Monstra is a very civilized festival. During the day there were screenings for local school children. At the beginning of the second week competition screenings started, but not until 19h00 (7:00 PM). The seven competition sessions were packed full of such crowd pleasers as The Tale of How by the Black Heart Gang, Ree Treweek, Jannes Hendrikz, and Markus Smit, a trio of South African animators who call themselves a collective and Estonian animators Jellena Girlin and Mari-Liis Bassovskaja’s The Dress. Both of these films have won awards at several major festivals. There were also new treasures to discover, like award winning animator Koji Yamamura’s latest film A Child’s Metaphysics. Koji’s view of the serious business of childhood has both humor and sadness as he deals with the pitfalls and joys of being a child.
When I first learned that the 2008 Annecy Festival of Animation (9 – 14 June in Annecy, France) was spotlighting feature films I was quite apprehensive. An animated feature has to be really good to make me want to stay in my seat for an hour and a half without falling asleep or wishing that it was over, but I was in for a pleasant surprise at the festival this year. Of 40 features submitted to the selection committee, 9 were placed in competition, 12 screened out of competition, and 3 were shown as special premiers. It was a fine selection and the subject matter and styles were so varied that there was something to please everyone.
Nina Paley’s brilliant musical adaptation of the Indian epic Ramayana, Sita Sings the Blues, was an instant crowd pleaser. Drawing the film together with songs from the 1920’s songstress Annette Hanshaw, including the poignant Mean to Me, Nina tells the legend of the Indian god Rama from Sita’s point of view. Nina also weaves her own personal story of her husband’s mid-life crisis and subsequent dumping of her via e-mail throughout what she refers to as “the greatest break-up story ever told”.
Far and away the best parts of the festival for me were the special programs. Anima Docs alone was well worth the entire trip to the festival. Curated by Erik van Durnen and Gerben Schermer for the International Documentary Film Festival 2007 in Amsterdam, the five programs give us a chance to decide for ourselves if the animated documentary is fiction posing as reality or not.
Winsor McCay’s 1916 Sinking of the Lusitania is an obvious propaganda piece designed to stir up anti-German sentiments during WW I. At the other end of the spectrum, in Springtime in Sant Ponc (2007) Swiss animators Eugenia Mumenthaler and David Epiney recorded the results of a drawing workshop for mentally handicapped people. It gives a glimpse into their thoughts and fears via animation.
MONSTRA, Lisbon Animated Film Festival (May 8 -18 in Portugal) is indeed a monster of a festival. For 11 days the festival brought together the cream of United Kingdom animators for a salute to British Animation along with quality competition programs. The British segment included workshops and retrospectives honoring Paul Bush, Phil Malloy, the Brothers Quay, Vera Neubauer and many other artists.
The American born identical twins Stephen and Timothy have lived in England for so long (since 1978) that they are considered an important fixture on the British film scene. Their highly surreal films are full of personal and distinctive imagery that can be disturbing and riveting at the same time. Two retrospectives of their work were screened.
The 2nd ANIMART, a summer meeting about animation and related arts, will be held 13 through 20 July in Monodendri, near Ioannina, Greece. 2008 is the Year of Intercultural Dialogue and so workshops and programs will be presented by many leading professionals from around the world.
Workshops will include clay animation conducted by Rony Oren from Israel; animator and ex libris creator extraordinaire Rastko Ciric of Serbia will lead the Cartoon Animation workshop and Portugal’s Fernando Galrito will lead participants through “The Draw and the Pixilation”.
Mohamed Ghazala of Egypt will give us a glimpse into Egyptian and African animation, and Nik and I will talk about the history of music through animation. Nik and Rastko will reprise their musical act in the amphitheatre with a moonlight concert featuring what else? - Moon songs!
As I watched noted director and film critic Natalia Lukinyk's touching moving documentary film Alexander Tatarsky, Or How To Embrace The Immense . . . I found it hard to believe that it has been almost a year since one of the biggest hearts in Russian animation stopped beating. Natalia's touching celluloid portrait began as part of her new trilogy of films about creative Russian and Ukrainian artists in three different fields titled The Restless Talents. Sadly the film was completed as a labor of love after the untimely death of her close friend.
Natalia gives us a warm and insightful view into the early life that shaped a true artistic genius. Humorous moments of Alexander playing with his beloved toy collection which he said every grown-up child needed and pictures of him with his dogs and cats that played an important part in his life from early childhood show one side of this very complex man. Most beautiful of all are the pictures of him with his wife and of him holding his young son at home in Moscow.The great director and animator went on to found Pilot Studios, the first private animation studio in the new Russia, turning it into one of the world's leading animation studios. Pilot is world renowned, winning awards at festivals the world over and mentoring several decades of animators and script writers that now work in all corners of the world. Speaking of his dear friend and colleague at Pilot, Valentin Telegin said "He took up a flag and led the troops." This quote complete summarizes the great man's life.
