I had the British Council Film Department to thank – once again – for their generous travel grant which enabled me to attend HIAF, which took place between 21st and 25th of August 2014. My film What Is Animation? had not been selected for the Short Competition, but festival director Sayoko Kinoshita wanted to include it in a retrospective of films by Bob Godfrey who has been Honorary Festival President in 1990. The film is based upon an interview with Bob that I recorded in 2006 in which he expounds his theories of the nature of animation. I felt very flattered to be invited.
I had been to Hiroshima before in 1989 on a theatre tour from my university, but I confident solo traveller and kept posting photographs from my trip on the London Animation Club Facebook page partly as a way of feeling connected to home on my voyage into the (fairly) unknown.
The trip, with changes at Frankfurt and Tokyo, took exactly twenty-five hours door-to-door, from my front door in South East London to the festival headquarters. The festival supplied me with accommodation nearby at the Sun Route Hotel. Hiroshima was oddly familiar, with a large river snaking through the city centre, criss-crossed by bridges at regular intervals, reminding me of the Thames. Walking to my hotel on the first night reminded me of walking along the South Bank.
The Hiroshima International Animation Festival takes place every two years and this year was the 15th festival and the 30th anniversary. It was based entirely inside the Aster Plaza, a massive building which contains a hotel, three cinemas – the Grand, Medium and Small halls – with about seven floors of offices, some of which were used for press conferences and exhibitions during the festival. You can get a sense of the scale from this video:
Our hosts were extremely generous and on the opening night laid on a giant buffet reception of food from around the world, served in a Japanese fashion. Sayoko welcomed us to the festival and we were served Sake from a giant wooden pail before the event finished promptly at 11pm, when the lights slowly dimmed and we were ushered out to a Japanese arrangement of Auld Lang Sine.
On the first and second day I met the other two British Council-funded filmmakers Raj Yagnik, director of Because I’m A Girl (http://www.wiredvideo.net/films/because-im-a-girl.html), and Gemma Burditt, co-director of Through The Hawthorn (https://vimeo.com/97241628).
There were very few other British filmmakers in evidence but I did meet Paul Bush and Gemma Burditt’s fellow director Anna Benner. I also ran into Pia Borg, the other co-director, who is Australian, but is an old colleague from the RCA and was actually in the process of moving from London to California (via Hiroshima!).
The films in the Shorts Competition programmes had many recurrent themes, devices and motifs:
1. They were generally beautifully and expertly made with a lot of value on screen and very rich graphically.
2. With a few notable exceptions, they were all made by young filmmakers.
3. Many were stories which feature “God’s lonely men”-type characters observing a situation of existential misery, which is generally never resolved. As a result any comedy films really stood out.
4. Many were told without dialogue or narration and ended abruptly.
As a result, some of the films were slightly hard work for someone with jet-lag.
As in the Ottawa International Animation Festival, the judges didn’t differentiate between student and professional work, so several films from the student programmes also appeared in the Shorts Competition; unlike the selection at OIAF, the programmes were more consistent thematically. The selection criteria in the latter seems to favour makers of student films or first films and I imagine this comes out of the festival principle of Love And Peace, in that it cultivates and celebrates young people as a hope for the future.
I saw three of the five Shorts Competition programmes and my favourites were:
Through The Hawthorn (UK, 2014) by Anner Benner, Pia Borg and Gemma Burditt
Grace Under Water (Australia, 2014) by Anthony Lawrence
Hipopotamy (Poland, 2014) by Piotr Dumala
No Time For Toes (Finland, 2013) by Kari Pieska
BEST OF THE WORLD
I only saw one of The Best Of The World programmes, but the selection criteria seemed much more varied and included some experimental films. My favourite films were:
Leaving Home (Netherlands, 2013) by Joost Lieuwma
Scarred Skies (UK, 2014) by Vera Neubauer
The Bigger Picture (UK, 2014) by Daisy Jacobs
The Soldier And The Bird (Russia, 2013) by Valentin Telegin
The festival also ran a massive showcase of Hungarian animation in which one of the highlights was Maestro (Hungary, 2005) by Geza M. Toth. My old RCA friend Reca Gaks’ film Yarn (UK, 2006) was also shown, but sadly I missed it.
Other strands were Festival Award Winning Titles and a series of Honorary President Special screenings, which celebrated the honorary festival presidents year by year. My own film was shown as the final film in the Bob Godfrey retrospective. The screening was at 11am on Saturday 23rd August. It was attended by seventy people – a decent crowd – but as it was in the Grand Hall, there was a lot of empty space.
The films by Bob Godfrey they showed, all on 35mm prints, were:
Instant Sex (1979)
Dream Doll (directed with Zlatko Grgic, 1979)
Alf, Bill And Fred (1964)
Dream Doll, in particular, looked magnificent and it was interesting to see common themes of comic loneliness, sexual frustration, friendship and salvation in the first three films.
Another treat was the Raoul Servais retrospective – which showed Harpya (1979) and Nocturnal Butterflies (1998) – and the Hiroshima Festival Award Titles series, which featured the prize-winning films from earlier festivals.
I made sure I visited the Peace Museum, as I had done in 1989, and the Genbaku Dome, one of the five buildings in Hiroshima to survive the explosion. These, and the gardens around them, dominate this city centre and were only five minutes’ walk from the festival headquarters.
This still still above is from a short video I made, which you can see here: http://youtu.be/j_BHUfFPXUo?list=UUMT2LcWgeNMN4lKqC70HKnA
Throughout the festival there was a party every night but as I had to fly back on the Sunday, the last one I attended was a rooftop party on the Saturday night. I had a very stressful taxi journey to the bus depot at 5.20 am the following morning, as I had discovered that the earliest bus only left the city centre at 5.55 am, which left very little time for me to catch my flight, but in the end it was not a problem partly as I had another filmmaker, Petra Dolleman, to chat to in the taxi and bus. I also discovered that Petra had met John Halas in 1994 and had worked on the Holland episode of his last project, Know Your Europeans. As with the outgoing journey, my trip back took twenty-five hours do-to-door.
The festival is a remarkable cultural celebration which brings a wealth of overseas films to a Japanese and international audience and gives visitors the experience of Japanese hospitality and an impression of a city which literally rebuilt itself from nothing to take home with them.
I am very grateful to my hosts and to the British Council – in particular Will Massa and Julian Pye – for enabling me to take part.
Martin Pickles, 20th October 2014