Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013 in Review

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from the sandy animator!

It has been a year full of fluid frames. In recap, I would love to share some of my favorite projects from 2013. Above is the annual Christmas greeting from Women of Vision. If you are in a hoiliday sort of mood, you can see the past year's cards on Vimeo.

A Tangled Tale goes online!

The sandy fish from "A Tangled Tale" have been swimming around the globe to festivals far and wide and finally came to rest online for public viewing. I had the great joy of travelling to Annecy, Hamburg, Vienna, Palm Springs, Brooklyn, Napa and South Dakota with the film. It's been a jet setting year!

Hana Sasaki makes her debut.

Kelly Luce is a dear friend from the MacDowell Colony. We have weathered power-outages, falling trees, kiwi parades and Japanese interviews together. Kelly released her debut collection of fantastic short stories this year and I was so pleased to create her book trailer.

Postcards from the Chilkoot 

In 1898 thousands of gold-hungry men and women flocked over Chilkoot Pass to get to the Yukon goldfields. In 2012, I hiked the trail as Artist-in-Residence on the Chilkoot Trail. Here are a few memories of the trail.

More exciting things are in the works for 2014. Until then, have an animated holiday season!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Animation on the Range - SoDak Animation Festival Review

If you want to draw a bunch of animators to a small college town on the eastern edge of South Dakota, the most compelling enticement is obviously pie and ice cream. SoDak Animation Festival in Brookings, SD, knows the straight path to my heart.

The festival is the combined effort of animator and professor Cable Hardin and the enthusiastic animation students at SDSU. In the middle of endless fields of corn and soy, the local and student community gathers to celebrate visiting animators and their films from around the world, culminating in the presentation of the Golden Cowbell Awards.

Pie at Lange's Cafe
Brookings is not an easy place to get to, but those who make the effort will be welcomed with MidWestern hospitality. This festival really has its heart in the right place. Cable Hardin, the festival’s founder and head of the animation program at SDSU says, “Without the filmmakers present, it’s just a bunch of movies”.

100% of the (very reasonable) entry fees are collected in a filmmaker travel fund to help cover some of the travel costs for participants. This is so rare in the US and it’s a smart way to entice budget-conscious animators to make the trip to Brookings. Our small group of animators and festival guests were chauffeured around town by hard-working volunteers and treated to home cooked meals, local brews and a special outing across the prairie in search of pie and pipestone.

The Saturday animation workshop.
I know what this kid wants for Christmas.
I was on this year’s jury so I had the opportunity to see every film in the festival. The majority were solid pieces of filmmaking, mostly narrative and character driven with a few more experimental works thrown in to keep things spicy. Techniques varied from highly polished CG to traditional cel and stopmotion I could tell it was a program meant to be both enjoyed by the public and inspiring to the next generation of animators studying at SDSU. Only the family program lacked a high ratio of well-crafted animation eyesores. Kids don't seem to mind amateur stopmotion as long as there are fuzzy animals and dragons.

Aside from the winners, which are listed here, some of my favorite films were:
Astigmatismo by Nicolai Troshinsky
Beautiful, imaginative cut-out film with mind-blowing in-camera effects.
Dents de Lait by Julie Charette
Subtle observation of a young boy working through a great loss.
Khachaturian Meets Dali by Kirill Fessenko
As strange and wonderful as the surrealist himself.

Cody Walzel (Breadheads), Ann Mendenhall and Stephanie Son (Bird and Fish) were there in person to accept their awards, but as an extra special treat, the other award winners sent in some very creative acceptance speech videos, bringing a little bit of France, Taiwan, and London to the awards ceremony.

