Sita Sings the Blues Comes to the Big Screen – At Last!
Tuesday April 21st 2009, 5:18 am
Filed under: Films, Events, Performances
Comments Off

from Sita Sings the Blues
from Sita Sings the Blues

For those of you who have only seen Sita Sings the Blues on your computer or from a DVD you have missed half of the experience.  It really deserves to be seen in all its glory on a big screen with a good sound system to appreciate what a tour de force Nina Paley has accomplished almost singlehandedly.

For those who have never had the opportunity to see that Nina calls “the Greatest Break-up Story Ever Told” this is about to be rectified in some cities.

If you live in the Bay Area you are in for a double treat because you can see a great film while supporting a wonderful neighborhood theatre that still believes in screening independent films and isn’t afraid to program films that other cinema won’t touch because they are not blockbusters.

I’m not going to write about the film’s story line because I (along with many other writers) have already written so many words about it.  If you are unfamiliar with the film and Nina’s long battle to gain the rights to use some of the songs as sung by 1920’s jazz vocalist Annette Hanshaw visit her web site:

The story behind the making of the film is almost as exciting as the animated film itself.

On a personal note, Nik and Nina have collaborated on several films and Nik contributed music for Sita Sings the Blues.  Nik and I also have a very warm spot in our hearts for the Red Vic since we performed there regularly when we lived in San Francisco.  One of the things that I really miss from the Bay Area is the Red Vic’s popcorn.  Take it from me, as a true popcorn aficionado; they have some of the best popcorn that I have even eaten in a theatre!

SITA SINGS the Blues will screen at the Red Vic for 5 days:

May 8th through the 12

Show Times:   7:15, 9:15; also Saturday and Sunday 2:00 and 4:00

Tickets:    Advance tickets available via

Regular admission $9; Tuesday evenings and 2PM Matinee $6,  Seniors (62 and older_ and children (12 and younger)  $6  at all times


1727 Haight Street (between Cole and Shrader)              San Francisco, California  94117

GETTING THERE IS EASY:  The Red Vic is served directly by Muni Routes 7, 33, 37, 43 and 71.  Muni Routes 6 and N Judah come within a few blocks


Columbus, Ohio – April 17 – 23 – Drexel Theater

Chicago, Illinois – May 1 – 7 – Gene Siskel Film Center

Portland, Oregon – May 8, 9, 12-15, 18, 21 and 22 – Van City Theater

Wilmington, Delaware – May 15 – 17 – Theatre N at Nemours

Lake Worth, Florida – May 15 – 21 – Lake Worth Playhouse

Boston, Massachusetts – June 12-14 – Brattle Theater

Notre Dame, Indiana – July 23-25 – DeBartolo Performing Arts Center

ANIMA BRUSSELS 2009 February 20 – 28; A Festival Close to Home and Heart
Sunday April 19th 2009, 12:37 pm
Filed under: Festivals
Comments Off

Ever since I moved to Belgium I always look forward to ANIMA BRUSSELS each February. The festival is only a half hour train ride from my front door, and it always marks the beginning of Spring to me.  Best of all, it is a wonderful opportunity to see a great deal of Belgian animation.Opening night got off on a high note with a screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful new film Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea.  I had previously seen Ponyo on opening night of the Anilogue Festival in Budapest but was very glad to have another chance to see this lovely film a second time.  There are so many layers and textures that, as with all of Miyazaki’s films, you can watch it over and over discovering new things each time.

Opening saluts by Steven Woloshen and Ophélie Tailler
Opening saluts by Steven Woloshen and Ophélie Tailler

