Filed under: Festivals
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.
Paul Bush is always certain to entertain both in person and on film. His retrospective covered a wide selection of diverse styles and subjects. HIS COMEDY, a journey to hell with Dante Alighieri, based on the Dore illustrations, is incised directly on the film. Paul’s WHILE DARWIN SLEEPS uses over 3000 images of insects shown at vertiginous speed, one in each frame. One of my all time favorite films is Paul’s classic FURNITURE POETRY where, with the aid of optical tricks he illustrates Wittgenstein’s quest to discover if common objects will disappear or change shape every time we are not watching.
I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting the Brothers Quay before but they turned out to be as interesting as their films. Their workshop turned out to be two entertaining hours of the brothers talking about a wide range of topics, especially how they work as an inseparable team in their studio. They alternate jobs with one brother moving the puppet and the other filming. The packed audience was treated to an unusually personal glimpse into the lives of two extraordinary filmmakers who work as one. After the session a group of us repaired to the little neighborhood cafe where they further endeared themselves to me when I discovered how much they also appreciate red wine.
Stephen and Timothy Quay and Phil Mulloy relaxing at the tjeater cafe
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.
There was also an extensive exhibit of their puppets and sets at the Lisbon Museu de Marioneta (the Marionette Museum). Seeing the small dimensions, detail and inventive use of found objects in the brothers’ work gave me an even greater appreciation of their artistic abilities. This was the first year that the museum hosted a festival exhibit and I hope it will not be the last. Located in an old convent, the museum is a wonderful setting for the puppet collection, which includes sets for the revered Portuguese animator Jose Miguel Ribeiro’s award winning THE SUSPECT. It is worth visiting the museum just to see Ribeiro’s sets.
A special treat was seeing four films by Vera Neubauer. I had never thought about how radically different Vera changes her style from film to film until I saw 4 of her films together. The petite Neubauer may look like a charming proper lady, but her highly experimental work triggers strong emotions, with its unforgettable images that continue to haunt you long after the screen goes dark. The festival showed three of her totally adult films The Last Circus, Wheel of Life, and Mid Air. Wolly Wolf was made for kids and in 2001 it was awarded 2 BAFTA awards (Best Animation and Best Short Film). I think that her work is exciting because she can work in such radically different styles from film to film and yet make each style and story interesting to the viewer. She certainly deserves her place in the hierarchy of British animation for daring to push the boundaries of imagination to new levels with her creative mixture of images and mediums.
Even more innocent looking when you first meet him is Phil Mulloy. I have known Phil long enough to realize that behind his boyish grin lurks one of the most abrasive, in your face animators creating film today. Phil’s works are a ferocious attack on conservative conventions and sensibilities. In his THE SOUND OF MUSIC from 1993, we are shown a portrait of western culture with its class distinctions and sexual repressions. His first feature film THE CHRISTIES, one of a projected trilogy about the Christie family, uses enormous black silhouette faces that fill the screen. They speak to each other in complex dialogue of the most abusive nature to confront each other. Whether you love or hate his work and there don’t seem to be many people with an indifferent point of view, you have to agree that Phil Mulloy is one of the most original voices of present day animation.
British Academy Award winning director David Anderson, who had a new film in the competition, presented a retrospective of his work and a workshop. Known for mixing traditional animation with stop-motion, pixilation, cutout animation and reworked live-action footage, Anderson gave us a peek into his bizarre, surreal worlds. His award winning DREAMLESS SLEEP uses no dialog to communicate a couple’s uncertainty and fear about what is happening after a nuclear explosion. If he had used dialogue it would have been a much easier job to tell the story, but he relied upon his puppets to create the mood and emotions.
Vera Neubauer, Festival Director Galrito and David Anderson
David’s most recent film, TONGUE OF THE HIDDEN, is an adaptation of the poet Haffez’s “The Tellers of Secrets.” Haffez, called the teller of secrets, used the language of human love and metaphor to describe his intoxicton with the mysteries of the universe and David uses the visual language of 2D and 3D animation to take us into the lyrical world of Haffez.
John Halas and Joy Batchelor’s daughter Vivian Halas presented a screening of short films by her parents, who are renowned pioneers in the history of British animation. The festival also showed their adaption of George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM,1954. It was the first British animated feature shown to the public (prior to this there had only been educational and war propaganda feature films which were exclusively shown to the army). The film combines the Disney style with an adult script. Vivian has documented her parents brilliant careers in a book entitled HALAS & BATCHELOR CARTOONS; AN ANIMATION HISTORY.
Three-time Oscar nominee Mark Baker began creating animated films with an 8 mm camera when he was a teenager. Today he is considered to be one of Britian’s most acclaimed filmmakers. His first major film, THE HILL FARM, took him three years to complete using traditional drawing techniques with the amazing use of crayons. Using only sound effects, no dialogue, the film takes a close look at the cycle of rural life and the ruptures of its ecosystem. This charming film won the 1988 Grand Prize at Annecy, an Oscar nomination and it has been shown at countless festivals around the world.
Baker’s 1993 film THE VILLAGE looks at the darkest side of rural life. Set in a village where life is organized in a way which allows everyone to know each other’s business and punishment is handed out to those who don’t follow the rules, it is a fascinating parable about intolerance and envy. Once again there is no dialogue. THE VILLAGE won many awards including the Cartoon D’ Or, the Annecy Jury Prize, and a second Oscar nomination.
Baker’s third Oscar nomination came in 1999 for JOLLY ROGER. To create this film Baker used the computer to manipulate and color his hand drawn pictures. Once again he received the Jury Prize at Annecy.
Other British programs were shown without the atists present. They included two Aardman retrospectives and a program of Joanna Quinn’s brilliantly funny films.
The very knowledgeable animation historian James Walker presented his choices of Humor in British Animation that featured such classics as Bob Godfrey’s brilliant DO IT YOURSELF CARTOON KIT and KARMA SUTRA RIDES AGAIN. Ninety of my favorite minutes at the festival were spent watching the YELLOW SUBMARINE. It’s hard to believe that it was released 40 years ago. It is still fresh, humorous and incredibly entertaining. It only took George Dunning, who directed the feature, 11 months to make it only costing around one million dollars, yet he and his crew created a fantastic film that is still a joy to see on a big screen.
Every evening the Festival Café, upstairs at the Teatro Maria Matos, offered a place for all of us to gather and talk over drinks and snacks. Keeping to the English theme, Nik and Serbian animator Rastko Ciric gave a late night concert in the café that featured a mixture of original Beatle songs and songs from Rastko’s The Rubber Soul Project: An Imaginary Beatles Album. The project uses titles from the Lennon/McCartney songbook of songs that they never wrote lyrics and music for. Nik and Rastko will be performing next at the 2nd ANIMART, July 13-20 in Monodendri, Ioannina, Greece. For this concert under the stars they will play only songs with “moon” in the title.
The Band - Rastko Ciric and Nik Phelps
Part 2 Of the article will follow soon