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ITFS and FMX 2024, Stuttgart, Germany

There were big changes afoot at the International Trickfilm Festival in Stuttgart this year. Annegret Richter, Managing Director of AG Animationsfilms, the German Animation Association, has taken over the reigns as the new Artistic Director. For several years she was head of the animation department at the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animation Films (Dok Leipzig) and she was formally the artistic and managing director at the International Short Film Festival in Dresden.

There were big changes afoot at the International Trickfilm Festival in Stuttgart this year. Annegret Richter, Managing Director of AG Animationsfilms, the German Animation Association, has taken over the reigns as the new Artistic Director. For several years she was head of the animation department at the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animation Films (Dok Leipzig) and she was formally the artistic and managing director at the International Short Film Festival in Dresden.

Nancy at the festival cafe, L-R Daniel Suljic, ITFS Artistic Director Annegret Richter, Izabela Plucinska, and Nik

It was immediately apparent that she knew what she was doing. The opening ceremony was short on “official speeches” and strong in animated content. For many years the festival has lacked a meeting point café and now there is one right across the pedestrian street from the main theatre and they even offered free espresso for all festival goers. Also to be noted, for the first time, all events were conducted by hosts in English. If only Annegret could have managed the weather as well as she managed the festival! The beginning of the week was cold and rainy but for the last couple of days the sun came out and it was beautiful.

Also new to the position this year is Managing Director Heike Mozer. Although I don’t know her personally, she seems well qualified with a degree in administration and has worked at Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg since 1991, taking over the commercial management of the Animationsinstitut in 2002. At the same time, she contributed to the festival in event management from 1991 to 1998 and was project manager at FMX between 2015 and 2020. With Anja Bickele and the knowledgeable Andrea Bauer in the programming department, the festival is now in good hands with an all-female team at the top.

The first of the five International Competition programs, which was very strong, took place as part of the opening ceremony. The program opened with The Miracle directed by Nienke Deutz from The Netherlands. The film, which most people can relate to at one time or another, finds a woman on the “holiday of her dreams”, at a hotel that offers everything a person could want. But she feels that it is not her place and she doesn’t fit in with all of “the beautiful people”. Where exactly is her place?

The Miracle

Several animated films have been made about life under the military dictatorship of Pinochet in Chile, but Carolina Paz Cruz Merchant’s Recondari is told through the eyes of seven-years-old Camila and Paula who are neighbors and best friends. Their friendship is torn apart when an entire family is arrested after participating in a peaceful demonstration. The film is full of unexpected and disturbing events.

Recordari

Recordari received a Special Mention in the graduation film category. In giving the award the jury said “Recordari reenacts the brutal regime of Pinochet in Chile. Told from a personal point of view with beautiful cinematography”.

German animator Jochem Kuhn is well known for his painterly style. In Letzte Generale – Der Bunkerfilm, his latest film, the war is over and two generals have a final farewell phone call between them. What comes next is surprising, shocking, and thought-provoking.

After some very heavy films, we were sent out of the theatre and to the opening night party with Greg Mcleod’s delightfully charming Mee and Burd. In this very personal film, he tackles his real-life post-operative existential crisis in an exceedingly humorous way. The audience loved the film as much as I did and Mee and Burd won the Audience Award. The other four programs of competition films were just as good and intense as the opening night program.

Mee and Burd

We have all heard on the news about the horrors, death and destruction caused in the Ukraine by the Russian invasion. The siege of the once vibrant city of Mariupol located on the Sea of Azov was particularly horrific. For nearly three months, Russian forces engaged in a fierce battle against the Ukrainian armed forces to take Mariupol. Russia considered the city to be a strategic prize because if they dominated areas to the west of the city it would give them a land corridor between the Crimean Peninsula and the Donbas Region of Southeastern Ukraine. It would also give them control of one of the largest ports in the region, effectively cutting off Ukraine’s ability to export grain to the rest of the world.