One of the things I enjoyed most was the panel discussion on All Things Animation. The other panelists were Steven Hunter from Pixar, Eric Say from NBC graphics division and Jeff Hayne at Mill Creek Entertainment. Sitting on comfortable couches in front of a full house, we had a lively discussion on our respective roles in the industry, fueled by an endless stream of questions from audience.
SDSU students animating sugar during the festival

The conversation was peppered with personal anecdotes from Steve’s work on Nemo, Incredibles and Brave, Jeff’s mission to revive his favorite childhood cartoons for modern audiences. Eric revealed that millions of Americans don’t know that their Monday Football experience is sometimes entirely dependent on an unathletic animator running down the hall with a tape seconds before broadcast. We spoke about commercialism vs. creativity, the changing nature of distribution and funding, risk-taking and balancing personal work with making money. The thoughtful questions and the stamina of the audience told me they truly appreciated the combined breadth of experience in front of them.
Thanks SoDak, for a great festival!

The evening ended with the presentation of cans of Thank You® Chocolate Pudding and packets of meat sticks from the campus meat lab (also home of the gummy bear brats) were nearly as good, especially when Steve tore open the meat sticks and began dipping them in the chocolate pudding. Mmmmmm… really, it wasn’t half bad.

If I have sparked your interest in SoDak, the FAQs on the festival website offer a further glimpse into the lighthearted spirit of SoDak. They are worth reading, just for kicks.

The festival is likely going biannual, so there will be no festival next year, but come 2015, don’t overlook this little gemstone in South Dakota. The ice cream really is amazing.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What is this HATCH thing anyway?

HATCH is constantly redefining itself. 10 years ago it started in Bozeman, Montana as a film and music festival with a mentorship component and it has branched out into an an expansive canopy of creativity in a perpetual state of hatching. It is part TED-talk, part think tank, part summer camp for creative minds. It’s not exactly a conference and not exactly a festival, but after 10 years, it is settling into the undefinable HATCH Experience. I guess the reason we all have such trouble explaining it is because you really do have to experience it to fully grasp its significance. Now, after my second “HATCH Experience”, I feel I am starting to “get it”.

I used to have one of those kids chemistry sets. This is how I really learned the meaning of the word catalyst. I could mix a little of this and a little of that in a confined container, drop in a bit of another bit and something cool and unexpected would happen. Usually it involved changing colors, maybe some percolating bubbles. I always hoped for something really cataclysmic - like the giant bang and black cloud of smoke that would clear to reveal my with my hair standing on ends and a sooty ring around my safety goggles. Alas, that never happened in my parents’ garage, but it happens all the time at HATCH.

Our periodic table includes entrepreneurs, artists, hackers, inventors, CEOs, do-gooders, designers, groundbreakers… I could go on and on adding to the volatility of the HATCH identity. There are infinite opportunities for collaboration between HATCHers and equally infinite potential outcomes. All the guests are hand-picked by HATCH founder Yarrow Kraner, a mixture of creative success stories, untested “Groundbreakers” and local Montana innovators - a different mixture every year with no agenda other than to engage. We are, essentially, Yarrow’s human chemistry experiment.

The individuals who are invited to HATCH are all people who make stuff happen - whether on a daily basis or over years of struggle. Regardless, they are people with resumes. Yet remarkably, HATCH is an ego vacuum. I can’t say if it’s a “Check them at the door” scenario or if Yarrow has a sixth sense about ego-less people, but the four days are permeated with active listening, engaged networking, and sincere encouragement and mentorship. There’s no way to differentiate a keynote speaker from a local volunteer other than by spending some time in conversation. Impromptu collaborations abound with a tendency towards beta-testing crazy ideas on-site. For example, this year groundbreaker Nick Campbell set up an installation/performance of three electric guitars played by falling sand. I mean, why not?

I’m still mulling over the talks and conversations from the last few days, trying to glean every grain of effectiveness from my Hatch Experience. I am inspired by seeing so many people dive into an unknown entity with such abandon and it gives me much needed courage as an artist to keep forging on along my own path. Despite it’s ambiguity, HATCH is doing good in the world. It is worth supporting. And if an invitation ever happens to drop into your inbox, dive in recklessly. You won’t regret it!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Animation Block Party - Festival Review

The United States has long been in need of a professional, internationally-minded animation festival. What better potential to fill this role could a festival have, than being located in one of the most accessible and international cities in the US, New York? The Animation Block Party is, according to its website, “the premier animation festival on the East Coast”. It’s also the only animation festival on the East Coast, and while there were some very enjoyable moments to my visit this past July, I can’t in good faith recommend any animator that isn’t local to spend the effort and money to attend.

