Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Animated Thoughts: An Animated October, Part Three

Several days after arriving home from Toronto, I was on the road again--this time to Grand Rapids and ASIFA/Central's International Animation Day screening. Fellow ASIFA/Central member Brad Yarhouse spent months sifting through the films that ASIFA members from all around the world submitted for our branches to select from and organize our own local screenings.

There were some really enjoyable films there including "History of the Olympic Games" from ASIFA/Atlanta and "Brave Adventure" from ASIFA/China, both of which unfortunately haven't been posted online yet (to my knowledge). However, three of my favorites were:

"A Common Place"
Representing ASIFA/Brazil, this film was very touching and melancholy. During the entire film, I wasn't sure if it was about a friendship between two people or a tale of love lost.
A common place / Um lugar comum from Split Filmes on Vimeo.

"Little Kalari Warriors"
Representing ASIFA/India, this one had a very nice "Samurai Jack" feel to it in the animation, art direction, and narration.

"Kung Fu Cooking Girls"
Representing ASIFA/China, a battle between the traditional and the modern, told in classic Kung Fu style--though visually, very Japanese animation.
Original Animation film Kung Fu Cooking Girls from WOLF SMOKE STUDIO on Vimeo.

Also worthy of note is that one of the films submitted from ASIFA/China is currently in the running for an academy award: "I saw mice burying a cat", directed by Dmitry Geller.

I looked at my calendar as I arrived home that night and realized that the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema was just three short weeks away. Time to recover before four days packed with animated feature films!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Animated Thoughts: An Animated October, Part Two

So, the weekend of October 20th found me back in Canada as TAIS had brought Signe Baumane to Toronto for an evening screening where she discussed her filmmaking history as well as her current project: a feature length film called "Rocks in my Pockets". As Signe's previous work (seen on the "Ten Animated Films" and the "Avoid Eye Contact" DVDs I'd purchased years ago) had been a little hit-or-miss for me, I had not planned on attending this screening. Eh, some films run closer to your tastes, some don't. I admit it, I just don't understand a good chunk of her work. But, as fate would have it, I had dinner with Madi Piller at the Ottawa Fest and she convinced me that a weekend in Toronto would be a good investment of my time--and was she right!

Early in the evening, Signe graciously had dinner with a group of us and spent no small amount of time answering our questions and discussing her filmmaking process--both over dinner and after her screening. It was an experience you can't get from reading an article on the Internet. Unless you are fortunate enough to arrange a skype meeting, experiences like these can only be had at society screenings and festivals. Then it was off to the Cinecycle. With the NFB closing their location on John Street, the Cinecycle opened their doors to the TAIS events. I wasn't complaining, the Cinecycle is closer to my usual hotel anyways.

As Signe introduced her films, she took the time to discuss her filmmaking history, her inspirations, and her process. Hearing why she made the filmmaking decisions she did and what inspires her to make the films she does added a new depth to her work and allowed me to appreciate it on a level I hadn't before. Two of her films had nuances that I've missed in the past but came alive with the addition of the knowledge of what was going on in her life at the time she produced them: 'The Dentist' was created as she dealt with having a root canal--which led to her making the decision to completely remove refined sugar products from her diet. And 'Birth' dealt with her hopes, and more importantly her fears, while being pregnant with her first child. Throughout all of her work, Signe's early experiences of being mentored by Bill Plympton shone through.

An unexpected treat was how Signe presented her filmmaking history leading up to her feature film. You could see how she was growing and maturing as an artist, both in style and content, as she worked toward developing a visual style of her own. Of particular note was how Signe showed several of the films from her 'Teat Beat of Sex' series which discusses various aspects of the sexual experience from a woman's perspective. Laughingly, she admitted how she discovered that sex sells, unless you're being honest about the experience--the good, the bad, and the awkward.

