GLAS 2019: A Conversation with Einar Baldvin, Jeanette Bonds & Sean Buckelew
The fourth annual GLAS Animation Festival is almost upon us, running March 21-24 in Berkeley, CA with a full lineup of screenings, talks, special programs, and more. Comprising many of the most vibrant and exciting international filmmakers working in independent animation today, the GLAS Animation Festival has grown in size and stature since it first launched in 2015, bringing together a community of industry veterans, filmmakers, students and animation enthusiasts from all around the world.
The four-day event is bigger than ever this year, with more than 20 Special Programs including retrospective screenings of animators like Dennis Tupicoff, Jim Trainor and Michele Cournoyer, and talks given by a broad range artists such as Shanghai-based digital artist Kim Laughton, This Magnificent Cake! director Marc James Roels, and Summer Camp Island creator Julia Pott, among others.
GLAS 2019 will also present screenings of director Mamoru Hosoda’s Oscar-nominated feature Mirai and Annecy Cristal winner Denis Do’s Funan, as well as a tribute to Studio Ghibli director Isao Takahata with screenings of three of his most acclaimed films: Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko, and the Oscar-nominated The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Also planned is an illustration workshop with South Korean artist Jisoo Kim, a screening of animation highlights from the Borscht Corp. collective in Miami, FL, and two showcases of British animation from the 1980s and 1990s curated by Irene Kotlarz.
At the heart of the GLAS Animation Festival is the International Competition, which this year includes 41 animated short films. Sixteen short films have been selected for the U.S. competition, while 21 projects will compete in the Family category, and an additional 15 projects will screen as part of the International Showcase.
For GLAS Festival co-founders Einar Baldvin and Jeanette Bonds and lead programmer Sean Buckelew, the primary goal of the Festival has always been to bring people together and showcase outstanding animation being made all over the world. “We’ve seen these two factors nearly double from year to year,” Buckelew comments. “For this edition of the festival, we carved our selection from 3,500 submissions and have over 50 filmmakers and speakers attending to showcase their work.”
As filmmakers, the trio has had the opportunity to visit other festivals around the world, taking inspiration from meeting other filmmakers and viewing their work in a highly concentrated context. “We wanted to bring that experience back home, by making the festival not only a destination for international animators, but also a resource and community for animators in the U.S.,” Buckelew notes. “Every year, as we go through the selections process, we are reminded of how much amazing, diverse and unique work is being made right now, and we’re excited to exhibit these films the way they were meant to be seen, on a big screen, surrounded by peers, in a serious, critical context. By bringing together attendees across the spectrum of animated filmmaking, we hope to push the conversation for what the animated medium is and can be, by exposing them to films and techniques that they otherwise might not be able to see anywhere else.”
Beyond serving as an exhibitor of independent animation, the GLAS Festival is also helping to get it made, beginning with the GLAS Animation Grant Program, which was announced earlier this year and has been a longtime goal for the Festival organizers. Created specifically for animators working in the U.S., the program awards two separate $2,500 grants to two individual filmmakers to create independent animated short films. “We gave out our first two grants to Bronwyn Maloney and Jeron Braxton, two of the most exciting young animation artists making work today,” says Buckelew. “We are continuing the program by opening submissions to the second round of the GLAS Grant at the conclusion of this year’s festival. To this same end, we have also put together a program of independent animation from the United States that is now beginning to tour internationally. We believe that independent animators in the U.S., who get basically no support, are making truly vital work, and we plan to expand our support for these artists in the coming years.”
As part of that goal to support independent filmmakers, last year’s edition introduced the FXX Elevation Award sponsored by FX Networks, which was given to Swedish animator Niki Lindroth von Bahr for her stop-motion existential musical The Burden. The award, which recognizes excellence in animated filmmaking and honors a film in competition that “embodies distinctive characters, bold storytelling and a singular point of view,” will be presented again this year, and the winning director will receive a $25,000 grant to develop an original animated project with FXX.
