When I received the invitation to sit on the International Jury of Het Jeugdfilm Festival (European Youth Film Festival, 13 February through the 21st) at the Cinema Zuid in the FotoMuseum in Antwerp, Belgium I was extremely pleased since it was the first time I had been invited to sit on a jury in my adopted country, Belgium. The festival included several animated films but first I want to introduce my fellow judges.
Our five jury members were a very diverse group and I felt in very good company. The name William Thijssen may be familiar to many of you. He produced Father and Daughter, Michael Dudok de Wit’s classic film for which Willem won an Academy Award (2000). He also received an Oscar as producer of Nicole Van Goethem’s A Greek Tragedy in 1986 making him the only Flemish person to win two Academy Awards. His current project, slated for completion this summer, is An Angel in Doel with director Tom Fassaert. The live action film tells the tragic story of Doel, Belgium, a village on the River Schelde, slated to be flooded. Located inside the ever expanding Antwerp Harbor area, the last inhabitants of this once thriving farming village were given their final notice to leave in September 2009 to make way for the enlarging of the harbor. Nik and I visited Doel several years ago and it was very sad to see that a once thriving town was now half deserted and falling into ruin in anticipation of it being flooded.
Director Giedre Beinoriute from Vilnius, Lithuania had a film, The Balcony, out of competition at the festival. Giedre also gave me a copy of her film Grandpa and Grandma, a partially animated documentary based on the life story of her grandparents who were exiled from Lithuania to Siberia by the Soviets in 1948. Told with family photographs, National Archive material and animation, I found the story very moving and completely absorbing.
Michael Brongers from Amsterdam primarily makes documentary films, a number of which are for children. He showed me his award winning The Dr. Doowop Show, a poignant portrait of the host of the only doo-wop radio show in Europe which is a study in loneliness of a man who chooses to dance to a different beat.
Kevin Bellemans is well known to young Belgian television views as De Pretman, a character on Flemish television. He is the “sex symbol” of the pre teen set, and whenever the jury went out together Kevin had young fans asking him for his autograph.
The festival which is a mixture of animation and live action opened with the animated feature Sunshine Barry and the Disco Worms by Danish director Thomas Borch Nilsen. Barry, a worm occupying the lowest position in the food chain in his garden, discovers his true destiny when he finds an old disco record. His quest to start a band and become a star by winning the annual talent scout competition made everyone in the audience want to dance along with Barry to the disco beat. The film got the festival off to a rousing start.
Jury duty began on Monday morning with a short animation. While we watched a great deal of live action shorts and features, I am only going to talk about the animation. Circus Ernesto from Belgian director William Pirquin tells the story of an old circus manager who tries to get the attention of his lone spectator by performing more and more daring feats. Failing to please his solo audience he delves deeper and deeper into his bag of fantastic tricks. Unfortunately the animation was sadly lacking in technique. With no dialogue, the musical score by Tim Janssen was the most engaging part of the film.
Carlos Fraiha made the 2 minute 3D This Is Not A Fly in two months as his post grad project in character animation at Central St. Martins College, University of Arts London. The film is a humorous look at a man in an art gallery and a painted fly that seems to be playing mind games with him. Frustration boils over when an angry security camera will not let him get close enough to the painting to find out what is going on. The project, jointly sponsored by The National Gallery and the College, was inspired by a painting of Sainte Catherine of Alexandrie by Carlo Crivelli.
The animated short film that stood out for me was The Hours. Noted Swedish artist, children’s writer and animator Johan Hagelback used a strong design style in his original approach to answer the age old question “Where do seconds come from?” The Hours is the tale of what happens when a clock hour marker falls in love with the minute hand. The International Jury awarded the film the Best Short Film prize.
The New Washing Machine, Winfried Bellman’s tale of two hamsters looking for the ultimate running wheel was humorous but once again I found the animation lacking in quality, and with no dialogue Alexander Roder’s music couldn’t carry the film.
Kurt Turns Evil was the only animated feature film in competition. Norweigan Rasmus A. Silvertsen adapted the story from two books by Erlend Loes. The theme of the film is desire for status. Kurt, a truck driver, aspires to the status of his architect wife and next door neighbor, a doctor. Striving for status is what ultimately turns Kurt evil.
“The theme is relevant to both children and adults” according to Silvertsen. Unfortunately I thought that the animation was created for very young children while much of the humor and dialogue was way over a six year old’s head not holding the interest of either children or their parents. I saw the film in competition at Annecy last year and I was even more bored the second time around.
