Saturday August 23rd 2008, 7:56 am
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Monstra is a very civilized festival. During the day there were screenings for local school children. At the beginning of the second week competition screenings started, but not until 19h00 (7:00 PM). The seven competition sessions were packed full of such crowd pleasers as The Tale of How by the Black Heart Gang, Ree Treweek, Jannes Hendrikz, and Markus Smit, a trio of South African animators who call themselves a collective and Estonian animators Jellena Girlin and Mari-Liis Bassovskaja’s The Dress. Both of these films have won awards at several major festivals. There were also new treasures to discover, like award winning animator Koji Yamamura’s latest film A Child’s Metaphysics. Koji’s view of the serious business of childhood has both humor and sadness as he deals with the pitfalls and joys of being a child.

An illustrious array from the world of animation also arrived for jury duty at the beginning of the second week. Renowned Portuguese animator Jose Miguel Ribeiro, British animation authority Jayne Pilling, director of the BAA Awards (the bi-annual British Animation Awards), and Igor Prassel, Animateka Ljubljana Program Director and long time co-editor of Stripburger, Slovenia’s only comic magazine were joined by noted Lisbon director Joao Garcao Borges and Chrysanthe Sotiropoulou, Artistic Director of Athens Animafest.

Russia’s renowned Pilot Studio sent two of its beautiful Mountain of Gems series. The audience donned 3-D glasses for Rastko Ĉiriĉ’s tribute to Emil Cohl’s Fantasmagorie, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. Lapsus, a humorous tale of a curious nun who ventures into the darker side of her animated world, by Juan Pablo Zaramella of Argentina gave the audience 2 ½ minutes of laughter while Svetlana Filippova’s sensitive Three Love Stories delved into the loves and losses of a poet during the Russian Revolution. So much has already been written about Koji Yamamura’s brilliant Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor that I don’t have any new adjectives to use, suffice it to say that it has garnered top honors at many prestigious festivals on several continents.

Rastko, Nancy and Koji with Koji's Grand Prix award
Rastko, Nancy and Koji with Koji’s Grand Prix award

I was very honored to be invited to sit on the Student Competition Jury. Joining me were Serbian Renaissance Man Rastko Ĉiriĉ, Koji Yamamura, and noted Portuguese journalist Luis Salvado. The Student Competitions had many crowd pleasers. Octopodi by six French students is a tale of two octopi helping each other escape from the grasp of a stubborn restaurant cook who they lead on a very comical chase worthy of the Keystone Cops. German animator Milen Vitanov’s My Happy End has won several Junior Jury and Audience Awards at festivals. This clever story of a dog that chases his own tail and finds his own best friend when he catches it always brings a light moment to screenings.

Nancy, Rastko, Luis and Koji, the Student Competition jury:
Nancy, Rastko, Luis and Koji, the Student Competition jury:

I also enjoyed Small Birds Singing, Linda McCarthy’s quirky story of a family that lives at the English estate Small Birds Singing, where every day is Monday. How could I not like a puppet film with tiny elephants that dust under tables (I need one of those), arguing apples and a body in the hedge “. . . just another day at Small Birds Singing.” I was first introduced to Linda at the Bradford Animation Festival by Barry Purvis, but it wasn’t until I met her again at Monstra that I realized that her characters were based on a popular British cartoon strip of the same name created by her cousin Steven Appleby. Steve, who accompanied Linda to the festival, is as delightfully droll and witty as his cartoons, which have appeared weekly in the Sun Telegraph and Weekly Guardian in London. He also created Captain Star, the Greatest Hero Any World Has Ever Known, a BBC animated series which achieved cult status in Europe and the United Kingdom.

There were many excellent special screenings and events. The beautiful new Museu Do Oriente (Oriental Art Museum) opened to the public on the first weekend of the festival. Retrospectives of Japanese masters of animation Osamau Tezuka and Koji Yamamura were presented at there. The Museum and Monstra also co-hosted films by such Japanese legends as Miyazaki and Renzo Kinoshita. The East Seen by the West featured films from animators around the world giving a view of Eastern Culture through their eyes.

Several programs comprised of winning films from BAA (British Animation Awards) gave us a look into the wide, refined range of the craft in the United Kingdom. The BAA, founded by Jayne Pilling in 1996 encompasses all forms of British Animation from advertisements and videos to short and feature films. Jayne has recently curated a 6 volume DVD collection, The Best of BAA, as well as a special program, Desires and Sexuality: Animating the Unconscious, which talks about sexuality, fantasies, and desires all subjects that are so perfectly suited to animation.