And in addition to the four competition categories that form the heart of the Festival, for the first time ever the Vimeo Staff Pick Award will be presented at GLAS 2019. This unique award, which has previously been bestowed at SXSW, the Palm Springs ShortFest and OIAF, invites short filmmakers selected for GLAS to submit their film for consideration directly to Vimeo’s curation team. The winner will be selected on Sunday, March 24 and be awarded $2,500 cash and be launched online the following day as a Vimeo Staff Pick.
As the GLAS Animation Festival continues to grow, so does its aspirations. “We also have some pie-in-the-sky goals,” Buckelew shares. “Like, we want to completely transform the cultural understanding and language of animation as an artistic medium. We want to see a revolution in animated films with adult themes that are serious and nuanced. We want independent animators to become household names in the US. We want independent animators to have sustainable careers making their own work. We want our GLAS Grant recipients to win Oscars. Check back with us in a few years on those,” he says.
“A festival is only ever as good as the work it gets the opportunity to showcase, and the people who attend,” Buckelew continues. “We’ve been extremely fortunate to consistently have incredible films submitted every year, and an amazing group of people from all over the place show up to share our collective passion for animation.”
Leading up to GLAS 2019, AWN had a chance to chat with Buckelew, Baldvin and Bonds about this year’s special guests and program highlights. Read the Q&A, which has been edited for length and clarity, below:
AWN: You have a terrific roster of special guests lined up for this year’s edition — let’s talk about those, starting with Summer Camp Island creator and showrunner Julia Pott. Will she be giving a talk?
Jeanette Bonds: Yes, she’s going to be doing a full talk going through the process of the beginning of her career as an independent artist to where she is today, developing and running her show.
Sean Buckelew: Speaking broadly, Julia is someone we’ve been interested in getting pretty much since the beginning because she’s this perfect example of bridging the spectrum. She started out making independent, very artist-driven singular work, and is now creating a show for a huge network while still trying to maintain her artistic sensibility within that kind of machine. That’s very much at the core of GLAS — having one hand in the LA animation scene and the industry, while also being involved in the international artistic scene. She is, I think, at a nice crossroads.
AWN: Tell us a little bit about what to expect from Koji Yamamura.
SB: Koji’s work is amazing — he’s, like, the godfather of this new wave of independent animation that’s been coming out of Japan for the last 10 years or so. In addition to having him come and present his work, which is really good — some of it Oscar-nominated — in a retrospective, there’s also his role as an inspirational community leader. That gets me excited because I feel like what’s happening in Japan corresponds to a similar movement in independent animation here in the U.S. Having his input and giving U.S. artists the chance to exchange ideas with him is very, very exciting for us.
AWN: And Dennis Tupicoff, will he be speaking as well?
Einar Baldvin: Yes, he’ll be doing a long extended talk, followed by a Q&A, about his career and why all his films are about death. Everybody asks him that, because they all are.
JB: Also, we’re doing something new this year at the Pacific Film Archive, also known as BAMPFA. This is our first time working with them, and we’ll be hosting two retrospectives there, one for Dennis Tupicoff and one for Jim Trainor, both on film.
SB: The retrospectives are in this crazy new space with a huge screen on the side of the building that’s right in the middle of the Festival zone. It’s a space we’ve been circling for a few years; we got in touch with them last year and they were interested in collaborating on programs that could be presented on film. So yeah, Dennis is one of them, and it’s going to look insane in that space.
EB: It looks like a silver space station on the inside, so that’s exciting too.
AWN: Speaking of insane, Christy Karacas is going to be there. He manages to be both insane and completely amazingly chill, all at the same time. Do you think he’ll share any secrets with us on how he achieves that?
SB: I hope it’s real talk from Christy about doing shows and surviving. He seems like a truth speaker.
JB: A truth speaker, but he’s also very energizing and energetic. He’s very good at inspiring other people with the energy that he has. It’s so contagious.
SB: It seems like he’s such a driven guy, but also just naturally inspired by so much stuff that filters into his work. The subject of his talk is just him going through his work. Like Julia Pott, Christy has a really strong artistic voice that’s been able to mature through his commercial work. I can’t really think of any other show besides Superjail! that feels so much like a comic book by a single artist. He’s been doing this kind of stuff — these crazy characters and fight scenes — forever. If you look at his student films, they’re not dissimilar to the shows he actually put on TV, which is pretty insane.
