Monday February 18th 2008, 1:04 pm
Filed under: Festivals

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.

Animated Dreams is more than a festival that just screens films and gives awards. From mid-morning until late afternoon the colloquium was dedicated to the art of puppet animation and Nukufilm’s anniversary. It was called “The Soul of Voodoo”, so named because, as the catalog says “the art of puppet film resembles voodoo – the masters play with nails and wires . . . they twist and bend the legs and hands of puppets in order to give them soul”. The talks and panel topics ranged from Eastern European and Japanese stop motion to Aardman and Nukufilm Studios. Guest speakers were as diverse as Priit Parn, Peter Lord, Suzie Templeton, and the internationally renowned Japanese puppet animation director Kihachiro Kawamoto.

The morning talks and afternoon panel discussions were followed by evening retrospectives of Nukufilms, Soyuzmultifilms, and Czech Animation among others. Competition screenings concluded the formal evening programs followed by parties and special events.

The jury was comprised of the Finnish born puppet animation director, Katarina Lillqvist, award winning Norwegian animator Pjotr Sapegin, and Mikk Rand, Estonian director. Rand organized the first juried short film competition with in the Black Nights film festival in 2001 which has grown into the Animated Nights film festival. Judging this competition was quite difficult as the films were outstanding, but the judges made some excellent choices.

Kleit (The Dress) by Estonian directors Mari-Liis Bassovskaja and Jelena Girlin was selected as the Animated Dreams nominee for the ANOBA award. All films from the Baltic and Nordic regions were eligible for this honor.

I was delighted that a Jury’s Special Mention went to Signe Bauman’s Teat Beat of Sex for, as the jury said, “the author talks about things which are seldom spoken about. Funny, self-ironic, educating, and slightly bizarre…” I couldn’t agree more. A Jury’s Special Mention Award also went to Luis Cook’s delightfully quirky The Pearce Sisters.

Peter Lord accepting the award for Luis Cook
Peter Lord accepting the award for Luis Cook

Madame Tutli-Puti, a film that I have already praised at length, was given The Jury Prize for Best Design. Irinka et Sandrinka took the Jury Prize for Best Story for a “very personal film which breaks the borders between documentary and animation.”The Wooden Wolf Award (Grand Prix),the trophy, crafted by Estonian puppet masters was presented to Tale of How by the trio of South African animators known as the Black Heart Gang. The jury’s description of the film said that it “looks like nothing else we have seen before. All components of this brave movie are superb and perfectly balanced … The soundtrack is unusual – it’s an opera.” I have also written about this film before and definitely agree with the jury’s assessment.

Unfortunately I missed the opening night screening and party because I was still in Riga, Latvia where I had a full day of visiting some of that city’s best known animation studios on a tour arranged by my friend Zane Dzene, Latvian film critic and author. I have heard that the parties are quite spectacular and packed with surprises, and if the rest of the late night events and parties were any example I missed quite an event.

The second night of the festival, Nukufilms hosted a party at their studio as part of their Birthday Celebration. It was a fabulous opportunity to tour the studio and casually hang out with some of the leading film makers of several generations of Nukfilms such as Rao Heidmets, Riho Unt, the always fun Hardi Volmer, Mati Kutt and Priit Tender and the new names - Partel Tall, Jelena Girlin, and Mari-Liis Bassovskaja, who are the studio’s new generation

It was exciting to see live and up close so many of the wonderful puppets that I know so well from their films. I was particularly enchanted to meet the Brothers Bearheart puppets, since they are from a film that makes me smile every time that I watch it. I know about the three bear cubs from Ivan Shishkin’s painting “Morning in a Pine Forest” and the delightful film tells of the three bears that end up as painters in Paris. Anyone who is familiar with the impressionist painters will laugh heartily at the adventures of the three brothers, Henry, Vincent (with appropriately bandaged ear), and August as they travel back to Russia to find their heritage. I have seen the original painting in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. I wondered how comprehensible the film is to people not familiar with the picture. I finally decided that anyone who can enjoy the art puns will like the film. At the studio we dined on a spread of cabbage soup, black bread and beer with plenty of vodka to keep us warm in the cold Estonian night on our walk back to the center of the city.