Monstra is a wonderful opportunity to see Portuguese animation. There were 16 films in the competition alone. Besides the familiar names of Jose Miguel Ribera, Abi Feijo and his wife Regina Pessoa, and Zepe even people in the animation community are not aware of what a rich tradition Portugal has in animation. It is very encouraging to see a new generation of creative film makers emerging. Joana Toste won the Best Film by a Portuguese Animator Award for O Guisado De Galinha, a story of two feuding families who live next door to each other. I am even fonder of Joana’s Caes Marinheiros (Sailor Dogs). Sailors and the sea are an integral part of life in this Iberian Peninsula country so of course they are favorite topics for animation, but Joana gives us an entirely new twist in this odd tale of two worldly dogs who keep a sailor to tend their garden. A list of all award winners can be found at the end of the article.

Of course not all of the jury’s time was spent deliberating. One night our impeccable host and festival director, Fernando Galrito, took jurors to a fado club. Fernando knocked on a door with no sign or sound to be detected from the street. A man straight out of the movies opened the door a crack and when he recognized our host we were ushered into a packed room. This was no tourist spot but the real thing. The singing, food and wine were superb.

Nancy relaxing on the Lisbon waterfront
Nancy relaxing on the Lisbon waterfront

Lisbon has a new state of the art bullring which was very near our hotel. Underneath the ring is a very high end shopping center complete with gourmet market. One store had a foot and a half high man stuck through with knives in its window. Somehow this knife holder seemed very ironic in a shop under the bull ring. Late one night Nik and I returned to our hotel to find two victorious blood splattered matadors in the lobby. Of course, I couldn’t resist having my photo taken with them.

Nancy and the Bullfighter
Nancy and the Bullfighter

Lisbon is a very walkable city with seven hills like San Francisco and Rome as well as a half sized replica of the Golden Gate Bridge over the Rio Teijo (Tagres River) and trolley cars going up and down the hills. One afternoon Nik, Rastko Ĉiriĉ and I walked all over town with a stop at the Leonardo Di Vinci museum. From there we went to a little café in a park that is home to a museum located in an old underground water reservoir.

Rastko and Nik under the tree in the park
Rastko and Nik under the tree in the park

After two weeks in Lisbon I really began to feel at home, but all good things must come to an end. At the awards ceremony the Student Competition Jury paid homage to two of our members. Before announcing our selection all four of us donned our 3-D glasses that were used for Rastko’s film and then placed a cherry on each of our heads to symbolize Mt. Head.

Every night there was music and a party in the theatre café but for the last night a group of us retired to Rastko’s hotel room with appropriate libations and Rastko played his guitar and sang. None of knew that Koji was an excellent guitarist until he picked it up and started playing. This evening was a truly memorable ending to a very memorable festival.

Koji serenading us
Koji serenading us

A big thank you goes to Fernando Galrito and his very hard working staff who went far beyond the call of duty to do everything possible to make all of us feel welcome and handle the multitude of problems that so many guests have throughout a 12 day festival. Anyone who has the opportunity to attend Monstra shouldn’t even think twice before accepting this wonderful opportunity to participate in an amazing event.


JURY: Rasto Ciric, Koji Yamamura, Luis Salvado, and Nancy Denney-Phelps

BEST STUDENT FILM ($1,500 Donated by the Portuguese Youth Institute)

LIFE LINE – Tomek Ducki, Hungary


MOVING STILL – Santiago Caicedo, France

TWENTY QUESTIONS – Nuno Costa, Portugal

WEISS ­– Florian Grolig, Germany

JURY: Jose Miguel Ribeiro, Igor Prassel, Jayne Pilling, Chrysanthe Sotiropoulou, and Joao Garcao Borges

BEST TELEVISION SHOW (Rites to purchase the show by National television Donated by Short Wave)

A CHILD’S METAPHYSICS – Koji Yamamura, Japan

REFRAINS – Wiola Sowa, Poland


LAVATORY-LOVESTORY, Konstantin Bronzit, Russia

DJI VOU VEU VOLTI – Benoit Feroumont, Belgium


HARE THE SERVANT – Elena Chernova, Russia


A SUNNY DAY – Gil Alkabetz, Germany

BEST FILM BY A PORTUGUESE ANIMATOR ($1,000.00 in services at Tobis)

O GUISADO DE GALINHAI – Joana Toste, Portugal


HARE THE SERVANT – Elena Chernova, Russia


LAVATORY-LOVESTORY – Kostantin Bronzit, Russia

LAPSUS – Juan Pablo Zaramella, Argentina

LEFTOVERS – Igor Coric, Serbia


REFRAINS – Wiola Sowa, Poland



Annecy 2008: A Truly Feature Festival
Wednesday August 13th 2008, 3:18 pm
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When I first learned that the 2008 Annecy Festival of Animation (9 – 14 June in Annecy, France) was spotlighting feature films I was quite apprehensive. An animated feature has to be really good to make me want to stay in my seat for an hour and a half without falling asleep or wishing that it was over, but I was in for a pleasant surprise at the festival this year. Of 40 features submitted to the selection committee, 9 were placed in competition, 12 screened out of competition, and 3 were shown as special premiers. It was a fine selection and the subject matter and styles were so varied that there was something to please everyone.