AWN: You mentioned Jim Trainor and his retrospective at the Pacific Film Archive, which sounds terrific. Is there anything you want to add?
SB: Jim is hardcore about preferring film and there was a period where it was actually really hard to get access to his work. For a long time, films like The presentation theme weren’t available online, and you couldn’t get them on DVD or Blu-ray. The Pacific Film Archive will be the only place you can see his work on 35mm film.
JB: We’re going to be showing a retrospective of her work, including some of her earlier films and films like The Hat and Soif, which are actually two of my personally favorite films of all time. She is a special artist for me particularly because there’s something so uniquely feminine about everything she does, and it’s so honest at the same time.
SB: And I think there’s something analogous about that… On the one hand, we have Julia Pott and Christy Karacas, who are navigating the industry as artists, and then you have Jim Trainor and Dennis Tupicoff and Michele Cournoyer, who, as singular artists, are existing more in these artistic spaces, and are making shorts in a different kind of framework that maybe allows them to be more experimental or more extreme. I think Michele’s work is the most pure in that regard, that it doesn’t have to deal with narrative the way that more industry-centered stuff does, so it’s very free work.
JB: Yes, it’s all hand-drawn, black-and-white for the most part, with elements morphing into one another.
EB: Yes, it’s pure animation. She’s sitting and drawing things turning into, I think, what comes into her mind as she’s doing it.
AWN: Tell us a little bit about Kim Laughton.
EB: I know he’s doing a very exciting installation where he’s going to be —
JB: We can’t say what it’s about — it’s going to be a secret!
EB: Oh, okay. So it’s very exciting, but nobody knows what it is.
JB: We know that there’s going to be an interactive element to it. I can tell you that.
SB: He did this really funny project about a year ago with David OReilly on Tumblr and Instagram called Hyperreal GC where they were just taking photos of things out in the world that looked like they almost were CG render tests and posting them on Instagram with captions like, “Render time: three hours, 45 minutes using Redshift…” or whatever. There was even a Huffington Post article that ran with it where they said, “You won’t believe how realistic CG is getting.” So he’s definitely in that kind of trickster camp of CG artists.
AWN: What a terrific prank. You also have Marc James Roles, one of the filmmakers from This Magnificent Cake!
JB: Yes, Marc James Roels is going to be coming. We’ll be showing the film, and he’s doing a talk and Q&A. We’ve been trying to get him and [filmmaking partner] Emma De Swaef to the Festival since the beginning. Their first film, Oh Willy…, came out before GLAS was launched and ever since then we’ve been waiting for new work from them and hoping to get them here.
AWN: And Luce Grosjean, she works with Miyu Distribution. Is she going to be giving a talk on short film distribution and the business side of getting your films out there?
SB: She will be giving a talk, but it will be in the context of how these films get produced, and there will also be a screening of films from the Miyu catalog. For a lot of U.S. animators it’s, like, the great mystery of Europe. Like, how do these films get made? I see all these logos at the end…
JB: And how do they get made, and how do they get distributed?
SB: Exactly. There’s a whole system in place that, the more I’ve learned about it just from going to festivals, the more I’m like, “Man, people in California gotta know.” Just people who feel like they’re making these really interesting shorts but don’t have the same sense of strategizing, or even a knowledge of what you can do with a short once you finish it.
AWN: There’s also Irene Kotlarz — tell us what we can expect from her at the Festival.
EB: Irene ran the Platform Festival that took place in Portland in 2007, I think, and she’s also an animation producer. She was a producer on He Named Me Malala. And then she’s also a curator, and she still teaches at CalArts, where we took her class when we were students. She’ll be presenting two programs of British animation from the ‘80s and the ‘90s.
JB: Can I just say that she’s been a very pivotal figure in terms of GLAS? Sean and I both took a curation class from her at CalArts, and we took a trip to Annecy as part of that curation class, and worked with her on a mini-platform.
