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INTERNATIONAL TRICKFILM FESTIVAL (ITFS) ONLINE and FMX ONLINE 4-9 May 2021, Stuttgart, Germany

Last year ITFS was one of the first festivals to go totally online. With a year to perfect the system the 2021 edition worked seemingly flawlessly to the home viewer.

Animation and Human Rights

     Last year ITFS was one of the first festivals to go totally online. With a year to perfect the system the 2021 edition worked seemingly flawlessly to the home viewer. Nothing can replace the things that make the festival so much fun as the big outdoor screen and hanging out with friends in the beer garden, but the two hundred twenty-page catalog was chock full of more excellent films than anyone could see, even if they watched films 24 hours a day.

   The International Short Film Competition was particularly strong this year, but one film stood out and made a deep impact on me. Have A Nice Dog! by Jalal Maghout gets inside the head of a young man who has no chance of getting a visa out of war-torn Damascus. Trapped in a disintegrating city where a bomb may destroy his home at any time, he becomes increasingly lost in his fantasies of leaving. His only companion is his dog, Baroud, with whom he carries on an increasingly delusional dialogue as Baroud’s erratic behavior begins to mirror his master’s inner life. The mixed-media film is in black, white, and grey to heighten the sense of hopelessness. Touches of brilliant red for the character’s nose and lips lend an eerie effect. Jamal left Damascus in 2013 to peruse a Master’s Degree. He was sponsored by the Goethe Institute.

Have A Nice Dog

ITFS does not shy away from taking a political stance on such issues as war, migration, the environment, or any other social issue. It was very fitting that Have A Nice Dog! won the prestigious Lotte Reiniger Award. The prize is given annually to the best graduation film. It comes with a cash prize of 10,000 Euros and is sponsored by MFG Filmfunding Baden-Wurttemberg.

Have A Nice Dog! Also received the Young Animation Award for the Best Student Film. The award is accompanied by a cash prize of 2,500 Euros sponsored by LFK Ladesanstalt fur Kommunikation Baden-Wurttemberg and MFG Film Funding Baden-Wurttemberg.

Another chilling, though-provoking film was Taiwanese animator Joe Hsich’s Night Bus. Hsich used cut-out animation for his crime thriller which has plenty of plot twists and turns. “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride” applies to this film even more aptly than when the words were first spoken in the 1950 film All About Eve, as a group of travelers boards a night bus.

Night Bus

Revenge, murder and romance play out under the backdrop of a tropical moonlit sky as the bus speeds along a coastal highway. All 20 minutes of the film just keep getting bloodier and bloodier as the suspense builds. In his director’s chat, Hsich said that he enjoys traveling on night buses and his travels were the inspiration for Night Bus. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film, but this is one bus that I do not want to be on.

French animator Paul Mas used puppets in his film Precious to tell the story of Julie and Emile, two young school students. Julie has been ostracized by her fellow students and Emile, who is autistic, is made fun of by his schoolmates. When Julie and Emile become friends, their fellow student’s cruelty and the adult’s inability to understand the situation leads to an outcome that is all too prevalent in real life.

Precious

Upon awarding Precious the Grand Prix, the jury said “Tackling subjects familiar to all of us, that of being othered and misunderstood, of bullying and of friendship, Precious skillfully handles the sensitive narrative with subtlety and a gentleness of expression”

I was unexpectedly delighted by Little Vampire, Joann Sfar’s adaptation of his own cult graphic novel series. The story centers around the little vampire who has been ten years old for the last three hundred years. He lives in an old haunted mansion with a group of merry monsters, but he is bored to death (pun intended). His big dream is to go to school to meet other kids, but unfortunately, his parents have forbidden him to leave the mansion. His parents tell him that the outside world is too dangerous for them because their old enemy, The Gibbus, is still out there and has just been waiting to catch the little vampire and his family for centuries.

Little Vampire

One night the little vampire, along with his faithful bulldog, Phantomato, sneak out of the house. He does find a human boy for a friend but he also attracts the attention of The Gibbus. Of course, his parents and family come to the rescue of the captured little vampire.

The film is full of flying chase scenes, a pirate ship, and a sexy ship’s figurehead that has been enchanted. Although I assume that the film is aimed at family audiences, I think that any adult would enjoy the humor, (some of which will go over the heads of younger children) the warmth of the vampire family, and the cast of loveable ghosts that inhabit the mansion. My husband watched the film with me and we both laughed a lot.