Nina Paley’s brilliant musical adaptation of the Indian epic Ramayana, Sita Sings the Blues, was an instant crowd pleaser. Drawing the film together with songs from the 1920’s songstress Annette Hanshaw, including the poignant Mean to Me, Nina tells the legend of the Indian god Rama from Sita’s point of view. Nina also weaves her own personal story of her husband’s mid-life crisis and subsequent dumping of her via e-mail throughout what she refers to as “the greatest break-up story ever told”.

As with all Indian Bollywood films, there is an “intermission” with music in this wonderful film, and my husband Nik was very pleased to continue his long running collaboration with Nina by creating the music for this special segment of her film. Unfortunately, despite winning numerous awards at festivals, Nina has not YET found a distributor for her film, so the only place that you can see Sita is at festivals. Let’s hope that this situation is remedied soon so that everyone, especially in the United States where there are very few animation festivals, will be able to enjoy this masterpiece of independent filmmaking.

Bill Plympton’s Idiots and Angel, a dark comedy about a man’s battle for his soul, was a welcome treat. The film is very monochromatic with a dark surreal Eastern European look. I like his use of only music and sound effects, no dialogue, to give the film an almost operatic feeling, and the choice of such musicians as Moby, Tom Waits, and Pink Martini added an elevated dimension to the story. This film establishes Bill as a master of the independent feature as well as king of short films. Bill pulled off a great coup by having both his feature film and his short film, Hot Dog, the third film in a series about an eager but inept dog, that Bill calls his Mickey Mouse, in the juried competition.

I first wrote about Nocturna when I saw it at Anima Brussels last February. This debut film by young Spanish animators Adria Garcia and Victor Maldonado is the tale of a young orphan whose fear of the dark gives birth to a monster that is bent on wiping out all sources of light in the night sky. This charming film combines a soft background reminiscent of The Triplets of Belleville with Japanese style anima characters to create a film that I have enjoyed watching repeatedly.

I have also seen Peur(s) Du Noir (Fear(s) of the Dark) previously. This black and white film, created by 6 different animators most of whom are primarily known as comic book artists, bring their fears, phobias, and nightmares to life. Each segment could stand alone as a strong short animation. I still find the use of the female vocal that connects the segments really distracting from the overall mood of the film.

Two other features caught my attention. French Director Olivier Jean-Marie’s Go West, A Lucky Luke Adventure was just pure fun. Lucky Luke is based on the European comic book series of the same name by Rene Coscinny, the creator of Astrix, and Belgian cartoonist Morris. Go West finds Lucky Luke, A living legend of the West, escorting the notorious escape artists the Dalton Brothers back to New York City for yet another trial. Of course the Daltons escape and there ensues a riotous chase that is an homage to the world of burlesque comedy, the classic slapstick of Buster Keaton and even the Blues Brothers.

At the other end of the spectrum was Piano No Moi (The Piano Forest). Japanese animator Masayuhi Kojima has created a visually lovely tale of two talented young boys from radically different backgrounds learning to play the piano. One boy is from a good background, the other a street urchin, but the boys discover that they have Mozart and Chopin in common. This beautifully drawn film features music by the world-renowned pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Unfortunately I did not find that the 42 short films in competition lived up to the quality that I would hope to find at Annecy. Of course there were bright spots such as Russian animator Alexei Alexeev’s KJFG No. 5. Alexei not only created this hilarious film about three professional musicians, a bear, a rabbit, and a wolf rehearsing their act, but also performed all of the music.

Jeremy Clapin has followed up his multi-award winning Une Historie Vertebrale (Backbone Tale) with another delightfully quirky story, Skhizein, about a man who is hit by a meteorite. As a result of the impact his life is drastically altered and he begins to live 91 centimeters away from his physical body.

The student films category of graduation films has consistently been the place to see inventive ideas brought to life, but unfortunately this year they did not live up to my expectations.

The festival was jam packed with special programs that more than made up for the competition disappointments. The opening night film usually is a bit of fluff, but this year in a very courageous move by the festival, the audience was treated to Israeli film maker Ari Folman’s animated documentary Waltz With Bashir. The film delves into the horrors of the 1982 Lebanon War via a trip to the heart of West Beirut during the massacres at the Sabra and Chatila camps. This very moving film received a standing ovation, an audience reaction that I have rarely seen at Annecy. It delivers its message of the futility of war with a strong impact.