In her film Mariupol: A Hundred Nights Ukrainian animator Sofia Melnky brings the terrors of war to life. It is the story of a little girl who is woken up by air raid sirens and then the sound of bombs falling on her city, Mariupol. Alone, she tries to survive in a burning city in the first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of the Ukraine. To escape, she must wind her way through destroyed streets and buildings, facing the unknown and trusting fate. Sofia dedicated her film to the city of Mariupol and its defenders. It also honors the memory of all of the children who have suffered and died during the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Mariupol: A Hundred Nights received a Special Mention from the International Jury.

Mariupol: A Hundred Nights

Czech Republic animator Daria Kashcheeva follows her multi-award-winning student film, Daughter, with a masterful twenty-six-minute achievement, Electra. In the film Electra rethinks her tenth birthday, mixing memories with imagination and hidden dreams. Isolated in her fantasy world full of made up, busty dolls, plastic men’s body parts, juicy strawberries, and dental tools, she builds up her own relationships with her body and sexuality.

Electra

Diving deeper into her childhood memories, she again experiences her rebellion against her mother and mixed feelings for her father. Electra has to go through the most painful memories to let her suppressed feelings come out and in the end, she is ready to reveal what really happened on her tenth birthday.

I have watched the film several times. The first time I was disgusted and wondered why I has spent twenty-six minutes watching that. In subsequent viewings, I have come to understand what a complex film about the inner workings of the human psyche it is. Although Electra might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is an important work about self-analysis, self-discovery, and finally facing the truth.

Along with the screenings, there was much more to see and do at the festival. I particularly enjoyed Swiss stop motion animator Elie Chapuis’ Master Class Passion for Puppets. He talked about being a teenager in the ’90s and the great influence the Wallace and Gromit films and Nightmare Before Christmas had on him. He was also influenced by stop motion films from countries of the former Soviet Union which were finally seen in the West when he was growing up such as works by Jan Svankmajer and Jiří Trnka.

Elie Chapuis with some of his puppets

Elie has worked on Samuel and Frédéric Guillaume’s 2007 film Max & Co and Claude Barras’ My Life As A Courgette (Ma Vie De Courgette) and Savages. He also worked on Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs.

Elie’s latest short film Duck (Canard) was also in the International Competition. Olga and Vladimir raise ducks on a small isolated farm in the countryside. One day, while feeding the ducks, Vladimir notices a wounded bird and decides to put it out of his misery, but Olga takes the bird into the house to nurse it back to health. In light of the couple’s unsuccessful attempts to conceive a child, Olga and the duck bond and she begins to treat it as if it were her human baby while Vladimir is pushed aside as the “baby” becomes the center of Olga’s existence.

Canard

Daily director’s chats were held in the filmmakers’ lounge. The Anix Awards for the Best German Animation Screenplay and the Trickstar Business Award were also presented in the Filmmaker’s Lounge along with this year’s ASIFA Prize.

Michaela Pavlatova with her ASIFA Award created by Priit Parn

The ASIFA Prize is awarded annually in recognition of outstanding achievement in the field of animation. The 2024 award was presented to the talented and prolific Czech director and animator Michaela Pavlatova. Her films such as Tram, Reci, reci,reci (Words, words, words) and Carnival of Animals are full of creativity and originality while depicting ordinary events such as conversations overheard in a bar or the fantasies of a female tram driver. Her ASIFA Award was a lovely drawing created by renowned Estonian animator Priit Parn.

The festival presented a program of Michaela’s short films accompanied by her personal tour through her life and animation career. There was also a screening of her 2021 feature film My Sunny Maad about life as a Western woman who marries into a traditional family in Afghanistan.

This year Ireland was in the spotlight with films, panel discussions, special presentations, and a networking lunch in the Neues Schloss or New Castle. The New Castle is one of Stuttgart’s historical landmarks and is beautiful inside and out.

When Carl Eugene, Duke of Wurttemberg came to Stuttgart in 1744 at the age of 16, he had a clear idea about an appropriate residence. He demanded the construction of “an apartment befitting his princely dignity and adequate for the size of his court”. If this was not done, he would move the court to Ludwigsburg. Thus, the New Palace was built.