My spring festival season got off to a great start in Stuttgart, Germany at the 15th INTERNATIONAL TRICKFILM FESTIVAL OF ANIMATED FILMS, May 1 through the 6th. For Nik and me the big event of the week was to finally get to see the entire 82 minutes of Nina Paley’s wonderful feature film SITA SINGS THE BLUES. Although Nik composed and performed the intermission music for the film we had only seen segments and we were very curious about how Nina would fit the pieces together. Her use of three Indian voices in an unscripted conversation about the Sita legend worked beautifully to connect the action sequences. The fact that the voices were disagreeing about how they believe the history of Sita and Rama should be told was a perfect counterpoint to the 1920’s Annette Hanshaw vocals that accent both Sita and Nina’s stories. SITA SINGS THE BLUES was screened in the festival theaters and also on the gigantic out door beer garden screen to an enthusiastic crowd of hundreds. Prior to the screening Nik played music from the film to set the mood.
hosted a lovely brunch for the ASIFA members at the festival. Buba (former head of ANIMAFEST ZAGREB and Vice President of ASIFA Croatia) and Vesna Dovnikovic (Secretary of ASIFA International) brought tasty and powerful traditional Croatian liquors which truly added to the festive air of the party. A good time was had by everyone.
The big event of the day was the awards ceremony and I believe that the juries did an excellent job, so without further ado the winners are . . .
Jury: Joanna Quinn (Great Britain), Moustapha Alassane (Niger), Caroline Leaf (USA/Canada/Great Britain), Igor Kovaljov (Russia/USA) and Danijel Suljic (Croatia)
GRAND PRIZE (best short film in the festival) - festival statue, cash award of 2.500 Euros, and honorary presidency at the next festival
There was a special evening screening of the Lotte Reiniger silent classic The Adventures of Prince Achmed with live piano accompaniment. Three screening sessions will be devoted to African animation and five screening sessions of Anima Docs, the hybrid form mixing animation and documentary. The first two parts of the International Competition were also screened. Just in case my readers don't think that I am having any fun, I was out with a group of young animators from all over the world at a bar that stayed open until 5 AM for us. More tomorrow.
I recently found an animated world in my hometown of Gent, Belgium in a most unexpected place: the Campus Volkskliniek Hospital operating room where I had eye surgery. I can’t say that I felt no anxiety; after all, I was lying on a hospital gurney with an IV in my arm and an oxygen tube up my nose, knowing that an incision was about to be made into my eye and that I wasn’t even going to be given good drugs or knocked out. But with impending blindness as the alternative, I chose my only option.
About a year ago, I began to think that the projectors at the animation festivals were getting very fuzzy and I kept moving further and further toward the front row to see the screen. It became obvious to me that the problem was not with the projectors, but with my eyes. This was a big problem, since I spend a great deal of my time in screening rooms, and what animation festival would want a blind juror, much less a “visually challenged” journalist.
The 10th Anima Brussels, February 1st through the 10th, was a thoroughly enjoyable festival with a wide range of films and panel discussions. Unlike most animation festivals, Anima is put together by the staff primarily for the public, rather than for animators. Of course, there were special guests including the Dutch director and designer Rosto, but the real thrust of the screenings is directed at the movie going public.
The sold out opening night film, Peur (s) Du Noir (Fear(s) of the Dark) is a French-American co-production directed by Etienne Robial. Six internationally renowned comic book artists: Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti and Richard McGuire delved deeply into their own nightmares and fears to recreate them in stark black and white and shades of gray. In the opening story, which I thought was the strongest, Blutch introduces us to a sadistic old man walking a pack of ferocious dogs. Other segments include a man haunted by a praying mantis, a girl possessed by the ghost of a Sanuarai, and in another, a man has an encounter with the ghosts in an abandoned house.
Congratulations to all of the nominated animators. Nik and I send a special YEAA!!! to Nina Paley because Nik created and performs the intermission music on the film.
The nine films selected for the feature film category at Annecy 2008 have been selected.
--APPLESEED: EX MACHINA (Shinji Aramaki -- Japan): Following the non-nuclear war that killed half the world's population, the city-nation ofOlympus stands as a beacon of hope in a world of chaos and conflict.
--CHASSEURS DE DRAGONS (Guillaume Ivernel, Arthur Qwak -- France, Germany, Luxembourg): Zoe is a little girl who believes in fairy tales. So in order to help her uncle Lord Arnold get rid of a terrible dragon, Zoe decides she has to find some heroes.
