Hiroshima Diary

by Monique Renault
Translated by William Moritz

Monique RenaultMonique Renault (Netherland)

Thursday, August 22, First Day of the Festival
Arrived yesterday after having flown halfway around the world without seeing very much of it. Yes, Taiwan. It's much bigger than I had imagined. I thought Taiwan was just a pile of little workshops where people made counterfeit Diors, false Raybans or Adidas ... Evidently there are also mountains and greenery.

I'm happy to be back in Hiroshima. Last May, for the selection of films--Ah! that selection!--I discovered Japan. You encounter the politeness of the Japanese while working, and by chance. And the beauty of the nearby islands. For the selection, we saw more than 1,000--I don't dare say "films"--works, and chose 74. That made a great number of disappointed and discontented people! The festival will be even more interesting for me, seeing on screen the results of this difficult gestation and hearing the comments.

Last night, barely arrived, no time to unpack my suitcase, meeting at the ASIFA headquarters. Met again Sayoko Kinoshita, the director of the festival, Ahi Feijo, David Ehrlich, and my dear Nicole Salomon, among others. Preparation for the presentation of our last collective workshop to the press and the Japanese public. Theme of the workshop: "The Rights of Children." Results more or less good. Afterwards we (Ahi, Nicole, David and me) prepared a text for the press.

Primitive MoversPrimitive Movers by Kathy Rose
Courtesy of Hiroshima 96

Opening day of the festival. In the afternoon, screening of the first program "Best of the World". Very crowded. The atmosphere is pleasant, but the public doesn't react much to the films. I saw again Joy Street of Suzan Pitt, USA: animation and design superb. Rainbows of Hawaii by Faith Hubley, whom I love because of her great poetry--a charm that few other artists possess.

Then finally the opening ceremonies, with the presentations, thank-yous, congratulations and translations. Raoul Servais made a speech which was much appreciated. He spoke of Peace and our duty as artists to utilize animation to send messages of peace now while war and anti-democracy rages in certain parts of the world. The festival opens with Triangle by Erica Russell: practically abstract, but with different style and subject matter. She reminds me of Kathy Rose in the way she mixes music and dance with animation. I won't mention all the films in the programs, only those that stand out clearly in my memory. Furthermore, concerning memory, it's astonishing how few films I do remember. It's almost by chance! That lets me rediscover them. Ex Child by Jacques Drouin, one of the series of films from the National Film Board of Canada about the rights of children--against using children as soldiers; animated on pin-screen--an example of the message given by Raoul Servais. Quest by the German Tyron Montgomery: a first film, student of Paul Driessen--the search for a person, a sort of golem, in sand--across worlds in stages of paper, stone, fire to the search for water--dramatic, but magnificently animated! The audience doesn't appreciate Jumanji by Joe Johnston, for which we must reproach the selection committee. But I do think it's a good idea to have a special section in festivals for previews and special effects.

The marvelous Achilles of Barry Purves. I love his dramatic flow, his editing, his courage to make a homosexual film--I find that most men don't dare make films treating their personal problems--a domain that until now has been reserved for woman--they say that women's films speak above all about their bodies. Now men are no longer embarrassed to speak about themselves--a beneficial effect from feminists.

In general, the audience reacts well this evening, if less warmly than this afternoon; they are mostly satisfied with the selection. Except for a person who starts to pursue me because a film that he produced isn't "in," although it should have been. Of course, there are always some discontented people that make it known. Sayoko, the festival director, knows all about that.

After the screening a party, at which we are greeted by a concert of Japanese drums--impressive, it goes back to the dance of ancient times, to rituals. At the end of the performance, a cask of sake is opened. David Ehrlich and Raoul Servais do the honors, after speeches, translations, etc. ... Gigantic buffet, with tons of sushi and other unimaginable delicacies. The party is over at midnight. There, at Hiroshima, parties officially end at 11 or midnight.