The youngest animation fans were not left out of the Irish celebration with special Tricks For Kids screenings. The five programs ranged from films designed specifically for four-year-olds, children six years of age and older, and films specially curated for children eight years and older.

An Irish contribution to feature films for the younger set was Puffin Rock and New Friends. Based on the pre-school TV series for two to five-year-olds, the film is set on a beautiful island off of the coast of Ireland. The main television characters from the original show, Oona, Baba, May, and Mossy return on the big screen along with new characters who arrive on the island. Puffin Rock is a co-production between Cartoon Saloon, Dog Ears, and Penguin Books with the support of the Irish Film Board and Northern Island Screen.

Puffin Rock and New Friends

Rounding out Ireland’s special presentations was a spotlight on the Institute of Art, Design, and Technology in Dublin and Ballyfermot College of Further Education. There were also several screenings and presentations for the adult audience.

The filmmakers’ lounge was not just for eating, drinking, and socializing. Filmmakers and game design studios gave presentations there. One day there was a live drawing challenge complete with prizes. ASIFA panel discussion left to right Nina Prange, Deanna Morse, Nancy, Elie Chapuis, and Agnes Li

In the basement of the lounge, there are meeting rooms where presentations and panel discussions were held. One morning I moderated a panel discussion there about ASIFA (The International Animated Film Association/ Association International du Film d’ Animation). My four panel members were Deanna Morse, President of the ASIFA Board and a member of ASIFA United States Central; Nina Prange, Board Member of AG Animationsfilm -ASIFA Germany; Elie Chapuis, Co-President of GFSA- Switzerland; and Agnes Li, Board Member and Member’ of ASIFA China. During our one-and-a-half-hour discussion, we talked about defining the importance of ASIFA and how the aims and goals of the association differ in the various chapters from country to country. We also discussed what types of activities the different chapters engage in as well as the value of ASIFA for national and international networking.

Nik presenting his Masterclass

Nik gave a two-hour Masterclass titled Sync or Swim – Navigating the Channels of Visual Storytelling. During his presentation, he discussed the craft of putting music and sound onto film. He also showed films with memorable soundtracks such as Joie De Vivre. The 1934 animation by Anthony Gross and Hector Hoppin was the first animated short film to have an original symphonic score created by Hungarian composer Tibor Harsanyi.

Each year a cash prize of 5.000 Euros sponsored by MFG Baden-Wurttemberg is awarded to the best animation-based German computer game. This year’s winner was Closer the Distance by Osmotic Studio GmbH.

The game is a slice-of-life sim that tells the story of the connection between family and friends in the face of tragedy. Following a fatal car accident, players take on the role of Angela, a young girl from the town of Yesterby, who finds herself watching her loved ones as they navigate the grieving process. Using her ethereal ability to influence the townspeople she once knew, Angela’s choices will ultimately determine the fate of Yesterby.

The GameZone is always a busy place where animation and games merge. Gaming enthusiasts of all ages could try out a mirid of games including the five games nominated for the German Animated Games Award.

Even with the bad weather people were still watching films on the giant LED screen in the grassy square by the cinema and enjoying a beer and wurst in the adjacent beer garden. In previous years primarily older films from past festivals were shown during the day until it was time for the evening feature film when families bring blankets and picnics.

This year during the day there were feature-length films such as Enzo D’Alo’s 2023 A Greyhound of a Girl and Bill Plympton’s latest feature film Slide (2023). A series of programs titled Animation Around Europe presented short film programs from Portugal, Ireland and Poland. Fantoche Animation Festival presented Best of Kids Fantoche and Anima Syros’ program spotlighted the current Greek animation scene. The World Animation Film Festival in Varna showed past and present Bulgarian animation. Animest Animation Festival contributed a program of films by strong female animators from Central and Eastern Europe. I like the idea of the curated programs which is new this year. The names, a short description, and the screening times were also listed in the festival guide.

