ANIMA BRUSSELS – The Brussels Animation Film Festival 1 – 10 March 2019 Flagey, Brussels, Belgium
With a festival that runs for 10 days you hope to see a wealth of good films, and Anima Brussels offers that and so much more. For the first time, there was a Virtual Reality competition. The 8 VR projects ranged in length from two to twenty minutes. One took the viewer from the middle of the ocean into the world of a half-human, half-zombie child with the European premier of Gloomy Eyes, the French/Argentine co-production by Fernando Maldonado and Jorge Tereso.
The experience that I enjoyed most was Gabrielle Lissot’s five-minute-forty second Un Bar Aux Folies Bergeres. Based on the painting by Edouard Manet of the same name, the 4 act scenario took me inside the minds of the artist; his model Suzon, a barmaid at the Folies Bergeres; a bar patron who is watching Suzon; and finally into the Courtauld Gallery in London where Un Bar Aux Folies Bergeres is on exhibit. I am very familiar with the painting, but even if the viewer isn’t everyone will enjoy this journey into the exuberant world of the Folies Bergeres at the end of the 19th Century.
Set in 1900, Age of Sail by Oscar-winning director John Kahrs (Disney’s Paper Man) is about a curmudgeonly old sailor who has set himself adrift in the Atlantic Ocean with no food or water on his last voyage “home”. When he rescues a young woman who has fallen overboard from a passing ocean liner, he discovers that there is more to life than despair. The story was alright, although a happy ending for all was very predictable. I found the VR a bit choppy and the character design looked a bit simplistic compared to other VR projects that I have seen. The creative team also made a flat 2D version film for Oscar competition. That version has been in several festival competitions and I did not find it particularly impressive. The movement of the characters did not flow properly and the film looked flat and one dimensional.
This year there are an exceptionally large number of good short animations in festival competitions. I had been looking forward to the last part of Marta Pajek’s trilogy Impossible Figures and Other Stories III. I was not disappointed. The Polish animator once again uses black and white drawings with the merest hint of red for this portrait of a woman in an exhausting relationship which allures and repulses at the same time. The couple begins a dangerous dance around each other that becomes more and more ferocious. The 12-minute film drew me further and further into the dark space that the characters occupy.
A new film by the Dutch trio Job, Joris, & Marieke is always a treat and A Double Life is no exception. The 2 ½ minute film is about a couple who put themselves in their partner’s shoes for a change by swapping gender roles. It all begins as a harmless gender-bender prank, but when the wife discovers how much more interesting life is as a man, a marital tragedy is in the making. What starts as a humorous film turns into a serious commentary about gender inequality. The Oscar-nominated trio (A Single Life, 2015) is known for quirky, funny stop motion films that always have a dark underbelly.
Mind My Mind was the most pleasant surprise for me at the festival. When I see that there is a 29-minute film in a program I think “Oh no!”, but Dutch animator Floor Adams has created a film about Asperger’s that is so entertaining and clever that it seems like it is only a few minutes long.
Floor’s main character, Chris, who has Asperger’s, is so interesting that I became completely absorbed in his world. He camouflages his obsession for building miniature dive bombers and stumbles through life thanks to Hans, an alter ego avatar living in his head. It is quite an obsession because planes hang from every inch of the ceiling of his model building room. Hans prepares Chris’ “social scripts” for his life outside of his apartment.
When Chris meets zoologist Gwen, sparks begin to fly, but he doesn’t know how to deal with the situation. Hans has written Chris a flirt script but he still can’t remember what is supposed to say. After several ups and downs in the relationship, love wins out proving that there really is someone for everyone.
People are finally beginning to realize that feature-length animation is not just for children. 2019 is a strong year for adult feature films. The 75 minute Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, directed by Salvador Simo, is a fascinating, yet disturbing film. It explores the trials and tribulations Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel encountered in shooting his 27-minute documentary Las Hurdes. The film also examines in animation and archival footage how Bunuel bent reality to his own ends in the making of the 1933 documentary.
