presented a wide range of the comics that they have available for studios, producers, and broadcasters to adapt to the screen.

L-R: moderator Erik van Drunen , Johan Edstrom, and Jonas Odell

  Jonas Odell is known primarily for his animated documentaries and music videos.  His latest project is as Creative Director of The Chapel.  Jonas and Johan Edstrom introduced their new project at Futuranima.  Founded in early 2019 with two of his close friends and colleagues, Johan Edstrom and Niklas Adolfsson, both Executive Producers, The Chapel is a full full-service production company based in Stockholm.  Their main focus is commercial work at the present time but they also are willing to take on purely creative projects also.  They aim for a high standard of craftsmanship while keeping the company flexible.

  At the present time, they have 8 animators on their roster.  Along with Odell, there are such well well-respected names as Niki Lindroth von Bahr whose award award-winning films include The Burden and Bath House.  The Chapel is looking for creative young directors from throughout Europe to join them.  You can learn more about The Chapel on their website: www.thechapel.com

  Dutch animator and painter Hisko Hulsing, known for his masterly painting style on his films seventeen (2003) and the powerful Junkyard (2012) was at Futuranima to talk about his latest project, Undone.  He is the director and production designer for the animated series Undone running on Amazon Prime Video.  This adult show, written by Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg of BoJack Horseman fame, has already been picked up for a second season with the writing almost completed.

Hisko Hulsing with moderator Erik van Drunen

  The story revolves around a young Texas woman, Alma, who is dissatisfied with her boring, everyday life.  Although she is surrounded by loving family and a boyfriend,  she feels that the only person that could really understand her state of mind is her dead father, Jacob,  After a near near-fatal car crash, Alma’s world is turned upside down reconnecting her with her dead father as she comes out of a coma.

   Hisko talked about travelling back and forth to Hollywood where Undone is shot from his home in Amsterdam, where he created the artwork for the series along with occasional side trips to Austin, Texas where additional artwork was being done at Minnow Mountain Studio.  At one point in the creation of the background artwork, 150 artists worked on the series creating 800 oil paintings for the backgrounds.  The 17thCentury Dutch masters’ painting style backgrounds were then combined with very modern techniques used to animate the characters.  Almost every background has been drawn or painted by an artist giving the series a unique handmade look.  According to Hisko the second season will use the same actors but go in a different direction.  What direction he wasn’t at liberty to say.

  Anima had a screening of all 8 of the 20 20-minute episodes from season one of the Annie nominated series.  If you have not seen Undone yet I suggest that you check it out.

Puppets and posters for Camera-etc films

  This year Camera-etc. celebrated its 40th anniversary.  Founded in 1979 in Liege, Belgium by producer/director Jean-Luc Slock, it is a noted animation workshop that produces and co-produces films, organizes workshops, has artist’s residencies and internships as well as working in schools to bring the art of creating animation to young students.  In addition to its activities in Belgium, Camera- etc. also conducts workshops in Burkina Faso, the Congo, Palestine, and Cuba to name just a few of the far far-flung countries that it has initiated projects in.

  To commemorate their 40th anniversary, Camera-etc. mounted an exhibition titled Creative 40 featuring artwork and puppets from some of their notable films from their 40-year history.  The festival also screened a program of 8 of their latest productions.  Sadly, plans for the exhibition to be on display at a gallery in Liege after the festival had to be cancelled due to the quarantine.  It wouldn’t be an anniversary without a party and Camera-etc. and Jean-Luc threw a lovely affair with drinks, snacks, and a massive cake at the festival.

Jean-Luc Slock celebrating Camera-etc.’s 40th anniversary

  This year there was a focus on Melusine Productions and its partner Studio 352 in Luxembourg.  Founded in 1997 by Stephan Roelants, Melusine Productions produced or co-produced some recent animated films that have already become classics such as Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner, Ethel and Ernest, and my particular favorite Ernest and Celestine.  As part of the tribute to the renowned production company, 6 of their best best-known films were screened.

  Anima Brussels is held annually during the Carnival Week holiday.  This means that the early part of the day was devoted to screenings for young people.  Throughout the entire length of the festival, workshops for children were conducted by Zorobabel Collective.  You can see the films crated by the workshop participants on the festival website.

  The big news at the closing night ceremony was that Festival Director Doris  Cleven is stepping down.  She will be sorely missed but she is leaving the festival in the very competent hands of Evelyne Robiette, Helen Leclercq, Dominique Seutin, and Karin Vandenrydt.  Over the past few years, each of the four ladies have played an increasingly major role in the festival organization so it is assured that the festival will retain the high quality of its programming.

  I want to thank the entire staff for making my time at Anima Brussels such a pleasure.  I would especially like to thank Karin Vandenrydt for all of her many acts of kindnesses toward me. Even though she is so busy tending to the juries she always finds some time to answer my numerous questions.