2008 marks the 100th birthday of pioneer animator Emil Cohl’s Fantasmagorie and Serge Bromberg accompanied it on the piano. It was a fitting opening night tribute. Serge was then joined on stage by David Silverman and his tuba. While David played, Serge narrated the dialogue to Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinasaur.

Throughout the week, a nod to Cohl’s genius was given in a series of screenings. A program of early silent films gave us a glimpse into the world of the animators who followed in Cohl’s footsteps. Six French animation schools came together in a work shop that resulted in four short films using material from Cohl films. From 9 June to 31 October The Spirit of Emile Cohl, 100 years of Unbridled Animation will be on view at the Musee-Chateau d’Annecy. The exhibition shows the great pioneer’s contribution to moving pictures with a collection of 10 of his films which have been linked with animated works from the past and present. Contemporary animators such as Bill Plympton, Paul Dreissen and Koji Yamamura have created drawings and animated shorts in homage to Cohl.

Tex Avery would have been 100 years old this year, and 100 Years of Madness took us into his crazy world from the Art Deco Page Miss Glory (which Avery disliked so much that he refused to have his name on it) to the hilarious adventures of Droopy.

One of the most enjoyable events of the festival was a morning cocktail party to open triple Oscar winner Richard William’s exhibit in the library of the Bonleiu, which is also the festival headquarters. Richard;’s art work included storyboard sketches, original cels, and life drawings. Williams, who started his professional career as a painter, had never exhibited his drawings before, said that he especially wanted to show his drawings as an example to young animators so they can see that you need to learn to draw before you take to your computer.

John Canemaker and Richard Williams peddling each other’s book
John Canemaker and Richard Williams peddling each other’s book

Richard Williams at the opening of his exhibit
Richard Williams at the opening of his exhibit

The perennial crowd pleasers Politically Incorrect, Spicy Animation and The Best of Bad Taste presented by Spike, “King of the Tasteless Toons,” were back again this year. Another regular feature at Annecy is The Big Sleep which pays homage to animators who have passed away in the last 12 months. It was a bittersweet pleasure to see works BY such greats as Ollie Johnston, the last of Disney’s “Nine Old Men”, the legendary David Hilberman, and of course the sorely missed Russian genius Alexandre Tatarsky.

This year India was the showcase country. Unfortunately the majority of the films in the three programs were commercial rather than independent works. I really would have enjoyed seeing what was being done by animators working on their own rather than what is being created in the production houses

Two of my favorite parts of the festival are the morning Shorts and Breakfast with Serge Bromberg and Features at Noon hosted by Monica Tasciotti. The breakfast chats give the audience an opportunity to hear the animators from the previous day’s short film program talk about their work. Serge is a very adroit interviewer and is able to draw out even the shyest director with his keen observations and impeccable wit. The listeners are able to ask questions while enjoying espresso and croissants. My opinion of a film is seldom changed at the chats, but I do enjoy getting insights into the animators’ vision as to why they made their films.

Festival Director Serge Bromberg
Festival Director Serge Bromberg

With feature films taking center stage this year, host Monica Tosciotti’s Features at Noon sessions were even more important than when they were launched last year. Nik joined Nina and one of the French musicians who also created music for Sita in the hot seat to talk about “the creation of” the film and about her remarkable achievement of creating a first feature almost single handily on a very small budget.

Of course Annecy wouldn’t be Annecy without great parties, and our dance card was certainly full. The opening night party at La Plage was the first opportunity to catch up with friends while enjoying some delicious food and wine. Far and away my favorite party every year is the Stuttgart Festival picnic held at a beautiful spot on the lake that is a 20 minute ride from the Festival. For a few hours we escaped from the mad frenzy of the festival and spent time eating, drinking and visiting with friends on the grassy shore of the lake. Even the pouring rain throughout most of the picnic didn’t dampen the spirits as we all found shelter under the food tent.

The KROK Festival party was a splendid affair and in true Russian/Ukrainian style there was plenty of vodka and food. The party featured a large screen that showed pictures from previous KROK trips and it was so nice to relive all of those happy memories. The Swiss Film Commission fete and the event hosted by Animafest Zagreb were also lovely parties. The Dreamworks picnic is always a lovely afternoon under the trees that border the lake. It is always a good place to mix business with pleasure while eating and drinking the copious amount of food that the hostess with the mostest Shelly Page provides for our pleasure.

Friday evening Bill Plympton and I hosted the 4th Annual Annecy Plus event. It is billed as the “best films from around the world REJECTED by Annecy”. This year the overflowing audience was not only treated to excellent films, but to a special surprise as well. The Annecy Plus band, Nik Phelps on horns and percussionist Rolf Bächler were joined by David Silverman on tuba. The band played before the show and during intermission as well as performing their original score for Bill Plympton’s The Love Race.