Last Saturday and Sunday (March 15 and 16) the Smurfs came to my home town of Gent, Belgium to celebrate their 50th Birthday. The tiny blue figures, who live in little mushroom homes and speak their own language, first appeared as comic strip figures in cartoonist Pierre Culliford’s cartoon “Johan and Pirlouit” which was set in the middle ages.
The Smurf’s popularity increased rapidly, and by 1960 Papa Smurf and his clan had their own comic strip. Hanna-Barbera Productions brought the characters to life as an animated cartoon in 1981, and they soon became a hit around the world.
Although the Belgian born Culliford, or Peyo, as he is better know to his legion of fans, passed away 15 years ago, he lives on in he hearts of two generations of children around the world. The Smurfs are known in Spain as Pitufo, in Germany they are called Schumpf; Chinese children know them as Nam Ching Ling, and as Sumafa in Japan. Israeli children call them Dardassim. The Smurfs have teamed up with UNICEF to raise awareness of the plight of ex-child soldiers in Africa and this year they will promote children’s rights and education worldwide.
It was quite a change from cold Estonia and Latvia to arrive at the sunny Rome airport. I had the honor to be invited to be a juror at the I Castelli Animati, 28 November through 2 December. This year the festival was held on the Cinecitta Campus, home to the legendary Cincecitta Studios, in honor of the 70th anniversary of the founding of this famous studio which stands as a symbol of Italian cinema. After a month where I traveled back and forth across Europe and Nik stayed in Gent working on music we were finally reunited when my driver left me at the festival hotel.
The festival encompassed many facets of the animation world from workshops, competitions for special effects, television series and web to the International Competition where I was on the jury. There were also a multitude of special guests from all over the world. The opening evening gala served as a sampling of the diversity of the festival that awaited us. Bruno Bozzetto’s new animated theme for the festival was premiered. The Pierce Sisters, winner of the 2007 Cartoon D’ Or was followed by the first four competition films. Nik performed his score for Fetch! as Nina Paley’s animation was screened and David Silverman talked about the birth of THE SIMPSONS on the Tracey Ullman Show.
Animated Dreams Festival – Tallinn, Estonia - November 21 through 25
I have always been intrigued by Estonian animation, so when I had the opportunity to visit Animated Dreams, Estonia’s only animation festival I was thrilled. It was held in Tallinn, the country’s beautiful capitol city on the 21st to the 25th of November. The festival, which grew out of the Black Nights Film Festival, did not disappoint my high expectations. The catalog’s introduction boldly states WARNING: Your Dreams Have Been Animated, and this was a threat not to be taken lightly.
This year’s festival coincided with the 50th anniversary of Nukufilm, the legendary stop-motion film studio that was one of the first studios to practice that art form in Eastern Europe. In terms of studio size, technical supplies and number of employees Nukufilm, an art-house type studio, is the largest of its style in Northern Europe.
Nik and I do love Portugal - so when we were invited to participate in the FIRST INTERNATIONAL STUDENT MEETING FOR ANIMATION ARTS we jumped at the chance. I was very pleased and honored to be invited to be a part of the International Jury along with renowned Ukrainian animator Evgeniy Sivokon and Portugal’s animation treasure Sepe. Nik gave a three day workshop with music students from the school during which they composed and performed in live performance two programs of music with animation.Needless to say I recommend this festival to all students and animation schools. Your work will be given serious consideration and if selected screened in the lovely theatre on the campus and on a DVD which will be shown at other festivals. HURRY THOUGH, the DEADLINE is near.Students can enter both Monstra and First.
Two years ago Nik and I were guests of festival director Fernando Galrito at the MONSTRA ANIMATION FESTIVAL in Lisbon, Portugal where Nik performed an IDEAS IN ANIMATION program with three Portuguese musicians and gave a hands-on music workshop. I can personally attest to the high quality of the festival. This event is a meeting of animation and various mediums and art forms including workshops, exhibitions, seminars, and music. Competition films alternate yearly between short and feature length films, and this year will be devoted to films under 30 minutes with all techniques and genres accepted.
In the 2008 MONSTRA FESTIVAL there will be a student competition with a cash award of 1500.00 Euros. Students from schools all over the world are encouraged to send their films and are eligible to win the top prize.
New developments in this controversial situation are in the bold brackets below:
Teat Beat of Sex, Signe Bauman’s widely acclaimed take on sex exclusively from a woman’s point of view, and Because Washington is Hollywood for Ugly People, directed by Kenneth Ti and Kin Hung have been censored by iTunes from their Sundance Film Festival on-line shorts program. [ NOTE: This is still true, but Sundance is in discussion with iTunes to try to change this situation]
I intend to let Apple/iTunes know how I feel about this kind of censorship. You can also contact them with your feedback at http://www.apple.com/contact/feedback.html [Sundance has written Signe to tell her that in their opinion, it is "harming" their relations with iTunes and their ability to get them to change their position]