Review by by Steve Segal
The Hiroshima International Animation Festival is a wonderful gathering of animators, artists, students, writers, and animation fans. The theme is Love and Peace, and despite the language barrier there was a warmth and friendliness throughout the festival. The city is big and bustling and in August it’s hot and humid. The film screenings are all held in one expansive building, with parties held in nearby areas. It’s a short walk to the Peace Memorial and museum and I took the opportunity to visit a few times, it’s a very moving place.
There were three primary screening rooms and the programming goes on from approximately 9am to 9pm in each theater with a few exceptions. In addition, there are gallery shows, meet the artist rooms, an education section with many booths for schools and companies who cater to schools (TV Paint was conspicuously in the front). So if you make good use of your time and tax your eyeballs you may see one fifth of what’s here.
The second floor lobby was the entrance to all three theaters and it was also the place for dealer’s booths. What an amazing array of desirable animation paraphernalia: books, DVDs, flipbooks, t-shirts, caps, banners and original art. Upstairs there were displays of original art by Renzo Kinoshita and Yoji Kuri. Kuri was easily approachable in the dealer’s area as he was selling his huge book of cartoons, which I could not resist even though I can’t read the captions.
There were several feature length films presented in the main hall:
Karel Zeman Film Adventurer is feature length documentary and a wonderful overview of the Czech pioneer who directed the films The Fabulous World of Jules Verne and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The documentary uses a clever connecting device of having Czech students try to recreate his effects without using digital technology. The film traces his career from his studying accounting at his father’s demand to creating the most successful Czech film export in history to being virtually unknown today. There were many clips from his visionary films and some delicious behind the scenes shots. There was a picnic at a lake but as a big Zeman fan, I didn’t want to miss this and it’s just too damn hot to be outside, even at a lake.
Another compilation overview features was The Turning Table, in the film Paul Grimault introduces his film history to some of his own cartoon characters. He pulls out film reels and shows clips from his celebrated films on his moviola editing machine. Grimault exhibits a rich full flowing style of animation, obviously influenced by Disney. It is perhaps too fluid with every movement full of flourishes and depth. The film is not very compelling on its own, but the clips make you want to see more of this film maker’s work. And since I had only seen still pictures of Grimault, it was nice to see him in action.
Three unique animated features had their Japanese or Asian premieres here. O Apóstolo is a Spanish stop motion feature written and directed by Fernando Cortizo; even though IMDb lists its release date as 2012 it had its Japanese premiere here. It’s a dark nightmarish adventure with a search for hidden loot that leads our hero seemingly to the depths of hell. Even though the look and lighting were intriguing I found the plot too repetitive.
Sabogal is a hand drawn feature made in Colombia in 2015 and had its Asian premiere here. It has the stark monochromatic look of graphic novels to tell the story of a lawyer who fights for human rights against powerful underworld figures.
Jean-Loup Felicioli and Alain Gagnol who directed the excellent Oscar nominated French cartoon A Cat in Paris have teamed up again for Phantom Boy, where a boy with special powers helps a wheelchair bound police officer fight a crime kingpin.
At least one big studio was represented when director Alan Barillaro and producer Marc Sonheimer from Pixar presented a highly detailed talk about their beautiful short film Piper, which many have already seen in front of Finding Dory. Concept and character design, lighting and how far to push a film that looks realistic. One of the most interesting aspects was the beautiful score by rock guitarist Adrian Belew who worked with music legends with Talking Heads, David Bowie, Frank Zappa, and Nine Inch Nails. And in answer to a question about how Pixar operated. Marc said that Pixar is willing to take risks, as with a first time director like Barillaro and first time film composer Belew.
One of my favorite things to do at the festival was to sit in the lobby where there are tables and chairs and chat with people. If I’m lucky they speak English. On the second day nobody was around so I just sat by myself and made a small drawing for the back of my badge, an elderly Japanese couple asked if they could sit and of course I said yes. They opened up the festival catalog and pointed at a picture of Momotaro, and I said “first Japanese animated feature”, they seemed surprised that I knew that. Then the woman pointed at the man and said “son of director”. That’s the great thing about a festival, everybody there is interesting.
On Sunday all the judges presented their work with explanations of their creative process. One judge identified in the program as Lisa Tulin and/or Lasse Persson. As you might expect this animator is a cross dresser and his/her work frequently reflects that alternate life style. The films are quite funny in a slightly bawdy vein, and the animation is very full and accomplished. When I approached Lisa about this she said she was classically trained animator, learning the principals at Sheridan College in Canada from famed animators Kai Pindal and Derek Lamb.
