Jury Attacked:
Animation at The Montreal World Film Festival
 1999

By Lois Siegel


©
Photo by Paul Jean

Lois Siegel

Filmmaker/Photographer
Plays fiddle and she teaches Video Production at
the University of Ottawa
Her documentary films include “Baseball Girls”
 (women who play softball and baseball)
 “Lip Gloss” (female impersonators)
 “Strangers in Town” (albinism)
 and “Stunt People”
 (The Fournier Family performing stunts for films).

It was year 23 for the Montreal World Film Festival. At the same time, it was 60 years of cinema for the National Film Board of Canada, and the Film Board came out beaming.  They captured the top prize (FIPRESCI Prize) voted by The Jury of the International Film Critics for their animated film “The Village of Idiots” by Eugene Fedorenko and Rose Newlove. The film is 13 minutes long.

“Village” also won second prize in the short-film category in the Official Competition.

It’s rare that a short film ever wins a top prize such as this. The International Jury of Film Critics was taking a chance on giving this prize to a short film because the ‘gods that be’ would certainly not be pleased that a feature film didn’t win.  And so it was.  Unhappy festival bureaucrats shook their fists in anger.

Several jury members were called in and  ‘raked-over-the-coals’ by the festival. One festival administrator told them that “a feature film should have won and that the decision by the jury to give a short film the top award was ridiculous and an insult to other filmmakers.”

One member of this jury explained quite hurt, “We were mugged by …(name of administrator). This should not have happened. We really worked hard to make an honest decision.  This rudeness is unacceptable.”  The jury member plans to make an official complaint about the treatment of jury members to Heritage Canada, and the General Secretary of The Jury of the International Film Critics is also being contacted to demand an apology from the festival on behalf of the jury critics.

“The rules clearly state that we could vote for any film in the festival,” a jury member explained, “and we universally liked “Village of Idiots.”  Jury members included critics from Argentina, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Denmark, India, Turkey and Russia.

The Award-Winning Film

“Village of Idiots” focuses on one of the many stories in Jewish folklore that takes place in Chelm. A scruffy character, Shmendrick, who is born in Chelm, experiences one mishap after another.


Shmendrick

One day he decides to leave his wife and children and go to Warsaw to see the big city.  On route, after hours of weary travelling, he decides to take a nap. Shmendrick places his shoes in both directions to indicate where he has come from and where he is going so that he will know in which direction to head after he wakes up.   He returns to his old home thinking it is a new city. He recounts the story of how he ended up in “the other Chelm.”  “I, Shmendrick, have learned that wherever I go, it’s just like staying in the same place.”  In “The Village of Idiots” Shmendrick is definitely right at home.



Shmendrick speaks to us in a rather normal voice.  A stronger accent might have helped to build a more vivid character, but his romanticized view of life allows us to understand who he is. He takes things as they are, accepting his experiences as they come.

The filmmakers first heard the folktale on the radio. There was an original play lasting 1 hours by the same title, but the story has been told many ways, many times. John Lazarus worked with them on the story writing.




© Photo by Lois Siegel
Newlove and Fedorenko

Fedorenko and Newlove started with a storyboard version.  Then they worked on a way to photograph their artwork on a multiplane stand.  The artwork was set up on layers of glass with a two-to-four-inch space between layers, and there were usually four layers, sometimes more. “This gives the illusion of depth,” Fedorenko explains.

The set up took up 1 room and one half and it was 14’ long (see photo).

“I did the mechanics, figuring out the drawings, and Rose provided the clear thinking,” Fedorenko says.  They primarily used cutouts to conform to a set of drawings. These were pre-tested on 16mm, like line tests. “We did manipulation under the camera.”

The project was started in 1987. “We spent two years building the equipment, one year on the story and five years doing the animation. We filmed 1/2 second to 1 second a day after the artwork was finished.”

The music accompanying the images is Klezmer style. Norman Roger created the original music and arrangements. He’s been composing music for 30 years, so this was just another challenge to his repertoire. Ironically, almost all his musicians have French, not Jewish names, but a good musician can play any type of music, and they do this very well.

Fedorenko and Newlove are also known for winning an Oscar for “Every Child” in the category Best Animated Short (1980).