The festival is centered in one of the creative hotbeds of animation, Brooklyn, NY, where many independent artists, designers, and fashion-conscious hipsters call home. From the bit of festival history I knew and the programmer’s choices, I gathered that the festival was a bit “bootstrappy”, with a crew of volunteers and a hearty focus on their local crowd. All this could have the makings of a vibrant, small festival. However, there were a couple red flags. One was the somewhat hasty and impersonal nature of the correspondence surrounding my festival acceptance and attendance. Emails lacked critical details, like the addresses of festival venues, which made figuring out how to get around unfamiliar Brooklyn a bit of a headache. No help with finding accommodation was offered, which made me think that the festival really didn’t expect out-of-town visitors to bother. Also, I found out that some of the established movers-and-shakers of the NY animation scene, like Bill Plympton, Signe Baumane and Amid Amidi*, don’t bother to support the festival with their attendance. But, since I like any excuse to visit to New York, I decided to go and see for myself.

The first serious criticism I have for ABP is that they do not offer filmmakers a festival pass. My film was in competition and the festival offered me 2 free tickets to my Saturday afternoon screening, which also included entry to the party that night. I was also invited to the special filmmakers meet-n-greet mimosa brunch. That all sounds very nice in writing, but the brunch consisted of Dunkin’ Donuts and mimosas at a trendy clothing store in Brooklyn. Oh, and the trendy clothing store happened to be having “Mimosa Saturday” at all their locations around the city that day. As I tried to avoid spilling my free mimosa on the neatly folded $30 T-shirts surrounding me, I couldn’t help feeling like we were a group of freeloading college students instead of professional filmmakers networking at a festival.

Back to the lack of a festival pass. I can understand that a festival has a budget, especially in a place like Brooklyn where venue fees must be killer. There were plenty of local films programmed in the festival, and maybe ABP was worried about lost revenue if they gave all these locals free passes. But the practical result of me not having a festival pass was that I didn’t actually go to the festival. I went to my screening and bought tickets to another screening for me and my guest. A few of the other screenings looked interesting, but for the two of us, the price tag quickly became too high.

There is nothing wrong with low-budget. I’ve been to grassroots film festivals. I’ve stayed in people’s homes, watched a DVD copy of my film crappy projectors in a school auditorium and thoroughly enjoyed the enthusiasm of a small crowd of film-lovers. At those festivals I feel like everyone appreciates the creative work that goes into making a film and having a filmmaker present is a privilege. At ABP I felt like I was an expendable commodity. There was no Q and A or even a stand-up-and-bow for any of the attending filmmakers. I’m pretty sure the festival could’ve cared less that I was there.

Because I didn’t actually go to much of the festival, I can’t speak with authority on the quality of the films. The first night, an outdoor screening of shorts, was jointly sponsored by the incredibly popular Rooftop Films Summer screening series. The line-up was full of strong films, including some festival award winners like Dan Sousa’s Feral, and Ainslie Henderson's I Am Tom Moody. I also really enjoyed Kalte by Reda Bartkute and Passer, Passer by Louis Morton. I left the screening with high hopes that this trend of high-quality animation would continue. The second screening I attended disappointed me because about half the films lacked a sophisticated application of the principles of good motion. There seem to be many, many designers and artists who are getting into animation without fully understanding that is is the art of movement. Having a pretty design that moves is not the same as carefully choreographed and patiently executed movement. More and more often at festivals I feel like I am sitting through a series of glorified Powerpoint presentations.

However, what really shattered my experience of ABP was watching my own film at the festival. There is no better way to destroy a filmmakers spirit than to completely ruin her work of art before a public audience and make no apology.

