Animation World Magazine, Issue 1.10, January 1997

Animation Festivals: A Brief History

by Bruno Edera
Translated by William Moritz

Bruno EderaBruno Edera

Among the factors for recognizing the richness and variety of animation film, there is one which, over the years, has progressively become more essential, and that is the animation festival. Today they exist all over the world, hundreds of them, but their history is relatively recent in the history of cinema--even if the art of animation preceded the invention of cinema.

As as a historian and as a producer and programmer for television, I have had the chance to follow these manifestations since their beginning in the 1960s; and I thank Annick Teninge for having asked me to write about festivals, because it has given me an opportunity for reflection which I might not have taken otherwise. The following lines are my own personal opinions, coming from the short and spontaneous reflections of the old "festival rat" that I have been for some 40 years, haunting the dark theaters of the frame-by-frame and their sidebars, for animation to me is a feast that I love to partake of. A feast that exists thanks to directors, filmmakers, writers, producers, artists and technicians of all types, whose work you generally only get to see for the first time at festivals, sharing it with an audience, and communicating with the filmmakers. It's important for an eager audience to see films on a large screen, for more and more the screens are small television sets, since many channels carry programs about animation festivals.

Furthermore, there are few creative areas for which (as happens with animation) you can see (even if selection juries have become indispensable), every year, even several times a year, the most recent films by filmmakers from around the world.

To be able to participate in an animation festival is a great privilege, which inspires in me, more and more, a deep respect for those who make films, but also for those who make the effort to show them at these venues: these rendezvous of animation professionals with part of their public, the press, television, future festivals, film clubs, potential commercial deals, critics and historians, but also their admirers and friends--that is, their family.

There are also certain critical moments: the opening ceremonies, the presentation of your work, waiting for the public reaction right after the screening of your work, the inevitable discussion "over lunch", and the agonizing moments (for all filmmakers, but also for the "neutral" participants) waiting for the prizes to be announced--the moment when gazes are fixed on the future--moments of intense joy for some and cruel disillusion for others.

Now you can discriminate between festivals: some are rich and well-endowed--and they generally know how to let you know it; others largely compensate for what they lack financially by a generous welcome, by the quality of the audiences, their determination to show their approval or disapproval, whatever they feel, quite aside from the prizes given. There are a limitless number of criteria for judging a festival, but as far as I'm concerned, for all the festivals that I was able to attend (and that adds up to quite a few), I always went with the idea of "What new things can I do and see?" (pretentiously, I believe I've seen everything . . .); and every time I leave with new references both for my historian notebooks and my list of items that I'd like to acquire for Swiss Television.

Animation festivals, as far as I'm concerned, are a vital element in my activities; and I'm always happy when I have a chance to tell someone who wants to see films, "Then go to such-and-such festival, where you can see the wonderful realm of animation in all its forms."

Sometimes you hear people say that there are too many festivals. That's perhaps partially true, since filmmakers often don't have enough prints of their films to participate in all of them. But I think that the increasing number of festivals is a delightful sign of the seductive power of animation. Every viewer--whether at a grand international festival or a little local one, anywhere in the world--who goes to see animation pays homage to the filmmakers, who have invested so much in their work and usually only enjoy a very brief "communion" with their audience. The word "communion" suggests a religion, and one could well associate animation with a sort of religion: those who make the films do so with a monastic dedication, their meanings are generally at the level of a "universal conscience"--in a very short time they are able to release an emotional reflection--and they go to a festival as one goes to church, with the hope of seeing a rosary of good things.

An Attempt at Historical Background
The history of animation festivals goes back farther than is generally thought; in effect (and as far as this is not contested) to 1946, at the time of the first Cannes Film Festival, when the initial manifestation (at least in France) is mentioned in an article by one J. Dieterle on page 73 of French Film No. 172, as "The First International Festival of Animated Films."

We have not forgotten that by 1946, Oscars had given yearly for some time to animated films in the United States; but these were "professional" awards that cannot really pertain to festivals, so we have not considered them--as they lack the very thing that is essential to festivals: interaction between the products and the makers on one hand and on the other the essential factor that determines their value, namely "the public."

In 1954, the "Club Gente de Cinema" [Society of Cinema Club] of Buenos Aires showed an important program of international animation in Argentina. Another festival took place in that city in 1961.

We haven't taken the trouble before this to research sources or references prior to these, being content at our modest personal level to be interested above all in French references noted as "probable beginnings" of festival activities dedicated to frame-by-frame. This let us find a single page printed during the 8th Cannes Festival, dated May 6, 1955, bearing the title Homage to the Pioneers of Animation, announcing the manifestation organized during the following festival, and which, as far as we know, was the beginning of the now-worldwide movement for the recognition of the importance of the animated film through interposed festivals.

Poster of the 1st JICA in Annecy 1960.