Finding it difficult to raise money for a third film following his 2 Surrealist films, Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) and L’ Age d’ Or (Golden Age), which people found shocking, Bunuel decided to make a documentary about a poor isolated Spanish village, Las Hurdes. Bunuel is offered financing by his Anarchist artist friend Ramon Acin using the winnings from a lottery ticket. Inspired by Mauricio Legendre’s book of Human Geography which was given to Bunuel by French photographer Eli Lotar, they set off for Spain with a cameraman. Director Simo was given access to Bunuel’s copy of Human Geography by Bunuel’s son which contained the filmmaker’s original notes.
Bunuel and Acin find the harshness and misery of the countryside disturbing. No sooner did they arrive in the first village than they witnessed the ritual in which women about to be married were practicing the ancient ritual of riding down the main street on horses, tearing the heads off chickens hanging by their feet from a rope. This scene is part of the live action footage in Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles.
I found the1933 archival footage fascinating. In one segment we are shown how Bunuel manipulated the film to fit his ends. There is a scene where a goat appears to tumble to its death down a cliff after accidentally losing its footing. In reality, the goat fell because Bunuel shot it. The rough style and muted colors of the animation fit perfectly with the archival footage. Although the film can be brutal at times, it gives us a realistic look at poverty and deprivation in 1930’s Spain. Anyone familiar with the conditions that led up to the Spanish Civil War will find this a fascinating film. If you are a devotee of Bunuel’s Surrealist films, Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles will give you a bit of an insight into the mind of this creative genius.
We don’t get to see enough feature-length animation from Latin and South America so Virus Tropical from Columbian director Santiago Caicedo was interesting to me. This coming of age story was adapted from the graphic novel by Colombian/Ecuadorian cartoonist Powerpaola.
Beginning with the night Paola was conceived by a father who is a pastor and a mother who is not supposed to be able to have any more children, we follow Paolo as she grows up living between Ecuador and Colombia. Over the years Paolo, the youngest of three daughters raised mostly by a single mom, gropes and fumbles her way through friendships new schools, clunky romances, and various family dramas until she finally finds her place in the universe.
Animated in a black and white graphic style, the very lo-fi Latin indie music adds charm to a story told from a young lady’s point of view. A couple of people told me that they thought that this was a “chick film” but I don’t think it matters whether it is about a girl or a guy. Anyone interested in life in South America, likes good indie Latin music, and an entertaining story will enjoy Virus Tropical.
Selected from 10 submitted films the 3 This is Belgium competition programs showcased the best of the country’s Flemish and Walloon animators. The first 2 programs were devoted to professional films. The 3rd screening gave us a chance to see what the new crop of Belgian talent looks like in the Student program.
I was enchanted with Nuit Cherie (Sweet Night), a 13-minute film by Thierry Zamparutti. It is a tale about a bear who lives in the Himalayas. He should be hibernating but he can’t get to sleep and he feels miserable. To take his mind off of his insomnia his friend, the White Monkey, tells the bear that they should go to his Aunt’s house to eat some honey. Along the way, the pair discover the giant footprints made by Yeti in the snow and on that Nuit Cherie, they discover the secret of who the Yeti really is. The story is delightfully original, the character designs charming, and most of all the film’s backgrounds are stunning. Nuit Cheire was given the Best Belgian Short Film Award.
Each year the 5-day Futuranima is held during Anima Brussels. It is an opportunity for professional animators to exchange ideas on panel discussions, to network, and present Master Classes. I was very curious to learn about Jeremy Clapin’s 1st feature-length film, I Lost My Body at his Work in Progress Master Class. Jeremy’s short films Une Histoire Vertebrale (2006) and Skhizein (2008) were quirky hand-drawn films so I was looking forward to seeing his latest film, a loose adaptation of Guillaume Laurant’s book Happy Hand.