How do I begin to explain how terrible the film looked? If you took a polaroid of a Picasso, then printed it in a newspaper and THEN blew that image up to a wall-sized print, that might come close to the degradation my film suffered. There were so many compression artifacts the credits were illegible.
How my sand fish felt after Animation Block Party

After the screening I cornered Casey, the festival director and asked him to explain what could possibly have gone wrong. He said they probably took the DVD submission copy of the film, recompressed it to a new format and then blew it up to DCP. What??? I asked him why the festival didn’t request an HD file from which to make the DCP. His response was, “Well, I think we sent an email out at some point and if we didn’t hear from you we just used the submission copy.” I went back and checked my ABP email thread and spam folder for that email and found nothing. I also asked every filmmaker I talked to that night, and none could recall such an email (and several were worried about what their films were going to look like since they had not sent in a replacement copy either). There was no follow-up, no cross checking and seemingly no one technically savvy enough to look at what was going up on the screen and realize it was sub-par. My film was not the only one that looked degraded and compressed.

Casey’s brief apology was hardly reassuring that something like this would not happen again, “Well, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Most people probably didn’t even notice.” After the festival, I tried to follow up with an email to him, in hopes of washing out the bad taste in my mouth (I really want to like ABP!), but received no response.

After the screening I was so steamed up that any thought of going to see another show was out of the question. My husband and I got a beer and late lunch, then walked to Prospect Park for the rest of the day. By the time the evening party rolled around, I had cooled off enough to want to talk to some of the other animators and compare experiences.

Adding a corpse flower to the communal drawing wall.
And  this, at least, lets me end on a positive note. Brooklyn does know how to construct a unique party, and the 10th Anniversary Party at the BAM Fischer had a casual throwback atmosphere reminiscent of a G-rated frat party. Carnival games, a 10ft long foosball table, 4-person Pacman, and a massive drawing wall were all clearly designed to bring strangers and friends together and break the ice. Someone must have run to Costco for the party food, which included, giant bowls of Doritos and Cheetos, chocolate covered pretzels and those irresistible brownie bites. The real ice-breakers were the bottomless mixed drinks by Brooklyn Gin and Brooklyn Brewery. One thing the festival did get right was their sponsors. There was a decent crowd and some decent conversations to be had. We didn’t stick around long enough to see if the DJ (or drinks) would eventually draw people to the dance floor. We were too eager to ride our CityBikes back to Williamsburg and hang out with some old friends.

In summary, perhaps my experience a ABP was just a fluke, but I will think twice not only about attending, but about sending them my films in the future. ABP is not anywhere near the premier animation festival our country needs. The animation industry in the US is so large and our geography is so expansive, is it unrealistic to hope for a gathering place where animators can intermingle professionally? We may not have the right culture to create an Annecy or an Ottawa within our borders, but I hope there is still room for defining our own quality forum for the independent voices of animators.

*CORRECTION Amid Amidi has expressed his support for the festival and its intentions, explaining his absence in the comments.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hana Sasaki Makes Her Debut

I'd like to announce an exciting animated collaboration with my friend and writer, Kelly Luce. Kelly and I met at the MacDowell Colony during the Great Ice Storm of '08. A week without power in rural New Hampshire lays a good foundation for friendship.

Kelly is releasing her debut collection of short stories this October and I have had the privilege of an open creative license to animate a few scenes from her book. This may result in future collaborations... a supernatural toaster is a tempting plot point. But for now, enjoy this glimpse into Ms. Luce's strange and wonderful mind.

Three Scenarios in which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail 

And please do your social media duty for us both with a like, comment, tweet, tumble, blog, embed or otherwise share.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Confessions of an Annecy Virgin

The first time... it is something you will always remember, a special time to be thoughtfully cherished and, when the universe aligns, enjoyed to its fullest in the true spirit of the French mode de vie. I am, of course, talking about Le Festival international du film d'animation d'Annecy, or simply "Annecy", as those in the animation world affectionately call it.

Since my early days as a student, Annecy’s reputation has demanded deference. With each new film, I diligently filled out the entry form and sent in my DVD, wondering if I would ever have the chance to join the historical roll-call of Annecy animators.

This year, the universe did align. A Tangled Tale was one of the 236 films selected from 2461 submissions. And so I joined roughly 7099 other animators and industry professionals in the quintessential French alpine town for a week of animation glory.

