Persepolis

7–13 May 2008

Such a hive of industry was the seventh AniFest, an annual international competitive festival – and much more besides – held in the small, picturesque South Bohemian town of Třeboň. For atop the festival’s core business, its several well-contested competition strands, AniFest 2008 was a-glut with retrospective screenings, curated programs, technology showcases, production workshops, exhibitions and sundry auxiliary events, spread across umpteen venues ranging from the conventional (the charming Světozor cinema) to the unlikely but still salubrious (various rooms within the history-steeped Třeboň chateau complex).

Indeed, the seventh AniFest was a sprawling and highly ambitious affair where one could scarcely complain for a moment about having nothing to do, such was the wealth of offerings to pick from. A wealth so protean that the terrific array of ways possible to engage with the program rhymed nicely with the great variety of manifestations, on screen and off, assumed by the animated arts at the festival. Certainly, there was something for everyone. However, with such plenty – enough to fill over 250 weighty pages of a bound A4 full-colour program – lay the problem of determining just what of it to sample, for with every decision to attend any given session made, one could not help but relinquish a chance to attend one, or several, others. How then to negotiate a path undaunted through so many options, with so many of them tantalising?

I elected to defer to serendipity. I twigged quickly on day one that AniFest was to be a highly community-spirited affair where encounters with one’s 2000-odd fellow accredited guests, along with festival staff, volunteers and other attendees, were certain to be regular and convivial. In fact I hadn’t even arrived at the festival when these encounters began; luck should have it that I wound up sharing a lift from Prague to Třeboň with AniFest 2008’s Honorary President, German animator Raimund Krumme. It further transpired that we should arrive at the festival just in time for the Opening Ceremony and party, where I was to meet numerous other highly personable festival guests, from filmmakers with work in competition to jury members whose work, or their own curated selection of others’, would be represented in the program. I thus hit upon the idea of prioritising seeing the work of anybody I met as an aid to passage through so dense a festival program, as a sound and sociable tie-breaker policy for whenever multiple appealing sessions were running head-to-head. This approach was generally to serve me well, making some hard decisions a lot easier and only bringing me at all unstuck on the festival’s final two days when, too late to see their works screen, I inevitably met and enjoyed the company of a fresh slew of people.

Here then follows an account of my engagement with the 2008 AniFest; it cannot stake any sort of claim to being definitive, given the utter impossibility in catching everything I, or any other, might have wanted to, but it covers a lot of ground nonetheless. That said, in the interests of ensuring this report is of digestible proportions, I have opted to privilege screen, rather than industry, events, in my reportage, and then to whittle that down further to encompass just those films and sessions featuring works recently minted – especially works in competition – along with those others to have struck me as especially significant or memorable.

Works in competition

Of the four films vying for the prize for Best Feature Length Film, I caught three, missing Le Tueur de Montmartre (The Killer of Montmartre, Borislav Sajtinac), which is in fact more of featurette proportions. Two of the remaining three attend to a terrific subject for the cinema, animated or otherwise: nyctophobia, or fear of the dark.

Nocturna (d. Adrià Garcia and Victor Maldonado) is a very pleasant, principally 2-D feature produced surely with a children’s audience squarely aforethought. Moka, a nigh-on omniscient being and ruler over Nocturna, the kingdom of the night, makes a pawn of young Tim, an orphan afraid of night’s falling. On observing that a star has gone out, one which he believes hangs in the sky specifically to watch over him, Tim trespasses into Moka’s kingdom, where he makes a repeat nuisance of himself while getting acquainted with Moka’s minions. He bears witness to all manner of beings going about the secret business of effecting the night’s ministrations, comically ensuring children wake up with bad hair or wet beds, but also twigs to some much more sinister goings-on which would suggest that unless something is done – and pronto! – night will come to claim dominion over daytime, Tim’s greatest fear writ complete and utter. Inevitably, his confronting that very fear will be the key to ensure it doesn’t become a reality.

Nocturna could have been played much scarier, which would surely win it a broader (older) audience. As it stands, it’s an admirable achievement but one so unthreatening that it might even help small children make light of their own bedtime fears.