I believe that a well-made children’s film should be enjoyable for anyone to watch regardless of age. Every film does not have to have a serious message, sometimes it is enough just to make people smile. Milen Vitanov’s short film that was in the TricksforKids short competition did just that. Mishou revolves around four rabbits living in the Arctic region and a Chihuahua who is accidentally left behind by a visiting tourist. The poor little fellow is taken in by the four rabbits who live in an abandoned polar station.  All’s well that ends well when the tourist hires a helicopter to come back and look for her beloved dog, but his rabbit friends realize that they miss him when he is gone. There are some very sweet scenes with the little dog joining in on a rabbit jam session and the rabbits trying to finding suitable food for the little guy among the rabbit’s stock of carrots.

Mishou

     The seven-minute film is a mixture of hand-drawn 2D and stop motion animation. Vitanov said that he was inspired to make the film after coming across an article about the rising numbers of tourists visiting the Arctic and the bad impact that they are having on the environment, leaving unsightly garbage and disturbing Arctic wildlife. Mishou is definitely not a message film and he has chosen to make it a very humorous film.

     Also in the TricksForKids competition, I enjoyed Lupin, by French animator Helene Ducrocq. The cut-out animation 2D computer film is about a curious young wolf who ventures out of his burrow for the first time while his mother is out hunting. Being lost and frightened he finds shelter in the garden of a hunter. He is discovered by the hunter’s three children who take him back to the woods, safely away from their father’s gun, where he finds his den and worried mother again. It is a sweet film about kindness and trust.

Lupin

     Along with the competition programs the festival featured a multitude of special programs and events. One of my favorites was the Best of Animation series curated by Mark Shapiro. Each of the four programs was full of so many of my favorite films like Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbes’ beautiful When the Day Breaks (1999) and Michael Dudok de Wit’s Father and Daughter (2000).  The list of animated gems goes on and on. All 47 films brought back special memories of when and where I first saw and fell in love with them.

     This year French animation was in the spotlight. The pioneering French/Dutch animator Monique Renault was a member of the International Jury and also presented twelve of her films as part of the In Person series.

Monique Renault

     The theme for the 2021 edition of the festival was Creative Diversity and Monique’s work fits this theme perfectly. As one of the first female independent short film animators, her films have been addressing gender roles, female sexuality, anti-militarism, anti-clericalism, and prejudice as well as cultural topics since the 1970s. Long Live the Sexual Revolution (1983) was created for a Dutch television station’s program on women and pornography. Hands Off (1985) is an educational film, intended to stimulate discussion in the campaign against wife-beating. The film incorporates recorded interviews with women living in safe houses. Her technique is very recognizable. A trained painter, she uses colored pencils on paper to create her films.

     Three programs curated by Waltraud Grausgruber, Tricky Women Animation Festival director, featured 29 films that have left a deep impression on the animation scene dealing with body awareness, lust, anorexia, and social taboos. The films also spoke out about social and political issues such as war and migration, topics that affect us all.

     As part of Tricky Women, Signe Baumane gave us her very funny take on the first kiss, first make-out session, and first sex in two minutes of screen time. They were three films from her 15 episode Teat Beat of Sex(2007).

In 2019 Michelle and Uri Kranot created Suggestion of Least Resistance, a poetic and political audio-visual trip on the notion of the individual vs the historic for the Economy for the Common Good project initiated by the Vienna Contemporary Music Orchestra. The film is based on archival material from the July 1927 revolt in Austria. Socialist workers from the outskirts of Vienna assembled in front of the Palace of Justice to show their anger over the corrupt judicial system. Eighty-nine people were killed and more than 600 seriously injured by armed policemen on horseback.  The angry crowd stormed the Palace of Justice, setting files inside on fire.

Suggestion of Least Resistance

     Michelle edited the film so that papers flying through the broken windows of the burning building are juxtaposed with images of the crowd as they convene and disperse. This gives the film a very eerie and disturbing feeling.

     As much as we all want this terrible pandemic to be over, some filmmakers have put their lockdown time to good use as the 14 films in the Pandemic Animation program proved. From the serious side of the virus Martin Pflanzer’s To: The Doctors and Nurses, is a filmmatic thank you to some of the hardest working people during this time of crisis.

Anatomy of a Worldview

     In Anatomy of a Worldview, Alexander Fischer pokes fun at one of the hazards that we all have encountered during life on the couch - the weight we have gained. Alexander actually turns his stomach into a giant mouth. No words can adequately describe this ridiculously silly three-minute film, but you can find an excerpt on filmfreeway.com.

     ITFS is more than about watching film. At the studio presentations, I got to see the different working methods of established animation studios as well as being introduced to the new, young generation of creatives.

     The Game Zone is an important component of the festival. It ranges from indie games to VR installations to game jams. The Game Zone Kids featured hands-on activities and workshops for the younger gaming set.

