Hiroshima International Animation Festival 2014

via A Film and Animation Blog by Martin Pickles.

The Apex Hotel in Hiroshima: the festival headquarters
The Aster Plaza in Hiroshima: the festival headquarters

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.

The OUDS tour to Japan in 1989. I am on the far right at the back.
The OUDS tour to Japan in 1989. I am on the far right at the back.

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:

The festival was extremely well organised, with a festival office inside the main entrance and a daily paper, called Lappy News, after the festival mascot. The festival logo is a Dove of Peace upon which Lappy is based.
Lappy, the festival mascot.
Lappy, the festival mascot.
The festival staff were extremely friendly and polite and we were very well looked after. They had laid on trips to the beach and even the opportunity to stay as a guest with local families for one night. However, although we had regular contact with staff and saw plenty of Japanese people at screenings, we were rarely able to mix socially. This troubled me a bit and I wondered whether I was somehow doing something wrong.

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.

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The pail of sake at the reception party
Self, Raj Yagnik and Gemma Burditt
Myself, Raj Yagnik and Gemma Burditt in the Main Hall.

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).

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Our friend Manuel with Pia Borg and Anna Benner.

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!).

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The safety curtain in the Main Hall

SHORTS COMPETITION

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

www.graceunderwater.com/

Hipopotamy (Poland, 2014) by Piotr Dumala

http://polishshorts.pl/en/film_catalogue/animation/1360/hipopotamy/

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

http://www.veraneubauer.com/

The Bigger Picture (UK, 2014) by Daisy Jacobs

The Soldier And The Bird (Russia, 2013) by Valentin Telegin

A still from The Soldier And The Bird. I could find neither a website for the film or director, nor a clip of it online.
A still from The Soldier And The Bird. I could find neither a website for the film or director, nor a clip of it online.

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.

A composite photo of the Hungarian Animation reception on Friday 22nd August. In the foreground are Chrissie McMahon, writer of Grace Under Water and Kari Pieska, director of No Time For Toes.
A composite photo of the Hungarian Animation reception on Friday 22nd August. In the foreground are Chrissie McMahon, writer of Grace Under Water and Kari Pieska, director of No Time For Toes, two of my favourite films.

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 audience filing into the Grand Hall on Saturday morning. It got a bit fuller than this.
The audience filing into the Grand Hall on Saturday morning. It got a bit fuller than this.

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)

Revolution (1989)

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.

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The Peace Museum’s model of Hiroshima after the blast, with the epicentre of the explosion indicated by the red globe.
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A model of the Genbaku Dome is visible next to the bend in the river.
The Genbaku Dome.
The Genbaku Dome today.

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

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Slurpy Studios at London Animation Club, 2nd September 2014

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Our special guest at London Animation Club on Tuesday 2nd September, was Aaron Wood, MD and Producer of the London-based animation studio Slurpy, the company he founded with Creative Director Katie Steed. Aaron has been coming to London Animation Club as long as I can remember. Slurpy specialises in explainers, corporates and online promos, which might suggest the evening might be a somewhat staid affair – but the absolute opposite was true. This was one of the most fun events we have ever had. For a start, there was an audience of 45+ people and team Slurpy had brought along lots of young fans and many new people were in attendance.

Our very happy audience.
Our very happy audience.

A particularly nice surprise for me was that Indian animator Pooja Pottenkulam (http://poojapottenkulam.com/), an old RCA friend whom I hadn’t seen in at least two years, came along without telling me. I didn’t know she was even in the country!

The talk soon developed into a conversation around the room, with lots of people chipping in and Aaron turned out to be a very charming and witty speaker.

Aaron Wood (centre)

The event gave insights into how to found a production company, how to acquire clients and how to establish a house style. Coming so soon after our Joy Batchelor event in May, it was interesting to be able to compare the commercial and corporate work of a contemporary studio with that of an director-animator-designer working in the 1940s to 1970s and find they have a lot in common.