Nancy Denney-Phelps, Serge Bromberg and Bill Plympton introducing Annecy Plus
Nancy Denney-Phelps, Serge Bromberg and Bill Plympton introducing Annecy Plus

The Annecy Plus Band – David Silverman, Rolf Bächler and Nik Phelps
The Annecy Plus Band – David Silverman, Rolf Bächler and Nik Phelps

Saturday was dry and sunny for the annual potluck picnic and paddle boat race. Of course we had all been in training for the big race all year long and after a week spent in screening rooms, an afternoon in the sun and on the water was just pure fun. It is also a good way for animators to forget the anxieties of who will go home with awards that evening. A hidden talent was revealed when Astor Parr played Alexi’s ukulele. Her husband, Peter, said that after all their years of marriage he did not know that he was married to a ukulele virtuoso. The multi-talented couple also had the honor to be guest judges for the boat race.

Astor Parr, Ukelele Lady
Astor Parr, Ukelele Lady

After copious amounts of food and drink we took to the water. Nina Paley and her paddling partner, Johannes Wolters of Germany won first place honors. For the first time in race history Nik and I actually came in second with a dynamic feat of paddling! Music was provided by Nik, Rolf, and Alexi Alexeev.

Nik and Peter Parr at our picnic
Nik and Peter Parr at our picnic

Barry Purvis and Nina celebrating the sun at our picnic
Barry Purvis and Nina celebrating the sun at our picnic

Nina and Alexie Alexeev toasting her paddleboat race victory
Nina and Alexie Alexeev toasting her paddleboat race victory

French Voice Actors for Marge and Homer
French Voice Actors for Marge and Homer

The evening awards ceremony finally arrived, and by coincidence Nik and I found ourselves seated next to the French voices of the Simpson’s. The movie had been screened on the large outdoor screen by the lake earlier in the week. We were overjoyed when Bill Plympton was announced as the winner of a Special Distinction Award for Idiots and Angles, and we could hardly contain ourselves when Nina’s name was announced as the winner of the crystal for Long Features. She looked like she was in shock when she got to the microphone and kept thanking everyone. It was truly a night of great triumph for American independent animation. The Short Films Crystal was awarded to Kunio Kato of Japan for La Maison en Petits Cubes. This tender tale tells the story of a grandfather whose home is being consumed by the sea. As the water rises he is constantly adding rooms skyward and reliving family memories. A complete list of the winners can be found at the end of the article.

Nina receiving her award
Nina receiving her award

Feature Film Jurors Barry Purvis, Ram Mohan and Matt Groenig
Feature Film Jurors Barry Purvis, Ram Mohan and Matt Groenig

For the closing night party we were back at La Plage and we really had a lot to celebrate. Nina looked radiant as she accepted congratulations from everyone. The last night is always bittersweet because we won’t see some of our friends for quite a while, but there were so many good times to remember this year at Annecy that we will all have smiles on our faces when recall this very special week in the beautiful town on the lake at the foot of the Alps.

Nik and Nina at the closing night celebration
Nik and Nina at the closing night celebration



Jury: Matt Groening, Ram Mohan, and Barry Purves

The Crystal for best feature:

Sita Sings the Blues - Nina Paley / USA

Special Distinction:

Idioys & Angels – Bill Plympton / USA

Audience Award:

Les Trois Brigands, The Three Robbers – Hayo Freitag / Germany


Jury: John Canemaker, Stephan-Flint Muller, Zbigniew Rybczynski, Helene Tanguary and Richard


The Annecy Crystal:

La Maison en Petit Cubes – Kunio Kato / Japan

Special Jury Award:

La Dama en el Umbral, The Lady on the Threshold, Jorge Dayas / Spain

Jean-Luc Xiberras Award for a First Film:

Portraits rates a Sainte-Helene – Cedric Villain / France

Special Distinction:

Berni’s Doll – Yann J. / France

Morana – Simon Bogojevic Narath / France, Croatia

Sacem Award for Origonal Music:

KJFG No. 5 – Alexei Alexeev / Hungray, Russia

Audience Award:

Skhizein – Jeremy Clapin, France


Jury: Michel Beaudet, Nicole Keeb, and Bhuvan Lall

Crystal for Best TV Production:

Moot Moot “Catnip” – Francois Reczulski / France

Special Award for a TV Series:

Talented Mouse, “Catnip”, “Pest Controller”, and “Oasis” – Leigh Hodgkinson / Great Britian

Best TV Series:

Engel Zu Fuss – Saschka Unseld and Jakob Schuh / Germany

Educational, Scientific or Industrial Commissioned Film:

Bibigon “Faculty Fun Idents X 9” – Steve Smith / Great Britian

Advertising or Promotional Film:

Sony Bravia “Play-Doh” – Darren Walsh and Franck Budgen / Great Britian

Best Music Video:

Annuals “Dry Clothes” – Turk Animation Ltd. / Great Britian


Jury: Alain Burosse, Sylvie Porte, and David Silverman

Best Graduation Film:

Camera Obscura – Mattihieu Buchalski, Jean-Michel Drechsler, and Thierry Onillon / France

Special Jury Award:

My Happy End – Milen Vitanov / Germany, Bulgaria

Special Distinction:

Le Voyageur, The Traveller – Johan Pollefoort / Belgium


Junior Jury: Shaurya Athlet, Leo Grimaud, Maroussia Humbert, and Lakshaye Singh

Junior Jury Award for a Short Film:

La Maison en Petits Cubes – Kunio Kato / Japan

Junior Jury Award for a Graduate Film:

Margot – Gerlando Infuso / Belgium


Hugh – Mathieu Navarro, Sylvain Nouveau, Francois Pommiez, and Aurore Turbe / France

The Fipresci Jury: Nadezhda Marintchevska, Avedik Olohadjian, and Doris Senn

Fipresci Award:

She Who Measures – Veljko Popovic / Croatia

CANAL + Creative Aid Award for a Graduation Film:

Oktapodi – Julien Bocabeille, Francois-Xavier Chanioux, Olivier Delabarre, Thierry Marchand,

Quentin Marmier, and Emud Mokhberi / France


Jury: Valerie Bourgoin, Ron Dyens, Pierre-Luc Granjon, and Christian Janicot

ARTE France:

Via Curiel 8 – Mara Cerri / Italy

SRG SSR Idée Suisse:

Il Gioco del Silence, The Play of Silence – Virginia Mori / Italy


Centre Images – Region Centre:

Le Mome Tintouin – Loic Malo / France

Luxanimation S. A.:

Ico Pong and Me – Michael Bolufer / France

Toon Boon Animation, Inc.:

La Femme Sans Visage ou “L’Esprit de la Pierre” – Gael Brisou / France


Le Clochard, Thde Tramp – Rony Hotin / France

Saturday August 02nd 2008, 3:30 am
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Far and away the best parts of the festival for me were the special programs. Anima Docs alone was well worth the entire trip to the festival. Curated by Erik van Durnen and Gerben Schermer for the International Documentary Film Festival 2007 in Amsterdam, the five programs give us a chance to decide for ourselves if the animated documentary is fiction posing as reality or not.

Winsor McCay’s 1916 Sinking of the Lusitania is an obvious propaganda piece designed to stir up anti-German sentiments during WW I. At the other end of the spectrum, in Springtime in Sant Ponc (2007) Swiss animators Eugenia Mumenthaler and David Epiney recorded the results of a drawing workshop for mentally handicapped people. It gives a glimpse into their thoughts and fears via animation.

Even though I have seen John Canemaker’s beautifully animated The Moon and the Son many times, it never fails to completely enthrall me. Dennis Tupicoff’s gut wrenching film His Mother’s Voice moved the entire audience. This Australian film uses the voice over of a mother whose son was shot, with visuals created by Dennis. He told me that he had originally heard the woman talking in a radio interview, which had such an emotional impact on him that he had to animate her story.

Dennis Tupicoff and Nancy
Dennis Tupicoff and Nancy

Out of Africa brought to the screen animation from the entire African continent. The special Africa Kids program was for children of all ages. The 35 films in the four screenings covered diverse topics, from political and social issues to folk legends, in styles including puppet animation, cut and drawn animation and 2D computer animation. The screenings gave me a window into a vast, diverse continent that I regret to say I do not know enough about.

Clare Kitson, renowned animation researcher, author and former curator at Britain’s National Film Theatre, was the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Achievement in Animation Theory award. She was part of the Meet the Authors sessions, and it was fascinating to hear her speak about the time she spent in Russia talking with Yuri Norstein for her award-winning book Yuri Norstein and Tale of Tales. The book not only looks at a film that is considered to be one of the greatest animated films ever made, but also delves deeply into the personal references that Norstein infused into the film. To further her understand of the depth of Eastern bloc animation she learned Russian, which enabled her to talk to Norstein without the aid of an interpreter. As curator of the British National Film Theatre, Clare opened the eyes and mind of British audiences to animation from around the world, especially Russian and Eastern European works that had been unknown until then in Western Europe. The World Classics program presented by Clare included such great films as Chuck Jones’ immortal What’s Opera Doc? and Raoul Servais’ Harpya. For those who had heard her speak the day before about Yuri Norstein and his wonderful film Tale of Tales but hadn’t had the opportunity to see the film, she included it in her program.