This very adult film has an interesting narrative structure. One strand of the story follows Naoufel, a young man who moves to Paris in search of a new life. The other takes us along on the journey of Naoufel’s severed hand which escapes from a refrigerator in a dissection laboratory and wants to be reunited with its body. Throughout the film, the hand reminisces about when he was still attached to his body. In his search, the hand is involved in chase and action scenes in the grittier parts of Paris.
Jeremy showed the basic storyboard and animatic as well as a clip from the film. As of this writing, the film took top honors at Cannes Critic’s Week and will be screened at Annecy this year.
Stop Motion With Kim Kukeleire and Emma DeSwaef was as much fun as it was instructive. Kim was head animator on Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs and Emma is half of the team of Emma DeSwaef and Marc James Roels who have created such amazing stop motion films as Oh Willy and This Magnificent Cake. To begin the dialogue the ladies said that they love each other’s films. The conversation between these two stop motion specialists pointed out two very different approaches to creating great stop motion films. Kim said that Wes was never actually on any of the multiple sets of Isle of Dogs during the shooting, but was in constant contact with the crews through the use of a two-way exchange of video clips. Nothing in the film was improvised and Wes was very definite about exactly what he wanted. She showed a very humorous video that he had sent demonstrating exactly how he wanted a character to move.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Emma talked about creating films on a low budget, which necessitated a great deal of improvisation. Emma and Marc also utilized as many interns as possible. She showed an extremely funny video of Marc demonstrating character movements with a plastic water bottle as a prop. Since they did not have room to keep most of the sets and props from This Magnificent Cake most of them went into the garbage bin, but they did save some of the choicest ones which Anima Brussels had on display in an exhibition hall.
The exhibition was beautifully staged and it was delightful to see the carefully detailed precision that Emma and Marc put into making the sets, characters, and miniature objects from the film. The centerpiece of the exhibition was the beautiful to-scale replica of the royal greenhouse that Leopold II built. It looked beautiful in the film and when I had the chance to see it in person I realized how perfect every detail was on it and what time-consuming craftsmanship went into building it.
In the other Flagey exhibition hall, there was a tribute to Les Shadoks. This animated television series which ran from 1968 to 1974 caused a sensation when it was first broadcast. The Shadoks were bird-like in appearance and were characterized by ruthlessness and stupidity, inhabiting a 2-dimensional world. Created by Jacques Rouxel, The Shadoks quickly repelled some French citizens who thought that their behavior and attitudes were disgraceful while others thought of the shows as a wacko piece of” philosophical waffle”. The series added a touch of the avant-garde to the otherwise bland French TV of the times. The exhibition featured original cels and storyboards as well as figurines from the show, memorabilia, and photos of the creators at work.
Another special event was a retrospective screening of Paul Bush’s films. Paul titled his program My Beautiful, Stupid Tealeaf Films. He introduced a program of what he considers his 8 most important films with “Beauty may be superficial but it can be found in a tea leaf as much as among tulips”. He began with his 8-minute film His Comedy made in 1998 which he said was inspired by Gustav Dore engravings.
Furniture Poetry (1999) was the film that first introduced me to Paul’s work. He said that it was his first funny film. It is indeed humorous to see apples, plates, tables, and chairs put through rigorous balletic paces. The film stands the test of time and is as enjoyable to watch now as when I first saw it. Lay Bare (2012) is a composite portrait of the human body that is erotic and comic at the same time.
The program ended with the making of Ride. The 2018 film is an homage to motorbikes. Paul discovered a man living in Northern Portugal who has an extremely large collection of Portuguese motorbikes that he has restored. It is not a museum, just a personal passion. In Ride, hundreds of motorbikes are animated frame by frame in homage to the iconic motorbike design and culture of the 1950s and 1960s. We watch as a rider prepares his bike and takes off on an idealized journey into the countryside. For anyone who loves Paul’s work and motorbikes as much as I do the making of is as entertaining as the film itself.