Fear(s) of the Dark

Riffing on fear and darkness in a much more adult fashion was the terrific Peur(s) du noir (Fear(s) of the Dark), which succeeds where many like-constructed live-action films fail; it’s a genuinely scary horror anthology film. Presented almost wholly in black-and-white, the varied approaches and graphic styles of nine comic artists, illustrators and graphic artists, sometimes in collaboration and all under the artistic direction of Etienne Robial, compellingly cohere, straddled across four discrete main narratives interspersed by two recurrent passages, one very strong, the other a mite tiresome and the film’s only real weakness. In the former, Blutch presents a pack of slavering wolves being piecemeally, graphically, and, over each iteration, increasingly deliberately set upon poor innocents by a cadaverous Victorian aristocrat; it is at once beautiful and horrifying. In the other, Nicole Garcia’s voiceover recites litanies of various real-worldly, sometimes humorous, often banal fears and insecurities while Pierre Di Sciullo’s abstract designs wibble about the screen, equal parts Rorschach Test and graphic equaliser.

For mine, the greatest contribution to Fear(s) is that of Charles Burns, renowned for his “Black Hole” comics; his work here, narratively and aesthetically, could well have been lifted directly from its pages. Themes familiar from “Black Hole” – the horror of transformations undergone during adolescence and the terrors of submitting to the demands of a burgeoning sexuality – are given full rein as a naive young college student falls all too easily under the spell of a female peer only for her to turn insectoid and sexually enslave him… a wonderful synthesis of Cronenberg and Kafka!

The segments from Marie Caillou, Lorenzo Mattotti and Richard McGuire are all top notch too, with Caillou going really over-the-top, in Flash-meets-anime style, in relating the story of a pysch-ward-bound schoolgirl repeatedly being forced to try to complete a horrifying dream involving the ghost of a samurai. Mattotti’s sequence is very creepy, with some of the spookiest big-screen fog I’ve ever beheld, surely harbouring some sort of monster that’s been preying upon the simple folk of a marshside village, while McGuire’s piece, in which a man attempts to first find solace in, and then find a way out of, an old and very dark house, is a terrific exercise in sustained tension through spartan visual representation and clever horror movie sound design.

I’d already heard tell that Persepolis, the 2007 film adaptation of, and extrapolation upon, Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novels, had been wowing them elsewhere on the festival circuit. As a great admirer of the original works, I was really looking forward to seeing Persepolis, and, happily, I was not in the least disappointed. Satrapi is one of the film’s two directors (the other is fellow comic book artist, Vincent Paronnaud, aka Winshluss), and to this no doubt can be attributed much of the great success of the film, every bit the equal of its celebrated forebear in unflinchingly conveying the many complex truths surrounding its protagonist’s fraught coming of age, alternately in Iran and in exile in Europe, during and in the wake of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

Presented almost wholly in crisp black-and-white, Satrapi’s story is related with great verity and even greater humour without shying away from matters deeply troubling to its lead characters and audience alike. Replete with expressionistic flourishes, Persepolis also often utilises ‘camera’ and montage techniques more typically associated with live-action film than with animation. Yet, for all its aesthetic pleasures, its emotional truth and power is never compromised. An additional pleasure is the film buff’s dream casting – Chiara Mastroianni voices Marjane Satrapi; her mother, screen legend Catherine Deneuve, voices Marjane’s mother, and, often cast in motion pictures as Deneuve’s mother, the grande dame of French cinema, Danielle Darrieux, voices Marjane’s wise and winning grandmother.

To nobody’s great surprise, Persepolis was awarded the prize for the Best Feature-Length Film and the AniFest Grand Prix both. It’s a fabulous film.

Hare the Servant

Of the many often excellent competition shorts I saw, a stand-out was the very funny Russian puppet animation, Zayats-sluga (Hare the Servant, d. Elena Chernova), in which a lazy-susan is ingeniously employed to freewheel its central character from one scene to the next as he seeks a likeable vengeance upon three aristocrats whose unapologetic carelessness has robbed him and his wife of a home; his revenge involves his assuming bunny drag and cutting a deal with his oppressors whereby they come to believe they’re acquiring the services of a hare of quite exceptional powers. A lovely fable very elegantly told, Hare The Servant features a quite beautiful but not wholly germane prelude outlining aspects of Muscovite history which has me thinking that Hare might well be one of a series of productions – on the strength of this one, I’m very keen to see any others.

