Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Animated Thoughts: Locale

I finally got to see the Secret of Kells here in Michigan--though I had to make a two-hour, round-trip drive to Grand Rapids to see it. My first attempt was the previous night in Ann Arbor. I drove to the State Theatre only to find out that someone had updated the website incorrectly and the film wasn't being shown at 9 p.m. Two hours and over half a tank of gas wasted. So. The next evening, it was off to the Grand Rapids Celebration Cinema with my friend Jeff. This time, success! The screen was a little smaller than the first time I saw Kells in Waterloo, but I saw it one last time in the theatre.

Watching Kells on the big screen reminds me why I go to the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema every year. In Lansing, we just don't get to see animated feature films in our theaters unless they're from (or sponsored by) big Hollywood studios*. I can't help but believe that if the Odeon Theatre in Frandor was still around, I'd get to see films like Kells locally.

Growing up back in the 1980's, the Odeon was the place in Lansing to see independent film. And for a budding animator like myself, it was the place to see the International Tournée of Animation. Though I had never visited the Odeon before a girlfriend took me there to see the Tournée, viewing that collection of animated films took me from the world of 'watching cartoons' and opened my eyes to the wider variety of animated film that was out there--from hand-drawn to stop motion and, eventually, computer animated. I believe it was that experience at the first Tournée of Animation that became one of the driving forces fueling my desire to attend animation festivals around the Great Lakes area--from Chicago to Toronto and as far away as Ottawa.

Sadly, the Odeon Theatre shut down (despite being a moderately profitable venture, as I am told by a friend of the former owners). And even with the advent of the internet and online video, the animation festival remains the best place to see the majority of independent animated film on, for most of them, a screen large enough to show these films the way they were meant to be seen. And while I'm encouraged by studios like Pixar who are leading the charge to show shorts in front of their feature-length animated films and touring shows like The Animation Show and Spike & Mike, festivals like Annecy, Ottawa, KAFI are still one of the only places where you can see experimental animated film, student-produced films, and independent animated films.

The Ann Arbor Film Festival came one step closer to 'getting it right' this year (due in large part to local animator Gary Schwartz). AAFF took one Friday evening screening and showed a 1.5 hour block of experimental animated films, followed by a Q & A session with a few animators who had made the trip to Ann Arbor for the festival. While I would've preferred to see all the animated films handled this way, since I can't afford to spend an entire week sitting through live action films that don't interest me just to see the one or two animated films interspersed throughout the other screenings, I'm happy to see that AAFF is moving in a direction that is a little more friendly to those of us who want to see these animated films. And for the record, the theatre was easily three-quarters full. A good showing for a very esoteric segment of the animated film medium.

Well, the whole point of this post is not so much to rant about festivals, but rather to celebrate the following announcement: Secret of Kells will be released on DVD in the United States this October 2010. So this foreign-made, Academy Award nominated film, which proved hand drawn animation is still alive and well, will soon be accessible to the entire population--especially to those who didn't get to see it at a theatre near them.

* Props to NCG Cinema and Celebration Cinema for showing Ghost in the Shell: Innocence and Spirited Away...now how about showing the Evangelion relaunch films or Technotise: Edit and I! :)