The high point for me though was towards the end when Signe showed two seven minute clips from her upcoming feature: "Rocks in my Pockets", due to be finished in March 2013. With just those two clips, I was hooked on her film. Signe narrated two stories from her family history--both about relatives who had epiphanies about suicide in relation to the situations they were in, and all against the backdrop of the Russian revolution and World War II. Signe's feature film has her narrating the history of mental illness and episodes of suicide found in her family history doing so with her Lativan accent that lends an air of authenticity to the stories as they unfold.

Honestly I was transfixed by the stark honesty that she was presenting on the screen and wanted to see the entire film just based upon those fourteen minutes. Adding to the fascination with her story, her hand drawn characters were seamlessly composited with three dimensional, papier mache backgrounds, giving the film a quality that sets itself apart from both the realm of classic 2d cel animaton and the polished 3d computer animation that we see so often in the theaters. When asked by one of the attendees, Signe replied that her papier mache backgrounds are almost life sized so that she can show more detail and perform more complex camera movements without specialized equipment. When reviewing photographs of the camera rigging and sets built for films like Paranorman, her decision makes perfect sense--especially if you don't want to contort yourself into a pretzel in order to animate that one character or spend your entire budget on camera equipment.

Signe Baumane & Chuck Wilson
Later that night, as I sat in my hotel room and feverishly copied down notes from Signe's screening, I looked up at the television and was greeted with a pleasant surprise: Jerry Beck looking back at me. I had expected to miss his presentation of classic animated films on TCM since I don't have the expanded cable t.v. channels back at home. However, I was fortunate enough to stay at a hotel in Toronto that did. While I didn't see the entire program, I saw a couple hours worth--enough to know that Jerry really put a lot of effort into gathering a fantastic selection of film.

The next day, my roommate and I walked around Toronto, visiting old haunts and enjoying one of the last warm and sunny days of Fall before arriving at the ROM about 90 minutes before close. Given the time, they were kind enough to comp our tickets and we enjoyed a late afternoon, taking photographs, and discovering parts of the museum that we had only breezed by during our last visit years ago.

All-in-all, a wonderful end to a weekend experience that I almost didn't have.

End Part Two

Monday, October 29, 2012

Animated Thoughts: An Animated October, Part One

October was a busy month for animation.

I had barely recovered from the Ottawa International Animation Festival, when a rather timely article was posted on Cartoon Brew by animation historian Jerry Beck regarding the current state (and a possible future) of classic animated film.

It turns out that the Turner Classic Movie channel had decided to broadcast six hours of vintage animation with the added bonus of having Jerry introduce each segment with historical information about the films being produced during that time period. It immediately made me wish that I had more than just the basic cable package that Comcast provides for people with high-speed internet. Once again, I found myself wishing for a-la-carte packaging of cable channels.

Given the difficulties involved in watching classic animated film--that from the late 1800's even up to the 1950's--it makes me appreciate the efforts of Joe Chen, Chris Robinson, Madi Piller, and ASIFA/Central's own Brad Yarhouse even more as most of the films that I've seen at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, the Ottawa International Animation Festival, the TAIS screenings & workshops, and ASIFA's International Animation Day have never seen much distribution here in the States outside of the festival circuit or on the Internet. While not the purpose of Jerry's article, it does highlight why venues like these are so important to the animation community.

'Technotise, Edit y Ja', 'Fedot the Hunter', 'Chico and Rita'--these are just a few of the feature-length animated films that have been shown at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema in recent years. And none of them received any serious distribution in the United States--leaving people like me to travel anywhere from one to ten hours, and usually to venues in Canada, in order to watch these films. And that doesn't even begin to cover the more fringe films and topics like the Russian animation retrospectives shown at the Ottawa and Waterloo festivals. These two retrospectives alone introduced many to the films produced by Russia's Soyuzmultfilm during the years of the Cold War.

