Kaboom Animation Festival has become so spectacular that one city and one opening night isn’t big enough.
Kaboom Animation Festival has become so spectacular that one city and one opening night isn’t big enough. Before the festival takes over the entire world, it first expanded from Amsterdam and took over Utrecht, 44 kilometers away. The first two days of the festival were held in Utrecht. There were two Opening Night ceremonies. The first one was held in Utrecht.
Kaboom Industry Days were held in Utrecht. The yearly event is designed to give the Dutch animation community a forum to share new ideas, network, and foster collaborations. A Masterclass on the creative role of a producer was given by Ivan Zuber, producer of Mum Is Pouring Rain. The film won the Jury Prize in the Special Television Category at Annecy in 2021.
The Dutch Academy for Film hosted a speed dating session for animators interested in working with documentary filmmakers and documentary filmmakers in search of animators. A panel highlighting success stories from smaller European regions featured director Tomm Moore of Cartoon Saloon (Ireland); Claus Toksvig Kjaer, producer at Nonlum Animation Studio (Denmark); and creative producer Olivier Catherine of Pictanovo (Hauts-de-France Region).
The second Industry Day was designed for young professionals. Almost everyone wants to be an animator, but there are many other available positions that are involved in making an animated film. A panel of professionals made up of a compositor, a 2D animator, and a set designer discussed exactly what they do and the path that led them to do it. A highlight of the day was an overview of some important projects that have been created in The Netherlands in the past year and what it took to create those projects from start to finish.
There were screenings in Utrecht for the public ranging from Dutch Shorts and International Competitions to feature films. On Wednesday, while screenings continued for one last day in Utrecht most of the action moved to Amsterdam and the magnificent Eye. It is the museum for film in The Netherlands and it has three screening rooms.
Wednesday saw the second opening night which, after a short welcome, featured a screening of Where is Anne Frank? from director Ari Folman. I am a big fan of Ari’s previous films, Waltz with Bashir and The Congress so I was looking forward to seeing his latest film. Rather than focusing on Anne in the film, Folman created Kitty as the central character. During her time in the attic Anne, as we all know, kept a diary and in it she addressed letters to various friends, real and imaginary. Her “special friend” was Kitty.
In Where is Anne Frank? Kitty was brought to life by animators from fifteen different countries under Folman’s direction. The film begins seventy-five years after Anne’s death when Kitty comes to life in the house where Anne and her family were hiding. Kitty is alone and confused that her friend is not there. She sets out to find Anne.
The film is composed of 159,000 drawings. A team of animators created a miniature model of the attic which was used to record images of real scenery, after which Folman then added 2D animated characters in front of these backgrounds.
It is extremely important for audiences to understand why Anne Frank and her family were forced to hide in an attic, especially in these terrible times. Unfortunately, I don’t think this film tells that story very effectively. The film came across to me as a sanitized, Disneyfied version of what actually happened. It is so “kid-friendly” that it is easy to miss why Anne is in hiding. I hope that any parent who takes their child to see this film will have a talk with the child before they go to the theatre to explain to the child what the film is about and why Anne is forced to have imaginary friends. The most important role of the film is to clearly explain what the holocaust was about and why it happened.
Ari Folman was slated to be present at the festival, but due to travel difficulties, he was forced to join us on Zoom. In a separate program he talked about the making of the film.
A feature film for the entire family that I enjoyed was Poupelle of Chimney Town. The film is Japanese animator Yasuke Hirota’s directorial debut. It is based on Nishino Akihiro’s popular book which sold over 700,000 copies. Akihiro wrote the screenplay and was one of the producers.
Chimney Town is covered in smoke. No one can even remember what stars are. Lubicchi, a young chimney sweep, and his very smelly friend, Poupelle, who is made out of trash, believe that stars are real and set out to prove it.
The visually lovely film is about friendship and though first and foremost it is about believing in yourself, it also has an ecological theme about what smoke can do to a town. The film gets its messages across without being preachy or in your face and can be enjoyed by the entire family.