This has been a very strong year for feature films and it was nice to see that there are still surprises yet to come in that arena.  Nine feature films were in competition.  I have already written about the much lauded Sita Sings the Blues by Nina Paley, Bill Plympton’s tour d’ force Idiots and Angels and the beautiful Masayuki Kojima film The Piano Forest. I was particularly happy to have the opportunity to see $9.99, a live action style drama made with puppets. Tatia Rosenthal, the director, was also a guest at the festival.  I first met her several years ago at the KROK International Festival of Animation where her short film A Buck’s Worth was screened.  The Israeli born New York City resident told me when we first met that her aim was to expand her short film based on an Etgar Keret short story into a feature length film encompassing several of his short works. A feature film is a formidable undertaking for anyone, but for a first time director to finance such a project is a herculean task.  It was a delightful surprise to meet her again in Brussels and to see that she has succeeded in her quest to bring the Israeli writer’s short stories to life.  Tatia refers to the film as a dual effort, written by Keret and directed by her.  She has indeed brought his biting comments on our times to the screen with sensitivity.  The Israeli-Australian co-production features the voices of some of Australia’s best known actors such as Jeffrey Rush and Samuel Jackson, and received an ANNIE nomination for best feature as well as a best director nomination for Tatia.  I am sure that many people will have the opportunity to see this excellent film at festivals over the next two years, but I also hope that it will open commercially so that it will have the opportunity to become known to the general public as well.The programmers at ANIMA Brussels have a good sense of humor and made sure that all of the feature films were not totally serious.  Although not in competition, Queer Duck: The Movie was pure fun.  Written by Mike Reiss, better known as executive producer and writer on The Simpsons and The Critic, the film is a totally camp comedy full of references from the world of film, TV and show business.  The character of the gay, anthropomorphic duck debuted on and moved to cable TV channel Showtime in 2002 as a short cartoon.  Although it was not the first gay cartoon it was the first animated TV series to have homosexuality as its theme.  Mike was also a festival guest and presented The Simpsons Back Stage Tour.I have never seen a feature length Bollywood animated film before.  In fact Cheenti Cheenti Bang Bang may well be a first of its kind.  The story is ostensibly based on a Bengali story about two warring kingdoms, the red and the black ants.  Unfortunately it is a terrible film with poorly executed 2-D animation and voiceovers that become very annoying as the grunts and groans in the dialogue droned on endlessly.  The two people I was with walked out after only a few minutes, but being an eternal optimist I hung in there.  I think it is important for festivals to screen a film like Cheenti, Cheent, Bang Bang  I just wish that they had been there to see a better film. because there would be no other opportunity to see it otherwise. Especially for those of Indian origin it was a unique opportunity in Brussels, and in all fairness I have to say that there was a good sized crowd in the theatre for the screening.

The five Short Film Competition Programs contained some films that I consider old friends such as Portuguese animator Zepe’s beautifully complex film Candido, Australian Dennis Tupicoff’s multi layered Chainsaw and KJFG 5 from Alexi Alexeev, which never fails to make me smile no matter how many times I watch it.

It was a great treat to get to see Alex Budovsky’s new animation The Royal Nightmare.  Alex’s work is always a crowd pleaser and this story of an evil King whose life is turned into a nightmare by a pilgrim is no exception. The film is done in Alex’s signature black and white style but unlike his previous films, this one is not music driven.

The Festival has a separate category of awards for films produced in Belgium.  These two Short Film Competitions gave me an opportunity to see some of the best new work created in the Flanders and Walloon regions.  One of my favorite films was Milovan Circus, a puppet animation by Gerlando Infuss.  The story of the rise and fall of a circus artist from star back down to a street performer is shown through flashbacks.  The audience and jury must have agreed with me, since the film won 3 awards and has been selected to compete at Annecy in the Graduation Film Competition.

I was also totally captivated by Ophelie Tailler’s poetic impressions of a world of spiders as portrayed in Une Toile (A Spider Web).  As I watched her strong black and white images I was totally drawn into the rhythmic swaying images floating over the screen.  This was her graduation film and I am sure that she will go on to create even more interesting films, since she says that rather than look for an industry job she wants to continue working in independent animation.

This year for the first time the festival played host to Cosplay Belgium with a two hour session full of costumed performers and audience members of all ages.  Just in case there is anyone out there who has not experienced Cosplay it is short for Costume Play where participates (and audience members) outfit themselves in elaborate costumes representing specific characters from Japanese and East Asian Manga, Anime, comic book and fantasy film characters.  I hope that next year the festival will consider making Cosplay part of the Animated Nights festivities.  I think that the costumes and high spirits of the participants would add a lot to the late night screenings.

Cosplay participant with Franciose Cathala
Cosplay participant with Franciose Cathala

ANIMA Brussels takes place during the annual Carnival Vacation so it is a great time for the festival to screen many programs designed for the entire family.  This year 7 new episodes of The Little Mole were screened for the very youngest cinema goers and their parents.  The theater, packed with 3 to 6 year olds sat in rapt attention watching Czech animator Zdenek Miller’s timeless mole with the wide eyes and blue overalls, and I have to admit that I was as captivated as any 3 year old.  Last year at ANIMA I bought a DVD with 8 episodes of The Little Mole and when I am feeling overwhelmed by the world, I just disappear into the delightful world that Miller created.  He has said that he was having trouble coming up with an animal to animate that Disney had not already used, but one day he tripped over a molehill and that gave him an idea. The 50 episodes for television were done in 1956 and even though Europeans grew up on them this wonderful children’s classic is unknown in the United States.