After the party, a group of us ended the evening in a bar for good conversation and more beer and wine. I had a long talk with Priit Parn and his wife Olga Marchenko. Olga and Priit worked together on a segment for BLACK CEILING, Estonia’s animated poetry project. Olga is an accomplished photographer in her own right, and Priit needs no introduction to anyone who knows animation since he is one of the greats of Estonian film.

Pritt Parn and Olga Marchenko
Pritt Parn and Olga Marchenko

On the second evening, my Norwegian pal Gunnar Strom (who had moderated a panel discussion that afternoon) and I went to a party at the animation school in Tallinn to learn about the TEACHING WITH ANIMATION project. This DVD, with accompanying booklet, is a European partnership project designed to help teachers introduce animation into their classroom. There are segments on “How to Teach Animation”, advice on the different stages of production, “technical set-up” and an overview of the history of animation along with other very useful information. Anyone interested in more information on this project can visit the ANIMATION WORKSHOP website: www.animwork.dk or contact Helle Villekold at helle@animwork.dk.

Gunnar Strom kissing the plaque commemorating Estonia's first animation studio
Gunnar Strom kissing the plaque commemorating Estonia’s first animation studio

Later in the evening the Festival invited all participants to an at an ice rink that they took over for the evening. With many of the festival attendees being from Latvia, Estonia and the Nordic countries, there was some very fancy skating going on. To add to the fun, there was a competition where each skating team created tableaux on ice. Some groups went for the grace and line (a perfect 10?) while others played on the absurd. It was all in good fun for fabulous prizes such as gift certificates to festival sponsor restaurants and bars. I was honored to be selected as one of the three judges.On Saturday I met up with my animator turned jeweler friend Julia Maria Kunnap to catch up with her activities since I had last seen her on the KROK boat several years ago. Over lunch, she filled me in on her life, then we went to the lovely apartment that she shares with her husband, Asko Kunnap, who I had never met but liked instantly. He is head of the largest advertising agency in Estonia and is very active on the Estonian poetry scene. I am familiar with the Dutch and Belgian poetry/animation projects but was not aware that Estonian poets and animators had collaborated on a project called Black Ceiling. Asko’s poem “The Very Last Cigarette” is brought to life by Kaspar Jancis, one of my favorite of the younger Estonian animators. This ironic poem is voiced on the film by Julia Maria and Asko reading the alternating male and female voices. Another collaboration that I think works very well is Andres Ehin’s poem “A Vegetated Director” brought to life on the screen by Priit Tender, another animator that I have a great respect for. The DVD comes with a lovely book of the poems in both Estonian and English, an illustration from the film, and bios of the poet s and animators.The closing night party was the true icing on a many tiered cake, with Nukufilm hosting us for their Jubilee Party at the Tallinn Puppet Theatre. The evening started off with a potpourri of old and new films from the studio, and to prove the adage that everything that old is new again we were treated to an old stop motion 3D film (the kind of film that you put on the special glasses for) from the studio vaults followed by a new 3-D film . Both films sent objects flying out over our heads to oohs and ahhs of surprise and delight from the audience.

Audience enjoying the 3D films
Audience enjoying the 3D films

The late night buffet was a sumptuous feast and the libations flowed freely. To make it an even more spectacular party, there was the FIRST WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. Seven teams from around the world vied for the title of champion by making a film in thirty minutes while the rest of us watched. The Latvian team took home the much coveted honors amid stiff competition.