While the Internet has done an excellent job at making more animated films available to a wider audience (especially many of the short films that up until now were only available on the festival circuit or through traveling programs like the Tournee of Animation or the Animation Show) it has made the signal-to-noise-ratio problem worse as we are continually bombarded by hours and hours of internet memes and so-called "animated" video mash-ups. One is only left hoping that the cream will eventually rise to the top--as in the case of Simon's Cat and Dick Figures. But while we won't always appreciate every film that makes it into a festival, the odds of seeing a film that is closer to our tastes is much more likely if one can just tap into the festival scene. There may be far more festivals out there than just Ottawa, Waterloo, the TAIS summer screening, and ASIFA's IAD, but these are the ones I've personally gravitated to--partly due to proximity, partially due to content, and partially due to community. The point being: at a festival or society screening, you already have someone that has sifted through the films and selected those that, at least in their opinion, are worthy of your time.

Personally, I have experienced a side-benefit from my festival attendance. Over the years, I developed a change in my own tastes. When I was in grad school, I couldn't stand abstract, experimental animated films--I always dismissed them as nothing more than computer screen savers. For me, it was narrative short films or I wasn't interested. However, through attending festivals and screenings where I could meet and talk to their creators, I started to see the artistic merit in such work. And I even started to see their influence on more commercial work, such as the flavor/taste sequence in Pixar's film 'Ratatouille' where Remy tries to explain food combinations to his brother.

Had I not been forced to sit through the occasional abstract animated film at festivals--films selected by people who understood the merits of such work--I would have never had the opportunity to expand my horizons and learn to appreciate these films. An appreciation which has recently led me to learn more about the films of Norman McLaren, Ishu Patel, the National Film Board of Canada, and the rich history of Canadian animation. Had I stuck with just watching films on the internet, I very likely would not have ventured beyond the confines of of my little box (which is filled with the usual narrative short films that I so love) and I would have missed out on the wider world of animated film.

I'm very encouraged by Turner Classic Movies' decision to show films that, up until recently, were the purview of only a select group of die-hard enthusiasts, like myself, and students who sat through History of Animation courses at college. TCM should also receive credit for making the controversial decision to show the films of James Stuart Blackton unedited--those which have racist and anti-semetic imagery. These films were discussed by the hosts beforehand, along with a warning to the audience of what they were about to see, and were presented in their proper context: the world as it existed when they were created.

End part one.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Animated Events: International Animation Day

Just a reminder that October 28th is International Animation Day--the day that ASIFA chapters all around the world commemorate "the first public performance of Emile Reynaud’s Theatre Optique at the Grevin Museum in Paris in 1892."

You can read about the history of International Animation Day on the ASIFA International website.

Here in ASIFA/Central, we will be holding our IAD screening on Wednesday, October 24th. at the Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

From the ASIFA/Central announcement:

"The Central U.S.A. chapter of the Association Internationale du Film d’Animation (ASIFA) presents a celebration of current animation from around the world at the Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Oct. 24th.

Doors open at 6:15p.m. with the premiere at 6:30p.m. of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center and GVSU's Animation camp film "Sculpture Garden".

Followed by shorts by international, national and local animators from 7:00p.m.-9:00p.m. in the Koning Microcinema.

The event is FREE!"

The Wealthy Theatre is located at: 1130 Wealthy St SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506 and you can get directions to the theatre from your location here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Animated Inspiration: In Between

Y'know, every so often you find a film that resonates with issues you've dealt with in your life. In my case, it's no small measure of social anxiety. The following film from Gobelins l’├ęcole de l’image represents a young woman's trials with shyness as a very real struggle with a crocodile. I love how the mischevious actions of the crocodile isn't played just for laughs, but the string of gags showcase the woman's attempts to overcome her struggles.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Animated Quotes: Marcus King

"Success is simple:
A. If you are not getting the results you want, work 10 more hours per week for a month.
B. At the end of the month, if you are still not getting the results you want, work ANOTHER 10 more hours per week for the next month (cumulative). Repeat until you reach success.
C. When you get the success you want, figure out a way to get the same amount of work done in less time.
D. If you start to be unsuccessful, see A.
Failure is simple too. How to fail: See the problem, identify the solution, and then wait for things to get better instead of solving the issue."
~ Marcus King July 24, 2012