Founded in 2017 by noted Basque animator Pedro Rivero, Anima Kom may be a new festival but Pedro and his staff know how to do it with a flare. To begin with, I have never been to a festival opening night party in a casino where we were invited to sit down and play poker with a professional dealer but that’s what we did at the opening nite party held at Casino Bilbao.
As befits a festival set in the Basque country the opening night film was Black is Beltza. Beltza is the word for black in the ancient Basque language. The adult fictional feature is the film making debut of multidisciplinary Basque artist Fermin Muguruza. Based on a graphic novel by Jorge Alderate, the story is set in October 1965 when a group of giant carnival heads inspired by the figures from Pamplona’s parade, a tradition which dates back to the 17th century, are invited to march down New York City’s 5th Avenue on Hispanic Day. However apropos of the times two giant black figures are not allowed to march, however.
The film follows Manex, a young Basque man, who has travelled to New York City to walk in the parade. During his time in the United States, he is witness to some of the most important historical events and people of that turbulent decade. The Black Panthers, the Cuban Revolution, the cold war, the sexual revolution, and psychedelic drugs as well as Malcolm X, James Brown, Muhammad Ali, Fidel Castro, and Jimmy Hendrix all play a role in this trip down memory lane.
Anima Kom is a festival that spotlights and supports female animators with retrospectives, special programs, and lifetime achievement awards. Venezuelan born Begona Vicario has become one of Spain’s most prominent female animators. In 1996 she won a Goya Award for Ask For Me, a film that deals with the life of an immigrant woman without papers who fears for her life at the hands of organ traffickers. The Goya is Spain’s national film award.
The retrospective of Begona’s work featured seven of her films. They ranged from the 2016 experimental Jane: Tarzan Was Not So Cool, a reinterpretation of the famous scene where Tarzan and Jane swim together in the 1934 film Tarzan and His Mate, to The Ditch. Directed by Begona, The Ditch tells the story of Euxebi whose father was killed before she was born by the Fascist regime. Eighty years later the unmarked grave where he is buried is finally discovered. The 2017 film is a work of creative collaboration by 20 young artists under the direction of Begona.
Myriam Ballesteros is a well-known name in Spanish film and television production. She has worked as both a producer and director as well as setting up MB Producciones and IMIRA Entertainment. She has directed cartoon series such as Lucky Fred, Sandra Fairytale Detective, and Lola and Virginia which have been sold in over 100 countries and have won awards at such prestigious festivals as Cartoons by the Bay.
Myriam set up MB Producciones specifically to create and develop series’ and animated films that have a more personal and daring focus where women and girls take center stage. The festival presented a retrospective of her work. She also gave a masterclass at DigiPen Institute of Technology. DigiPen is a well-respected college for interactive media and video game development. They are also a supporter of the festival.
No tribute to women animators would be complete without a retrospective of works by Isabel Herguera and Izibene Onederra. Isabel discovered animation thanks to a friend who showed her how to work a Bolex camera and gave her his animation equipment. For years she worked in different Los Angeles animation studios and then in 2003 she returned to Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain.
Izibene has created and produced films primarily by hand. Her first film, made in 2007, Hezurbeltzak, Una Fosa Comun (Hezurbeltzak, A Common Grave) won numerous awards. The Basque word hezurbeltzak does not appear in any dictionary. It is a non-existent word used to describe socially invisible groups of people. Its literal translation would be black bones.
Their retrospective screened six films that Isabel and Izibene worked on individually. The seventh animation was the 2016 film Kutxa Beltza (Black Box) which was a collaboration by the two women. The beautifully drawn film is a strange tale that takes more than one viewing to absorb. In the film, a truck is moving toward the Igueldo Lighthouse, where a woman lives with her dog. Inside the charged environment of the lighthouse, the woman becomes the protagonist in very strange hallucinations. The interior of the house is done in the signature style of Izibene Onederra and the exterior in that of Isabel Herguera.
The Basque Short Film Competition featured nine films. Soy Una Tumba (Mum’s the Word) by producer/director Khris Cembe is a story about childhood and death. Every night a young boy watches his father unload a boat’s cargo of contraband cigarettes; however, one night it isn’t tobacco that his father is handling. Slowly, as the story unfolds he realizes that his father is mixed up in a very dangerous game that could be a matter of life and death. The tense story is enhanced by the strong graphic novel style of the film. Cembe was animation director on both Decorado and Psiconautas, The Forgotten Children and Sou Una Tumba has the same feeling as both of those multiple award-winning films. Soy una Tumba won the Laboral Kutxa Best Short Film Award.
La Noche (The Night) is illustrator and comic book artist Martin Romero’s first film based on one of his graphic novels. The eleven-minute film is the story of a Wolfman and a Moon Woman who meet in a lake on a warm summer night. They instantly fall in love and settle down to raise a family in an idyllic relationship. But can it last? Of course not. The bold black line drawing of the film stand out against a background of various shade of pink to enhance the romantic feeling of this quirky story.
