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THE MAGIC OF ANIMATION COMES TO LIFE ON A BEAUTIFUL GREEK ISLAND: ANIMA SYROS 12 and AGORA 5 - 18 to 22 September 2019, Syros Island, The Cyclades, Greece


     Syros is a magical island and a beautiful location for an animation festival. Ermoupoli, the largest town on the island, is home to the historic Apollo Theatre, a miniature Scala di Milano Opera House, built-in 1864.  It is home to the festival.

Apollo Theatre interior

     Anima Syros has had a long-standing relationship with the Athens based Greek National Opera, so it was no surprise that the opera performed on opening night.  This year’s presentation was like no other festival opening I have ever attended.

The Emporers Nightingale

 Members of the Greek National Opera performed a specially designed version of Lena Platono’s The Emperor’s Nightingale.  Platono is a Greek musician and composer of electronic music.  Described as “opera engages in a dialogue with animation”, the magical fairytale had moveable sets with animation projected onto them.

The Emporers Nightingale

 The opera is based on a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale about an emperor who prefers a bejewelled mechanical bird to the song of a real bird.  Specially designed for seven singers and an electric keyboard player, the piece morphs into a parable about the relationship between art and technology.  The animated backdrops were created by award-winning Greek animator Eirni Vianelli.  Her film Icebergs won the 2018 Golden Gate Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival. 

The Emporers Nightingale

  The production of The Emperor’s Nightingale is designed to tour the islands and smaller villages of Greece. I hope that the animated opera will also find its way to other animation festivals.  Even if you are not an opera lover, and I am, the animation alone is enough to keep your eyes engaged.

  In addition to the regular competitions and special programs, Anima Syros has three awards that are specific to this festival: The Best Greek Speaking Film; The European Values Award: This is EU; and An Animated EUphoria.  Good Intentions by Anna Mantzaris was selected as the best Greek Speaking Film.  The 8 ½ minute animation portrays a guilt-ridden woman who is responsible for a hit and run accident.  Following the tragic event, strange and spooky things begin to happen to the already tormented woman.

  The European Values Award: This is EU, is a new award this year given by the European Commission in Greece.  The award went to the Finish duo known as Ambulance (Reetta Neittaanmali and Kaisa Penttila) for The Plastic Godzilla of the Baltic Sea.  The pair made the film with the help of volunteers who help collect trash on a beach in Helsinki in the summer of 2017.  The film uses classic stop-motion and humor to highlight the serious fact that more than 1,500 tons of plastic end up in the Baltic Sea each year.  In awarding the prize Mrs Anna Efsttathiou, Representative of the European Commission to Greece said “. . .I am really pleased for this specific choice because it designates a vital issue for Europe and for the whole world:  plastic pollution”.

The Plastic Godzilla of the Baltic Sea

  In 2016 the ancient city of Eleusis, located approximately 18 kilometers northwest of the center of Athens, was designated the EU Capital of Culture for 2021.  The main thrust of Eleusis 2021 is its artistic program which seeks to find the answers to the question “What would a city be like if art and culture were at the heart of every activity?”

  Eleusis 2021 European Capital of Culture and Anima Syros co-organized the European animation competition titled An Animated EUphoric by Eleusis 2021/European Capital of Culture powered by Anima Syros.  28 films from 5 EU countries were submitted to the An Animated EUphoric competition.  The top prize of 1.500 Euros was awarded to Greek animator Effie Pappa for Transition to EUphoria.  Pappa described her film as “A modern Eleusinian mystery dedicated to culture”.  It utilizes raw stone representing humans being reshaped through arts and culture.

  The second prize of 500 Euros was awarded to Other by Babis Alexiadis.  His film is based on the premise that a community that is obsessed with the idea of being pure and maintaining a fixed identity is doomed to relive its past mistakes. 

  The third award, also of 500 Euros, was given to Alexandros Simoponlos and Josef Kloos for another film titled Transition to EUphoria.  This film is a hand-drawn interpretation of the theme.

Anima Syros is dedicated to supporting social issues.  This year the theme was the environment and sustainable development.  The AnimaGreen screening presented 16 films centered on the environment.  Amsterdam 2051 by Nicole Ten Cate points out what the accelerated climate is doing to raise water levels on the planet and how it is affecting low lying countries and island nations.  In her animated images of Amsterdam in 2051, Nicole suggests we might have to wear scuba gear to visit the underwater world that was once the city of Amsterdam.

Bill Plympton’s sardonic wit is put to good use in No Snow for Christmas.  His satirical music video shows the effects of global warning on Christmas and asks the question of how will Santa make it on his yearly gift-giving rounds without snow? 

Although the films in AnimaGreen are not classed as documentaries, they do tackle real issues.  The Bee Box is about contemporary agriculture practices and the need for change as told by a bee and its hive.  Carre Hardie from the United States was inspired to make this film by the Blue Dasher Farm in South Dakota, a research and demonstration farm which practices regenerative agriculture.