Priit Parn was awarded the ZAGREB ANIMAFEST LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD. There were three screenings of Priit’s impressive body of work as well as Parnography, Hardi Volmer’s brilliant 2005 documentary about Priit and his work. I once again saw classic films that I love, such as Karl and Marilyn and Night of the Carrots. We also got to view several commercials that he made. His wife Olga Marchenko joined him on stage to talk about their first collaboration, the 2007 film I Feel a Lifelong Bullet in the Back of my Head, which is part of an Estonian poet/animation project. They went on to discuss their new film Life without Gabriella Ferri, which they were going to finish editing once they arrived back in Estonia. As a special surprise we were also treated to Raphaell Gianelli Meriano’s new short documentary Night Without the Pope, which shows Priit and Olga at home on the occasion of his 60th birthday. You get a private glimpse into how these two creative people work as they draw together on a glass window at their home overlooking the Baltic Sea while singing a duet.

Pritt and Olga
Pritt and Olga

As part of the Women in Animation screenings, Joanna Quinn presented two programs of films that have had a significant influence on her career. An Animafest Historical Overview screened women’s films, traveling in time from the 1933 French film Night on Bald Mountain by Claire Parker and Alexander Alexeioff to Jean Gratz’s 1992 Mona Lisa Descending A Staircase. Croatian women animators were also spotlighted in a special screening, and a special presentation of Lotte Reiniger’s Adventures of Prince Achmed was accompanied by a live piano score as part of this salute.

A duo of Best of Polish Animation programs focused on films created between 1997 and 2007, and panel discussions covered such topics as The Animated Documentary: Fiction or Reality to Film in Africa and Women in Animated Film.

The opening night screening was a cross-section of films that arrived too late to be juried into competition but that Artistic Director Kreshimir Zimonic and the ANIMAFEST team deemed worthy of audience viewing. It is a shame that such wonderful films as Koji Yamamura’s Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor, Suzie Templeton’s Academy Award Winning Peter and the wolf and Michaela Pavlatova’s Carnival of Animals could not be in competition, but it was nice to see them again on the big screen.

By and large I felt that the competition screenings were very weak. I don’t know if this is due to the fact that not enough good films were submitted or that the selection committee had very strange tastes. Since the short film competition takes place every two years I have seen many fine works that fit in this time frame at other festivals. There were a few very excellent films screened, such as George Schwizgebel’s beautiful painted on cell animation Jeu and Luis Cook’s The Pearce Sisters.

One very nice surprise was She Who Measures by Veljko Popovic, who was born in the gorgeous seacoast town of Split, Croatia. This beautifully executed 3D film asks the question “are we truly free? Are we slaves to the culture and society that we were born into or is there a way to escape?”

Doxology by Michael Langan from San Francisco brought back a flood of memories when I saw a scene depicting the cliffs above Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Nik and I used to walk our dogs in that exact spot every day. It was also a lovely surprise to see that Copenhagen Cycles by United States animator Eric Dyer, with music by my husband Nik.

I feel that the juries did an excellent job with the films they were given to select from. The jury for the “grand competition” Joanna Quinn (Great Britain), Moustapha Alassane (Niger), Caroline Leaf (USA/Canada/Great Britain), Igor Kovaljov (Russia/USA) and Danijel Suljic (Croatia), gave the best short film in the festival award to THE PEARCE SISTERS by Luis Cook of Great Britain, “For its original and unique graphics and direction which pulls us into the bleak world of two misfit characters.” The award includes a festival statue, 2.500 Euros, and Luis will be the honorary presidency at the next festival. The GOLDEN ZAGREB PRIZE went to THE RUNT by Andreas Hykade, Germany. “The jury has given the Golden Zagreb to the film we consider the second film of the festival for its strong, simple, clear design and direction which delivers a powerful and shocking message.” Luis was given a festival statue and 2.000 Euros. MADAM TUTLI-PUTLI by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, Canada won one of the three special prizes that were given at the discretion of the jury.

ASIFA Croatia hosted a lovely brunch for the ASIFA members at the festival. Buba (former head of ANIMAFEST ZAGREB and Vice President of ASIFA Croatia) and Vesna Dovnikovic (Secretary of ASIFA International) brought tasty and powerful traditional Croatian liquors, which truly added to the festive air of the party. A good time was had by everyone.

Another nice event was when several of us took the funicular up to the old town for the opening of Portuguese filmmaker Regina Pessoa’s exhibition of original studies and designs for her film Tragic Story With a Happy Ending. The exhibit was beautifully presented, showing the various steps that she went through to create her award winning film. The setting in the Campana Latrunculorum (The Bell of Thieves) was equally charming. The 13th century tower is located at the site of the old city wall and the bell was rung every night to signal the closing of the city gates.

