Search form

Tricky Women: Women In Animation

A compilation of essays on women in animation, Tricky Women: Women In Animation is a very welcome addition to current critical writing on the subject.

Tricky Women - Women in Animation DVD

TRICKY WOMEN : Women In Animation / AnimationsfilmKunst von FrauenEdited by Grausgruber, Waltraud; Wagner, Birgitt (Hg.)Schüren Verlag (Marburg)English and German, with DVDISBN: 978-3-89472-723-9Price: 24,90 € (approximately $33 USD)

Women in animation - the phrase alone raises eyebrows. Should we even distinguish between genders when it comes to critical discourse about animation? Who were the first women practitioners? What are their stories? And what are the concerns of women who practice auteur and commercial animation today?

Tricky Women Festival, the organization behind this book, is a film festival which spotlights women in animation. Held annually in Vienna in March, the event includes competition screenings, retrospective screenings, masterclasses, and forums. 

In addition to running the festival, the two directors, Birgitt Wagner and Waltraud Grausgruber, recently edited a volume of essays titled Tricky Women : Women In Animation / AnimationsfilmKunst von Frauen. Published by Schüren Verlag (Marburg, 2011), this 189 page volume contains essays by scholars, animators, and educators that address issues relating to women practicing animation and gaming. The book also includes a DVD with five well known auteur films discussed within the text. It should be noted that eight of the twelve essays in the book are only in English and the other four only in German. Hopefully all of these valuable essays will soon be made available in both languages.

If it’s strictly a history of women in animation that you are looking for, this book will certainly meet some of that need. The first essay by Jayne Pilling, Historical Milestones: Who Gets To Tell Whose Stories?, includes a brief chronological history in addition to examining a wider array of related issues. 

Director of the British Animation Awards and author of the classic texts Animation 2D & Beyond (Rotovision, 2001), and A Reader In Animation Studies (John Libbey, 1998) Pilling, with her long history in the field and straightforward, clear, yet scholarly writing style, is an ideal choice to cover this material. It should also be noted that she authored what is probably the first comprehensive text on the subject, Women and Animation: A Compendium (BFI, 1998).

This opening essay grew out of an invitation from the festival to curate a programme of historical milestones. Questioning the many contexts that might shape such a selection she concludes that, rather than make a broadly generalized selection, she would look at a selection of personal favourites made by ten well known women in animation. Framing these films in a chronological and historical perspective results in her brief though excellent overview of the field.

Pilling begins with pioneering independent animators Lotte Reininger and Mary Ellen Bute. She then goes on to look at those who worked in partnership with their spouses, often with reduced credit for their contribution: Claire Parker (Alexandre Alexeieff), Faith Hubley (John Hubley), and Joy Batchelor (John Halas). 

As the number of women gaining higher education increased, so grew the number of women finding opportunity and voice in the world of both independent and commercial animation. By the 1970s Caroline Leaf and Alison DeVere came into their own, though in a still mostly male dominated industry.

In addition to placing them in historical and chronological context, Pilling also examines the directors and their films for “first time” contributions (first woman to direct a feature at Pixar, etc.). The book also addresses issues of feminism, and sexual, social, and political critiques that are behind some of the most challenging of these women’s films.

Pilling concludes by raising a number of important questions, the most interesting of which is, “Is there a difference overall in the approach of male and women filmmakers in adapting fairytales within animation?”.

The second essay by Sandra Naumann is an in-depth study on the work of Mary Ellen Bute. While the various quotations embedded in the text are in English, the essay itself is in German and there is no English translation. The rest of the essays reviewed below are in English.

The third essay, Vera Neubauer: Soft Toys, Rough Treatment, focuses on the work of Czech born animator Vera Neubauer, one of the pioneers to makes women’s concerns of central importance to her art. The author, Ruth Lingford, herself a major contributor to animated film, examines the films from various points of view including an in-depth analysis of the forms, the subjects, and the driving forces behind the work. 

Don’t Be Afraid of Freedom, which follows, is the transcription of a short interview with Vera Neubauer. Maša Ogrizek asks her questions which seek to place her films, and their fairy tale subjects, within the context of Neubauer’s feminism.

Eliška Děcká, in The Czech and Slovak New Female Wave of Animation, profiles the rich production of current women animators in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In addition to having value as a gender specific resource, this essay also provides us with an insight into the thinking process of several animators including the award winning Michaela Pavlátová. 