      Throughout the festival, there is always so much going on that it is impossible to see and do everything.  You can check out more about the festival on their website:   www.animafestival.be

  The 40th 40th-anniversary edition of Anima Brussels will take place from the 12th to the 21st of February 2021.

  Little did I know while I was there that Anima Brussels would be the last live festival that I would be attending in the foreseeable future. Due to the Coronavirus, many of the Spring and Summer festivals have either postponed their event until this Fall or cancelled for this year altogether.  The International Trickfilm Festival in Stuttgart decided to hold portions of their festival on line this year rather than completely cancel it so my next article will be about attending a festival in my pyjamas and slippers on my couch...


AWARDS

International competition

Prizes awarded by the jury of the international competition

Anima 2020 Grand Prize for the best short film (€ 2,500 offered by the Brussels-Capital Region)

Purpleboy

Alexandre Siqueira, Belgium / France / Portugal

© Bando à Parte, Rainbox Productions, Ambiances… Asbl

Creative Revelation Prize for the best student short film (€ 2,500 offered by the Korean Cultural Center)

Sh_t Happens

David Stumpf and Michaela Mihalyi, Czech Republic

© BFILM

Special mention

West

Jérémie Cousin, France

© La Poudrière

Special Jury Prize, short film category

Mr. Mare

Luca Tóth, Hungary

© Boddah

Special mention

Physics of Sadness

Theodore Ushev, Canada

© National Film Board of Canada

Special mention

My Jukebox

Florentine Grelier, France

© NOVANIMA Productions, Girelle Production

Prize awarded by the VR jury

Jury Prize for the best short film in virtual reality

Songbird

Lucy Greenwell, Michelle & Uri Kranot, United Kingdom / Denmark

© Lucy Greenwell, Michelle & Uri Kranot

Special mention

Glad That I Came ... Not Sorry to Depart

Azam Masoumzadeh, Belgium

© Emmy Oost

Prize awarded by the young jury (This is not a Buzz)

Prize for the best short film for young audiences (€ 1,000)

The Bird & the Whale (The Bird and the Whale)

Carol Freeman, Ireland

© Paper Panther Productions

Special mention

Smile

Alicia LEGGIADRO, United States of America

© Ringling College of Art and Design

Prizes awarded by the international public

Audience Award for Best Feature Film

Old Man Cartoon Movie

Oskar Lehemaa, Mikk Mägi, Estonia

© BOP Animation

Audience Award for Best Feature Film for Young Audiences

SamSam

Tanguy De Kermel, Belgium / France

© The Cinematographic Company

Audience Award for Best Short Film

Physics of sadness

Theodore Ushev, Canada

© National Film Board of Canada

Audience Award for Best Short Film in Virtual Reality

Gloomy Eyes

Jorge Tereso, Fernando Maldonado, Argentina / France

© Jorge Tereso, Angeles Blasco, Corentin Lambot

Audience Award for Best Short Film for Young Audiences

Choum's Odyssey

Julien Bisaro, Belgium / France

© Le Parc Distribution - JEF

Public award for the best short film of the Animated Night

Wild West Compressed

Christian Kaufmann, Germany

© Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg

Prizes awarded by our partners

BeTV Prize for the best feature film in the official selection (€ 3,500 for the purchase of broadcasting rights)

Marona's Extraordinary Journey

Anca Damian, Romania / France / Belgium

© Le Parc Distribution - JEF

Critics Award for the best short film (UPCB and UCC)

Physics of sadness

Theodore Ushev, Canada

© National Film Board of Canada

National competition

Prizes awarded by the jury of the national competition

Prize for the best Belgian short film (2.500 € offered by SABAM)

We're not going to be superheroes

Lia Bertels, Belgium / France / Portugal

© ANIMAIS PRODUCTION, La Clairière Ouest, Ambiances… Asbl

Grand Prize for the best short film of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation  (2,500 € offered by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation)

Saigon sur Marne

Aude Ha Leplège, Belgium / France

© Zorobabel, Novanima

Prize of the Authors offered by the SACD (2.500 €)

Hello, Are We in the Show?

Simona Denicolai, Ivo Provoost, Belgium

© SOIL

Prize for the best Belgian student short film offered by Amplo (€ 1,000)

Stupid !

Gaspar Chabaud, Belgium

© ENSAV La Cambre

Prizes awarded by partners

BeTV Prize (Purchase of broadcasting rights)

An Eldorado

Nicolas Gemoets, Belgium

© Haute Ecole Albert Jacquard

RTBF-La Trois Prize (Purchase of broadcasting rights)

Stupid !

Gaspar Chabaud, Belgium

© ENSAV La Cambre

Cinergie Prize (Electronic press kit)

Stupid !

Gaspar Chabaud, Belgium

© ENSAV La Cambre

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