On Sunday, which is Family Day, the screenings began at 11:30 in the morning with famous silhouettes classics by Lotte Reiniger. That was followed by the traditional Sunday morning opera performance by the Stuttgart Opera. This year it was The Magic Flute. The ingenious version of Mozart’s immortal classic was a blend of grand opera and animation with the video art collective 27 providing the video animation.

As much as I love opera, Nik and I missed the performance because we went on a festival excursion. The Stuttgart Region is famous for its incredible wines, to which I can personally attest. The group took the train and then a walk through a lovely park to Riverhouse Winery. There we sampled our first wine and then, glasses in hand, we boarded one of two tractor-driven covered wagons to climb the steep slopes of the vineyard, stopping periodically to sample different wines and admire the beautiful view while our knowledgeable drivers told us about the region and the various wines that we sampled.

Riverhouse Vineyard

After our trip through the vineyards, we returned for a delicious BBQ on the veranda of the Riverhouse Restaurant. The meal featured local favorites and piles of several cuts of meat and bratwurst. The Riverhouse Restaurant is located on the Neckar River with a beautiful view from the veranda.

The festival was so jam-packed with wonderful screenings, presentations, and friends that I couldn’t see and do everything that I wanted to. Congratulations Annegret and Heike for a job well done and a fantastic festival.

Head Programmer Andrea Bauer

A special thank you to Head Programmer Andrea Bauer for inviting Nik to present a Masterclass and asking me to chair a panel discussion. Nik and I appreciate everything that you do for us every year, Andrea. Also thank you to Anja Bickele for handling our travel, the excursion, and all of the other things that you do.

The 2025 edition of the festival will take place from 6 to 11 May 2025

You can learn more about the festival at www.itsf.de

A complete list of all the winning films is at the end of this article.

FMX - 23 to 26 April 2024

Running concurrent to the festival for four days, FMX (Film and Media Exchange), founded in 1994, hosted its 28th edition this year. Over the years FMX has developed into one of the world’s most important conferences dedicated to animation, effects, interactive and immersive media. It is the place to learn about all of the latest trends in VFX, animation, and games. This year there were 270 speakers and more than 3,600 participants. The 2024 theme was Connecting Ideas. There was a special focus on the connective issues between people collaborating across platforms, pipelines, and distances, both physical and subjective.

Along with the speakers, the Market Place offered the opportunity to experience the latest innovations hands-on. I am not the most technical person and a lot of what I am looking at in the marketplace often goes right over my head, but I always find interesting new things when someone is patient enough to explain what I am looking at.

ARAGO

This year the standout was ARAGO, developed by Rigsters, a 3D scanning studio located in Copenhagen. As it was explained to me ARAGO was developed for mass digitization of objects. It automates the time-consuming process of capturing images for photogrammetry. It can place an object in an environment from a garden to the seashore or in a rain storm. I was quite impressed with the demonstration that I saw where a bust of a woman appeared to be in a garden instead of on a rotating pedestal in front of me.

Twenty-three schools were represented at the FMX School Campus. This is FMX’s educational fair where schools present their curriculum, projects, and programs in the fields of art and the technology of computer animation, visual effects, computer games, and VR/AR. Prospective students also have an opportunity to learn about the school’s programs from faculty members, staff, and alumni. They can also get a realistic picture of what the school and campus life are like from students who also manage the booths.

Students manning their FMX booth

One of the main goals of FMX is to connect young talent with professionals in VFX, animation, and the gaming industry. Toward this end, FMX presented selected projects by students and recent graduates participating in the School Campus.

At the Recruiting Hub, such international studios as ILM and Ghost VFX met with young talents and professionals to look for new artists to work on their upcoming projects.