Metamorphosis in Michèle Cournoyer's work, by Julie Roy, is a unique and valuable exploration into Michèle Cournoyer's straight ahead working methods (she doesn’t use a storyboard) and creative process. While primarily focusing on one animator, Roy also uses the opportunity to provide a short overview of metamorphosis as a transition tool particular to animated film.

Suzanne Buchan’s Tricky Spaces: Animation, Installation and Spatial Politics looks at current trends in the curating of animation as an art form. In addition to examining the field in general, she focuses on three successful women artists, Rose Bond, Marina Zurkow, and Tabaimo, whose animations are exhibited as installation art.

Until only recently, animation was considered by most people to be entertainment rather than visual art. As such museums and galleries tended to ignore it, and art schools rarely included it in their curriculums. This in spite of the fact that animation has been a multi-disciplinary arts practice for more than a century.

There is a paradigm shift under way and audience and curator reception is changing. My mandate for this column, for example, is to cover the intersection of art and animation. Several of my posts refer to the YouTube Play videos which were selected primarily for their artistic value by a committee of artists and filmmakers assembled and hosted by the Guggenheim Museum. Looking for creativity, innovation, and ground-breaking visuals, the committee chose many works created by artists and considered by them to be art.

But back to the essay at hand. Suzanne Buchan describes the limited forums (almost exclusively film festivals) in which most animation has been exhibited up until now, the exceptions being the work of George Griffin and William Kentridge which are routinely found in contemporary art venues. 

She makes a fine distinction between “high” and “low” art and describes the politics at play when it comes to exhibiting and marketing them. And she asks the trenchant question, "at what point, and why, does an animator become considered as an artist, and who decides this?”

God Trick, Good Trick, Bad Trick, New Trick: Reassembling the Production Line by Jennifer Jenson and Suzanne de Castell addresses issues surrounding women and gaming. Both authors are professors of Education currently researching gaming studies. In this essay they examine women’s roles in the production of digital games and women as end-users of the products. The essay also includes a rich overview of related literature.

Esther Leslie’s Shadowy, Shape-shifting, Shaky: Animation as Subversion looks at animation as a tool of critique and subversion. Examining a broad range of animated films, gender inclusive, she makes a strong argument regarding the ways in which this genre’s inherent attributes make subversion intrinsic to its nature.

The DVD includes five important auteur films by women that, aside from The Hat, are usually hard to come by: The Hat by Michèle Cournoyer (also available from the NFB online store), Some Protection by Marjut Rimminen, Pleasures of War by Ruth Lingford, Caution, The Doors Are Opening by Anastasia Zhuravleva, and Flawed by Andrea Dorfman. The book is worth the cost of the DVD alone.

Illustrations include rich black and white reproductions of film stills, and 16 tipped-in pages in full colour.

In conclusion, this unique scholarly contribution is a highly recommended text for the following areas of study: Animation, Art, Education, Film Studies, Gaming Studies, Media Studies, Women’s Studies, and Gender Studies at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. And it’s a must buy for university and college libraries that collect texts on these subjects.

The book is available from the Tricky Women Festival online Shop or from the publisher’s online store.The cost is 24,90 € (which translates as approximately $33 USD at today's exchange rate.)

The authors, essay titles, and language of the text are as follows:

Jayne Pilling, Historical Milestones: Who Gets to Tell Whose Stories? (Or…the dilemmas of programming…) (in English)Sandra Naumann, Mary Ellen Bute: Color – Form – Movement – Sound (in German)Ruth Lingford, Vera Neubauer: Soft Toys, Rough Treatment (in English)Maša Ogrizek, Don’t be afraid of Freedom (Interview with Vera Neubauer) (in English)Eliška Děcká, The Czech and Slovak New Female Wave of Animation (in English)Sabine Groschup, Ganzheiten Maria Lassnig… (in German)Franziska Bruckner, Tricky Women Today: Momentaufnahmen einer neuen Generation österreichischer Animationsfilmemacherinnen (in German)Dina Goder, Drei Porträts - Regisseurinnen in der zeitgenössischen Animationsfilmkunst Russlands (in German)Julie Roy, Metamorphosis in Michèle Cournoyer's work (in English)Annegret Richter, Zeichnung der Wirklichkeit - Animation als dokumentarisches Mittel (in German)Suzanne Buchan, Tricky Spaces: Animation, Installation and Spatial Politics (in English)Jennifer Jenson, Suzanne de Castell, God Trick, Good Trick, Bad Trick, New Trick: Reassembling the Production Line (in English)Esther Leslie, Shadowy, Shape-shifting, Shaky: Animation as Subversion (in English)Antonia Cicero, Tricky Women: Vom Trickfilm verzaubert (in German)