I arrived in Annecy directly from the closing night of the Hamburg Kurzfilmfestival, and when I say closing night, we really did shut it down- they were moving on to the hard alcohol when I caught my taxi to the airport at 6am. After a week of explaining sand animation to live-action filmmakers, what a relief for my sleep-deprived mind to find myself in a shuttle to the lake talking about the minutiae of animation theory with animator/professor Raimund Krumme and animation student Sara Shabani (Bike). It was like coming home to my animation family!

Marcel Jean (right) with Pixar's creative team.
I quickly learned that I was not the only newbie at Annecy. There was a new Artistic Director, Marcel Jean. He soon became the charismatic face of the festival, introducing the special screenings, important guests and moderating the morning Q+A with shorts directors.

Also, the famous Bonlieu Theater, which had been the central hub of the festival in years past, was under renovation, which meant the main screenings would take place in a specially constructed theater at the Salle des Haras. This was essentially a giant shipping container plopped in the courtyard of what used to be a convent. Standing outside, one could hear every thunderous Dolby boom shiver through the thin walls. The courtyard unfortunately turned into a giant mud puddle when it rained and the soggy row of portable toilets diluted the Annecy glamour to the level of a hippie music festival. With seating for 800+, this was where all the “important” events took place.

Animator Dustin Rees, ready for opening night in the Salle des Haras
Despite my sleep-deprived state, I was quite eager to see the first Shorts in Competition screening in the Salle des Haras. After picking up my accreditation and tickets (which required waiting in 3 separate lines and talking to 6 people, yet remarkably only took 20 minutes), I met up with Swiss animator Dustin Rees (Ransom) to head into the Salle. After our first 80 minutes in knee-breaking bleacher seats in the main seating section, we learned the best seats in the house were down in the front row, offering high-backed chairs with plenty of legroom in exchange for a mild risk of being hit by paper airplanes. Rees, an Anncey veteran of many years, took me under wing and explained three essential traditions of an Annecy screening:

Paper airplanes - sign of an eager Annecy crowd.
1) The paper airplanes gliding in flocks from the upper rows of the theaters must be wildly applauded should one manage to even come near the massive stage.
2) The certainty of a rabbit hidden somewhere in the Annecy Teaser, which causes the crowd to go wild once spotted.
3) The distinctive popping fish sound and possibly other animal sounds to be produced during any extended period of darkness. 

All these I experienced in every screening, though frankly, I expected the Annecy audience to be much rowdier. There were no shouts or boos or throwing of objects during the screenings. There was always polite and sometimes even enthusiastic applause as soon as the end credits appeared. Every screening I went to was full enough to feel like a crowd, and while the ticket-procurement process was baffling at first, once I figured it out, I never felt like I wouldn’t be able to get into a screening.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Taking stock

The last month has been a whirlwind. Now that I'm finally home, I'm tallying up some of the facts and figures of "A Tangled Tale's" trip around the festival circuit.
  • 14 different airports 
  • 288 times my animation plays each day above TSA at DIA 
  • 14 buttons to adjust seat 1A on cross-Atlantic flight
  • 6 hrs of weather/maintenance delays
  • 1 missed connection resulting in unexpected stay with mom’s friends in Phoenix
  • 2 naps taken on trains
  • 4 Germans (and 1 American) paddling a canoe on the Alster
  • 8 hrs of marathon all-night closing party in Hamburg (why sleep when you can party)
  • 3 screenings of “A Tangled Tale” at Anncey
  • 12 minutes for 4 animators to paddleboat around the island on Lac du Annecy
  • 1 Belgian animator overboard
  • 106 degrees in Palm Springs when I landed
  • 2 male pole dancers at the Gay!la
  • 5 million (or so) postcards strewn around the PSSF film market
  • 1 happy animator back in her studio!

More stories and photos soon...

Friday, May 17, 2013

Look up! Animation invades DIA

If you fly out of Denver International Airport this spring and summer, you can't miss the two new video towers at TSA security. They are meant to draw the eye up and out of the snaking security line, away from our texting and tweeting, into the loving arms of the advertisers. But, thanks to DIA's flourishing art initiative, you will also find work from 4 media artists in between the ads.