The Birth of JICA
During the 9th Cannes Festival from April 26 to May 4, 1956, largely due to the work of André Martin and Pierre Barbin, "The First International Animation Days" [JICA] took place. A hundred films from all over the world were screened, but it wasn't yet a "festival" in the true sense of the word as we know it now; however, it aroused considerable interest among festivalgoers and animation professionals in having a second JICA take place at Cannes in 1958.

Make a Film For Annecy
By 1960, some people worked to get JICA its own wings, so it would no longer be dependent on Cannes. At Annecy, there was a nationally-famous film society, and it was there that JICA found a new site to hold its festival. At the same time, a number of filmmakers and promoters of animation films had put together an International Association of Animated Film [ASIFA], which was still rather familial at this point. At the beginning, we remember, the Annecy Festival took place on the even-numbered years: 1960, 1962--then starting in 1963 on the odd-numbered years. There was no festival in 1969 [a year of political turmoil in France], so the 1997 Annecy Festival will be the 19th (or the 21st, counting the first two JICAs). (For a time, there was also a RICA [International Animation Conference] at Annecy on the even numbered years when the festival was not held.)
The Annecy Festival is known throughout the world, and is without doubt the most important: It's the only one about which filmmakers will say, "I'm making a film for Annecy."

For those who have followed it from the early days, Annecy has undergone a great change: it has become an event where it is impossible to see everything, where one must make drastic choices between festival, marketplace, retrospectives, expositions, etc.

Drawing by Bruno Bozzetto for the 1st Annecy Festival
Drawing by Bruno Bozzetto for the 1st Annecy Festival

And Elsewhere?
To preserve a sort of chronological timeline, we have focused on Annecy which began in 1960 at the same time as ASIFA. We will now cover other festivals that arose by each decade..

During the first decade of Annecy, the 1960s, a number of other festivals sprang up and died, but this list is not necessarily exhaustive:

A festival took place in Peking in 1960 or 1961.

In 1965, during the 8th Biennale of Saõ Paulo, there was an International Animation Festival, but only recently has another Brazilian animation festival, Anima Mundi, taken place..

In Tokyo, in 1965, an International Animation Festival took place at the Sogetsu Arts Center.

The First Festival of Animated Film took place at Los Angeles in 1965, [which evolved in a touring program called the International Tournée of Animation.]

In 1966, the first International Animation Festival was held at Mamaia in Rumania. It would be held in the even numbered years between Annecy three times: 1966, 1968 and 1970. Films were screened in an open-air theater on the banks of the Black Sea, which gave it a very special atmosphere.

In 1967, as part of the Montreal Expo world's fair, a unique World Retrospective of the Animated Cinema took place. It included a competition for films under one minute on the topic "The World of People," for which some 100 titles were submitted.

In 1968, the Cambridge Animation Festival was born. It was noncompetitive, and the current Cardiff Festival is its descendent. That same year, the London Festival included an animation section.

In 1969, a festival was started in Lucca, Italy, but unfortunately it no longer exists.

During the 1970s, a number of international manifestations did not add much to our knowledge, but a few were important.

In 1970, the first Conference of Abano Terme in Italy.

When Mamaia ceased to exist after 1970, Zagreb took over as a showplace for Eastern Europe; despite various political turmoils, Zagreb has continued to hold its biennial festival in even years since 1972--and it is still the main alternative to Annecy.

New York held festivals in 1973, 1974 and 1975.

In 1976, the only still extant North American festival appeared: Ottawa (which was held in two other Canadian cities, but is back home again, each even year).

Finally, in 1979 the Varna Festival started; this Bulgarian event has been discontinued, but is supposed to be held again soon. Varna was very colorful and was also held on the banks of the Black Sea.

It is impossible to list all the many events that occurred during the 1980s, so I will only cite those that aroused international attention.

Stuttgart logoStuttgart Logo

Since 1982 Stuttgart, biennial.

Since 1976, Espinho in Portugal, annual.

KROK, a festival that takes place on board ship (e.g., sailing down the River Don), will have its fourth event in 1997.

Shanghai, a biennal event that was only held in 1990 and 1992.

Hiroshima, biennial from 1984.

There are also a number of regional or national festivals which have acquired an international following, including three in France (Marly-le-Roi, Bourg-en-Bresse and Rennes), the Bulgarian Tolboucjkine, and the Swiss Soleures.

Among the documents I have at hand, there are also mentions of a Chicago 1980, a Genk 1981, a Tokyo 1987, and a Utrecht 1987. And this does not count short film festivals with a strong animation category, such as Clermont-Ferrand, Leipzig, Dresden, or Viper in Lucern, Switzerland.

I have a list of a 100 other names, issues and considerations about festivals, but they will have to wait for another article!

Bruno Edera is a producer/programmer forTélévision Suisse Romande (TSR) and a animation historian. He has published works on a wide variety of topics, including African cinema and eroticism and animated films. He has also served on the juries of a number of animation festivals, including Espinho, Lucca, and Zagreb, as well as serving on the selection committees of such events as Varna, Geneve-Computer Animation andAnnecy.

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