Every Child


Animation Workshops

The Film Board made the festival a center for animation events.

In the middle of Complexe Desjardins they had an on-going mini-fete of noon-hour screenings each weekday, August 27 to Sept. 3.  There were also animation workshops on the two weekends during the festival. 

Their “smorgasbord of films” ranged from the 1952 “Neighbors” by Norman McLaren to classics such as “Pas de Deux,” (McLaren, 1967)

and “The Sweater” (Sheldon Cohen, 1980) to more recent films Strings” (Wendy Tilby, 1991).

Guest film directors offering workshops were Co Hoedeman, who received an Oscar for “The Sand Castle” (1978), and Louise Johnson, director of “When the Dust Settles, a 7-minute animated short done entirely under the camera using colored dust, graphite, colored pencils and an electric eraser.


 

© Photo by Lois Siegel
Co Hoedeman

Co Hoedeman introduced the making of a puppet film.  He showed how the set was constructed, how his main character “Ludovic, the teddy bear” was formed with a skeletal base of wire and then clothed, and how accessories were made.  Then he selected four kids from the audience to help him animate a short video sequence using a Sony digital camera hooked into a  Video “Lunchbox” to capture images on video.

Louise Johnson demonstrated sand animation and painting on glass.   She manipulated the sand on a light box using a brush and other tools then played back the animated sequence of an image dodging back and forth within a designated frame. 

She did the same with painting on glass, using a man’s head that gradually turns.  Johnson also showed excerpts from other NFB animator’s films and explained the techniques they used, pointing out, for example, that when painting on glass, the animator has to be very careful if using colors instead of black and white images.  The colors have to be mixed very carefully.  You don’t want them to become muddy.

Luigi Allemano demonstrated WebWorks, a web site for first-time filmmakers on the Internet. These very short animations are under 20 seconds in order to keep the files small enough for the average home computer.   “The idea is to give the Film Board more presence on the film scene and to appeal to kids,” Allemano explained.

The Film Board also plans to have available excerpts from NFB films on the site by Christmas in an “Animators Gallery.”  The site will be up in the fall under the title “Animation Children’s Interactive.”   Anyone will be able to access WebWorks by downloading it through the NFB web site: www.nfb.ca. One of the advantages for viewers is that you can go through an animation one frame at a time on the computer to see how it was made.   

During the workshop Allemano showed some of the short animations that have been designed for the site, including his project “Flip” where he changes a man into a hamburger.  He also demonstrated examples of sounds added to the animations created by a Foley artist, who, in this case, created the sounds with his mouth. 

Some of the programs used to animate these films were 3D Studio Max, After Effects and Elastic Reality.

Michael Fukushima is the producer of WebWorks, and any first-time filmmakers who would like to try their hand at creating an animation for the site can apply to him by email: m.fukushima@nfb.ca. Technical support is provided.

There was also a “drawing on film” workshop.  Tables were spread with clear leader strips of film and participants, young and old, experienced making their first animated film using colored markers. Workshop leaders showed how to create a dot that zoomed by starting small and gradually growing larger in each frame, how to turn a baton by moving it slightly counter-clockwise in each frame,  and how to create a beating, throbbing heart by alternating a small and large heart in each frame.


© Photo by Lois Siegel
Animation Workshop
Drawing on Film



Short Films

Another delightful NFB film in the Official Competition/Short Films was “My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts,” by Torill Kove.

“My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts” is based on a story told to Kove by her grandmother and is a co-production with Studio Magica in Norway where Kove was born.  “My grandmother was a bragger, and I later found out that not all the stories she told were true,” Kove explains. She once told me that my father was the first guy in Norway to own his own car.  I was only four or five and never questioned what she said.  Then I found out this wasn’t true. Maybe he was the first man on the block to own a car.”

Ironing is the focus of Kove’s film. “My grandmother lived with us, and everything had to be ironed, including our underwear.”  Norway was part of Sweden and before that part of Denmark. As the film opens, it’s 1905, and an independent Norway wants to have its own king, but they can’t find the rightful heir.  Unemployed royals apply.  “Grandmother” is full of humor as a new king, Prince Karl of Denmark, is elected.  He can’t ski, like most Danes, his wife can’t speak Norwegian, and neither of them can iron shirts. As well, there are no servants in Norway…so they are doomed.  We see an image of them in their un-ironed shirts greeting the public.