The Walt Disney classic Pinocchio was a big hit with young audiences as was Wall-e and the delightful Three Robbers by German director Hayo Freitag.  I first saw this film at Annecy last year and thoroughly enjoyed this tale of Tiffany, the little orphan, who throws her lot in with three robbers as a result of a quirky encounter.  I also like the music by Los Angeles singer/song writer Kenneth Pattengale who captured the tone and mood of the film with his music.

The Saturday morning parent/child brunch is always a lively event, with activities for children of all ages - from face painting for the tiny tots to creating clay critters for the older set.  Of course there was plenty of food and beverage for children and parents alike.  The morning festivities were followed by a special screening of Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Spirited Away.

The activity area for young animators was greatly expanded this year.  Throughout the entire festival young people created their own versions of zoetropes, animated with computers and drew story boards under the tutelage of young professional volunteers.  Every time I stopped by to see what was going on the entire area was abuzz with activity.

Young animators at work
Young animators at work

At the other end of the audience spectrum I was really excited when I learned that the Cinematheque Royale de Belgium had organized a Ralph Bakshi retrospective.  I haven’t seen Fritz the Cat in years and was very disappointed that it was the alternative opening night film for those not invited to Ponyo and the party.  Unfortunately it was only screened once so I didn’t have another chance to see it, and sadly, of the 7 Bakshi films that made up the retrospective, only 2 others - Fire and Ice, and Lord of the Rings were screened at the festival, with the rest shown at the museum.

The Animated Nights screening was back again this year showing a potpourri of animation into the wee hours of the morning, with breaks every so often to listen to live music in the lobby and visit the bar.  Bill Plympton, a special festival guest, made a surprise guest appearance at the late night screening much to the delight of the audience.  He introduced his latest short Santa: The Fascist Years.  This was my first opportunity to see Bill’s outrageous look at Santa’s hidden past and it is hilarious.

It is always a pleasure to watch Bill in front of an audience because he has the ability to make everyone in a packed audience feel that he is talking right to them, and his presentation “Conversation With Bill” was no exception.  He compared the story board of Idiots and Angels  He also answered questions from members of the audience, who hung on his every word and drawing. to the completed film and talked about the relationship between writing and images and dramatic structure.

Nik introduced the two screenings of Sita Sings the Blues and answered questions about the film from the audience.  The Festival also invited him to play music on two evenings.  The first night he performed on the main lobby stage and then again the next evening in the upstairs bar.  He was also invited to appear on the ARTE Belgique television program 50 Degrees North where he talked About Sita Sings the Blues, the festival, and composing music for animation and film.

Nik Playing in the main lobby
Nik Playing in the main lobby

The noted film critic and documentary film maker Natalia Lukinykh from Moscow introduced her moving tribute to the late, great founder of Russia’s renowned Pilot Studios, Alexander Tatarsky.  I have seen Alexander Tatarsky, or How to Embrace the Immense many times and it never fails to make me smile while bringing tears to my eyes.  We were also treated to four films by Tatarsky, Back Side of the Moon, Lift-1, Gone by Wind and Red Gate Rashemon.  The last film was created with his partner at Pilot Studios, Valentin Telegin who is also Natalia’s husband. Set in 1950’s Moscow, it is a story of a drunken ice skater at an important match.

Nik and Natalya Lukinykh
Nik and Natalya Lukinykh

Canadian Steven Woloshen presented a retrospective of works from his prolific career.  This master of camera-less animation uses every possible technique imaginable from scratching on film to burying it in the ground to create his unusual effects.  Along with the films, Steven commented on the making of each film and showed the “camera” that he constructed to create his work.  During his visit to the festival he also made a film titled Impressions of Brussels which was screened on closing night.

Steven Woloshen with his magic camera
Steven Woloshen with his magic camera

It was a great pleasure to get to know Samuel Lord Black and his lovely wife Kathleen.  He is a very multi talented person having worked in software design, the video game industry, rendering software at Pixar, and has even dabbled in voice acting on features including Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles.  Sam chaired the 2008 Siggraph Competition Jury and presented the Siggraph Computer Animation Festival program at Anima Brussels.

Anima Brussels 2009 seemed to have more special guests and fascinating special presentations than in past years.  Unfortunately there is no way I can write about everything that I saw, but I can assure you that it was a very packed 9 days.

The special exhibits were a real treat.  I have been a fan of the very clever and creative work of directors Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar for some time.  They have collected hundreds of little plastic figures of cowboys, Indians, and horses which they have remolded in different positions, duplicated and repainted to reproduce movement when filmed.  Panique au Village (A Town Called Panic) shows off the multitude of little figures in their original sets for their 20 episodes TV series and later feature film of the same name.