SB: That trip to Annecy was definitely a seminal moment for all of us. It was the festival where Oh Willy… played, which for us was a big part of going into this. The root inspiration for GLAS was being in this class and thinking about putting films together. Seeing all these shorts that we at that point didn’t have a lot of access to, and so it was like, “Oh man, there’s a whole other world out there.”
AWN: Let’s talk about the international competition. You have 42 films in the main competition out of a total of 120 selections, coming from more than 3,400 submissions.
AWN: That’s just incredible. Tell us about two or three films that each of you are especially keen to have people see this year.
EB: For me, and I think for all of us actually, there’s Acid Rain, the new film by Tomek Popakul, which is very, very good — it’s one of the best animated shorts I’ve ever seen. And then there’s La Chute by Boris Labbé, and I would say the same thing about that one. Another one I’m particularly excited about is called Beware the Intuition by Robin Courtel … It’s very strange and very exciting.
AWN: What about you, Sean?
SB: I got a big one! There’s this film called Take The Five, by Conner Griffith.
He’s an RISD grad. I feel like I complain a lot about how it’s really hard to make independent shorts after you graduate, and he’s just been making short after short, and it keeps getting better and better. So he submitted this film, Take the Five, and I don’t think it’s played anywhere else at this point, so we have the world premiere.
I’m excited, as a person who drives a lot up and down California, I’m really excited about this one — it’s a super fun, energetic movie. In this mix with a lot of shorts that are these really amazing, well-animated, big, heavy films from Europe and other places, you’ve got this little gem straight out of Cali.
JB: Another interesting gem that I would say is kind of like a secret fun find is The Museum Guard, by Alexander Gratzer, which is just a breath of fresh air.
SB: Maybe the funniest movie ever made.
EB: It’s even funnier than Dumb and Dumber.
We’re also showing the film Agua Viva by Alexa Lim Haas. I feel like everyone else is going to mention all these big films from France or whatever, so I want to plug some of the ones from the U.S. Agua Viva is about a Chinese immigrant at a nail salon who’s just sort of going through her day, and it’s really beautiful. I think it won SXSW last year. Haas sort of loosely worked with the Borscht Corp., which is a group of Florida-based filmmakers. It was a film that I had heard about a lot prior to seeing it, and then it lived up to the expectations. It’s really fantastic, and again, I think it’s got a kind of flavor that is really unique, and there’s kind of nothing else like it.
AWN: Jeanette, did you want to mention any other films?
JB: I’m very partial to The Night of the Plastic Bags. It’s another French filmmaker, Gabriel Harel. He made one of my favorite films, Yul and the Snake. And it’s just… it’s a trip. That’s all I can say.
I’m also really excited about III by Marta Pajek — she is just such an amazing filmmaker, and it’s exciting to bring that film over to U.S. audiences. Her previous film, Impossible Figures and other Stories II, won the grand prize at GLAS 2017, and this is part of the same series.
SB: She won’t be here this year, But a lot of other filmmakers are attending. I think we have the highest-ever rate of filmmakers in competition — something like 50 — attending this year’s event.
AWN: That’s very exciting, and it seems like that’s really what the festival’s all about, bringing together all these independent filmmakers.
EB: Thomas Renholder, who is from Austria, has a very fun experimental film called DON’T KNOW WHAT, and he’s coming to the U.S. for the first time to open the screening. He’s never been here before, so that’s pretty exciting.
AWN: Let’s about the family competition — what should we be looking out for there?
JB: One of my favorite films is called Kuap, by Swiss filmmaker Nils Hedinger. I love this film. I think it’s one of the cutest films I’ve seen in a really long time, and I don’t know what it is about it, but I’ve actually watched it seven times from beginning to end. It’s about a little tadpole who’s a late-bloomer, and it’s just so cute.
SB: There are a lot of filmmakers this year, like Peter Millard and Will Anderson and Ainslie Henderson, who have had shorts before that are really big, and then made a piece that works for a family audience. I don’t know if all of those would immediately get contextualized in that way, but I think seeing Peter’s new film with a group of kids is going to be the funniest thing ever. It’s perfect for that audience, even though Peter isn’t necessarily making shorts for a family audience by intention.