Every bit as enjoyable was Den danske dikteren (The Danish Poet), Torill Kove’s well-travelled and decorated cell animation in which Liv Ullmann narrates a tale illustrating how significant events in one’s life can prove more beholden to serendipity than to individual agency, through a tale spun of a poet seeking inspiration far afield from home. Rich in humour and regularly, if lightly, given to questioning matters of national identity amongst Scandinavian folk, The Danish Poet is all clean lines and pleasing, simple colours, and manages to ultimately be quite uplifting. A triumph.

Une Girafe sous la pluie (Giraffe in the Rain, d. Pascale Hecquet) is a charming 2-D Belgian short in which a plucky but unlucky giraffe is deported from her own country and forced to seek asylum in a country peopled wholly by dogs. Despite her struggles to eke out a tenable existence in a very alien land, she harbours an additional refugee, a small bird she liberates from its canine owner, her landlord. Notwithstanding its anthropomorphism, it’s a very humanist work with an allegorical message about embracing cultural difference made very clear but handled lightly.

John and Karen (d. Matthew Walker), even were it dubbed in Martian, could only ever be taken for a British production. It’s a very compact account of an awkward rapprochement over tea and biscuits between John the polar bear and Karen the pint-size penguin over a trespass of the former’s during a date the night before. Its drollness and understated animation make it very endearing; no surprise that it should end up winning the prize for the Best Very Short Film.

The Best Short Film prize winner was of quite a different order of experience. Koji Yamamura’s Kafka Inaka Isha (Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor) is a nightmarish, virtuoso drawing-on-paper rendering of the famed Kafka short story of a doctor given to punishing misdiagnosis in an inhospitable time and clime. It’s an extraordinarily evocative achievement, with the doctor, his charge, his steeds and his environment all contorting and grimacing throughout and even the paper they’re drawn on exuding decrepitude; the atmosphere generated is one of nothing but futility and dread.

Tongue of the Hidden (d. David Alexander Anderson, in collaboration with Jila Peacock) is one of the most beautiful films I caught at AniFest, animating something I had never before even encountered inanimate: Islamic figural calligraphy. Tongue is inspired by Peacock’s calligraphic interpretations of works from the 14th century Persian metaphysical poet Hafez, as seen in her book Ten Poems from Hafez. As Hafez’s poems are read on the film’s soundtrack, the screen is gloriously inundated with Farsi script as it goes about the business of constituting both backgrounds and glorious creatures in the foreground. It’s a truly gorgeous work, which I’d love to revisit, having subsequently learnt a little more about the artform which inspired it.

I was also taken by Hitoshi Takekiyo’s wild 3-D animation, After School Midnight, in which an anatomical figure comes to life after hours and quite literally comes apart at the seams in an attempt to free himself of an insect nuisance; his attempts to retrieve his every-which-way-flung innards is the stuff of great comedy – so long as you’re not squeamish.

There were some gems competing for Best Internet Animation too. The eventual prize winner, Hrouda (The Clod, d. Jaromír Plachý) – also winner of the festival’s Audience Award – is a perfectly succinct, unmistakably Czech pocket-treatise on a life in inexorable thrall to the indifferent and recurrent machinations of forces much larger than it. Plachý’s future in animation looks assured; his was also the animated trailer for this year’s festival. Also noteworthy was Straying Little Red Riding Hood (Ikue Sugidono and Miyako Nishio), which, drunk on fairytale iconography, plays and sounds much like a demo of an incomprehensible horizontally-scrolling video game of yesteryear. Grant Orchard’s Love Sport. Love the Dogs takes the video-game aesthetic even further into the past, back to 8-bit computing’s glory days in a fun little animation in which blocky little dog pixels chase blocky little rabbit pixels around a racing track only for the rabbit, on being caught, to giganticise before them and lay waste to all and sundry with laser-vision. Tatu Pohjavirta’s Jatkoaika (Overtime) is a blackly amusing account of a girl happier dead than undead, the latter circumstance a consequence of wheelchair-bound stage parents wresting her back from God to the land of the living after a freak ice-skating accident.