Christine Panushka approaches her work from a more fine arts background. She talked about her paintings and how that often leads to her films. One of her works a 30 foot high grid of panels of faces. In fact most of the work shown focused on people, lots of people. She denied the idea that her films are entertainment, but even though the work is not traditional storytelling they are lyrical and engaging, and never go on too long.
Regina Pessoa has only made three animated films so far but any one of them would assure her a place among great animators. She presented an especially fine overview of her process both conceptually and technically. Her first film being created by drawing lines on plaster then scraping them off as she created the successive frames. She then worked in a sort of scratch board technique with each frame being a separate drawing (I was able to purchase one in the dealer area). After mastering that technique, her studio informed her that she would have to use computers to make her films. So she developed techniques to add imperfections to the look of her drawings. She also showed a short video of the small animation museum she runs with her husband Abi Feijó in Portugal.
Taku Furukawa showed several of his dense but cartoony films and talked about how he got into animation and his process. Some of his films contained a mind-boggling amount of activity.
Hiroshima Festival honorary president Jean-François Laguionie has established himself over a 50 year career as animator and director. His work is painterly he has worked with cels and cutouts and CG. He presented his early short works The Lady and the Cellist from 1965, A Bomb by Chance (1969), Peter and the Mermaid (1972) The Mask of the Devil (1976), The Actor (1975), Rowing Across the Atlantic (1978) and his first feature Gwen, the Book of Sand. There was no presentation of his later feature films: A Monkey’s Tale (1999), L’île de Black Mór (2004), The Painting (2011) which had a limited run in the USA and the soon to premiere Louise en hiver.
There was also five series of films shown under the banner “Best of the World”, which led me to believe this was an overview of the best international films from around the world, but it was instead submitted films deemed not good enough to be included in competition making the title ironic. Of course “best” is always subjective and some of these films are quite good. There were also programs of children’s films and a constant stream of the history of Japanese animation.
Of course the crux of a film festival is the films in competition. The first night screening kicked off the proceedings with a Taiko drummers and kids dancing and a kabuki style dragon heads. The festival creator and vice president Sayoko Kinoshita opened the festival with a lively welcome before the first presentation of films in competition. After four nights of competition screenings the judges selected their choices for prizes.
Here are some of the winning films:
The Grand Prix went to a delicately hand rendered surreal The Empty by Jeong Dahee from the Republic of Korea. It expresses the empty place left by a loved one in our life.
Hiroshima Prize want to Among the Black Waves a dark charcoal looking Russian film by Anna Budanova. It’s about what happens to Love when there is no freedom.
Debut Prize went to Gabriel Harel’s compelling Yùl and the Snake a film from France about a two brothers and a boorish drug dealer. The dialog, character development, storytelling and drawing style impressed me when I saw it among the films eligible for Oscar consideration.
Renzo Kinoshita Prize went to the French Peripheria directed by French artist David Coquard Dassault, a haunting realistic looking depiction of dogs exploring amaong some abandoned buildings. It won a major prize earlier this year at the GLAS festival in Berkeley.
Special International Jury Prize want to Yulia Aronova’s amusing One, Two, Tree an enjoyable Swiss cartoon about a tree who emulates the things around him. This is a film appropriate for children.
And here are a few of the other films that caught my attention:
Mrs Metro by Aggelos Papantoniou is a student film by with very black humor cartoon about a hapless bag lady who accidentally leaves her baby on a subway. The simplified drawing style, exaggerated gestures and facial expressions had me laughing out loud all through the film.
Borderlines is clever parable about two men sharing a space and constantly reworking their space to accommodate their needs. the very simply designed student film is by Hana Nováková from the Czech Republic where she studied under Michela Pavlatova.
Paul Dreissen’s Cat Meets Dog explores themes and a style familiar to his fans. The film from The National Film Board of Canada uses multiple screens to tell alternate storylines as a cat and dog search for romance.
The stop motion film Tik Tak by Ülo Pikkov from Estonia is a highly detailed account of a mouse disrupting a clock maker, played by a pixilated human actor.
The final film presented for competition was Erlking by Swiss film master Georges Schwizgebel. Any film by this artist is worth noting and Erlking lives up to the high standards of his previous works. The painterly scenes split apart and come together to tell the story by Goethe of a father and son, with Schubert and Liszt music provided by Schwizgebel’s son, Louis Schwizgebel a very accomplished musician.
There was a notable absence of CG, or at least a CG look. Peripheria was created with CG models but it looks hand drawn. All in all the competition films were innovative, evocative and entertaining. I recommend the Hiroshima Animation Festival as long as you can stand the heat.