L-R back row - Asko Kunnap, Suzie Templeton, Gunnar Strom and Peter Lord; front row Julia Maria Kunnap and me
L-R back row - Asko Kunnap, Suzie Templeton, Gunnar Strom and Peter Lord; front row Julia Maria Kunnap and me

Sunday, the festival might be over but the fun was certainly not. After a leisurely stroll through the Tallinn open air market, I ended up in the Reval Café, the official festival gathering spot, where I was joined by Peter Lord (head of Aardman). Over a wonderful, leisurely four hour brunch, we solved all of the “animation problems of the world”. Later that afternoon I joined Julia Marie and Asko at a party to celebrate the Black Ceiling project. While dining on another sumptuous buffet and enjoying a lovely wine from the very generous bar, I met many of Estonia’s leading underground poets and zine publishers along with Signe Baumane and talented Canadian animator Theodore Ushev. This was a perfect end to a festival visit that I will never forget. I would encourage any animator to submit their film to this festival. The screening theatre is lovely and the technical facilities are excellent, so that films are presented properly and the festival staff goes out of their way to make your visit a total pleasure. To contact the festival e-mail them at anima@poff.ee you can visit their website (in English at http://2007.poff.ee/?handler=&lang=2&st= ).

My visit to Estonia was the halfway mark in my seven week “grand animation tour” and I had three days before I was scheduled to be in Rome for the I Castelli Animati where I had been invited to be a juror and would finally meet Nik again. My good friend, Signe Baumane, who lives and creates her wonderful animations primarily in New York City, was born in Latvia and she has said many times that she would like to take me home to her family’s farm in the countryside about an hour outside of Riga. Since we were both in Estonia at the festival, this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I love festivals and watching animation but I must admit that those three days of doing nothing but reading, walking in the country with the family dogs, and eating delicious food that had been grown by Signe’s family was a wonderful treat. The family had been hunting the day before and the fresh venison tasted superb. There was also an abundance of wonderful honey from the family hives. Having this much time for Signe and I to just talk was a rare treat. On the last night of my visit the two of us spent several hours in a sauna. Signe’s entire family was so warm and welcoming that I felt very at home and so fortunate to have these special memories. All too soon it was time to leave, but it was a much more relaxed person who took the train to Riga. Next stop Rome!

First Festival for Student Animation - Deadline soon!
Friday February 08th 2008, 1:53 pm
Filed under: Festivals

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.

Information from website (www.firstfestival.com) below:

First – International Student Meeting for Animation Arts - will take place from the 10th to 13th of March 2008 at the ESAD/IPL school in Caldas da Rainha.

It is intended to value and showcase the most relevant works produced by students and art schools worldwide, presenting their particular artistic, irreverent, intelligent and experimental characteristics.

Besides the screenings of the selected works, we will be promoting meetings between the young artists, and organize workshops and seminars for students, professors and professionals, thus stimulating the present and future of the art of animation.

The art of animation today is becoming increasingly important. Whether as a work of art in it’s own right, integrated in an installation piece, special effects in big movie productions, as an integrative part of a live performance, or as a support for communication or design, animation is a constant element which is present in today’s different media.

The increasing importance of animation lead to the foundation of art schools specialized in this area, be it traditional animation or using of digital tools.

Work produced by students of these art schools has recently gained worldwide recognition in almost all major international festivals because of its excellent quality.

The Animation department of the Escola Superior das Artes e do Design (ESAD) in Caldas da Rainha organize the First | International Student Meeting for Animation Arts | that intends to value and present the most relevant works produced by students and art schools worldwide, presenting their particular artistic, irreverent, intelligent and experimental characteristics.

Besides the screenings of the selected works, we will be promoting meetings between the young artists, and organize workshops and seminars for students, professors and professionals, thus stimulating the present and future of the art of animation.

The FIRST is organized by ESAD/IPL with the partnership of other institutions, Townhall, Art Institute for Cinema (ICAM), Embassies.

All animated films and works must be produced by students to be admitted. Any film has to be finished by January 2004 or after. Only entire films (no excerpts) will be admitted for selection. The selection of

installation and performance pieces should be based on scale models, photographs and videos that present the work in a clear and unequivocal way.
The participation in the festival is free and open to films, objects, installations and performances that incorporate animation as a significant part of the work.

Deadlines and registration

Deadline for entry form is 15th of February 2008.