I regret to say that I all but missed the student films in competition, but can report that the prize for the Best Student Film went to L’homme à tête de poule (The Man with a Chicken Head, d. Sylvain Jorget, Axel Morales and Mathias Rodriguez), in which donning salaryman drag to fit in with the jazz scene backfires comically yet poignantly for a chicken-headed man. Egmont Meyer’s Red Rabbit (2007), likewise a 3-D computer work, impressed too, as one man’s furtive attempts to keep a secret – that he is keeping the society of a giant rabbit in his flat – from the gently flirtatious tenant of the flat above leads to a satisfying double disclosure on the rabbit’s demolition of her floor and his ceiling.

Outside of competition

With clement weather throughout the festival, Třeboň’s charming town square hosted a number of family-friendly feature screenings, including blockbusters like Ratatouille (d. Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava) and The Simpsons Movie (d. David Silverman); other Hollywood fare, such as Surf’s Up (d. Ash Brannon and Chris Buck), Shrek the Third (d. Chris Miller and Raman Hui) and Bee Movie (d. Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith) also screened at AniFest in venues ranging from the Světozor cinema and the enormous hall at the Congress and Culture Centre Roháč to Třeboň’s decidedly dinky Puppet Theatre. Attractively novel a proposition though it was to catch the likes of a Pixar animation dubbed seamlessly in Czech and projected in gorgeous al fresco surrounds, I favoured being sure to catch a few of the rather less generally accessible features on offer instead.

A Deadly Invention

My top priority was to catch a screening of Karel Zeman’s Vynález zkázy (A Deadly Invention, aka The Fabulous World of Jules Verne, 1958), the latter title alluding to the oeuvre mined by this venerated Czech feature. It’s not just Vernian narratives that the film is inspired by. Telling the tale of an evil explorer-baron’s abduction of a scientific genius such that the former might, with the latter’s unwitting assistance and breakthroughs in explosives technology, hold the world to ransom, A Deadly Invention adopts wholesale the style of the illustrations that adorned early editions of Verne’s books, fashioning a heady proto-steampunk mix of live-action and animation at least twenty thousand leagues removed from the cold seamlessness strived for in Hollywood special effects practices of the current day. This is not to say that A Deadly Invention doesn’t career down some uncanny valleys all its own; with the overall art direction so thoroughly harking back to the aesthetics of Verne’s original illustrators, there are occasions when a still frame surprises when the people within it, presumed illustrations, suddenly become animate and prove themselves real… and vice versa!

For a film of such constant marvels, it seems uncharitable to bemoan the inert pacing of A Deadly Invention’s storytelling or its lack of any emotional engagement. Better, I think, to pay those matters altogether little heed and instead treasure its great procession of wonders and deem it a glorious fusion of the trick cinema of George Méliès and the collage novels of Max Ernst.

I was very keen too to see Quirino Cristiani: The Mystery of the First Animated Movies (d. Gabriele Zucchelli), a documentary on an underchampioned Italian-born Argentinian animation pioneer and a labour of love of one of the festival’s jurors. Zucchelli’s film performs a great service in spotlighting Cristiani’s accomplishments which are, very sadly, for the most part almost certainly lost for good. Turns out that Cristiani made the very first animated feature film to screen anywhere in the world, the highly satirical El Apóstol, a great success in Buenos Aires in 1917, but a loss to posterity. As this film demonstrates, Cristiani and his work were forever prone to mishaps and misfortune, from factory fires destroying his films and laboratories to direct political intervention: a second feature of his in 1918, Sin dejar rastros, was seized by representatives of the Argentine president he’d satirised in his first feature.

We do get to see some extant footage of Cristiani’s, including documentation of the making of his 1931 feature Peludópolis, the first animated feature to have had a soundtrack, all prints of which, true to form, perished in a fire. However, even while the film details such loss and frustration as might render the work of a less stout cinéphile morose and overly elegiac, Zucchelli takes a celebratory tack, amply demonstrating not just the need to recognise the ingenuity and great accomplishment of an animation pioneer, but also conveying much of the spirit and character of a very unorthodox man; due attention is paid to Cristiani’s groundbreaking adventures in naturism as well as his epic inverted cardboard cut-out animations. It also profits greatly from including some interview footage of Cristiani – naturally, it’s the only such footage known to exist.