Most of the conference is available on demand for a month after closing. The price is 80 Euros for professionals and 40 Euros for students. You can check out the On Demand Guide on their website www.fmx.de

The 2025 edition of FMX will be held from 6 to 9 May 2025

THE WINNING FILMS

International Jury: Špela Čadež, Slovenia; Ebele Okoye, Germany; and Carolina Lopez

Caballero, Spain

GRAND PRIX: 27, Flora Anna Buda; France, Hungary – State of Baden-Wurttemberg and the City of Stuttgart Award - €10,000

SPECIAL MENTION: Mariupol: A Hundred Nights, Sofia Melnyk; Ukraine

LOTTE REINIGER AWARD: Dodo, Yi Luo; Germany – €10,000 sponsored by MFG Film Funding Baden-Wurttemberg

SPECIAL MENTION: Recordari, Carolina Cruz; Germany

Student Jury: Agnes Li, China/Canada; Jonatan Schwenk, Germany; and Maria

Anestopoulou, Greece

BEST STUDENT FILM: It’s just a whole, Bianca Scali; Germany

SPECIAL MENTION: Olivier the Giant, Julia Lantos, Hungary

Animovie Jury: Nicolas Burlet, Switzerland; Kirstine Knudsen; Germany/Norway; and

Kaya Kuhn, South Africa

BEST FEATURE FILM: Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds, Benoit Chieux; France/Belgium

SPECIAL MENTION: Lonely Castle in the Mirror, Keiichi Hara; Japan

Trickstar Nature Jury: Beatrix Wesle, Germany; Aron Gauder, Hungary, and Jorn Leeuwerink,

The Netherlands

TRICKSTAR NATURE AWARD: On the 8th Day,  Agathe Sénechal, Alicia Massez, Elise

Carin, and Théo Duhautois; France – with a cash prize of €7,000 sponsored by

Verband Region Stuttgart

AUDIENCE AWARD: Mee and Burd, Greg Mcleod; United Kingdom – with a cash prize of

€6,000 sponsored by SWR (Regional Broadcasting for Southwest Germany

Trix for Kids Jury: Luis Maximilan Haack 10; Maryam Hamzaoui, 11; Julius Lenz, 10; Amalia

Johanna Marquardt, 10; Lena Rieger, 10; Marlene Sylla, 10 ; and Dimitri Valera

Vitali, 11

BEST CHILDRENS FILM : doudouchallenge, Alexandra Delaunay-Fernandez; Julie Majcher;

Marine Benabdallah-Crolais; Noémie Segalowicz; Scott Pardaillhe-Galabrun; and

Sixtine Emerat; France – €4,000 sponsored by Studio 100 Media

SPECIAL MENTION: The Story of Bodri, Stina Wirsén; Sweden

Tricks for Kids Audience Award: The Mystery of Missing Socks,  Oscar Lehemaa; Estonia –

Cash prize of €1,500 sponsored by L-Bank

Abinated Games Award: Felix Groll, Germany; Stephanie Lang, Germany, and Matthias Linda, Germany

BEST GERMAN GAME: Closer the Distance, Studios GmbH, Germany – €5,000 from

MFG Baden-Wurttemberg

German Animation Screen Play Jury: Peter Keydel; Nicole Kellerhals, Marco Kreuzer, Tania Pinto  De Cunha, Holger Weiss, and Silke Wilfinger

BEST GERMAN SCREENPLAY: Das NEINhorn, Marc-Uwe Kling and Marcus Sauermann – €2,500 sponsored by Animation Media Creators Region Stuttgart (AMCRS)

SPECIAL MENTION: Die Olchies – Dino-Alarm!, Toby Genkel

German Screenplay With the Biggest International Market Potential: Out of Frame, Keiron

Self and Giles New – €1,500 sponsored by Pink Parrot Media

Trickstar Business Award Jury: Margit Wolf; Viola Gabrielle, Lennart Strom, and

Gabriele Walther

TRICKSTAR BUSINESS AWARD: Black Goblin, Ana Betancourt (CEO), United Kingdom –

€7,500 from Verband Region Stuttgaqrt

SPECIAL MENTION: Zeuniks, David Aguirre Hoffman (Art Director and Illustrator); Germany

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