Sita Sings the Blues
Monday April 28th 2008, 4:10 am
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Nik and I have always followed Nina Paley’s animation career with delight and amazement. Her new feature length film SITA SINGS THE BLUES is indeed a crowning achievement and Nik is very honored and pleased to be a small part of it by creating some music for the film.

Sita and Rama, from Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues
Sita and Rama, from Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues

Be sure to visit this link to self interview that Nina created for the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s entertaining, funny and shows what ingenuity animators have when it comes to promoting their work. You may also recognize the music. ENJOY!!!
You can visit Nina’s website at for more of her ongoing adventures, and see more information on Sita Sings the Blues at
You can visit Nik’s website at
Rama and his army, from Nina Paley's Sita Sings the Blues
Rama and his army, from Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues

Saturday April 19th 2008, 3:10 am
Filed under: Personal
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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.

Over the next 12 months, my eyesight rapidly deteriorated. By the time I took my 7 week “Grand Festival Tour” in November, I knew that I was in real trouble. Traveling alone was quite a challenge. It was very unsettling to stare at the arrival and departure screens in the airport and train stations without being able to read a thing, not to mention managing my arrival at an airport in London and taking the tube across town while pulling a very heavy suitcase. I really related to Blanche DuBoise, as I too relied upon the kindness of strangers.

Once I arrived at the festivals, there was always a friend on hand to help me get down the theatre aisle. This simple walk had become a challenge since my night vision was almost gone, and a dim theatre was like entering the belly of the beast. It’s amazing how conspicuous you feel sitting in the front row of a partially full theatre, but I was lucky to have friends offer to escort me down to the front and sit with me.

Enter into my life Doctor Jan Poelman. When he first diagnosed my vision problem as cataracts and said that there was no way to tell how rapidly they would progress, I was horrified. My next thought was “how long can I put surgery off”. I had a busy festival schedule through February, and no matter how silly it seems, spring sunshine and flowers sounded like a much better time for an operation than during the cold and rainy months.


Over my next few visits to Doctor Poelman, I discovered that he had a keen sense of humor, an absolute necessity for any doctor that is going to cut me open anywhere. He was straightforward in explaining what was going to happen to my eyes. He answered all my questions, and most important of all, he laughed, qualities that I usually found lacking in my U.S. surgeons (although Jeri, my GP/Nurse Practitioner in San Francisco also possessed these qualities).

Doctor Poelman made me feel secure enough about the entire process so that when I went to the hospital to have my right eye cut open and fitted with its new plastic lens I felt amazingly calm. I was astonished to find only a ten minute wait at the hospital to check in, and then it was right upstairs, where the nurses checked my blood pressure and dilated my eye. Each eye is operated on a week apart just in case something should go wrong and to give you time to recover and adjust.

After a few minutes, off I went to the pre-op room for my IV, which was a mild relaxant, and a local anesthetic for my eye. The nurses gave me my fashion accessories to go with my hospital gown: a blue plastic hat and blue plastic shoe covers. Yes, I was amazed that I got to wear my shoes into surgery and it was somehow very comforting – the adult version of taking my Teddy Bear to bed with me. My entire face was eventually covered in the operating room, with a cloth leaving just a small space where my right eye was exposed. Throughout this entire process, the nurses and my doctor laughed and joked with me, which really helped me relax. They even got into the spirit of taking the photos for this article. The gurney ride to the operating room was only a few feet away from the pre op room. Although we were joined by my smiling doctor, I was pleased that the minute surgery began, everyone became very serious and professional. As much as I love to laugh, this was my eye, and I didn’t want Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush operating on me no matter how much I love Groucho Marx.


No one prepared me for the adventure that awaited me on that operating table. First of all a very bright light was shined in my eye, and then the most fantastic animated light show began. I have never seen such intense, vivid colors, not even at the Fillmore light shows in the ‘60’s. The magenta and aquamarines were intertwined with olive green circles that radiated lustrous gold and orange shooting sparks that felt like they were flying out of my brain. The colors and shapes all moved in rhythmic patterns to the music on the operating room radio and made me feel that I was in the middle of an Otto Fischinger animated short. I can only imagine what I would have seen and heard if I had been given the really good drugs.


The week between the two surgeries was a bit schizophrenic. One eye had 20/20 vision and the other one had zilch vision, and by the end of the seven days my weaker eye had lost the battle and given in to my stronger eye. I began to have glimpses into the wonderful world of colors and sight that I had lost. Now that round two is over, I can see the world even without my rose colored glasses (although I still need them to read) and it looks like my world is a pretty good place to be right now.

There is no way I can adequately thank my many friends who supported me throughout this entire ordeal. I especially want to acknowledge my numerous friends who helped me look like I knew where I was and what was happening at animation festivals. I never could have done it without you all.

