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Tricky Women/Tricky Realities Animation Festival - a celebration of amazing female animators in the world.

   This year, the Tricky Women/Tricky Realities Animation Festival, a celebration of amazing female animators in the world, was live as well as online. Tricky Women put most of their program online which was a real treat.

   The festival got off to an exciting beginning with its trailer. The 36-second piece was created by French filmmaker Héloise Ferlay who won last year’s 3-month scholarship to live and work at Q21:MQ under the festival’s Artist-in-Residence program. She was in Vienna from January through March 2022.

Tricky Women Trailer

   Ferlay’s film is described as a hypnotic homage to the unifying power of women, to an inner fire that unites us, despite all differences. She said that “The women of this trailer, all very different, are oddly similar. What’s connecting them? Is it their blazing eyes? The moving lights soaking them? Or maybe this power, this inner animating them without them moving, burning them from inside, igniting them with all their might, all their beauties – caring witches”. Using different textiles, dried flowers, and shadows the director Ferlay has created one of the most beautiful and memorable trailers that I have seen in a long time. You can see the trailer at:

   All of the competition programs were very strong. This was the first opportunity I had to see Spela Cadez’s latest film Steakhouse. The talented Slovenian animator, who consistently creates amazing films has followed up her multi-award-winning Nighthawk (2016) with an analog multiplane cut-out film that anyone who has ever been in a relationship can relate to.


   The tensions between the couple in Steakhouse, who are in a long-term relationship, flow right off the screen and I could feel the tension as I watched the film. When the climax finally came I didn’t know whether to be horrified or relieved. The film is a co-production between Finta Studio in Slovenia, Fabion & Fred (Germany), and France’s MIYU. At Tricky Women, Steakhouse won the Sabine and Nicolai Sawczynski Audience Award which comes with 1,000 Euros. This is a film that is well-written and animated. It stays in your head and I believe that it will win many more awards.

   Also in competition was the animated documentary Holy Holocaust. The17 minute film by Israeli animators Osi Wald and Noa Berman-Herzberg is based on a true story. It is about a 22-year friendship between a white Israeli woman and a black German woman. The pair believed that their strong bond could rise above historical and political obstacles until a painful secret was uncovered.

Holy Holocaust

   The two girls met in an art class in Paris in 1991 and immediately became fast friends. In 1992 Jenny, who is from Germany, visited Noa Berman-Herzberg in Israel and decides to move there. Twenty-one years later Jenny discovers that her grandmother was the lover of the notorious Nazi Amon Goth. He served as commandant of Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp in Plaszow in German-occupied Poland for most of the camp’s existence. After the war Goth was tried for war crimes and executed in 1946. Amon Goth was portrayed in Schindler’s List by Ralph Fiennes.

  This revelation tears their friendship apart, but not in the way that you would expect. It is their opposite attitudes toward history that drive an unrepairable wedge between them. While following the course of their friendship, the movie raises questions about identity, fate, and history.

  I have known about Loie Fuller primarily from Toulouse-Lautrec’s pictures of her. She was a  famous American at the end of the last century in Paris, known for her performances combining dance, multi-colored artificial lights (her nickname was “the electric fairy”) and music. As she twirled and leaped about the stage, enormous lengths of fabric would billow out from her body and reflect the colored lights which created a spectacular effect.  In her heyday she was the toast of Paris.

Loie Fuller

  German graphic artist and animator Betina Kuntzsch gave me a look at another side of Fuller in Loie Fuller – The Electric Sprite. I didn’t know that Fuller was a pioneer in early cinema and one of the few women behind the camera at that time. Kuntzsch found old footage of Loie’s films that inspired her to make this film.

  Fuller also held many patents related to stage lighting including chemical compounds for creating color gels and the use of chemical salts for luminescent lighting. She appeared in several films, working with such pioneers as Pathé, The Lumiére Brothers, and Georges Méliès.

  Loie Fuller – The Electric Sprite explores her as a woman and an entrepreneur. As a creator and businesswoman, she made a great deal of money and spent much of it on her performances. The film explores her relationship with her longtime partner Gabrielle Bloch who was eight years Fuller’s junior. When the dancer died in 1928, Bloch inherited both the dance troop which she managed for many years and the laboratory where the two women conducted experiments with lighting and paint.

  The roots of modern dance can be traced back to Loie Fuller. Anyone interested in modern dance or Paris at the end of the 19th century will find this film fascinating.

  This year the festival debuted a new award. The Maria Lassnig Foundation sponsored the Maria Lassnig Golden Film Reel Award which comes with 10,000 euros. Lassnig was one of the most important artists of her time, pioneering experimental animation and laying herself naked, both literally and figuratively, in her films and paintings.

Der Jüngling - Maria Lassnig

  Born in Austria in 1919 and raised in an era when women were expected to get married and put their husband’s and children’s needs before their own desires, Lessnig struggled her entire life against the stereotypical “boxes” that women were shut up in.  

  Despite her mother’s insistence that Maria “marry up”, Lassnig studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna during the Second World War. Trained in academic realism at the academy, she moved into her own style and became known for her painted self-portraits.