From Strip to Screen delved into the extremely rich relationship between comic strips and animation in Belgium.  From little known beginnings of Peyo, Morris, and Eddy Paape into animation in the golden years of studios such as Belvision and their work with Tintin, Asterix, and Lucky Luke this exhibit took me right up to the present.  Currently there is a new relationship in Belgium between comics and animation with creators such as Eric Blesin, Benoit Feroumont, and William Henne who have one foot in each genre.

Since many of the foreign guests had not visited Brussels before, the festival organized two special tours.  Long-time festival volunteer Norbert Morocutti, who works for the European Union in real life, was a superb guide.   Our trip to The Atomium gave us all a chance to explore this iconic building which was designed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.  Symbolizing an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times, the 9 large spheres are connected by 20 tubes standing on 3 enormous bipods to a height of 102 meters.

Our visit to the Atomium
Our visit to the Atomium

From the outside it is an impressive structure, but nothing compared to the 360 degree panoramic views from inside.  As with many Expo buildings, The Atomium was not intended to survive the Exhibition but it proved so popular that it has been newly refurbished and has become a major landmark on the Brussels skyline.

The next day our intrepid guide, Norbert, treated us to a train trip to Bruges.  Although I have been to Bruges many times and think of it as a “Disneyland town” for tourists, I can never resist a train ride.  It was also nice to have a chance for a long chat with British Animation historian and writer Clare Kitson.  Clare and I have been friends for a time, but as a member of the International Jury at the festival, she had been very busy and this was our first chance for a good long talk.  On both excursions Norbert took us to superb restaurants where we enjoyed long, leisurely meals.

Nancy with Clare Kitson
Nancy with Clare Kitson

All too soon the closing night ceremony arrived and it was time to hear the distinguished juror’s decisions.  The 2009 International Competition Jury was made up of Clare Kitson, New York graphic designer Richard McGuire who created a segment of Fear(s) of the Dark, and internationally renowned photo-journalist Bruno Stevens.  Moebius (Jean Giraud) was also slated to be on the jury but unfortunately he was unable to attend.

Richard McGuire with Nancy
Richard McGuire with Nancy

The three members of the Belgian National Competition Jury were animator Marie-Laure Guisset, Antoine Manier who founded Rencontres Audiovisuelles which has become one of the main resources for screening independent films, and Niels Ruell, freelance journalist and film critic.

The Jury for Commercials and Music Videos was comprised of Xavier Buillon, advertising agent, film and music video creator Corin Hardy and animator/producer Toon Loenders.

Following the presentation of the awards the winning films were screened and then it was time for the festive closing night party with lovely food and good wine followed by dancing until the wee hours of the morning.  A list of all the awards and winners is at the end of this article.

Festival directors Doris Cleven and Phillippe Moins not only show impeccable ability and taste in programming a festival but are also the most gracious hosts a festival could have.  I also can’t thank Francoise Cathala and Karin Vandenrydt enough for the many kindnesses they showed me and to the entire festival staff who worked very hard to keep everything running smoothly.  Last but far from least was Mistress of Ceremonies extraordinaire Stepanie Coerten who added so much to the evening programs by really doing her homework so that her on-stage interviews with the guests additional insights into the film.

I am already looking forward to Anima 2010 next year and am anxiously awaiting the great visual treats that the festival will have in store for us.

Results of the Juried Competitions:

International Competition:

Grand Prix Anima 2009 ( 3 000 Euros and Toon Boom Software):

Skhizein – Jeremy Clapin  (France)

Special Mentions:

Hot Dog – Bill Plympton  (USA)

Lies – Jonas Odell  (Sweden)

Dinner in Lisbon – Andre Carrilho  (Portugal)

Best Student Short Film  (Toon Boom and TV Paint Softwear):

Keith Reynolds Can’t Make It Tonight  - Felix Massie  (Great Britian)

Best Short Children’s Film  (Toon Boom Softwear):

Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death – Nick Park  (Great Britian)

Best Music Video  (Toon Boom Softwear):

No Place Like Home  - Rosto  (The Netherlands)

Best Advertising Video  (Toon Boom Softwear):

Tiji TV “Le Voyage”  - Yoann Lemoine  (France)

Audience Awards:

Best Short  Film  (Toon Boom Softwear):

Skhizein  -  Jeremy Clapin   (France)

Best Short Children’s Film  (Toon Boom Softwear):

Wallace & Gromit:  A Matter of Loaf and Death  - Nick Park  (Great Britian)