Nik and I leave on 1 May for the Trickfilm Festival in Stuttgart, where we will give a workshop and I will watch and write about films from anywhere in the theatre that I feel like sitting. From there we travel to Lisbon for Monstra where I have the honor to be on the Student Film jury and Nik will perform with the fabulous musician/animator Rasto Ćirić. Nik will also give a three day workshop. I will, of course, send you full reports of these events.

ANIMA BRUSSELS: The Festival In My Back Yard
Saturday April 05th 2008, 7:58 am
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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.

Peur(s) Du Noir
Peur(s) Du Noir

The strong individual styles depict how people’s bizarre fears can so easily become a part of their reality, whether the fears are overcome or succumbed to. The individual musical scores added greatly to the overall effect of the 6 individual pieces, but I found the transition sequences, where a soothing French voice tells us of her fears, most distracting, completely destroying the mood set by the separate vignettes. Each segment could stand on its own as a short animated work.

Fourteen features were screened, with eight in competition. I really enjoy Nocturna. This Spanish film revolves around the young orphan Tim who watches his favorite star disappear from the heavens. He meets characters that magically populate the night and battles a shadow that threatens the inhabitants of the dark. I was enchanted with the design of the film in which the animators recreated the rooftops of Paris in soft, muted tones of brown and blue. In contrast to the background, the characters showed a strong Japanese influence, especially Mr. Moka, who supervises the organization that governs the night realm.

Adrian Garcia, who co-directed the film with Victor Maldonado, proved to be as charming as his film. Over drinks he told me that he and Victor had known each other since high school and had worked as artistic directors on the 2003 Spanish animated feature El Cid: The Legend, but Nocturne marks their directorial debut. When I asked Adrian why the background scenes were Parisian and not Spanish, he told me that they worked with a third partner who lives in Paris and the backgrounds were inspired by views from his window,


Saturday there was a delightful party for kids following the screening of Max & Co. There was plenty of food and soft drinks for the children, wine and beer for the parents and activities for all. There was even face painting for the younger babes in arms. I admire the efforts by the festival to reach out to the very youngest of the movie going public and creating screenings and events for the entire family. Children are never too young to begin to learn that cinema going is a part of life and not just a special event.

In the afternoons young people could make their own animated films with assistance of a team of animators from Pantalone Art Studio. Children were also given an opportunity to vote for their own prize winners: Best Children’s Short Film went to German Director Gil Alkabetz’s Ein Sonniger Tag/ A Sunny Day and Best Children’s Feature went to le Petit Roi Macius/ Little King Macius, a French, German and Polish co-production about a 9 year old Prince who becomes King of his realm when his beloved father dies.

Of the 79 films in the International Competition there weren’t any real surprises. The jury, French animator Arthur De Pins, Japanese born Fumio Obata, who now works in Edinburgh, and Regina Pessoa from Portugal, gave the Grand Prize of 3,000.00 Euros to The Tale of How by South Africa’s Blackheart Gang. I wrote about their film when it won the Grand Prix at the Black Nights Festival in Estonia. The award for Best Short Film went to The Pearce Sisters. This year Anime introduced awards in two new categories, Commercials and Music Videos. You can see the complete list of award winners at the end of this article.

A highlight of the festival for me is the chance to see many Belgian films that are not screened at other festivals. 8 of the total 19 prizes awarded at the Festival were in the National Competition category. The Grand Prix of the French speaking community of Belgium went to Le Pont (The Bridge). Vincent Bierrewaerts’ film tells the tale of a father and son living on a mountain top where the only access to the outside world is a bridge. The story of the bridge collapsing and the son’s growing awareness of the outside world also won the Audience Award for the Best Belgian Film and the Belgian Television Award which is 1,500.00 Euros and a television distribution contract.

I have known and respected the work of Rosto for quite a while. Originally coming out of the Dutch alternative music scene, he has now become well known as an innovative filmmaker, graphic artist, and illustrator. Since delving into the world of animation, Rosto has utilized many different mediums: 2D and 3D, photographs, drawing and rotoscoping in order to create his own very dynamic and dark personal universe. Being able to see a body of his work, 22 pieces, in one sitting at his Anima retrospective gave me an even greater appreciation of Rosto’s vast range of talents.

It was particularly wonderful to see Rosto’s 1-minute video collaboration with The Residence for their 2004 Commercial Album DVD on the big screen. The project, which utilizes 24 different visual artists spanning a wide array of mediums, is a tribute to the 25th anniversary of the Commercial Album based on the original 40 Commercial Album songs.