I'm telling you this because two of those works are by me! The first is a whimsical paint-on-glass piece called The Orange Umbrella. 

The other is Narrow Gauge, which was also featured in 2011 on the Denver Theater District's jumbotron.

I chose both these works to be included because they are colorful interpretation of the world that incite the imagination, something that can add value to the dreary processes of getting poked and picked at by security. Just one more way that animation can make the world a better place.

So, if you find yourself in a long line at DIA, take a moment to look up! If you see them, send me an email or tag me in your tweet (@corriefrancis). It really makes my day to hear about sightings!

The other artists featured are Mark Amerika, Stephen Hume and David Fodel. A special thanks to Matt Chasansky, the art curator at DIA who put the show together, as well as the Denver International Airport Art and Culture Program and Clear Channel Airports for bending the commercial enterprise to benefit artists and the public!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Icing on the Sachertorte - Thoughts on Tricky Women Animation Festival

A giant Easter egg in the
window of Demel
The Tricky Women International Animation Festival proclaims to be the first and only animation festival dedicated exclusively to women. From March 6-11, 138 films screened at the Hyden Theater in Vienna, Austria. As a friend keenly observed, Vienna is wedding cake of a city – everything is covered in ornate icing, from the mirror on the ceiling of my hotel bathroom to the silk hoods of the carriage horses in the streets.

A small festival with a single venue, Tricky Women has a very cozy feel. There were plenty of international visitors from around Europe (I was the only one who had crossed the proverbial pond). At least two or three filmmakers were present at each program to present their films in person. It was an all-shorts programs, with 38 films in Competition, 7 themed programs and panoramas, two artist presentations and an afternoon of workshops.

The schedule was so packed that I didn't make it to all the screenings – in fact we barely had time to grab a bratwurst from the street vendor in between shows. However, the festival took good care of their international guests, with a fancy lunch at Demel, the most famous bakery in Vienna, a Meet-the-Artists forum, where we were able to talk a bit more about our films, and most importantly, good tips on the local late night hangouts. For me one of the highlights was a walking tour of the city focused on prominent Viennese women through history.

streets of Wein
With the exception of the jury members and a few working professionals, the majority of filmmakers in attendance were either just finishing their studies and starting their careers. Many of the films were graduation films and crowdfunding was a hot topic – almost everyone had heard of it, but its implementation  is not so pervasive in Europe for a variety of logistical reasons. Jury member Signe Baumane gave a packed workshop on her Kickstarter-funded feature-in-progress and I had several conversations with filmmakers about my own experiences with A Tangled Tale. While some countries still have a good bit of governmental funding for films, it often goes to the same list of people and the same 'type' of projects, so this new generation of filmmakers is very rightly concerned with how to transition outside the academic environment. There was much talk about how to “make it” and from my unofficial survey, it seems students in Europe, as in the US, are turning to freelance work.

Meet the Artists Forum at Kro Gallery

One thing I noticed very quickly was that there were very few 3D computer animated films in the selection – only 3 of the 38 in competition. This got me thinking. Of course no one wants to make broad sweeping generalizations about the sexes, but the absence of 3D animation in a women-focus festival was so noticeable it begs the question, “Why?” Signe Baumane and I theorized about this over breakfast one morning. Her theory was that perhaps in general, women are more tactile and men are more technical – (cue outraged comments from from all the women artists/programmers who DO push computer buttons all day in their creative work). There is also the possibility that the two festival directors have an unspoken preference for works outside the mainstream techniques and this is reflected in their selection. A more far-fetched theory is that this is a reaction to a glut of 3D box-office gambles in the commercial animation industry. But personally, I think it is a bit early to see the trickle-down of the 3D bust appearing in the independent scene.