It would ill behoove me not to make mention of contributions from other festival jurors. I’ll start with Kim Moon-saeng’s début feature Wonderful Days (2003), thematically reminiscent of a number of works, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and René Laloux’s Fantastic Planet (1973) to name but two. A ripping post-apocalyptic yarn set in a world in which pollution serves as fuel, the big-budget Wonderful Days most impresses with its spectacular visuals, born of a mixture of traditional and state-of-the-art animation technologies, depicting a dystopian world in which a privileged stratum of human being systematically and vampiristically exploits the members of a less fortunate caste. Inevitably, conflict arises between, and within, the ranks of both. A little short on narrative coherence, certainly, it is nonetheless a terrific big-screen experience. It screened with the director’s short film from 2005, Tree Robo, which reminded me immediately of both Chris Ware’s pathos-heavy “Rocket Sam” comic strips and Koji Yamamura’s Mt. Head (2002), seeming an imaginative hybrid of the two.

Passage

Honorary President Raimund Krumme introduced a session featuring several of his quite superb minimalist black-and-white shorts. These typically feature shadowy figures struggling to negotiate the vast whitespace of unstable line-drawn dioramas where the laws of perspective, and the characters both, are likely to break down at any given split-second and where each is able to manipulate the other. Krumme’s works can easily be enjoyed solely for their inventiveness in pitting figure against figures and/or environment, with anything within the frame, be it body, object or landscape, vulnerable to spontaneous transformation or dissolution. That said, his works also carry a certain allegorical heft. Seiltänzer (Rope Dance, 1986) and Passage (1994) examine shifting power dynamics between purposefully warring silhouettes while Zuschauer (Spectators, 1989) is a society of the spectacle writ literal, as a crowd in a cinema reacts en masse to a film it is viewing but which we spectators aren’t privy to. What we witness instead is individuation lost to mob rule. Krumme also screened his 2004 work Der Gefangenenchor (Choir of prisoners), a curious transposition of his aesthetic and concerns onto a live-action short, where, bouncing off some blue-screen trickery, it’s the lighting that is animated rather than the bodies in motion.

Head of the Animation Program of the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, József Fülöp put on a terrific show, driving a sprawling, quicksilver choose-your-own-adventure Flash animation (its name is not in the catalogue, alas) and presenting a great many very short, highly winsome and very colourful animated Gyerekdalok and Mondókák (nursery rhymes) that he had overseen the production of, made, I believe, for Hungarian television in recent times. I also caught ACME Filmworks executive producer Ron Diamond introduce a grab-bag of sequences drawn from several episodes of “Drew Carey’s Green Screen Show”, which takes the improvisational comedy (and most of the players) from the U.S. Version of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and adds post-produced animation from a terrific array of top-notch talent (Marv Newland, Bill Plympton, and many others) to sometimes additionally hilarious effect. Sure, the results were variable… but seldom boring. Alas, it seems a DVD release might yet be some way away.

An additional treat came in the form of a new AniFest regular, “Dialogues”, in which someone prominent in animation circles – this year, Michaela Pavlátová – curates and expounds upon the merits and personal influence of a selection of animation greats. I can’t fault Pavlátová’s picks; she presented Satiemania (1978), Zdenko Gasparović’s free-flowing, shimmering hypnagogia inspired by, and which unveils itself over, the music of Erik Satie, along with one of my favourite Jan Švankmajer shorts, Tma, Svetlo, Tma (Darkness, Light, Darkness, 1989). Pavlátová also presented Švankmajer’s much lesser-seen live-action short, Zahrada (The Garden, 1968), proclaiming that it belonged in an animation festival for its animation-like qualities, perhaps tapping a similarly wonky but personally appealing strain of logic to what I like to adopt when I try insisting to people that Guy Maddin should be considered an animator… of montage… At any rate, I welcomed an opportunity to see The Garden, but not half as much as I did seeing Estonian director Priit Pärn’s Hotel E (1992), a hallucinatory half-hour long animation bouncing back and forth between grotesque yet recognisable burlesques of Eastern and Western life. Pavlátová also screened Paul Driessen’s very clever, very funny David (1978), in which its loquacious protagonist is so minute as to be heard much more than he is to be seen, yet whose journeying – and untimely demise – is nonetheless easily charted by the viewer.