Best Feature Film  (Toon Boom Softwear):

     Kappa no Coo natsu yasumi (Summer Day With Coo)  - Keiichi Hara  (Japan)

Best Children’s Feature Film  (Toon Boom Softwear):

Piano No Moi  (The Piano Forest)  -  Masayuki Kojima  (Japan)

Partners Award  (Belgian TV Award for Best Feature – Television Distribution):

$9.99 – Tatia Rosenthal  (Isreal/Australia)

Belgian National Jury Awards:

Saban Award  (2.500 Euros):

La Svedese  -  Nicolas Liguori

Grand Prix of the French Community for a Film Produced by the French  (2.000 Euros)

La Vita Nuova  -  Christophe Gautry,  Arnaud Demuynck

Zachte Planten  - Emma De Swaef   (2.000 Euros)

TV Paint Award for Best Student Film  (TV Paint Softwear):

Milovan Circus -  Gerlando Infuso

Audience Award for Best Belgian Short Film:

Milovan Circus  - Gerlando Infuso

Patrons Awards:

BETV Award  (1.500 Euros and Television Distribution Rights):

Milovan Circus­  -  Gerlando Infuso

RTBF Award  (1.500 euros and Television Distribution Rights):

De si pres  -  Remi Durin

CINERGIE Award  (Electronic Press Kit):

Jazzed  - Anton Setola

Paola poule pondeuse  - Louise Marie Colon

TWO CAPITALS, FIVE CINEMAS, AND A RIVER OF ANIMATED FILMS: The Anilogue Festival in Budapest and Vienna, Nov. 27 - Dec. 3
Saturday April 04th 2009, 4:18 am
Filed under: Festivals
Comments Off

I barely had time to unpack the warm weather wardrobe that I took to China and replace it in with heavy winter clothes for my trip to Budapest for the Anilogue Animation Festival.  Festival Director Tamas Liszka and Programmer Kreet Paljas hosted a very ambitious undertaking with 4 days of screenings in Budapest followed by 3 screening days in Vienna.  All programs were screened in both cities with films screened in the original language, with Hungarian translations in Budapest and English in Vienna.

Anilogue Festival directors Kreet Paljas and Tomas Liszka with Thomas Renoldner
Anilogue Festival directors Kreet Paljas and Tomas Liszka with Thomas Renoldner

The three competition screenings were an excellent cross section of styles, mediums, and content.  There were several of my favorite films that I had seen many times this year, such as Alexei Alexeev’s hilarious KJFG 5 and Glow by British animator Jo Lawrence. It always sends a chill up my spine.  The film is based on the story of Grace Fryer, one of the “Radium Girls” who worked at the Radium Dial Company in New Jersey, during the 1920’s painting clock dials with radium.

There were some delightful new surprises. I am constantly amused and delighted by Estonian animation.  Dialogues by Ulo Pikkov is an absurdly humorous film, drawn directly on film, and was a burst of color combined with absurd figures.  Lovesick by Spela Cadiz tells of a couple truly made for each other.

I was extremely pleased to see a new film by Swedish animator Jonas Odell.  His previous work, Never Like the First Time,  told 4 different stories of first sexual encounters and  his new film Lies, looks at 3 liars - a burglar, a boy, and a woman, is based on documentary interviews.

The opening night screening was held in the magnificent , a sumptuous Moorish hall. It makes you feel that you are at a very special first night event, and indeed it was.

Inside the Urania National Film Palace
Inside the Urania National Film Palace

The opening night feature was the real highlight of the festival, Pony On the Cliff by the Sea, Hayao Miyazaki’s new film. It is a delightful flight of fancy about Ponyo, a young goldfish girl and Sosuke, a 5-year old boy who befriends her. The little gold fish girl, daughter of the Queen of the Ocean and a human father, longs to be a human girl. It is a charming tale of desire and longing. The strong family theme is a new route for Miyazaki.We are never told why her father lives under the sea, but his struggle to force her to return to the ocean where she belongs is the focus of the picture.

The film opens with an ecological message as we see the bottom of the ocean where a gigantic net is trapping its catch along with a vast array of trash that humans have discarded into the sea.  Ponyo barley escapes capture, but her head is wedged inside a glass jar.  She is washed up on the beach where young Sosuke finds her.

More than in any of his previous films, Miyazaki uses humor and the theme of the strong bond of familia love to portray not only the friendship between the two young people, but also the relationships between Ponya and her father and Sosuke and his mother.