He screened about twenty minutes of material:

1. Slurpy Studios showreel

2. Best Day We Ever Had – music video

3. The Hangova – online promo

4. Hire The Barman – explainer video

5. insurance4carhire – TV commercial

6. Speak Yoruba – app promo

7. Remember It’s Waterproof – campaign films

8. BBC WW1 Uncut films x 4 animated sequences

LAC_Aaron_with_book_02_09_2014

Aaron concluded with a clip of a work in progress, a short film based upon the children’s book The Fearsome Beastie and narrated by Brian Blessed.

Many thanks to Aaron and Team Slurpy for such an interesting event. Thank you also to Ben Fox for operating the video camera and to Darshan Raja Rayan for operating the lights. The video of the evening will be available on YouTube sometime soon.

Aaron is also one of the team behind Skwigly (http://www.skwigly.co.uk/) and we hope to have them as guests sometime soon. You can find out more about Slurpy here: http://www.slurpystudios.com/ and another outfit Aaron is involved with here: http://www.animation-festivals.com/

Max Hattler At London Animation Club, 7th October 2014

Max Hattler at The Green Man, Fitzrovia
Max Hattler at The Green Man, Fitzrovia

I was delighted to welcome Max Hattler as our guest speaker at London Animation Club on Tuesday 7th October 2014. Whilst very much a contemporary digital and audio-visual artist, his practice links to the tradition of Cubist and Abstract Cinema which goes right back to Hans Richter through Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Leger, Oskar Fischinger, the Whitney brothers and even William Latham, and this is immediately apparent in his work. What is also very clear is that although Max’s works is by and large abstract, usually experimental, and sometimes deeply political, watching it is always a genuinely pleasurable experience.

Collision
Collision

I first met him in 2005 when he had just graduated from the Royal College of Art, when his graduation film Collision was already establishing itself as a ground breaking animation on the international animation festival circuit. The son of a musician, Max first started to create music on his computer as a teenager, incorporating sampling and layering in order to grow pieces of music organically, and to differentiate his way of working from that of his father.

When he started making films, first tentatively on his BA at Goldsmiths and later more in-depth on the MA Animation programme at the Royal College of Art, Max applied the same procedure, building his films up from elements and improvisations, with neither script nor storyboard. He said that while some of his films have a clear message, many of them have no exact predefined meanings and should not be expected to, just as one would not expect a piece of music to have ‘meaning’ in a narrowly defined sense: they are what they are.

Max showed eight films in total, in chronological order:

1. Nachtmaschine (2005)

In this film Max reanimated photographs of light trails, creating an abstraction  of the figurative imagery of a nighttime city. Nachtmaschine was a collaboration with his father who provided the late night electronic jazz soundtrack.

2. Collision (2005)

After seeing a presentation of films by visual music pioneer Oskar Fischinger at the Goethe-Institut, Max decided on a much more abstract direction, while the ongoing Iraq war prompted him to create a film with much more meaning. Collision is the result of this unlikely marriage of meaning and abstraction.

3. AANAATT (2008)

Having relied entirely on the computer for Collision, Max now set himself the task of creating a film with no digital animation at all, using stop-motion instead, shot from only one camera angle. The film is still abstract, but achieved using mirrors and a multitude of industrial and household objects.

4. Spin (2010)

In this film, Max returned to a political, anti-war message, but this time through the abstract patterns and shapes created by arrangements of toy soldiers, 2D scanned and modelled in Maya, and choreographed as in a Busby Berkeley dance routine. We then had a short interval before resuming.

Heaven And Hell
Heaven and Hell

5. Heaven and Hell (2010)

Max presented us with a single screen version of this psychedelic double-channel animation installation, based on the spiritualist work of outsider artist Augustin Lesage (1876-1954).

6. Shift (2012)

Max described it as visualisation of the New Age idea of the 5th dimension, and once again he uses tangible objects to create abstract imagery. However, he added that Shift should not be seen as an actual representation of what such a space might look like, but rather that the notion of the 5th dimension functioned as a starting point for an audio-visual exploration. It was an Animate Projects commission for Channel 4’s Random Acts.