That said, the jury chose one of the few 3D films for an honorable mention, Out of Nowhere from Isca Mayo and Maayan Tzuriel from Israel. A poetic, subtle story about an ageing lifeguard, and empty pool and a single-minded chicken. The film has some beautiful moments of character animation and some unfortunate modeling mistakes, but the concept is strong and the design carries the film. It just irks me when stray polygons distract me from what otherwise is a beautiful and subtle cinematic moment. What can I say? I’m a sucker for perfection. ~sigh~

A few other films deserve a mention. One of the loveliest ladies I met was Maryam Kashkoolinia from Iran. A fellow sand animator, her film Tunnel was in the same program as A Tangled Tale – probably a deliberate choice by the programmers to contrast these two types of sand animation. With moments of humor and tragedy, Maryam’s film dealt with the underground tunnels dug to circumvent the blockade on the Gaza strip. At the Meet-the-Artists Forum, Maryam said she chose the traditional method of sand animation not only because it was an appropriate material for depicting digging through a tunnel, but because the black and white nature of the medium conveyed what she felt about life in Iran. “My life is monotone,” she said. The Israelis in the audience spoke up and honestly said the film was hard for them to watch as it only presented one side of the conflict. I thought Maryam's response was both sobering and full of understanding. As an Iranian artist living in Iran, she can only present one side and in fact must look outside her country for her subject matter if she wants to speak to issues of social concern. So while she is making a film about Gaza, she is in fact saying something about Iran as well. Maryam has 2 more films planned for this series – one about buried landmines in Afghanistan, and one about child soldiers in Rwanda.

The grand prize winner was KellerKind by Julia Ocker. While I found the film hard to watch due to its content, it’s about a mother locking her monstrous newborn child in the cellar, the painterly animation and tight storytelling made this one of the more well-rounded films in the festival and I don't begrudge the judges their choice (at least not too much!).

After 4 days of watching films, I've come home with mixed feelings about the overall quality of what I saw. The majority of the films in competition were well-thought out concepts executed with careful attentive animation creating a well-rounded film experience. There were also some films, mostly in the non-competitive programs, in which the quality of the animation took the backseat to concept and design. Particularly, a few of the stop motion films suffered from over-developed scripts (i.e. too long), poorly constructed puppets and hurried animation.

Animation has become “easy” where one can take a pretty drawing, put it in After Effects, set a few keyframes and call it a film. If you have a strong social message, you can get away with even more. In the Meet-the-Artists forum, one young lady readily admitted that she animated the way she did because she was “lazy” - her words not mine! Are we now at a stage where technology had made it possible for the lazy artists to join the ranks of the careful and meticulous crafters based on concept alone?

The Austrian panorama was the most egregious offender in the case of conceptual overload. In talking with one of the festival staff, I learned that there are no major universities in Austria teaching animation. Most students making animation are doing so as part of a fine arts coursework, without the benefit of professionally trained animators. When the Tricky Women Festival gets inquiries from young women about where to study animation, more often than not they refer them to programs elsewhere in the EU. This was unfortunately evident in the Austrian panorama, which was comprised mostly of student work. While some films had good conceptual development nearly all lacked the care and attention to craft which was evident on most of the other films. Only Achill by Gudrun Krebitz, had the production quality of a professional film, probably why she won the prize for Best Austrian animation. Ironically, the film was made at a university in Germany, which just proved the point. So are there any professional women animators in Austria? There were 2 films in competition from Austria: Transition 89, an abstract film by artist/programmer LIA and Edith Stauber's Nachbehandlung (After-Treatment), which received an honorable mention from the jury. The sound design and quirky line drawings carried the film. In this case, the limited animation added to the black hole of time one encounters in a hospital waiting room.

I will readily admit that, at present, I lack the wider context to make any judgments on the state of independent animation. I know there is a lot of top notch work buzzing around on the internet, but this is the first festival I've been to since Ottawa 2011, where I made some of the same observations to a lesser degree. Now that I have the opportunity to visit more festivals with A Tangled Tale, I will be interested to see if some of these trends are actually trending or if they are unique to my experience at Tricky Women. Until then, as the Austrians say, “Film ab!”

Sustenance for the animator
P.S. If you want to read more about specific films in the festival, I suggest heading over to Signe Baumane's blog for a look at 16 Films from Tricky Women!