Unfortunately, due to the needs of the jury to be elsewhere, I did not get to see the program of short European animation for young children or The Snowman directed by Diane Jackson of the UK neither of which were in competition but they both looked very interesting. I would also like to have been able to see Pettson and Findus: Forget Abilities. This film is fourth in a series of films about Findus the cat and Pettson his owner. Animated by Jorgen Lerdan, the films are based on the popular Swedish children’s books by Sven Nordqvist. I have seen other Pettson and Findus films and find them delightful films for the younger audience.
Het Jeugdfilm Festival designs programs for young people from 3 year olds seeing their first movie to teenage audiences. The youngest audience members received a certificate to commemorate their first cinema experience. A program titled Cut the Crap, designed for 12 year olds and older dealt with serious problems and decisions that confront teenagers. Topics ranged from young love and self image to the lure of being an escort girl to earn “easy” money.
There were several films centered on the desire for acceptance and love, loss, abandonment, or divorce for 8 year olds and older. It is important for young people to see reflections of themselves on the screen with characters who are the center of the story dealing with issues relevant to them. It is unfortunate that most parents in the US would probably find these films unsuitable for their 8 year children.
The festival offered numerous workshops where participants could create a real cartoon, make puppets and perform a puppet show or transform a 2D picture into a real life 3D scene.
In the theater lobby young and old alike could perform with the Digital Puppetry Installation. By moving pink post-it notes up and down before images that floated across the top of the screen you could pull down items such as animated sunglasses, underpants or even grow a mustache on to your image on the screen. This was the Belgian premier of the installation that has already visited Berlin, New York and Amsterdam.
The festival had make-up artists on hand to transform young film goers into all manner of beasts and princesses. There were even Big Wheel races down the Museum hall.
The festival is held simultaneously in two cities, Antwerp and Bruge, which are 83.67 kilometers apart. Although we watched most of the films in Antwerp we were taken to Bruge for one day to watch movies with their Junior Jury. The theater in Bruge was lovely, but unfortunately the screening quality was very poor. As soon as we complained about the problem the festival did their best to rectify it for the next screening but sadly it was not in time for the audience to enjoy the film.
After the screenings Giedre, Michiel, and I took the opportunity to walk around Bruge because she had never been there before. The city is one of Belgium’s top tourist attractions known for is scenic charm, authentic style old houses and the swans.
Sitting on a jury is always a serious matter but when it comes to the distribution of awards the stakes are very high for the film makers and deserves very serious attention from the jury. Although we had to select one feature and one short film, the job did not prove as easy as it sounds. After several hours of intense but good discussion and a lot of give and take we reached a decision that we could all be happy with although there were several films in both categories that were of merit.
The film distribution award for best feature went to the live action film Max Embarrasing directed by Lotte Svendsen. We felt that this Danish film dealt with problems of growing up that every young person and parent can identify with. The film also reached a successful end with an unexpected solution.
The short film Province of West Flanders Award of 1.250,00 Euros ( approximately 1,080.00 US dollars) to finance a future film project went to The Hours. Johan Hagelback’s animated film was a quirky original story executed in nice style. A list of winners selected by all 3 juries and the audience award are at the end of the article.
The Festival team, Mieke Vanderhaeghen and Iris Verhoeven in Antwerp and Tom Van de Velde in Bruge and their efficient staffs did everything possible to make our job easy and pleasant. As well as the festival this hard working trio also has year round programs designed to take films into the schools and parks in Antwerp, Bruge and other cities.
To learn more about the films screened at the 2010 festival and their year around activities visit:
• Max Embarrassing (Max Pinlig) by Lotte Svendsen (Denmark, 2008) - best feature film (distribution price Jekino)
• The Hours (Timmarna / De uren) by Johan Hagelbäck (Sweden, 2008) - best short film (money price €1.250 – Province of West-Flanders)
Children’s Jury Antwerp:
• The Crocodiles (Vorstadtkrokodile / De krokodillenbende) by Christian Ditter (Germany, 2009) – best feature film
• The New Washing Machine (Die Neue Washmashine / De wasmachine) by Winfried Bellman (Germany, 2008) – best short film
Children’s Jury Bruges:
• Book of Masters (Kniga Masterov / Book of Masters) by Vadim Sokolovsky (Russia, 2009) – best feature film
• Anna Lovenstein (Anna Lovenstein) by Pauline Bureau (France, 2009) – best short film
The audiences in Antwerp and Bruges both voted for The Crocodiles (Vorstadtkrokodile / De krokodillenbende) by Christian Ditter (Germany, 2009) as the best feature film.