 After moving to New York City and taking an experimental film course, she began to use film as another medium to visualize her “body awareness” which became one of the central themes of her work. Independent of her painting, but closely connected to it, her animated films began to take on a humorous and critical look at the rigid, outdated and male imposed standards of earlier periods of art.

  In 1980 she was appointed the first female professor to teach painting at the Academy for Applied Arts in Vienna and she and her work finally began to receive worldwide recognition. In 1988 she became the first female artist to win the Grand Austrian State Prize. She was awarded the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in 2013. She continued to teach in Vienna until her death in 2014.

The Ballad of Maria Lessing

  To celebrate the new Maria Lassnig Golden Reel Award, the festival presented a program of 10 of her pioneering films ranging from the mid 1970s up to her 1992 Maria Lassnig Kantante (The Ballad of Maria Lessnig)which she made with Hurbert Sieleck. In the 8-minute film, the artist looks back on her life in 14 verses. She says “It is art, oh yes, that keeps making me younger, first it makes the mind hungry, then it fills it up”.

  In partnership with the Sigmund Freud Museum, the theme for this year’s festival was intergenerational trauma. Film programs, lectures, and panel discussions explored the symbiosis between political and interpersonal sources of trauma, from the microcosm of the family to the macrocosm of the state. Lectures and discussions, held at the Austrian Film Museum, included Trauma, Silence, and Repetition: Yuliya Lanina’s Gefilte Fish.

Gefilte Fish

  Yulia is a Russian Jewish-American interdisciplinary artist. Her autobiographical animated story,  Gefilte Fish, is based on her ink drawings and family history. Her presentation examined intergenerational trauma stemming from the Holocaust.

  Terril Calder is a metis, which refers to people of mixed European and indigenous blood. It is one of three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada. In her talk, Humanizing the other: Taking Back Our Indigenous Stories and Narratives in Film, she explained some of her experiences with humanizing the “other” in film and how she and her indigenous colleagues reclaimed their stories and narratives in films as a way of activism and healing.

My Grandmother is an Egg

  The Work Affairs screening focused on 12 films that expanded on what creativity can look like in a capitalist economy. My Grandmother is an Egg by Wu-Ching Chang uses a variety of animation techniques, including egg yolk paint, to create this loving tribute to her grandmother. Her grandmother became a T’ung-yang-his, a Chinese custom where very small girls, one or two years old, are given to another family to be raised as a future daughter-in-law is called. She was forced to do heavy chores in the morning and then she would rush to elementary school. She got excellent grades and her teacher recommended that she continue on to Junior High; however, the family wouldn’t allow it. After she was married her husband forced her to cook and sell hard-boiled eggs at the train station. The film focuses on women’s oppression and their struggle for freedom and dignity. The filmmaker based the film on interviews with her grandmother’s children. When explaining the title of her film she said “Eggs are fragile, but at the same time though. My grandmother is an egg.”

My Grandmother is an Egg

  Exploring Realities was a very strong animated documentaries program. Diane Cam Van Nguyen’s Love, Dad is a poignant attempt, via film, to find a way back to her Dad. In it, she rediscovers the letters he wrote to her while he was in prison. The affection and his missing her that he displayed in the letters seemed to dissipate when he returned home. Fifteen years later she replies to his letters, writing down what she could not say in person, “Would everything be okay if I had been born a boy?” For me, this is a heartbreaking film.

  Another touching documentary was Evgenia Gostrer’s Kirschknochen/Cherry Bone. Her Russian Jewish family migrated to Germany in the mid-1990s. In her film, Evgenia starts a conversation about the migration with her parents and recalls her own version of past events. The film probes the area where one person’s memory ends and another’s begins.

Kirschknochen/Cherry Bone

  There were two programs focusing on intergenerational trauma. The first program explored the nexus of governmental and interpersonal sources of trauma in a variety of geopolitical contexts. This was a timely and thought-provoking program given what is happening not just in the Ukraine, but throughout the world. Indigenous, Iranian, African, Chinese, and Colombian filmmakers looked at our present through the prism of our past. In the second program, the continuing trauma of the Holocaust was explored.

  Feminist Interventions definitely took on the potential of animation to challenge gender hierarchies. An episode of the British web series, Pussy Willow, has a returning female astronaut being asked such “difficult” questions on her return from outer space as “What does your husband think about all of this?” to a naked older woman and her snail who appropriate digital space and technologies the films in this program offered many laughs. They also left the viewer with a lot of serious questions and ideas to think about.

  The one thing that the festival didn’t broadcast was Polish animator Marta Pajek’s interactive exhibition. Her large-scale intervention used her tremendously successful film Impossible Figures and Other Stories III as a starting point. The film is an encounter in a waiting room between a man and a woman that turns into a game of passion and rejection. From there Marta took the viewer through psychedelic mazes, constantly changing perspectives of the physical space and a woman’s mind.