Friday, August 23

Joy StreetJoy Street by Suzan Lee Pitt
Courtesy of Hiroshima 96

First a coffee! Everyone gathers at the festival hall. In fact it's a hotel with two screening rooms, several meeting rooms and a restaurant. One could practically live at the Aster Plaza without needing to go out. Everything happens in the hall: the meetings, the discussions, the photos and interviews. Unlike Annecy, which is overtaken by gigantism, here it is possible to meet everyone. The competition screenings take place at the end of every afternoon at 6:30. During the day, a lot of special programs. At 9:15, the first of our ASIFA workshops, "Animation by Children Throughout the World." The press is there, lots of children, and a very good audience for that hour of the morning. Sayoko makes the usual introductions.

"The Rights of Children" is very well received. The program seems better to me than when Jean Luc Stock (secretary of the group) and I put the reel together in Belgium. The diversity of techniques, of ideas, of music, the spontaneity of children made this 40 minutes go by very quickly. It was very encouraging. You could tell the difference between the rigidity of texts written by adults and the imagination of the children. Just see the results, the animation of the future!

A little later, the Disney Studios make a presentation of "computer-generated crowd characters" from Hunchback of Notre Dame, and at the same time Thailand and Sri Lanka show Asian animation. Impossible to see everything ...

Later that afternoon we had the pleasure of hearing Raoul Servais introduce his Harpya (1979) which always remains surprising with its strange bird-woman of paper, and Taxandria (1995), his hypersurrealist feature.Taxandria is a mysterious city which has neither memory nor clocks--neither past nor future--but where the inhabitants have lost their liberty. But love enters the picture and saves everything, as usual, and destroys the dictatorship of Taxandria, restoring liberty and happiness to the Taxandrians. The special effects are breathtaking, mixing live action with animation. I much prefer the animated parts.

Afterwards, just to change our thoughts and breathe, my chum Kine Aune from Norway and I went out shopping. I returned to a fish merchant where I had gone in May, and was very pleased to be recognized. I should note that in May we had compared the different ways of fishing in Brittany and Japan, and since we didn't speak Japanese and they didn't speak French, I had to make drawings of hooks and baits and fishing poles and nets ... the power of drawings!

Le Moine et le PoissonThe Monk and the Fish by Michael Dudok de Wit
Courtesy of Hiroshima 96

8:30, Second Program. It opens with one of my favorite films, The Monk and the Fish by Michael Dudok DeWit, a Dutchman working in London, who made this film in France, at Folimage in Valence. I admire everything about this film: the simplicity of the story, a monk and a fish, but a philosophy of joy and peacefulness. I had already seen it several times, and each time I discover something more in it: the animation is made of detail close to graphics--black lines of india ink, the choice of paper, the decorative colors like watercolors, pure and lively blues, yellows, the timing, the music--everything in it delights me. Surely I'll see it again in the final awards.

Clocks by Kirsten Winter, Germany, a sort of documentary about the life and work of the composer/pianist Elena Kats-Chernin. Lovely effects of painting over live action. The image and music complement each other strongly. Many good films this evening. The audience is content and that benefits all. We continue: Abductees by Paul Vester, England, docu-animation--also one of my favorites for the Grand Prize. Curious to have the reaction of the audience, for this is not an ordinary animated documentary, mixing interviews with animations of tales and sketches of those enlightened ones persuaded that they have seen extraterrestrials. Superb original idea, treated by the hand of a master, with the professionalism of Paul. The audience seems to love it as much as I do.

Then An Artist by Michele Counoyer, Canada--part of the "Rights of Children." Live action superimposed with animation. A young girl wants to become a composer, against the wishes of her father. Rest assured! She succeeds, happily! Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor's Wife by Phil Mulloy, England--a stroke of black ink, rude and provocative, to die laughing, liberating! To close the program: The Grey-Bearded Lion by Andrey Khrjanovsky, Russia, 30 minutes of poetry, of pure animation. A moving pleasure--the friendship between the lion Amadeus and his master Peretty. A Felliniesque story--the lion so strongly resembles Andrey himself. All subtlety and emotions. Already seen at Annecy, where I thought it would be awarded the Grand Prize. Maybe here? Even though it's late, the audience stays and loves the film.