It was under the auspices of ProfiForum, the designated professional program section of AniFest, and in the “Schools of Animation” strand that I had some of my greatest AniFest film-going experiences. For not only in these sections was there on offer a wealth of demonstrations of new technologies, production workshops run by notable animation practitioners (including a soft materials workshop with Bedřich Glaser, whose name I’d hitherto noticed in the credits roll for numerous Švankmajer classics), a pitching zone for new productions (new for 2008) and even student and children’s animation production during the festival for screening towards the festival’s close, there was also a tremendous number of screenings of works produced by various animation studios and schools, typically presented by representatives therefrom.

A screening of productions from the Il Luster studios in Utrecht, Holland, introduced me to two shorts which greatly took my fancy, Teddy (André Bergs, 2005) and Hard Boiled Chicken (Arjan Wilschut, 2006). Superbly rendered in 3-D, Teddy is rich in pathos in its depiction of a city operating at many times the speed of an elderly man who, one gleans, feels he has little more to offer the world than that he can keep a park bench warm. He is, however, momentarily shaken from a heavy fugue when a child’s ball turns rogue and collides with him. The ending is bracingly unsentimental. Hard Boiled Chicken, punny in title, is rather lighter, a witty sepia-toned noir pastiche with a cast of poultry and camerawork and soundtrack apposite to the genre.

CONTRAST minimum edition

A presentation from the Prague chapter of ACM SIGGRAPH was a treasure-trove of splendid computer graphic-driven animations. One of the most stunning was CONTRAST minimum edition, produced by the CAD Center Corporation in 2007, an animation of as many as 19 of M. C. Escher’s famous artworks. CONTRAST is a marvel from start to finish, as creatures en masse rhythmically de-tessellate themselves from one another and take to the skies in increasingly deep parallax belying the two-dimensionality of the work of their provenance, or uncurl and unfurl themselves across Escher’s trademark impossible stairscapes, to describe but two of the sequences in this magnificent work, which, like Escher’s originals, effects a most harmonious marriage of mathematics and aesthetics. Escher would, I believe, be thrilled at how the CAD Center folks have reverently appended extra dimensionality to his “House of Stairs” (1951), “Reptiles” (1943) and many others besides.

Another extraordinary work was Travelers Insurance: Snowball (produced by the Fallon advertising agency with special effects by Weta Digital), a comedic mini-disaster movie-cum-insurance commercial, seamlessly blending a real world environment and CGI, in which one man’s pratfall at the top of a hill leads to an almighty somersaulting agglomeration of people, roadside miscellany, construction work detritus, a wedding party and vehicles – in one case, replete with motorist – snowballing downhill along bustling San Francisco streets and parkland before all coming spectacularly a-cropper at the foot of that city’s Stock Exchange.

Further hilarity and eye-popping came courtesy of Francisco Ruiz and Sean McNally’s A Gentlemen’s Duel, a gorgeously rendered 3-D animation in which two aristocrats, one English, the other French, swap Restoration comedy-style barbs with one another as they vie for the affections of a fair, bosomy lady regularly caught in the crossfire of her suitors’ remonstrations. The inevitable meeting “on the field of honour” takes this short into wholly unforeseen and hilarious directions; rather than settle their differences with the anticipated sword- or gun-play, the two imperious gents ensconce themselves inside extraordinary bipedal steampunk war engines and proceed to batter one another ever more piquedly, pausing only in their hostilities to take tea and upon later discovering that they might have inadvertently taken out the object of their affections. A delicious piece of work.

Also to impress was Dreammaker (d. Leszek Plichta), a fairy tale rich in pathos and Gothic atmospherics in which a reclusive and despondent retired alchemist, able to engineer dreams to order excepting one long dear to his own heart, begrudgingly admits a clumsy, needy young naif into his home and dream-forge with profound consequences for them both. Not far removed in sensibility and themes, Perpetuum Mobile (d. Enrique Garcia and Raquel Ajofrin) seems to suggest that a young and impressionable Leonardo Da Vinci, in flight from bullies, might have stumbled upon a robotic alchemist’s workshop wherein work was being conducted on the manufacture of perpetual motion machines… I don’t know whether there are many other digital works out there concerning themselves with matters alchemical, but I’m quite intrigued, tickled even, to think that there are animators of this digital age, far removed from needing physically transform and transmogrify objects and media in their practice, succumbing to false nostalgia and hence finding themselves, perhaps compulsively, displacing the historically alchemical aspects of animation production onto their works’ narratives. Perhaps Perpetuum Mobile’s alchemist-machine can be read as a manifest analog, if you will, of this very conundrum.