In addition to the Basque screenings, there were four programs in the International Competition. I was very honored to be on the International Jury along with Israeli animator Tal Kantor and Basque director Fermin Muguruza. After watching the 33 films in competition our jury awarded the Grand Prix to Egg by Martina Scarpelli. I have written about Egg before so I won’t repeat myself. Our official jury statement about the film. “The jury awarded the Grand Prix to a film that handles the difficult subject of anorexia with dignity and style while showing what can be accomplished with a simple line.
We also gave a Special Jury Award to Jon Frickey’s delightful Cat Days. The film is a delightful film about a boy whose father is convinced that he is a cat when the boy gets sick. Cat Days won the 2018 Grand Prix at the Stuttgart Trickfilm Festival. Each member of the jury was also allowed to give a Special Mention. Tal selected Five Minutes To Sea, Russian animator Natalia Mirzoyan’s evocative reminiscence of what it is like to be a child on holiday at the seaside.
Fermin chose Soy Una Tumba (Mum’s the Word) and I opted for III by Marta Pajek from Poland. III is the final part of Marta’s complex trilogy Impossible Figures. The three films are a series of disorienting semi-abstract short films that explore situations that happen in different locations: inside a home, throughout a city, and the final film, III, which explores the space between two people.
The last night of the festival, after our jury had announced our awards, I was asked to stay on stage where I had the great honor of receiving an Anima Kom Lifetime Achievement Award. It was a complete surprise and for the first time in my life, I was totally speechless. Somehow festival director Pedro Rivero, Daniel Suljic head of the Zagreb Animation Festival, and my husband Nik managed to keep the award a secret from me. They contacting many of my friends around the world and they put together a beautiful video of greetings and funny stories. It was extremely touching and all a bit overwhelming because I have some big footsteps to follow in.
Over the course of the festival, five Basque female directors were also honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards. They were Begona Vicario, Isabel Herguera, Izibene Onederra, Maite Ruiz De Austri, and Myriam Ballesteros. The 2018 award was presented to Joy Batchelor posthumously and accepted by her daughter Vivian Halas. I am extremely honored to be in such august company with these women.
I was asked to curate a program of my favorite films by women directors. It was a difficult job to cut my original long list down to just eight films. Here is my final list:
Borderline 1 & 2 – Monique Renault, France, 1981
Girl’s Night Out – Joanna Quinn, United Kingdom, 1986
Reci, Reci, Reci – Michaela Pavlatova, Czech Republic, 1991
When the Day Breaks – Amanda Forbes and Wendy Tilby, Canada, 1999
Fetch – Nina Paley, United States, 2002
Veterinarian – Signe Bauemane, United States, 2007
Angry Man – Anita Killi, Norway, 2009
Brutus – Svetlana Filippova, Russia 2014
Pedro is the perfect host so there were many lovely meals and parties. One especially memorable night was spent at Caostica Studio. The Caostica Collective is a hub for communications and audiovisual productions. They also put on an International Short Film and Viedo Festival as well as other events throughout the year. Their studio is full of terrific toys, a well-stocked bar, and the night that we were there they were screening old black and white film clips from horror and slasher films. All of this was accompanied by a magnificent spread of food. It was a very fun party.
Anima Kom takes place at various venues around the city with the main screenings held at Sala Bilborock, an old church that has been converted into a theatre and concert venue. I can’t thank Pedro enough for inviting Nik and me to be part of his festival. He and his staff and volunteers went out of their way to ensure that all of the guests had a wonderful time and were well taken care of.
Bilbao is a charming city to visit. With a lively and fashionable public market, the Getty Museum, and a lot of historic narrow streets to explore, it is a perfect setting for a festival. The dates for the 2020 edition have not been set yet, but you can check out the Anima Kom website to find out more about this year’s event. When the call for entries for 2020 goes out you can also find the rules and regulations for submitting your film at:
AWARD WINNING FILMS
Grand Prix International Competition: Egg, Martina Scarpelli, Denmark/France
Jury’s Special Prize International Competition: Cat Days, Jon Frickey, Germany/United States
Jury’s Special Mentions International Competition: III, Marta Pajek, Poland, Five Minutes To Sea, Natalia Mirzoyan, Russia, Soy una Tumba, Khris Cembe, Basque Country
Grand Prix Student Competition: Wild Love, Paul Autric, Quentin Camus, Lea Georges, Maryka Laudet, Zoe Sottiaux, & Corentin Yvergniaux, France
Jury’s Special Prize Student Competition: Love Me, Fear Me, Veronica Solomon, Germany
Jury’s Special Mention Students Competition: Hounds, Amit Cohen & Ido Shapira, Israel, Best Friend, Juliana De Lucca, David Feliu, Varun Nair, Nicholas Olivieri, & Shen Yi, France
Laboral Kutxa Best Basque Short Film: Soy una Tumba, Khris Cembe, Basque Country
Jury’s Special Mention Laboral Kutxa Best Basque Short Film: The Night, Martin Romero, Ad Lib, Leire Acha, Sara Nikte Berrozpe, Eurie Cierbide, Benat Etxabuuru, Arantzazu Martinez, Cristina Vaquero, & Irene Velasco
Best Female Director: The Juggler, Skirma Jakaite, France/Lithuania
Best Script: Pinchpot, Greg Holfeld, Australia
Innovation Award: 32-RBIT, Victor Orozco, Germany