7. X (2012)

This was a documentation video of site-specific work X, displayed on a water screen emerging from Regent’s Canal outside the Filling Station in Kings Cross. X presents the viewer with a self-referential audiovisual system intended to create a space for reflection. The visual imagery is abstract, made of morphing wireframe images which glow like neon lasers, referencing 1980s arcade games and sci-fi iconography.

All Rot
All Rot

8. All Rot (2014)

A work in progress which Max started whilst on his Doctorate at the University of East London. Another abstract piece, the film appears to have been painted and scratched onto 35mm film, but was actually created digitally. Whilst the piece is a moving image work without any direct meaning which stands on its own aesthetic value, it in effect consists of contrast-enhanced photographs of details of a decaying crazy golf course Max discovered in the grounds of a former mental institution. The irony was not lost.

Max concluded by describing the Hattlerizer, a custom hardware/software setup which enables him to create visual images as a live performance. This, unexpectedly, brings him back into the orbit of Oskar Fischinger who himself created a device called the Lumigraph, a visual instrument used to create abstract imagery, but using very different technology.

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Max during the Q&A, with Captain Zip (left) documenting the evening.

The event proved very popular, with nearly fifty people cramming into the upstairs function room at The Green Man. Many thanks should go to Max for a fascinating presentation and to Captain Zip for filming it. The video will be available on YouTube very soon. In December Max departs the UK for Hong Kong to take up a faculty position at the School of Creative Media. We wish him well.

Ottawa International Animation Festival, 17th to 21st September 2014

Festival Artistic Director Chris Robinson overseeing the pumpkin carving competition.
Festival Artistic Director Chris Robinson overseeing the pumpkin carving competition.

Thanks to a travel-grant from the British Council I was able to attend the Ottawa International Animation Festival last month. I had wanted to return there ever since I had attended in 2008, as it had been quite simply the best animation festival I had ever attended. It was also a massive influence on my setting up London Animation Club in 2009, at which I try to emulate OIAF’s informal and relaxed atmosphere. This kind of environment enables filmmakers to meet, exchange ideas and generally enthuse each other: a helpful encouragement for creating new work and keeping animators going the rest of the time in what can be a lonely occupation.

This attitude is embodied in festival artistic director Chris Robinson, whose cheerful approachability sets the tone. Ottawans in general seem a very friendly and unpretentious bunch too. One of the things that was most striking about the festival was how well we were looked after by the festival staff and Sofie McGarry, the guest services director, and festival driver Petr Maur deserve particular praise.

My film “What Is Animation?” was selected for the International Showcase rather than the Shorts Competition and this may have been the reason why I was not offered free accommodation this time. It could also have been to due to funding cuts. Luckily for me I was able to stay with an old school friend, otherwise I would not have been able to attend.

The entrance to the Arts Court Theatre
The entrance to the Arts Court Theatre
The cafe/bookshop/festival hub at the Arts Court Cafe
The cafe/bookshop/festival hub at the Arts Court Cafe

A home movie of a walk round the Arts Court Theatre

The festival programme was large and varied and screenings and events took place at four venues. The festival headquarters were at the Arts Court Theatre building in the centre of the city, which also hosted screenings and had a cafe and bookshop and was the festival hub. As always, the central festival event was the Animators’ Picnic, an excursion to a local park on double decker buses, a reception in a giant marquee and the annual pumpkin carving competition.

A home movie of the Animators’ Picnic

The selection criteria for the Shorts Competition programmes was very broad in so far as narrative, comedy, experimental, student and commercial films might all appear in the same screening, rather than each programme have an individual theme or genre. Each one was clearly designed as a whole in itself, with a beginning, a middle and an end and often a joke to finish with, with the result that each made for a pleasurable viewing experience which at the same time covered a lot of ground.