To finish the evening, a party, of course, hosted by the sponsors of Hiroshima. Madness! As much sake as you can drink. Stifling heat. Everyone on their knees, on their heels, Japanese style. Everyone sings a song. I conduct a French-language chorale. I brought musical scores with me: great success with "Petit vin blanc" and "Sous les ponts de Paris"...

Saturday, August 24
Day of the picnic at Miyashima. Everyone piles into busses, then into a boat to go to the island across from Hiroshima. Guided visit to the temple, the great gate of the Emperor (I forget which one). Watch out for deer, which have a tendency to eat everything. I had the bad idea to offer them cookies, and a legion of them flocked around me, even trying to eat my dress. They're protected, and one doesn't even have the right to kick at them. Noon: barbecue on the beach. Sumptuous. Then swimming. It's funny to see people that you always see fully clothed suddenly in swimsuits ... there's something touching about it! They must be thinking the same about me when they see my little rolls of fat! Finally everyone is satisfied, and we return, a little sleepy, to the festival.

6:30 show sold out. First film: Barflies, Greg Holland, Australia--animated puppets: two flies that hurl themselves at people in a pub. The parallel with the people in the bar is evident. Refreshing. A good soundtrack, with its cascades of belches. Australia sent many good films: first films, student films of great dynamism promising a flourishing future. They must have good teachers down under. It's an up-and-coming school.

Repete by Michaela Pavlatová, Hiroshima's Grand Prize
Courtesy of Hiroshima 96

Repete by Michaela Pavlatová, Czech Republic. Already seen many, many times. Once again I'll Salute the Sun by Mahin Javaherian, Iran. Astonishing--Peace, war, peace? Rotoscope, probably. I liked it very much during the selection, and I am not disappointed this time either. I hope to see it again during the prize screening. Country Doctor by Katarina Lillqvist, Finland: puppets, based on a story by Kafka--a little confused, hard to follow: the soundtrack is a little too aggressive, but the animation, the puppets are superb. We Lived in Grass by Andreas Hykade, Germany: first film, drawn on paper and cels, purposely primitive graphics--at 16 minutes, it's long but it goes by well--a personal film, like Barry Purves, the unusual expression of a young man who speaks of his birth, war and love, while reproaching his father for having hidden the truth from him. Good for the Grand Prize?

Sunday, August 25
First thing in the morning I write, as I do every morning. Then shopping with Kine--where we buy lots of useless things, to be sure... To our great surprise, all the stores are open--"business as usual." When do the Japanese rest?

In the afternoon, screening and lecture "Animation Education in the United Kingdom" by Richard Taylor, who has taught animation in England for 25 years. He's about to publish an Anthology of Animation. The auditorium is full. It's a delight. He shows and explains the films, how they were made, the character and career of each animator: from An Vrombaut (Little Wolf) to Mark Baker (The Village)--with Nick Park's Creature Comforts in passing. It's so interesting that when it lasts an hour longer than it's supposed to everyone stays, mouths open, breathless. An hour late--impossible for the Japanese!

Pas à deux
Pas à deux by Monique Renault
Courtesy of Hiroshima 96

Our films, Ahi Feijo's and mine, the audience loves, too. Whew! It's not often that I get a chance to see my films on such a large screen.

6:30 screening sold out. Gogs-Ogof by Deiniol Morris and Michael Mort, England, puppets, set in Pre-history, a succession of gags in which everyone can recognize their own stupidity--or is it just me and mine? It goes by quickly--the audience reacts wonderfully. The Simpsons--Homer Cubed, Tim Johnson, USA-- an unusual Simpsons which abandons 2D for 3D, thanks to Pacific Data Images. Small Treasures by Sarah Watts, Australia: my favorite film--Sarah is a painter-- I already saw another film of hers at Annecy, in 1991, I think. She uses rotoscope, but that doesn't bother me. Sarah tells an intimate story relevant to men as well as women: "Men make war, women give birth," says a man, and Jane, the heroine of the film, sighs ... But birth causes casualties as well. This film is all subtlety, finesse and understanding of attitudes, glances, suggestions. It is never heavy, is supported by a commentary from Jane who tells of suffering and loneliness without moralizing or whining. A true film both in conception and animation. I think it deserves a prize, maybe the Grand Prize.