* * *

Quite the embarrassment of riches then, AniFest 2008, just on the evidence here presented, and yet I haven’t even touched upon the screenings of three of Michel Ocelot’s feature films, even though his charming but already amply celebrated, Henri Rousseau-esque début feature Kirikou et la sorcière (Kirikou and the Sorceress, 1998) was the first film I saw at AniFest. I’ve not brought up the stereoscopic films screened through Gali-3D’s state-of-the-art projection system, presented wonderfully incongruously in the bowels of the chateau in a cellar abutting a room full of historical dioramas and taxidermied critters. (They weren’t great films, mostly failing to rise above exercises in gimmickry, but the 3-D effects were terrific: what fourth wall? Now, who will be the first great metteur en scène of stereoscopic 3-D animation?) Nor have I mentioned the splendid decades-spanning compilations of Slovak animation that was projected, albeit not to best advantage, digitally in the tiny Puppet Theatre; gems like the tirelessly inventive claymation Kikirikí (Cock-A-Doodle-Do, František Jurišič, 1985), in which a man and a rooster attempt to out-metamorphose one another, deserve both more fanfare and much better projection.

Seems I’ve segued into the nitpicking part of this report. Criticisms, I have a few, although I almost feel a churl for raising them when overall I had such a splendid time. However… digital projection was the norm at AniFest rather than the exception, and, on a number of occasions when anticipation of a cinematic event was high, this couldn’t but disappoint. Certainly, approaching some of the more makeshift spaces used, one didn’t enter expecting to hear the whirr and click of film unspooling; my beef is more with the festival not availing itself of prints, surely accessible from archives, for various retrospective screenings in the first place. It’s a terrible shame, and jarring, to see films produced in pre-digital times blighted by digital artefacts, glitches or unshifting watermarks. Too often too were some of the perils of digital projection made embarrassingly manifest: there were hold-ups when DVDs misbehaved because they had been authored in languages unfamiliar to those charged with their projection, leading to the sorry spectacle of a mouse pointer whizzing frantically across the screen in trial-and-error searches of a link to the next short in an advertised sequence. Worse, there was even the odd prolonged false start due to region coding mismatches between discs and players.

Additionally, the Opening and Closing Night ceremonies were dreadfully protracted affairs, horribly overabundant with painful bouts of tepid zaniness. I don’t mean to suggest these important festival bookends ought be solemn affairs, nor that they should merely serve as forums for perfunctory speechifying and customary sponsorship acknowledgments ahead of the real merry-making to be had at the parties following. Just that they can be an awful lot tighter and, I would suggest, more adult; these ceremonies are, after all, primarily the preserve of grown-ups, and animation still has some work to do to shed wider-audience misapprehensions that it’s all just kids’ stuff, a stigmatisation that is especially out-of-place being nourished at an animation festival.

Lastly, the program could benefit from a little judicious pruning. There is just too much on offer, with too many places to want to be in at once and rather more sessions programmed than there are always facilities to satisfactorily accommodate and present them.

But please – let’s not dwell overlong on these last few paragraphs’ quibbles. I’m damned if I’m going to end this account of my AniFest on a bum note. I had me a fantastic time absorbing a thoroughly giddying profusion of animation in all its guises and I engaged with so many terrific people, from the thick and the periphery equally, of the animation industry, that I can only think back of my time at AniFest with great fondness. This is strongly reinforced as I glance at my festival mementos, in particular the massive catalogue – which shames those produced by even the biggest of film festivals here in Australia – and my collected daily editions of the festival’s newspaper, all rich testament to the great hive of industry that was AniFest in 2008. Just as with the state of the animated arts, on the basis of my experiences at AniFest, I can think of the festival’s future too only in the most sanguine of terms.

AniFest website: http://www.anifest.cz

About The Author

Cerise Howard is the Artistic Director of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia, a member of the International Jury Board of the East-West: Golden Arch awards, a co-curator of the Melbourne Cinémathèque and a co-founder of tilde: Melbourne's Trans & Gender Diverse Film Festival. A freelance writer and peregrine film critic, she can regularly be heard on Plato’s Cave on Melbourne radio station 3RRR. She was a reporter for the KVIFF Festival Daily in 2017, and plays bass for Queen Kong and The HOMOsapiens. And how!