 For the 4th year, the festival again collaborated with the Athens Pride Festival to screen 6 films which focused on the theme of personal expression on gender issues.  In The Fish Curry, Bengali animator Abhishek Verma cooks a special Bengali fish curry to serve to his father when he comes out of the closet to him over dinner.

The film that touched me the most was My Little Princess.  Hathaison Gerdprasert takes us on a beautiful journey of a trans woman as she dances with her supportive and loving father on her wedding day.  The emotions in this film are something that any woman, cis, trans, gay or straight, can relate to.

An important part of the festival each year is the workshops.  There is always something for everyone.  I Care for the Environment was designed for people with disabilities.  The question posed in the workshop was “How can we protect our environment?”  The participants made a short film to try to answer that question.

I Care For the Environment workshop

In conjunction with the Elderly Care Center of Syros, the Animating the Cookies group created a stop motion film in the 2 days.  Using clay animation the participants shaped and decorated plasticine cookies and then brought them to life through the magic of animation.

Workshop for Seniors

The workshop for children created flipbooks.  There was a class for 13 to 16-year-olds and a separate one for adults also created stop-motion films.  All of the participants of the workshops were acknowledged when their films were screened at the closing ceremony.

To celebrate 100 years of diplomatic relations between Greece and Poland an exhibition of Polish Posters Inspired by Greece was on display in the Cultural Center.   It was organized in conjunction with the Polish Poster Museum in Wilanow, Poland.  The museum opened in 1968 and is the 1st museum in the world dedicated exclusively to poster art.  Poland is famous for its poster art which dates back to the 1890s.  Although there were no posters that old in the exhibition some dated from the 1940s and 50s and all of them were beautiful pieces of art.

Polish posters inspired by Greece

As much as I enjoyed the festival, the real reason I was brought to the island by Marineta-mak Kritikou, head of the Agora, was to be the pitching coach for them.  Now in its 5th year, the Agora is a symposium designed to promote dialogue and interaction between professionals from around the world.

Marineta-Mak Kritikou and me

  As a pitching coach, I spent an hour with each project participant, working on their pitch, smoothing out rough spots.  Sometimes the hardest job is just getting the animator to relax.  It’s easy to forget that most animators spend long hours alone working on their film and are not experienced public speakers.  While I focused on the content of the presentations, they also received a half-hour alone with Nik who helped them with microphone techniques and stage presence.

This year 3 projects were pitched: Animated . . . Philosophers by George Chatzivasileiou from Greece; Forbidden Love from Cynthia Levitan of Brazil/Portugal; and Playing God presented by Matteo Burani and Arianna Gheller from Italy.

 Animated . . . Philosophers is a proposed television series of 12 episodes, 25 minutes each.  Every episode introduces a prominent Western philosopher combining animation with interviews with professors of philosophy.        George aims to make philosophy accessible and understandable to everyone.

George Chatzivasileiou pitching Animated . . . Philosophers

Cynthia’s puppet animation project, Forbidden Love, is designed to acquaint the public with the issues transgender people are faced with.  Her sensitive story about Pierre/Pietra deals with guilt, shame, loneliness, and the social censorship society heaps on transgender people.  Cynthia had her Pierre/Pietra puppet with her and it is beautifully constructed and costumed.

Cynthia Levitan showing Pierre/Pietra at our coaching session

The final project, Playing God, is an intense story about a tormented sculptor who is searching for perfection.  Sadly he cannot see the perfection in what he creates and keeps destroying it.  The work-in-progress clip that Matteo and Arianna showed the audience looked beautiful.  This very complex film shows great possibilities.  The 3 projects are very diverse, but each one shows great promise and are worthy of being made.

Matteo Burani and Arianna Gheller pitching Playing God

The final presentation at the pitching forum was from award-winning Greek animator Irida Zhonga.  She pitched her film Man Wanted at the Agora 2 years ago as well as at Animarkt in Lodz, Poland.  The short stop-motion and 2D film is a Greek, Estonian, Serbian, and Albanian co-production.  In her presentation, Irida talked about how she went about finding all of these co-producers.  She also told about the trials and tribulations of making a film on a very low budget.  She had part of the intricate set on display.

Irida Zhonga

Set in 1950s New York City, a young man enters a metro station and becomes immersed in a world he cannot control as the women on the subway posters come to life.  The film is nearing completion and is due to be at festivals soon.

Following the pitching presentations the market arm of the Agora, aimed at directors, producers, distributors, and other animation professionals, took place.  Irene Komninou and Konstantina Liakopoulou from the Creative Europe Bureau of Greece gave the audience information about applying for funding from Creative Europe.  Dora Vougiouka, representing the Onassis STEGI (OCC) of the Onassis Foundation, spoke about the transnational projects her organization has been involved in.  At the conclusion of the business session of the Agora, there was a party to give everyone a chance to meet informally over drinks.