Deadline for sending films, scale models, photographs, etc. is 29th of February 2008.
Besides the registration form the following items must be sent:

  1. A copy of the film in DVD, miniDV, DV or VHS format.
  2. A signed copy of the registration form
  3. One or more digital Images (300ppi) of the film and one photo of the author(s)
  4. A list of dialogues, commentaries, or texts inserted in the film in the original language and in English

Note - VHS format is only accepted for selection, not for screening

Films have to be sent by mail with the message: “Filme para festival sem valor comercial” or “Film for festival. No commercial value.”

Films and other works will be selected during March. Selected candidates will be notified by e-mail.

Any national or international institution may submit one or more films/works. Artists who submit their work individually must prove that the work was produced while being a student.

Registration forms, copies of films and promotional material should indicate the registration number sent by e-mail.

Please send your work to:

International Student Meeting of Animation Arts Tel: (+351) 262 830 900
Escola Superior de Artes e Design Fax: (+351) 262 830 904
Rua Isidoro Inácio Alves de Carvalho e-mail:info@firstanima.com

Return of copies
Only the copies of films and works for screenings and exhibitions will be returned. Copies sent for selection will not be returned.

Films and other works will be insured during the festival (during the time they are kept by the organization). Each copy should not exceed the value of 100 Euros.

Screening of the selected films
The festival accepts the following formats for projection: DVD, miniDV, DV or Betacam SP (Pal). Copies for screenings must be received by the 29th of February 2008 without fail.

Jury and Awards
The festival FIRST has a somewhat alternative philosophy: there are no specific awards in specific categories. The jury will select one hour of films for the screening which are in the competition. All authors whose work has been selected will receive the same award.
The jury will comprise national and international film directors, professors, journalists and students.

About the Award
Award winning films will be compiled on a DVD, which will be promoted and screened at other International Schools and/or festivals with no commercial interests. The Award is intended to allow for the promotion and presentation of the award winning films reaching a maximum of people and institutions.

The registration of one or more films/works implies accepting the rules and regulations of the festival without exceptions.

Final considerations
Any doubts concerning the rules and regulations will be resolved by the organization based on the principles of equity and common sense.

The registration for the FIRST 2008 Festival implies the full acceptance of the rules and regulations.
Any doubts concerning differing interpretations will be clarified based on the Portuguese version of this document.

Friday February 08th 2008, 11:08 am
Filed under: Festivals

MONSTRA ANIMATION FESTIVAL May 8 through 18th, 2008

Monstra 2008
Monstra 2008

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.

In addition to the short animation and student competitions there will a retrospective tribute to English animation and films for young audiences. Nik and I will be there again this year so of course there will be music and many, many surprises! You can read my article about MONSTRA 2006 at my blog site.

You can get information on the festival and enter your film at www.monstrafestival.com. The deadline for entries is February 15th so… DON’T WAIT — enter your film TODAY!!!

Two Animated Shorts Censored by iTunes at Sundance Online - IMPORTANT UPDATES!
Friday February 01st 2008, 3:18 am
Filed under: Festivals

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]

Both animated films were screened at Sundance 2008 where they were invited to be part of Sundance Online which is a great opportunity for short filmmakers to get their films out to audiences and make a little money. In the middle of the festival the filmmakers were notified that their films would not be part of the package deal because i Tunes found Teat Beat of Sex too explicit and Because Washington is Hollywood for Ugly People is too political (read too anti-Bush).

Teat Beat of Sex
Teat Beat of Sex

Sundance Film Festival has expressed that they are very upset about the censorship, but that there is nothing that they can do. This was initially a package deal with iTunes, Netflix and Xbox but the two films cannot be downloaded from any of the three services. [NOTE: It turns out that the two films were not online earlier with Netflix and Xbox due to technical glitches and not due to any censorship issues(?)]

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]

Here are the links to Sundance Online to view the short films (now with the two animation shorts on Netflix and Xbox):http://www.netflix.com/sundance , http://www.itunes.com/sundance , http://www.xbox.com/sundance