     The role of women in the gaming industry has long been undervalued. The Game Zone’s special exhibition Wonderwomen – Women in Games took place at the Kunstmusem, the city’s contemporary and modern art museum. The exhibition presented current positions and projects by women in the field of digital media. It also spotlighted the history and development of the female perspective in media arts. Sadly, it also showed that female positions were marginalized in the field of computer games. Along with artwork, the exhibition also featured games designed by women that have expanded the world of computer games with their diversity. It also showed that women have long stood for first-class game design.

     The festival awards an Animated Games Award Germany. The award is presented to the best animation-based German computer game with a cash prize of 4,000 Euro sponsored by MFG Medien – und Filmgesllchaft Baden-Wurttemberg. The award went to Endzone – A World Apart developed by Gentlyman Studio. Endzone is a building strategy game set in a post-apocalyptic world. After humans destroyed their planet’s livelihood through a nuclear disaster, only some survive in underground bunkers. Years later, they go back to the surface to start a new life, and this is where the game begins.

End zone - A World Apart

     The daily Filmmaker Chats hosted by Anna Henckel-Donnersmarck gave me an opportunity to meet the filmmakers and ask them questions. I always find these chats very informative and often lead me to look at a film in a different light. The director’s chat was followed by an open chat room where we could all meet each other on zoom.

     ITFS has always gone out of its way to make me feel welcome and even though it was from a distance it still went the extra mile this year. Each year on the last day of the festival there is a press brunch where festival Artistic Director Uli Wegenast and Dieter Kraus, managing director give us facts and figures about that year’s festival. We also have the opportunity to ask them questions while eating pastry and fruit.

My Press Brunch

     This year my Press Brunch arrived at my door in a box via my postman. When I opened the parcel I discovered a selection of delicious regional delicacies! There was a packet of granola from Die Muesli in Manufaktur in Hohenstein, delicious candies courtesy of Sweets in Stuttgart, a large bottle of sparkling grape juice and a nice travel mug for my tea. As I ate brunch with Uli and Dieter that Sunday morning I felt that a little normalcy had returned to my world even if there was no beer garden or big screen on the Schlossplatz.

     I look forward to being back at the festival next year in person. I owe a big thank you to Nora Hieronymus, Head of Press and Public Relations and her staff for sending me extremely informative and useful updates throughout the festival and answering all of my questions. Thanks to my press accreditation I had unlimited access to the festival’s Media Library where I could watch all of the films as video on demand. All of the winning films are listed at the end of this article. You can learn more about the festival at:

www.ITFS.de


   

     For three days, 4-6 May, Germany became the center of all things technologically new and innovative in the animation and film industry at the FMX Conference on Animation, Effects, Games, and Immersive Media.

     Unfortunately, the 2020 edition of FMX was forced to cancel. This year they were prepared to present it online and the theme was appropriate - Reimaging Tomorrow; That is exactly what FMX did with this year’s online edition. This year the 178 sessions were all held virtually with over 398 international speakers giving talks and participating in round table discussions. Sixty-six companies and schools also took part in the FMX Forum.

     One of the most fascinating talks that I listened to was Peter Rabbit 2 – How Animal Logic’s Animation and Production Teams Helped to Deliver This Ambitious Sequel.  Ingrid Johnson, Head of Production, and Animation Director Simon Pickard talked about creating the visual effects for the sequel to the 2018 hit live-action/digital Peter Rabbit.  A big challenge on the film project was to make fur look realistic and replicate the same amount of hair that is on a live rabbit as well as structuring it the same way. To create the special effects The Studio in Sidney, Australia employed 600 Animal Logic crew and an additional 150 people from Method Studios in Melbourne.

     Peter Rabbit had 4.3 million hairs that needed to be rendered for each shot. Combined with all of the other characters, and it became a very intense process. The cloth for the rabbits’ jackets, which were simulated frame by frame, also had to interact with the fur.

     In keeping with this year’s theme legendary, visual effects man Doug Trumbull speculated about Cinema of the Future. Trumbull is noted for creating the special effects for such classic films as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner.

Ed Hooks teaching

     Actor and Acting Trainer Ed Hooks gave a live Masterclass on Acting For Animators. Ed uses classical techniques to explain everything from character analysis and physical movement to facial expressions and scene structure. Even though an animation voice-over artist is never seen on screen, all of the techniques that Ed covers in his sessions are vitally important to give a good, believable performance.  Ed has also developed a video instruction program. To find out more about his video program you can contact Ed at: edhooks@edhooks.com

     Most of the conference sessions are available online until 31 July 2021. For those of you that did not attend the live FMX conference, it is still possible to buy online tickets to watch the recorded sessions at: fmx.de

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