Rosto was accompanied to the festival by his girlfriend Suzie Templeton. Suzie was about to fly to San Francisco and then on to Hollywood where her film Peter and the Wolf was nominated for the Academy Award. Regina Pessoa, Abi Feijo (Regina’s husband and an amazing animator in his own right), Adrian Garcia, Rosto and I drank a good luck toast to Suzie, and it must have worked because as you all know by now, she won.

Susie and Rosto
Susie and Rosto

The Max Fleischer tribute screened a program of Betty Boop films and two feature films, Mr. Bug Goes to Town and Gulliver’s Travels. This collection of 11 Betty Boop shorts restored by the UCLA Film Archive is so beautiful and crisp that it was a rare treat to see them on the big screen. In the 70 years since Mae Questel’s high-pitched voice brought the big-eyed coquette, the epitome of the 20’s flapper, to life on the silver screen, so much of our early film history has been lost. Future generations will owe so much to the UCLA film restorers who are preserving the fragile nitrate prints. Mr. Bug Goes to Town was originally meant as an adaptation of Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Life of a Bee, but the Fleischer Brothers couldn’t secure the rights to the story. The film is a superb cartoon full of references to the war in Europe and the impending entrance of the US into WW II transposed into the insect world. Unfortunately the message of how war destroys innocent lives is still relevant. The film was released two days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor relegating it to forgotten history. The 1939 Gulliver’s Travels, which was the first Fleischer Studio feature, was also screened.

The 60 Years of Polish animation programs included films by such renowned names as Jan Lenica, Jerzy Kucia, Zbigniew Rybezynski, Piotr Dumala and Walerian Borowczky. A program of new Polish animation proved that the lush visual tradition is being carried on by the next generation. There was also a program devoted to young German animators with a preview of films from the Dok Festival in Leipzig.

Leslie Iwerk’s The Pixar Story traces the history of the studio and its legendary figures of Steve Job, Ed Catmull, and John Lasseter to the next generation who will become legends. Her documentary takes us behind the scenes of the company that pioneered a new generation of animators and forever changed the face of filmmaking. Leslie’s warm and intimate style of documentary filming is just as evident in this film as it was in The Hand Behind The Mouse that chronicles the life of Ub Iwerks , her grandfather. Ub was the original designer and co-creator of Mickey Mouse. Watching The Pixar Story brought back so many memories for me of living in San Francisco and visiting Pixar.

For the second year Anima hosted Siggraph’s the Electronic Theatre competition for 3D imagery. Terrance Masson, President of Siggraph 2006 and a special effects pioneer, introduced the program as well as presented a talk on the history of CGI. Wavelength 07, which takes place in London at the Onedotzero Festival, also presented a compilation of the newest and most innovative music videos.

Animated Nights beginning at 22h00 on the first Saturday night and going until the wee hours of the morning was the only disappointment that I had at Anima. The program, designed to appeal to a young audience and those of us interested in new, cutting edge work, but it definitely was not cutting edge and lacked a sense of excitement and fun. People just sat in their seats with very little audience response.

Embedded in the Festival is the Futuranima Conference which covers different aspects of current animation production. 30 members of the European animation industry sat on different panels covering a wide range of topics ranging from copyrights and new technology to sound design.

Nik joined me in Brussels for the closing night award ceremony which was followed by a reception. As the perfect antidote to days of sitting in a theatre seat, the festival ended with a band playing in the expansive lower lobby where Nik and I joined other festival goers and staff dancing and drinking until 4 AM.

Nik and Nancy
Nik and Nancy

Festival co-directors Doris Cleven and Philippe Moins have a very clear vision of presenting a varied program of high quality animation with films to suit every age and taste. Francoise Cathalan, press liaison, went out of her way to make sure that I was able to see every program that I wanted to view and meet anyone that I wanted to interview. Stephanie Coerten, under the title of presenter introduced each program, and conducted on stage interviews with animators with an entertaining sense of humor and irony. She was also a very entertaining fashion plate with at least two costume changes a day. I was always captivated to see what she would wear on stage next. A tireless group of volunteers were always ready to help with information, directions or a friendly smile. The 10 days of the festival are so packed with exciting programs that I couldn’t possibly see them all, much less write about them.

Festival co-Directors
Festival co-Directors

Stephanie Coerten
Stephanie Coerten

The festival’s home is the Flagrey, a historic 1930’ Art Deco Building located a little south of the Brussels city center and only a half hour train ride from my home in Gent. It is a perfect home for the festival. Originally designed to house 2 French and Flemish Broadcasting companies, the large screening room has excellent acoustics. A smaller, more intimate theatre is perfect for the many talks and demonstrations, and there are numerous conference rooms. There are also 2 festival bars which afford ample opportunity for discussions of the films and catching up on news with friends.