My favourite films of the festival were:

(From the Shorts Competition series)

1000 Plateaus (USA, 2014) by Steven Woloshen

Hipopotamy (Poland, 2014) by Piotr Dumala

Imperial Provisor Frombald (UK, 2014) by Lizzy Hobbs

(http://www.animateprojects.org/films/by_date/2013/imperial_provisor_frombald)

Monkey Love Experiments (2014, UK) by Ainslie Henderson and Will Anderson (https://vimeo.com/94534159)

Lesley The Pony Has An A+ Day (2014) by Christian Larrave (https://vimeo.com/107435702)

(From the International Showcase)

Aug(de)mented Reality (2014, USA) by Martin Cooper (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpum4nK2wOM)

A Very Large Increase… (2014, UK) by Max Hattler (http://www.maxhattler.com/avery/)

A Blue Room (2014) by Tomasz Siwinski (http://youtu.be/dAd3pcJnCCU)

(Documentary Event)

Norman MacLaren: Animated Musician (Canada, 2014) by Donald McWilliams (https://www.nfb.ca/film/norman_mclaren_animated_musician)

(From The Dark Side Of Russian Animation)

Handwinged (2007, Russia) by Vadim Oborvalov (https://vimeo.com/9053579)

Lizzy Hobbs, Robyn Ludwig and myself
Lizzy Hobbs, Robyn Ludwig and myself

Whilst there I met fellow British Council awardee Lizzy Hobbs and Canadian festival programmer Robyn Ludwig, both of whom had visited London Animation Club. Also there was Mait Laas of Nukufilm, whom I had met on a visit to Tallin in Estonia in 2006 and Desi Mastriaca of ToonBoom, with whom I had corresponded about a special ToonBoom event at London Animation Club in November.

The festival was useful for me to get a measure of contemporary animation, to represent UK animation, to become enthused about making new work and even to make useful contacts for future collaborations.

It was noticeable that the majority of audiences were non-delegates, meaning that the festival is of great cultural value and importance to ordinary filmgoers and is not just preaching to the converted.

Although I did not have quite the same sublime experience I had had at the festival in 2008, OIAF still deserves its reputation as one of the top five – or even top two – animation festivals in the world and I am delighted that the British Council continues to support it.

Martin Pickles, 10th October 2014

P.S. You can see my film, “What Is Animation?” here:

Celebrating Joy Batchelor at the Hungarian Cultural Centre in London, 1st October 2014

Joy Batchelor during the making of Animal Farm (1954)
Joy Batchelor during the making of Animal Farm (1954)

Vivien Halas presented an evening of short films by her mother, Joy Batchelor, who was born a hundred years ago this year. Joy Batchelor, despite being one of the most important British animation directors of the twentieth century, is virtually unknown today, something this event – and others like it – seeks to address. Joy married John Halas, a Hungarian emigre, and had to renounce her British citizenship and become a Hungarian national to avoid her husband being interred on the Isle Of Wight. Together they founded the Halas & Batchelor film studio, which produced hundreds of animated shorts films and the feature films Animal Farm (1954) and Ruddigore (1968).

Vivien Halas IMG_5015

The screening was curated by Vivien and Jez Stewart of the BFI, who also had many of the films transferred from 35mm film prints for the occasion. The screening opened with the new film, Ode To Joy, which is a short introduction to her work and narrated by Zoe Wanamaker.

The films shown were

Here is Ode To Joy on YouTube:

In the audience were Julia Seiber, daughter of Hungarian composer Matyas Seiber (who composed the music for many of the Halas & Batchelor films) and Roger Mainwood, one of the animators at the studio in the 1970s.

Afterwards Vivien signed copies of her book A Moving Image: Joy Batchelor 191401991, which is reviewed here: http://armadillocentral.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/a-moving-image-joy-batchelor/

Still life with book and flowers.

Still life with book and flowers.

You can find out more about the event and Joy Batchelor herself here: http://www.london.balassiintezet.hu/en/events/current-events/675-1001-celebrating-joy-batchelor/

Other useful links:

http://www.halasandbatchelor.co.uk

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joy_Batchelor

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Halas

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mátyás_Seiber

Vivien Halas introducing the screening.

Vivien Halas and Jez Stewart.
Vivien Halas and Jez Stewart.