JB: We’re also showing a little bit broader range of films in the family competition with things that have a slightly more American commercial feel.
SB: Yes, independent projects that were made to potentially be part of a pitch for a children’s show. So they’re more narratively structured, but they’re also really interesting and artistically unique.
AWN: What about the international showcase –tell us how that differs from the main competition.
JB: A lot of the films that we see are films you really respect for so many reasons, whether it’s the craft or the visual style, and we can only fit so many of them in the main competition.
So there were things we wanted to show at the festival that we really liked a lot, or that were polarizing, or any number of other reasons. There were a lot of different factors that went into play, but either way, there was a very strong feeling about them from the majority of the programming committee, and we felt that they still needed to be seen and just really wanted to showcase them.
SB: Yeah, the main competition gets full really quickly. Every time, you’re kind of like, “Oh wow, I hope we have enough good shorts to make the program.” And then when you start to assemble it and you do the run time, you’re like, “Oh, we’re already out of time, basically,” and there’s still all these other really amazing shorts that it would be criminal not to show in some capacity. That’s also why there’s two programs — it’s because there’s just a lot of good stuff.
AWN: You’re screening Fest, from Nikita Diakur. Is that a new project from him?
SB: It’s newer than Ugly, which we showed last year. It’s a commissioned piece he did for Adult Swim, and it played at Annecy last year, so it’s been doing really well. We’re big fans of his, and it fits in really, really perfectly.
SB: Yes, exactly. With Fest in particular, there’s a funny thing I’ve noticed. Every time it plays in a room full of people, it’s like, “Oh, this is a straight up comedy.” It just gets really funny and visceral reactions. So I think for us it’s a film that ought to be seen in this context because it maxes it out, and it is a totally different kind of experience.
AWN: You mentioned Boris Labbé’s La Chute a little earlier. Another filmmaker who could be mentioned in that same context is Réka Bucsi and Solar Walk, and it’s exciting that you’ll be showing that as well.
SB: Yes, and she is attending, also. We had her as a guest last year, and that was really thrilling, but at that point no one had seen Solar Walk yet, so it was sort her previous work. We’re excited that she’s coming, and she feels like a good friend of the festival now, and has this amazing, huge new film. Definitely that’s another one that is a theater experience to the max. I feel like that’s one where you kind of haven’t seen it if it isn’t in a theater.
JB: I’m actually really excited that Borscht Corp. is coming to do a screening. They’re just so cool.
SB: They’ve been commissioned for live-action and animation, but they’ve been around for long enough now that they have this body of work that’s all animated shorts. One of them is Yearbook by Bernardo Britto, which won at Sundance 2014, and so he’s coming as well. And they’re going to put on a program of all the animation they’ve produced. And they also run a festival where they do stuff like screening Waterworld out on a floating screen, and everyone had to get on boats to watch it.
We think of them as the East coast, Florida-centered festival that does exciting stuff. It’s run by artists who have a wild energy, and so that was a big inspiration for us, I think, when we started, even just looking at their website and stuff and watching from afar… Their attitude and their style, with their kind of territorial voice, it was something to emulate. And now we’re excited that it’s going to be a partnership, where they’re coming and presenting stuff.
AWN: Sophie Koko Gate will be there as well with a new project. That’s exciting.
SB: Jeanette can’t talk about it because she has a conflict of interest, because she does a voice in the film, but I can say that it’s a really amazing film. Just like with Réka Bucsi and Solar Walk, Sophie was a guest last year before the film was completed. It’s only been screened in a couple places so far, but it’s really a step up in terms of defining her whole aesthetic. She hasn’t made a big solo independent short since Half Wet, her Royal College film, so this is definitely like a big debut, her first film outside of school.
The fourth annual GLAS Animation Festival runs March 21-24 in Berkeley, CA. For more information on screenings and other events, as well as Festival passes, visit www.glasanimation.com.