Anima 2009 will take place February 20th to the 27th. . You can get more information about Anima Brussels at and contact the festival at

The festival prizes - PALMARES ANIMA 2008

Awards Given by the Jury

International Competition – Short Films

* Grand Prix Anima 2008 (3.000 €, given by the Brussels-Capital Region)
The Tale of How (ZAF)
The Blackheart Gang
For its originality and because it offers its spectators a new graphic
perspective within the world of animation.

* Best Short Film Award (Toon Boom - software)
The Pearce Sisters (GBR)
Luis Cook
For its high quality script and direction, and its graphical skill. This short
film proves to be funny, sarcastic and touching, all at the same time.

* Best Student Short Film Award (Toon Boom - software)
La Queue de la souris (FRA)
Benjamin Renner
For perfect command of minimal graphics and mastering of animation.

* Best Short Children’s Film Award (Toon Boom - software)
Ein Sonniger Tag (DEU)
Gil Alkabetz
For the absence of dialogue and its excellent direction, which contribute to its universal appeal.

* Special Mention
Madame Tutli-Putli (CAN)
Chris Lavis, Maciek Szczerbowski
For having brought the use of puppets in animation to a new level, thanks
to a new innovative technique.

International Competition – Music Videos and Commercials

* Best Music Video Award The Horrors ‘She’s the New Thing’ (GBR)
Corin Hardy

* Best Advertising Award Lloyds TSB ‘For the Journey’ (GBR)
Marc Craste

National Competition

* Grand Prix of the French Community for a film of the French Community (2.500 € + Toon Boom - software)
Le Pont, Vincent Bierrewaerts

* SACD Award (2.000 € + Toon Boom - software)
Le Voyageur, Johan Pollefoort

* SABAM Award (2.000 € + Toon Boom - software)
Terzo Mondo, Tom Van Gestel

* ACE Digital Group Award (Ace Digital House, Victor 3D, A Sound)
(7,500 € worth of funding towards postproduction)
L’Evasion, Arnaud Demuynck

Awards Given by the Public

* Audience Award for Best Short Film (Toon Boom - software)
La Queue de la souris (FRA)
Benjamin Renner

* Audience Award for Best Short Children’s Film (Toon Boom - software)
Ein Sonniger Tag (DEU)
Gil Alkabetz

* Audience Award for Best Feature Animation Tekkon Kinkreet (JPN)
Michael Arias

* Audience Award for Best Children’s Feature Animation Le Petit roi Macius (FRA / DEU/ POL)
Sandor Jesse & Lutz Stützner

* Audience Award for Best Belgian Short (Toon Boom software)
Le Pont
Vincent Bierrewaerts

Awards Given by the Partners

* BeTV Prize for Best Feature Film (purchase distribution rights)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (JPN)
Mamoru Hosoda

* BeTV Prize (1.500€ including distribution rights)
Le Voyageur
Johan Pollefoort

* RTBF Prize (1.500€ including distribution rights)
Le Pont
Vincent Bierrewaerts

* Cinergie Prize (Electronic press kit)
Le Voyageur
Johan Pollefoort

Wednesday April 02nd 2008, 4:02 am
Filed under: Festivals
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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.

They are:

–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.

–DIE DREI RAUBER (Hayo Freitag — Germany): One bitter dark night, three robbers stop a carriage for gold. Instead, they get to know the little orphan Tiffany.

–IDIOTS & ANGELS (Bill Plympton — US): Dark comedy about a man’s battle for his soul.

–NOCTURNA (Adria Garcia, Victor Maldonado — Spain, France): Tim’s fear has given birth to a menacing monster whose only goal is to wipe out all sources of light.
–PEUR(S) DU NOIR (Christian Hincker (Dit Blutch), Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard Mcguire — France): Six creators have breathed life into their nightmares, bleeding away colour to retain the starkness of light and the pitch black of shadows. Their intertwined stories make up an epic, where phobias, disgust and nightmares come to life and reveal Fear at its most naked and intense.

–PIANO NO MORI (Masayuki KOJIMA — Japan): A tale of two talented youngsters from different backgrounds learning to play the piano. One is from a good family, the other, a street urchin, and subsequently they have only Mozart and Chopin in common.

–SITA SINGS THE BLUES (Nina Paley — US): The musical adaptation of the Indian epic RAMAYANA.

–TOUS A L’OUEST, UNE AVENTURE DE LUCKY LUKE (Olivier Jean-Marie — France): New York, 1855. The Daltons are on the run, having held up all the banks in town, but just before Lucky Luke arrests them, they stash the cash in a wagon of a caravan of pioneers. The pioneers have 80 days to get back to California, accompanied by Lucky Luke, who’s taking the Daltons back to jail, whilst all the brothers think about is getting their loot back.

Annecy 2008 will be held June 9-14, 2008 in France