I have been waiting for six years for Dutch animators Jantiene de Kroon and Remco Polman to finish their short film Camouflage and the wait was definitely worth it. The 18-minute hand-drawn dystopian thriller combines horror and science fiction as the story of Amouf, an office worker, unfolds. Amouf desperately tries to hold his life together as the world around him gets darker and darker. De Jager (The Hunter) is a flamboyant and highly intimidating creature. She is a hate-instigating vigilante, who has sworn to protect the city from invaders by systematically hunting down and destroying those who are weak. Amouf in his grey trench coat, hat, and briefcase appears to be every inch the office worker. Appearances are not always what they seem. Will he be able to push his quest to survive to the limits? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.
Camouflage tells a good story with sparse dialogue. Alex Debicki’s analogue synthesizer music is used more for emphasis rather than background sounds. The film is delightfully dark but there are also touching moments. The style of drawing is like a graphic novel which makes sense because Remco is also a comic book artist. The script is by both Jantiene and Remco but the dialogue was written by her. The film consists of about three hundred twenty-three shots with no fewer than eight hundred character animations.
Jantiene told me that “Remco always wanted to do something with the political reality of persecuting people, wrapped in a genre metaphor”. She went on to say that “with this film, we try to ask the question to what extent being different is allowed in our own world, whether that concerns behavior, appearance, or origin. A suggestion that we would like to pass on to the viewer, is that everybody might be a little bit like our main character Amouf, a consideration with which we hope to raise a number of disturbing but important questions: Are we as a humanity in the core afraid of ourselves? Is that what feeds the fear of those who are different? Is fear of difference actually a form of projection?”
At the Kaboom festival I have the honor to present The Nancy Award to any film in competition of my choice. The winner receives a Kaboom trophy and a wine tasting trip with me during next year’s festival. This year my award went to Jantiene and Remco for Camouflage. I always love a good horror film and one that makes me think is even better. This film has a frightening, thought-provoking story combined with beautiful animation, humor and pathos.
Along with The Nancy Award, the film has won two Best Animation Awards. One was from Brazil at the Rock Horror Festival, the other was from the Shortcutz Animation Award in Amsterdam. The film is currently nominated in the Best Animation category at the NFMLA, which is organized by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Arts in Los Angeles.
Kaboom has a different theme each year. For 2022 it was Myths and Fairytales. I was delighted to see French animator Michel Ocelot’s stunning silhouette film Princes et Princesses. In this animated fantasy, a girl and a boy meet each evening in an abandoned shadow theatre along with an old theatre technician. The children dress up and create magical stories which they act out.
Princes and Princesses was created using a special style of cut-out animation, with black silhouetted characters performing the action against backlit backdrops in stunning colors. The film is made up of six episodes from the original eight that were a French television series. After you have seen the film, you will want to watch it over and over again to catch all of the delicate details. Unfortunately, it is not shown often enough in theatres but it is available on DVD. This beautiful seventy-minute animated fantasy, created in 2000, has stood the test of time and is as delightful to watch now as when I first saw it over twenty years ago.
Fairy Tales From Around the World on 16mm was a magical program. Of the eight films in the program, it was especially wonderful to see two classics by the late, great Gene Deitch.
In A Story, A Story Gene brought Gail Harley’s book of the same name to life. The 1973 film tells how African folk tales were acquired from the God who possessed them. Legend tells that Ananse the Spider Man spun a web to reach the sky to buy stories from the Sky God.
The second film by Gene is one of my all-time favorite animated films. Strega Nona (1977). Based on a book by Tomie De Paola, its delightful story is wonderful and quite funny. In the film, the kindly witch Strega Nona has left her not too bright assistant, Big Anthony, in charge of her house while she is away. Big Anthony, left alone with Strega Nona’s magic pasta pot, runs into big trouble when he decides to show off to the villagers that he knows the magic secret of how to make the pot work. Once he gets the pasta pot going though, he doesn’t know how to make it stop. Gradually, the house fills with pasta, then it flows out into the village streets and finally to the surrounding hills.