Regina Pessoa and Abi Feijo at the opening of the exhibition
Regina Pessoa and Abi Feijo at the opening of the exhibition


The following notes are to give readers a better idea as to how difficult it is to run a major animation festival smoothly. I found the 18th edition of the Zagreb festival to be a mixture of good and bad. In the past I have looked forward to the festival because of its warm hospitality and relaxed atmosphere. Since there was a totally new administration running the festival this year, many people have been curious as to how it would operate and what direction the festival would take. There were many big changes this year, most crucially with long time festival director Margrit Antauer (affectionately known to her friends as Buba) being replaced as ANIMAFEST director.

Theodore Ushev, Buba (former head of Animafest Zagreb), Paloma Quinn Mills and Joanna Quinn at opening night.
Theodore Ushev, Buba (former head of Animafest Zagreb), Paloma Quinn Mills and Joanna Quinn at opening night.

The new staff was very friendly and tried to do everything that they could to make their guests feel at home. Unfortunately, most of them lacked experience running an animation festival and that showed in their inadequate attention to small details.

It was not until half way through the festival that foreign guests were provided with daily English language schedules. The program guide had a weekly schedule in Croatian with a color coded key on the side in English, but unfortunately many of the colors were very similar, so unless you were in bright sunlight it was very difficult to tell some of the color shades apart. As much as we would all like to speak our host countries’ languages, an international festival must provide all information in English as well as the native tongue.

ANIMAFEST has traditionally been held the week after Annecy, which was the perfect time for those of us who attend many festivals. After a frantic week of running around and trying to see everything and everyone at Annecy, I always looked forward to a week where both screening rooms were in the same building and you could just walk out from a screening and find lots of friends in the front or back bar. I also missed the long lunches and dinners at the little restaurant behind the festival headquarters. I did make one pilgrimage to the family run café and had a delicious calamari dinner, but missed the easy proximity of good company from years past.

Instead of the festival being in one central location with two screening rooms, this year’s ANIMAFEST was located in the center of town using three separate theaters, an outdoor screening area, and two exhibition spaces. The three locations were not too far apart, but given the torrential downpours we had this year (for which the festival organizers cannot be held responsible), it would have been lovely to have all the screenings at one site as had been done in the past.

The opening night ceremony was held at GLIPTOTEKA, an open-air cinema in the Old Town area of Zagreb about a 15-minute walk from festival headquarters. It was very nice, but hard to find. British animator Martin Pickles and I walked for 45 minutes looking for the location. The small map that we were given sent us up the hill where we indeed found an open-air theatre, but it was the wrong one. I talked to several other people who had the same problem with the map the first night.

The amphitheatre was a lovely setting for opening night, but unfortunately the wrong place for the competition screenings. Two competition programs were shown each evening. The first was scheduled to start at 9 PM, but since it didn’t get dark until 9:30 they always started late, as did the second program each evening. It was very cold in the late night open air, and although the staff did provide blankets when they realized how chilly it was, many people left early.

Unfortunately, many members of the audience treated the outdoor screening as though they were at a drive in movie, getting up in the middle of films to buy beer, lighting cigarettes and even talking during the screening. I felt very sorry for the animators whose films were shown during the second screening session, but as I told one filmmaker, at least those of us who were still there really wanted to see the films. The competition programs were re-screened in the main screening room the following evening, but unlike previous years, animators were only offered four days of festival hospitality and several of the film makers had to leave on the morning following their first screening and missed the chance to be introduced in front of the larger main theater audience. Some animators tried to find hotel rooms at their own expense so they could stay after their allotted time, but there were several other festivals occurring in town that same week, so every hotel was already fully booked.

Even though the main theatre had a café with a few tables there was not enough room for lots of us to gather after a screening and so I spent a good bit of time just trying to meet up with friends. In the future the festival should create an inviting, convenient gathering spot with tables and chairs spacious enough to accommodate large groups. Animators go to festivals not only to watch films but also to talk to each other.

Everyone was treated to a lovely meal every afternoon, but there were only enough places for about half the group to sit down. When I asked why enough seating hadn’t been provided the answer was “We wanted everyone to mingle.” Unfortunately it was hard to mingle with a plate of food in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.

The festival was full of new, young faces and I had the feeling that the organizers were aiming to attract these young, hip animators in contrast to past years, with the many familiar faces that made this festival an event I looked forward to. Many of the animators that I talked to had never been to Zagreb before, so they had nothing to compare it to.

I am sure the organizers and staff have their hearts in the right place and hopefully they learned a lot this year. Unfortunately it takes more than a good programmer and the presence of animators to make a well-run festival. ANIMAFEST needs a good administrator who knows not only film, but also the mechanics of running a festival and hosting the filmmakers who inhabit this special world. I hope that by the next festival I will once again be able to say that ANIMAFEST is a must attend event.