The great master of Japanese anima created lush visual effects with special attention to the depiction of the sea. Japanese maestro Joe Hisaish, who has scored 8 other Miyazaki features, has composed a beautiful musical score that matches its visual flights of fancy. He has created  rich and varied music woven though out the film in numerous variations on his main themes ending with a piano solo of Ponyo’s theme performed by Hisaish.  He also utilizes full orchestrations, solo violin, and a haunting soprano solo for the Mother of the Sea theme.  Ponya’s Lullaby emphasizes the childish innocence of the film.

As the end credits roll the film’s theme song is sung again. When the film was released in Japan the song became a great hit, rising to number 3 on the charts. There seems to be no neutral opinions about it. I have heard it called everything from one of the most annoying sounds ever heard to naively charming.  Decide for yourself, but I was not charmed, nor did I come out of the theatre humming that tune. The movie, made up of 170,000 hand-animated images, is slated to open in theatres in the United States later this year.

Following the screening a reception was held in the lovely theatre bar, which was used throughout the festival as a place to gather between films for a drink and conversation.  Screenings were also held at the nearby Toldi Art Cinema, an excellent screening location with a casual and comfortable bar. It was the setting for another festival party.

Nina Paley’s award winning Sita Sings the Blues received a warm reception.  Nik introduced the 4 screenings, 2 in each city.  He also conducted a Q & A following each screening.

Along with the 32 films in competition and the feature films screened, there were many special presentations.  I had been anxiously awaiting the new film by my friends Priit Parn and his lovely wife Olga Marchenko, so Life Without Gabriella Ferri  was on my must see list.  The dramatic story is about love, locked doors, a faceless thief, a wounded stork, lost laptop, and the O’Key Sisters, 2 virtual prostitutes and Gabriella Ferri who is never seen in the film.  All of this is packed into 35 minutes full of entertaining animation that definitely did not disappoint me.

The World Panorama program was packed full of films that have garnered honors at major festivals around the world, ranging from Kunio Kato’s The House Of Small Cubes  which won the 2008 Annecy Crystal and most recently the Academy Award to French animator Jeremy Clapin’s very funny Skhizein, winner of the Annecy 2008 Audience Award.  We had all seen the Sony Bravia Play Doh commercial on TV with hundreds of colorful bunnies running all over Manhattan, but it was delightful to see it on a big screen in the Panorama program.

I thoroughly enjoyed the program of award winning Hungarian animated short films, and the prestigious French animation school La Poudriere was showcased with a selection of their most acclaimed films.  The Red Bull Animated Night, an all-night marathon, screened in both cities. It had something for everyone, with over 40 films from the 4 corners of the globe.

Michaela Pavlatova and I were friends when she lived in San Francisco before returning to Prague, her native city, but I had not seen the Academy Award nominated Czech animator in several years.  I was delighted to find out that she was a member of the jury and thoroughly enjoyed the retrospective of her films that she introduced. It was followed by a Q & A session.

Nik and I presented a screening and talk on the history of music driven animation.  Nik also conducted a 5-day workshop on composing music for animation.  One of his students brought a film that he had made so that Nik and the group could work on composing and recording music for it.  The work area upstairs in the Urania National Film Palace Building was perfect for the workshop.  The festival also provided Nik with a very nice and very competent tech person to help him set up equipment.

Nik with workshop students n Budapest
Nik with workshop students n Budapest

Budapest and Vienna are beautiful cities.  Screenings did not begin until late in the day, so while Nik held his workshops all day, I spent my free time taking long walks that included a stroll along the Danube.

Not only was Anilogue an impressive animation festival for me it will always hold a special place in my heart for its warm hospitality, fabulous meals, and a very special outing that that Michaela and I were treated to by the festival staff.  Budapest is the home of several fabled hot spring baths and the Szecheny Spa is one of largest spa complexes in Europe.  Built in 1913, this luxurious water palace features indoor and outdoor pools of various temperatures, as well as steam rooms and saunas.  The large circular outdoor hot pool features three concentric rings, the large outer one for soaking and paddling in, a small center soaking ring, and a wonderful whirling corridor where currents of hot water propelled us round and round a circular route.  Michaela and I felt like two young girls as we sped around giggling and gossiping.  It was cold and rainy, but sitting in the outdoor pool with clouds of steam rising from the water I felt completely relaxed.  The amazing therapeutic effects of the water stayed with me for days.