Gagarin by Alexei Kharitidi, Russia: perfect in its conception. Nothing too long. Marvelous traditional animation, pastel on paper. And funny: a caterpillar who doesn't want to become a butterfly. Bursts of laughter from the audience. Certainly we'll see this again among the prize winners. Hand in Hand by Lasse Lars Persson, Sweden: 4 minutes of animated drawings--it made me think back on the three graces in A Greek Tragedy (1985) by the Belgian Nicole van Goethem, which won the Grand Prize at Annecy and an Oscar some years back. And to end the program, Puss in Boots by Garry Bardin, Russia. After his Little Red Riding Hood, he returns to Charles Perrault, this time to the clever cat. Animation with modeling clay--at 27 minutes, you never get bored. Good for a prize, I hope.

That's it. Our four programs have been shown. The film party is over. Are we, the five members of the selection committee, satisfied? I think so. Of course, asI've already said, there remains a few doubts ... But I've learned that to be or not to be selected is sometimes a little bit of a lottery--and as the president of our jury, Abi, said: there is always a degree of subjectivity in the selection process, nonetheless we made our choices as honestly and impartially as possible. What remains is the vitality of Animation--its creativity and its youth. I believe I can say that we made a good selection, and good programs. In any case, that's what I heard said often on all sides.

As every night, party! This time an ASIFA party on a terrace overlooking the city. Beer, sake, sushi, laughter, emotions, songs. Bruno Edera, the Swiss journalist from Geneva, who made us all laugh to the point of tears with his accent, his stories and his great erudition.

Monday August 26
9:15--it's early for the morning-after-the-ASIFA party. Kathy Rose dances in front of her animations: a total spectacle if ever there was one, which combines influences from many cultures--Egyptian, Indian, Russian, the 1920s ...

Today's the day when everyone makes the rounds to get presents to take home. It's amusing and instructive to see what everyone buys: from a watch you can wear on a finger to a knife specially made to cut bamboo--not to mention the hats, bottles of sake. (Of course, they make sake here in special bottles that when you lift the lid, after five minutes you get hot sake--I'm taking home some of this myself!)

Finally the closing ceremony, the announcement of the prizes--some surprises, some satisfactions. In any case, the ceremony is run to perfection. Sayoko keeps an eye on her whole world: she has incredible energy and vitality, force and gentleness. When she makes her brief closing statement--not forgetting to thank everyone, she is witty, like a little fairy with long curly hair, but behind a microphone, in the middle of a huge stage.

Small Treasures
Small Treasures by Sarah Watt
Courtesy of Hiroshima 96

We come to the prizes: almost all the films I thought should won something. The Grand Prize for Michaela Pavlatová and Repete. I'm happy for her. I had thought Grey-Bearded Lion or Small Treasures--but it's the same with juries as with selection committees. But as we talked about it to each other, we realized that all the films had one thing in common: they were not necessarily easy films, but practically all were films that told a story.

And afterwards ... what? Why a party, of course! This one, the last one, where one once again exchanges addresses, where one embraces once again, where one once again drinks a toast to health, to the country, to a friend, and even (since one is in the convivial domain of animation) to an enemy. Bruno Edera tells more of his stories, and Jacques Drouin, too. And Nicole and I are once again weeping with laughter. It's impossible--we'll never be able to leave ... At 2:00 AM, the Japanese, the Austrians, the Australians, the Rumanians, the French, the Dutch (that's me), the Portuguese, the Canadians, the Americans, the Swiss, the Belgians--we sing, discuss a little (more and more vaguely) the future of Animation ... the next festival ... Animation is a lovely country of which I am proud to be a citizen. ... a little tired, but happy.

--Hiroshima, Tuesday, August 27, 3:00 PM.

Monique Renault is an independent filmmaker based in Amsterdam. Three of her films--Cheers, La donna e mobile and Pas à deux--were shown at Hiroshima out-of-competition.

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