Running in conjunction with the festival at Cinema Gallery was an exhibition of Paul’s work and the premiere of his first feature film Babeldom. The film is set in a city so massive and growing at such a speed that soon, it is said, light itself will not escape its gravitational pull. How can 2 lovers communicate when one is inside the city and the other one outside? Paul calls the film “an elegy to urban life, set against the backdrop of a city of the future”. The background was assembled from film footage shot in modern cities around the world.
The first week of Anima Brussels takes place during the annual Carnival Week, school holiday, so there are lots of screenings for young filmgoers of all ages. For the very youngest preschoolers, Rita and Krokodil has short, no dialogue episodes that are long on laughs. Danish animator Siri Melchior has created a charming series of films about Rita, a very determined little 4-year-old girl who likes to explore the world with her best friend the Crocodile who she persuades to get into all kinds of mischief with her.
For older children, there were such perennial favorites as Ernest and Celestine and My Life as a Courgette which were part of this year’s Focus on France.
Young people from 6 to 12 years old could attend daily workshops organized by the Brussels studio Zorobabel. At the workshops, they could try their hand at stop motion, sand and experimental animation to name just a few of the techniques available to explore.
Before the awards were handed out at the closing night ceremony, the audience was treated to a new adventure of Vincent Patar and Stephane Aubier’s delight Cowboy, Indian, and Horse series. This time Cowboy and Indian want to go the agricultural fair. After a skateboard accident leaves Horse with amnesia, he can’t remember where he put the crucially needed entrance tickets. Cowboy and Indian decide to build a time machine to help Horse find them. That is where all of the mayhem and fun starts.
Patar and Aubier are absurdists in the best sense of the word, once again pushing their toy plastic figures to the limit and providing the audience with 26 minutes of a wacky, fun-filled adventure where all’s well that ends well after another hilarious romp with Cowboy, Indian, and Horse in their latest adventure.
Festival Coordinator Doris Cleven and her staff do an excellent job of putting together a 10-day festival that is full of variety while retaining high quality. A special thank you goes to Karin Vandenrydt who always finds time to answer my questions and help me out even when she is busy taking care of the juries. I am already looking forward to the 2020 edition which will be held from 21 February to 1 March. This is a festival that I can highly recommend. Everyone will find a lot of interesting things to see and do. You can learn more about the festival at: www.animafestival.be.
ANIMA BRUSSELS WINNING FILMS
International Jury: Maureen Furniss, United States; Hisko Hulsing, The Netherlands, and Jakob Schuh
Grand Prix and 2,500 Euros offered by the Region de Bruxelles-Capitale – Reruns, Rosto, the Netherlands
Jury Special Prize – Je Sors Acheter Des Cigarettes (I’m Just Going Out For Cigarettes), Osman Cerfon, France
Best Student Film – Bloem, Jorn Leeuwerink, The Netherlands
Junior Jury: made up of representatives from webtv
Best Short Film For A young Audience: One Small Step, Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas, China/United States
Belgian Competition Jury: Anders Narverud Moen, Norway; Julia Ocker, Germany; and Ron Dyens, France
Best Belgian Short Film Offered By SABAM – Nuit Cherie (Sweet Night) – Lia Bertels, Belgium
Grand Prix for Best short film from the Federation Wallonie-Bruxelles – Sous Le Cartilage Des Cotes, Bruno Tondeur, Belgium
Audience Award for Best Short Film – Mind My Mind, Floor Adams, The Netherlands
Audience Award for Best Feature Film – Funan, Dennis Do, France, Luxembourg, and Belgium
Animated Nights Audience Award – Bloody Fairy Tales – Tereza Kovandova, Czech Republic
VR Jury: Francois Fripiat; Marine Haverland; and Ioana Matel
VR Award – Gloomy Eyes – Fernando Maldonado and Jorge Tereso, France/Argentina