Széchenyi Spa
Széchenyi Spa

All too soon it was time to leave Budapest and board a bus for a 240 Kilometer ride to Vienna, another breathtakingly beautiful city.  The Vienna leg of the festival screened a repeat of the Budapest programs at three theatres with the exception of Ponyo On the Cliff by the Sea, which was not shown.  Several of Nik’s composition students traveled to Vienna with us, where the workshop continued.  Unfortunately, the back bar area of the Schikaneder theatre was not very conducive to work.  Since it was not only a bar but also the festival headquarters people were constantly coming and going, which made it difficult for the group to stay focused.

The center of Vienna was alight with Christmas decorations.  Each block or two had row after row of colored lights in different complex designs strung down the center of the streets and store windows were gaily decorated.  While Nik continued his workshop, I took advantage of the free days to explore the city.

Quite close to our hotel was one of the most wonderful open air markets that I have ever seen.  From early morning until well after dark, it has everything that you could ever want with row after row of fresh spices, beautiful fruits and vegetables, and a number of stalls with magnificent displays of fresh fish.  The sights and smells overwhelmed the senses and the market cafes were the perfect place to have a glass of wine and people watch.

The festival staff continued to treat us to exceptional hospitality.  One evening they took a group of us to one of the best meals I have ever eaten at Beograd, a local Serbian restaurant.  I have never had calamari prepared in such a delicate manner and of course there were copious amounts of wine to accompany the meal.

It was a great pleasure to spend time with my fellow ASIFA International Board Member, Thomas Renoldner, who lives in Vienna.  Thomas arranged a reception for us sponsored by ASIFA Austria at the chapter’s exhibition space, ASIFA KEIL in the central museum corridor, Museumsplatz.  It was a lovely chance to meet chapter members in a relaxed atmosphere.  As an added treat Nik played music with percussionist Don Reitz. Don, who works in the exhibition department of the Kunst Museum of Modern Art, invited us along with our friend Thomas to tour the museum that featured a retrospective of Austrian artist Peter Kogler.  His most impressive piece of work is a large 3-dimensional installation created for the Kunst exhibition. It comes to life through computer animation and video projections which keeps the entire room in vertical motion.  The sound installation interacted with the projected images to create a mesmerizing effect of moving walls.  After dark, Kogler’s trademark, larger than life projected white rats, moved across the outer facade of the museum building in labyrinthine paths.

Don Reitz, Nik and Thomas Renoldner
Don Reitz, Nik and Thomas Renoldner

The closing night award ceremony was held at the Film Casino.  This years’ Anilogue jury was composed of Adam Wysiwyz of Poland, Hungary’s foremost sand animator Ferenc Cako and Michaela Pavlatova.  They awarded the Grand Prix to Muto, an ambitious, surrealistic animation painted on walls in Buenos Aires and Baden, created by Italian artist/filmmaker Blu. (You can see it on YouTube and other web sites.)

Each juror also awarded a Special Award to the film of his choice.  Ferenc Cako selected French filmmakers Nicolas Pawlowski and Alexis Ducord’s Cracks, the tale of a man who has one passion in life, a potted plant.   Michaela chose Alexei Alexeev’s very clever KJFG No. 5, and Adam Wyrwas gave his award to Weiss by Florian Grolig from Germany. Grolig describes his black and white animation as, “In the middle of white is monotone balance, jolly blasé marking time.  One definition of space is the absence of embarrassing contact.  Yet gridlock is definitely death.”  I’m not sure that I get anything like that from the film but I did find it visually intriguing.

Audience members in both cities voted for the Audience Award. The combined tally voted Lovesick by German animator Spela Cadez the winner for her tale of a couple who are the perfect example of the old adage that there is someone perfected suited for everyone.

Following the announcement of winners, the 5 nominees for the Cartoon d’Or were screened.  Sponsored by Cartoon, the European Association of Animated Films, it is the only European prize specifically for the animation industry.  The nominees for this prestigious prize are the winner’s of the top nine Animation Festivals in Europe.  The evening ended with a closing party in the theatre lobby.

Kreet and Tamas, the festival directors, far exceeded the bounds of hospitality, treating us to many lovely meals and an almost endless supply of beer and wine.  The enthusiastic volunteers were always cheerful and very helpful.

Anilogue was founded in 2003, and the 4 day Budapest leg of the festival, ran seamlessly, at least from the viewpoint of a guest.  Although the festival has a 6 year track record, this was its debut in Vienna, and invariably every new festival is a challenge to launch.  Given the massive task of moving staff, guests, all films and equipment in one morning with the first Vienna screening starting at 4:00 PM, it’s a miracle that there weren’t serious problems. When I asked festival director Tamas Liszka why he had decided to take on such a herculean task, he replied without a moment’s hesitation “I love a challenge” and he definitely got it. This was a learning year, and I know next year will be much easier for the entire staff.