Marta Pajek - Impossible Figures  and Other Stories

  According to the artist “The triptych Impossible Figures and Other Stories is based on the idea of an impossible figure, a figure that can be drawn according to all the rules of perspective, but cannot be constructed in the real world”.

  I hope that the exhibition will be presented at another festival because I would like to experience it. From what I read it sounds like a challenging experience.

  There was an online workshop for young animators where they tried their hand at animating with smartphones and tablets.

  This year’s Tricky Women/Tricky Realities was a thoroughly rewarding experience. The programs were well-curated with many thought-provoking films that were also entertaining. The 2022 lectures and talks are still available to watch online. You can find out more about the festival and listen to the lectures at:

  A big thank you to festival directress Waltraud Grausgruber for inviting me to watch the festival and congratulations to Waltraud and the entire Tricky Women:Tricky Realities staff for an extremely successful and rewarding festival.

  The next edition of the festival will be 8-12 March 2023.


Jury of the International Competition: Sabine Breitwieser, Florence Miailhe, and Ana Marie Vallejo

Jury of the Up and Coming Competition: Bara Anna Stejskalova, Eni Brandner, and Delia Hess

Maria Lassnig Golden Film Reel
worth 10,000 €, sponsored by the Maria Lassnig Foundation

— DIVARE CHAHAROM / THE FOURTH WALL by Mahboobeh Kalaee, IR 2021
Jury Statement: The jury would like to acknowledge this fantastic animation staged in a kitchen in Iran. The setup of the family blends with the interior engaging in disputes over gender roles. A stuttering boy, a baby given birth in the washing machine aka the mother, and birds drawn on tiles carry the family on a new journey.

Tricky Women/Tricky Realities Award
worth 4,000 €, sponsored by VdFS (Collecting Society of Audiovisual Authors)

Jury Statement: The film “Butterfly Jam” wins the Tricky Women/Tricky Realities Award because it finds a sensitive and original form of animation to represent the conflicts of the relationship with the father by making a narrative that diverts through the wounds caused by it.

3-month scholarship
to live and work at Q21/MQ under the Artist-in-Residence program

Jury Statement: Because it creates a close-up on the invisibility of the sensual encounter and in this way transmits to us also with a sensory intimacy. The film takes us into the sensation of a body without limits.

The Grand Post Award
a post production voucher, worth 2,000 €, sponsored by The Grand Post – Audio & Picture Post Production

— PLUMOT / FLEDGE by Hani Dombe & Tom Kouris, IL/FR 2021
Jury Statement: We simply love this fable of a girl finding her identity in the country she migrated. Elaine, the protagonist, IS a “tricky woman” and is about to realize her power. The jury is hoping that the award of a post-production voucher will support further projects of the directors in stop motion animation.

International Jury Special Mentions for:

— DEUX SŒURS / TWO SISTERS by Anna Budanova, FR 2021
Jury Statement: For the beauty of the animation and graphics in the service of a timeless story about the discovery of desire and jealousy.

Jury Statement: For the innovative ideas and timely content.

Sabine & Nicolai Sawczynski Audience Award (Int. Competition)
worth, 1,000 €

— STEAKHOUSE by Špela Čadež (SI/DE/FR 2021)

Up & Coming Tricky Women/Tricky Realities Award

 水中的女孩 / GIRL IN THE WATER by Shi Rou Huang, TW 2021
Jury Statement: It is a great film, able to tell the story about love and pain in such an abstract, yet very concrete way, tender yet brutal, filled with sweet sadness and depth of emotion, it immerses us in a surreal and cinematic journey. We found the symbolic qualities and subtle way of narration very poetic. The images have a striking beauty, and leave space for personal interpretation and the feelings of the spectators.

UP & COMING Jury Special Mention for:

— 3 GENARRATIONS by Paulina Ziółkowska, PL 2021
Jury Statement: With interesting visuals, and playful tempo, the film “3 Genarrations” explores the connection between daughter, mother and grandmother. We enjoyed the way the film deals with the complexity of familiar relationships and female roles within the family in a playful, humorous but still sensitive way. The dynamic animation technique is original but traditional at the same time, which works very well with this topic and narration.

— REDUCTION by Réka Anna Szakály, HU 2021
Jury Statement: It is a very deep and mysteriously told story in a dystopian post-apocalyptic world about longing for beauty far away, only to be lured and willingly captured by a beast, who's velvet skin is within hand reach. The very beautifully portrayed women friendship, touched us all with all the little nuanced animated touches and gestures, accompanied with beautiful elaborate visuals and great music that create a fully imagined world of its own - an overall outstanding quality of the movie.

UP & COMING Audience Award

— SWEET NOTHING by Joana Fischer & Marie Kenov, CH 2021

Hubert-Sielecki-Award for an Austrian Animation
worth 500 €

Hubert Sielecki Statement: Drawing, painting, text, music, dance. Brought together in a 7-minute animated short film that is full of amazingly colourful scenes and energetic movement in synchronicity with the homemade music. An idea that is both simple and convincing, a riot of colour that takes us to the bottom of the laundry basket.

Austrian Panorama Audience Award