Only a few festivals stand out in my memory as a perfect combination of excellent animation programs, superb organization and top-notch hospitality. Fredrikstad Animation Festival, November 11 through the 15th in Fredrikstad, Norway was such an event. Of course, how could I not love a festival where the award is named The Golden Gunnar, after my good friend Gunnar Strom, Norwegian professor and animation historian. The statue, a moveable golden armature sculpture of Gunnar, complete with his wild long hair, designed by renowned sculpture Pjotr Sapegin.
At the heart of the festival is the Nordic-Baltic competition comprised of three competition programs and a separate screening of the top student films. Some of the films were very familiar to me such as Kaspar Janice’s wonderful Crocodile and Signe Baumane’s Birth, however I made many new discoveries.
The biggest surprise was Anita Killi’s Sinna Mann (Angry Man), based on a popular Norwegian children’s book of the same name by Gro Dahle and Svein Nyhus. Killi’s disturbing film is about a boy who blames himself for the repeated acts of domestic violence that he witnesses. The story is loosely based on a true incident in a Norwegian village, where several children wrote to the King asking for his help in dealing with the violence in their families. They assumed that tbe King could do anything. The King was extremely touched and invited the children to the royal palace so that he could explain to them that their father’s behavior was not because of anything that they did.
I was told that when the King saw Anita’s film he cried. Obviously the jury and audiences were equally moved because the film was awarded as The Best Nordic-Baltic Short Film as well as receiving the Audience Award. The jury stated that Angry Man is a “dark theme told in a naive but very wise way. It is an important film for all ages that really gives a positive solution to a terrible problem.
An interesting departure from most festivals was the third competition program carried a warning “This program is not suitable for children”. It certainly did contain some strong material. The opening film, Ralph and Jimmy, by Swedish director Jacob Stalhammar dealt with pedophilia. The competition went on to Dildoman,set inside an unusual strip joint and Watch Alice Bleed, an 11 minute stop motion music and theater show whose title tells it all. I didn’t think that I would ever say that Signe Bauman’s Birth was one of the tamer films in a program, but in this case it was. I commend the festival programmers for putting together a program that was challenging to watch and sure to offend some of the audience, but with films deserving to be screened.
In addition to the Nordic-Baltic films there was a presentation of International Short Films, a special Children’s Program and a screening of the five 2009 Cartoon d’ Or finalists. The winner for 2009 was David O’ Reilly’s Please Say Something. He received the prestigious award a few weeks before at the Cartoon Forum in Stavanger, Norway. Several feature films such as Mary & Max and Coraline were also screened.
The Festival abounded with guests and special moments. The Opening Night ceremony started on a very touching note when revered Norwegian animator Inni Karine Melbye was awarded a Life Time Achievement Award for her many contributions to animation. To add to the joy of this special evening, Inni was presented her award by her old friend and collaborator Michel Ocelot. Michel flew in from France for the one night just to honor his colleague. He kept his arrival a secret, even eating dinner in his room that evening so that no one would see him and spoil the surprise. The next morning, he was on his way back to France.