The festival generously arranged for Nik and I to stay 2 more days in Vienna after they returned home.  For our one free day we walked out to the beautiful Belvedere Museum that was built in 1722 for state occasions and to display works of art.  It is home to an outstanding collection of works by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt as well as art treasures from Medieval and Baroque periods down to 21st Century works.  We spent 4 glorious hours strolling from room to room soaking it all in.

After a walk around the beautiful formal gardens we went to the Lower Belvedere which was built as Prince Eugene’s magnificent private living quarters. The Baroque building, completed in 1716, with the Hall of Grotesque, Marble Gallery and Golden Room were enough to take my breath away, but the special exhibit was what I really came to see.  Gustav Klimt and the KunstschauI overwhelmed my senses with beauty and creativity.  The exhibit commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Kunstochan project, which had a pioneering influence on the development of Viennese modernism.  Several of the original 54 rooms from the exhibit had been reconstructed in minute detail even down to the original wall paper designs.  The exhibit made it easy to see why Klimt and his colleagues have had such a lasting influence on the world of art and design.

The next day we were invited to give a workshop at the University (akademie der bildenden kunst [Academy of Fine Art] and institut fur bildende kunst [Institute for Visual Arts]),  where our friend Thomas Renoldner teaches.  Nik and I screened animation and talked with his students and guests about a wide range of subjects from copyright laws to the most effective way for an animator to work with a composer.  We received a very enthusiastic reception and 2 students stayed to talk with us about their work long after the formal presentation was over.  Thomas also gave us a tour of the school work spaces and gallery so that we could see firsthand the high quality of the work that the students are producing.

As the sun set, Thomas, Nik and I shopped in the open air market a few blocks from the university.  Ladened with a great variety of fresh fish and vegetables, Thomas drove us to his house where his wife and two daughters gave us a lovely, warm welcome.  It was a pleasure to scrub mussels and chop vegetables with them as we talked and laughed.  After many days of restaurant food it was a treat to have a home cooked meal.  Thomas is a superb chief and the meal was beyond our wildest expectations, only equaled by the good conversation.  The time flew by, and all too soon the wonderful evening was over.

Very early the next morning we were on the train back to Budapest, where our old friend Susanna Szabo met us. We became good friends several years ago at KROK and she has repeatedly asked us to visit her in Budapest.  After an evening of walking around the city under her excellent guidance we ended up for dinner at a charming restaurant with the unassuming name of M.  The only thing more charming than the food was the décor.  Every inch of the walls and ceiling were covered in brown wrapping paper with black line drawings of home furnishings.  Piles of books, lamps, a parrot in a cage, a phone on a stand and flowers in a vase, all of the little homey touches, were there down to a drawing of a ceiling fan with a real cord hanging from it, ready to cool you on a hot summer evening.  Kreet and Tamas joined us later for drinks and a final farewell.

The next day Susanna had a special treat in store for us.  In marked contrast to the luxurious water palace I had visited the week before she took us to the 400 year old Kiraly Thermal Bath, one of the best remaining examples of a Turkish Bath House, with domed cupolas topped by the Turkish crescent moon.  A good long hot soak in these beautiful surroundings got us ready for our next adventure.

Susanna had asked us to give a presentation at the Arts Secondary School where she teaches in Bodajk. We stayed in Mor, where the school has a guest house for visiting faculity.  It is a totally charming  village with a winery and art center.  Nik and I were immediately reminded of Napa Valley before it became so chic and overdeveloped for tourists.  We fear that Mor will soon suffer the same fate since it is only an hour from Budapest and is thoroughly charming.

After an evening of good conversation and wine in front of a wood burning stove with Susanna we woke in time to take the bus a few kilometers down the road to Bodajk where the Art Secondary School is located. With Susanna acting as translator, Nik and I screened a program of animation to a packed auditorium of students and faculty.  For a group of students in a small rural town whose knowledge of animation is limited to Cartoon Network, they proved to be an avid audience and asked a myriad of good questions.

Nik spent the afternoon with Susanna’s animation class screening more films and talking about how to select music for their works.  We ended our visit by viewing the students’ sketchbooks and storyboards.  Nik and I always enjoy visiting animation classes and this was an especially rewarding experience.  Many of the students told us that they had never met anyone from outside of Hungary, much less an American, and they had many questions to ask us about our life which seemed so foreign to them.

That night we took the bus back to Budapest to be ready to catch an early morning train back home to Gent.  The ride through Austria and Germany was beautiful.  We arrived back home late that night with a head full of beautiful memories of a fantastic two weeks.