Gene’s real life was as magical as his films. In 1953 he arrived in Prague for what was supposed to be fifteen days of work at a studio. It turned into the rest of his life when he met Zdenka Najmanova, who became his wife. She was working at the studio where he was and it was love at first sight.
Gene was the only American living in Prague under Communist rule. He wrote about his love for Zdenka, Prague, and living behind the Iron Curtin in his book, For the Love of Prague which is available on Amazon.
Gene drew both Popeye and Tom and Jerry at one point in his career. In 1961 he received an Oscar for Munro which was written by Jules Feiffer. It is about a young boy who is drafted into the Army by mistake, but nobody is willing to recognize that the Army has made a bureaucratic mistake. He always said that his favorite character was Nudnik which became a Czech television series of twelve episodes.
Gene was fond of saying: “We’ll all die, the goal is not to live forever, the goal is to create something that will. He certainly did that.
The Fairy Tales From Around the World in 16mm program was curated and presented by Dutch film historian and collector Roloff de Je, who screened films from his private collection. I wish that more festivals would show the old classic animations on 16mm, it is so lovely to see watch them in the way that they were meant to be seen.
Tomm Moore is the Irish filmmaker, animator, illustrator, and comics ar
tist who co-founded the prestigious studio Cartoon Saloon in Kilkenny, Ireland. He has been responsible for three Academy Award-nominated feature films: The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and Wolfwalkers. This beautiful trilogy, based on Irish folklore, has touched children and adults alike and all three are considered animated classics.
In this age of computer animation, Moore and Cartoon Saloon are strong proponents of hand-drawn films. Their latest project is My Father’s Dragon. Directed by Nora Twomey (The Bread Winner), it is based on a 1948 children’s novel by Ruth Stiles Gannett about a young boy searching for a dragon on a magical island. Among the voice actors are such distinguished names as Rita Moreno and Whoopie Goldberg. The film will be released as a Netflix original film. No exact release date has been announced yet.
The Kaboom festival marked the end of Tomm’s special invitational guest residency in Amsterdam with Kaboom. During his stay, he worked on a personal project, drew, and painted. He also met with Dutch students and visited studios and worked on a project for the Dutch Film Fund.
Wolfwalkers was screened as a festival satellite event at Het Ketelhuis, an arthouse movie theatre in an old factory.
Kaboom is much more than just competition programs. National Film Board of Canada and Kaboom jury member Julie Roy presented a screening of films by the brilliant Canadian animator Michele Cournoyer. Paul Bush presented a retrospective of his beautiful, inventive films titled Challenging the Boundaries. His films certainly do that.
The renowned Dutch/Canadian puppet master and stop motion animator Co Hoedeman came to us on the big screen via his home in Canada. The special occasion was the publication of his book Frame by Frame: An Animation Journey.
Born in The Netherlands during the German occupation in 1940, Co’s life reads like an adventure novel. After surviving the World War II winter of hunger, he left school at the age of fifteen. Whenever he could he took classes at the School of Fine Arts where he first learned animation and began to experiment with new techniques and materials.
At the age of twenty-five, with as he says, a canister of film under his arm he migrated to Canada. His dream of working at the National Film Board of Canada became a reality. He also had the opportunity to study puppet animation in former Czechoslovakia.
Interspersed between Co’s storytelling, he introduced five of his films, including his 1977 Oscar-winning The Sand Castle. He also showed an episode from his Ludovic series about a sweet, adventurous teddy bear with a creative imagination. The series was a hit with children of all ages.
For the perfect end to a perfect show, some of Co’s relatives who live in the Netherlands came on stage to greet him on the big screen.
A big thank you to Festival Director Aneta Raketa and the entire Kaboom staff for making my trip to the festival such a lovely experience. I have a very special place in my heart for the festival because I have been on their selection committee for many years and was on the jury of the second edition when the festival was called KLIK. I am all ready to start watching films as soon as the call for submissions goes out;
You can learn more about the festival at: www;kaboomfestival.nl