I am very pleased to be part of the Agora.  Judging from what I have observed at these gatherings Greek animation is alive and well.  There are several new productions planned for television and the big screen.  The National Center of Audiovisual Media and Communication is offering substantial cash rebates to productions that have chosen Greece as a location for principal shooting and production development and/or post-production.

Aside from Anima Syros, there are 3 other animation festivals in Greece.  There are also 12 schools and universities that offer animation studies.  The University of the Aegean Department of Product and System Design Engineering is located on Syros.  It offers extensive computer animation classes and a drawing and color studio.

Syros is a wonderful island to visit, full of history and beauty.  Ermoupoli, the capital of the island as well as of the Cyclades, is home to the festival.  A short walk from the Apollo Theatre is the Vaporia neighborhood which offers an excellent place to swim along with an open-air seaside restaurant/bar.  The neighborhood also is home to the Vaporia Cats Café and Garden.  This is not a café where you can play with cats, it is a garden where cats can relax, play with each other, and find shelter from rain or sun.  The local residents make sure that there is plenty of clean water and food for their 4 legged neighbors.  It is impossible to go anywhere in the city without meeting several beautiful friendly cats which are well cared for by the residents.

Cats of Syros

One place not to miss on the island is Church of the Dormition.  Built from 1828 to 1829 the church houses a beautiful icon, Dormition of the Virgin, painted by Greek artist Dominikos Theotokopoulos, better known as El Greco.  It is thought to have been painted around 1562 at the age of approximately 20 years old.  This was before he left Greece for Italy. 

Dormition of the Virgin

The painting hung in the church entryway for many years unrecognized as a work by the great master until 1983 when his signature was recognized on the base of the central candelabrum in the picture.  His early works were signed by his given name Dominikos Theotokopoulos which was why the identity of the artist went unnoticed for so many years.

Portrait of Adrianou Kyveli watching over her house

The Agora was held at the Kyveli Institute which is another fascinating place to visit.  It pays tribute to the brilliant career and troubled life of the renowned Greek actress Adrianou Kyveli, known by her stage name Cybele.  Her first performance is said to have been at the Apollo Theatre on Syros sometime around the turn of the 20th century.  Married three times, her last husband was George Papandreou, former prime minister of Greece.  The house is crammed full of theatrical memorabilia, fashionable period clothing, paintings of photographs of the actress and her illustrious friends.  Anyone interested in history and/or the theatre will find a visit to the house most interesting.  The house is open most afternoons and offers a self-guided audio tour.

So far on my two visits to the island, I have not left the city of Ermoupolis but I am hoping on a future trip to be able to explore some of the smaller cities and villages.  Of course, I still have much to discover in the capital city also.

Festival President Vassilis Karamitsanis and Maria Anestopoulos, Festival Director with the sculpture of festival mascot

I would like to thank Festival President Vassilis Karamitsanis; Maria Anestopoulos, Festival Director; and Marineta-mak Kritikou, Agora Coordinator, for inviting Nik and me.  Your warm and generous hospitality made my visit memorable.  Also thank you to the volunteers who were friendly, helpful, and worked tirelessly.  Anima Syros is a festival not to miss.  You can learn more about it and how to submit your film at:  www.animasyros.

The 2020 edition of AnimaSyros will be held 23 -27 2020


International Jury:  Elise Jalladeau, Greece; Carolina Sandvik, Sweden; and Ricardo Blanco, Portugal

 International Grand Prix:

     Toomis Beneath the Valley of the Wild Wolves - Chintis Lundgren, Croatia/Estonia

Honorable Mention:

     Mascot – Leeha Kim, South Korea

Student Jury:  Panagiotis Losifelis, Greece; Eleftherios, Greece, and Paschalis Paschalis, Cypress

Best Student Film:

     Heatwave – Fokion Xenos, Greece

Honorable Mention:

    The Ostrich Politic – Mohamed Houhou, France

TV Series and Commissioned Film:

     The Art of Change:  Climate Change – Maria Alvarez and Elisa Morais, Great Britain

Honorable Mention:

     Sad Heart – Karni and Saul, United Kingdom

Audience Award for Best Feature Film:

     Another Day of Life – Raul de la Fuente, Amaia Remirez, Damian Nenow, David Weber, and Niall Johnson, Poland/Spain

Best Greek Speaking Film:

     Good Intentions – Anna Mantzaris

European Values Award: #This Is The EU:

     The Plastic Godzilla of the Baltic Sea – Ambulance (Reetta Neittaanmaki and Kaisa Penttila), Finland

An Animated EUphoric by Eleusis 2021/European Capitol of Culturepowered by Anima Syros, given by Eleusis 2021 European Capital of Culture and Anima Syros:

     Winner – Transition to EUphoria – Effie Pappa, Greece – 1.500 Euros

      2nd Place – Other- Babis Alexiadis, Greece – 500 Euros

     3rd  Place – Transition to Euphoria – Alexandros Simoponlos and Josef Kloos, Greece – 500 Euros