A solution has to be found.  The local, respectable clothing store solves the problem.   Then Kove’s grandmother, an employee of the store, discovers that she is ironing the King’s shirts, and she tells everyone.  When enemy soldiers invade the country, grandma becomes a hero. She leads the resistance with a nation-wide mobilization of shirt-ironers who, in many creative ways, sabotage the enemy’s shirts.

The technique used in the film is cel…and the cel painter, Anne Ashton, came to Norway for two weeks to walk around and do a color study before choosing the colors for the film. Specific details were added to the film. If you look closely, you will see that all the German soldiers look like Hitler.

Kove also had help with scriptwriting from her former Concordia University teacher, Stefan Anastasiu.
 


©Photo by Lois Siegel
Torill Kove, 1999

“When the Day Breaks” by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis was screened before the opening festival film “Mansfield Park.” The film won the Palme d’Or for Best Short at this year’s Cannes Film festival. It also took two prizes at the Annecy International Film Festival.



When the Day Breaks

German Animation

German animation also was prominent at the festival.  Graphic designer Kirsten Winter’s “Just in Time” took top honors in the Short Film category in the Official Competition.  Winter also won in 1995 for her film “Clocks.”


Kirsten Winter

“Clocks” is filled with abstract images accompanied by the music of a percussionist and the movements of a dancer.

“Just in Time” is similar visually. In this experimental animation, the images are often of buildings, and the music is jazz trumpet composed by Simon Stockhausen, son of Karlheinz, the famous German composer of modern and electronic music, and operas. There are also voices mixed with the music.


Just in Time

The technical process involves using a digital camera and a computer to create the visuals. Real footage is captured, and this is combined with computer-generated images.  Then oil paints are placed on cels. The cels are placed over the computer monitor, and the images are re-filmed with an old 35mm camera.

Winter was also involved with another film in the festival as producer - “Muratti Und Sarotti: The History of German Animation.  The film, directed by Gerd Gockell, is an informative, imaginative history from 1920-1960.  Animation techniques are also used to introduce the animators.  Even photos of those being interviewed are animated in a kind of loop with a voice over by the person talking.

Gockell took the photos while Winter asked the questions using a Nagra recorder.

The filmmakers’ purpose was to make the history of German animation during this period understandable. Besides seeing animation work by Oskar Fischinger, Walter Ruttmann, Peter Sachs, Rudolf Pfenninger, Hebert Seggelke, Kurt Weiler, Lotte Reiniger


©Photo by Lois Siegel
Lotte Reiniger

 

and many others, the history of the country at this time and its effect on the animators is most revealing. 


©Photo by Lois Siegel
Lotte Reiniger

One section of the film is called “Animation Under the Swastika.”   Some animators left Germany during this time. Some left for military service, never to return. Others stayed and  ended up drawing curves for airplane attacks.

Then there were the artists who could no longer be photographed because people might say, “Why are you still here and not at the front.”

From the early experiments of Hans Richter in the 20s to commercials in the 50s, the documentary is fascinating.  “In Germany, we are not allowed to compare products, such as saying Coke is better than Pepsi,” Winter explains.

At one point we see a cigarette animation by Oskar Fischinger with many swirling, constantly moving cigarettes.  This Muratti cigarette ad is a classic.

“We only covered until 1960 in the film because after that, the style of animation changes.  A different generation emerges,” Winter says.

Both Winter and Gockell are animators, and even the in between explanations and set ups for each sequence in the film are animated, making the film constantly interesting to view. 

The idea for the film came from Kurt Weiler.  The filmmakers met him, and he spoke with such passion about the subject that this stimulated the idea to produce the film.  They also plan to make a CD-Rom based on the interviews with the filmmakers. 

Disney Tribute

The Montreal World Film Festival also gave a Lifetime Achievement Award to Walt Disney.  “Walter Elias Disney has had an impact on film and in our hearts that has reached across the world, passing over language barriers and borders.”




Walt Disney


“He used Donald Duck to teach us math and science.  He taught us about wildlife and the environment with this True Life Adventures Series.  He created a Mouse heard around the world.”

Among Disney’s other achievements cited were his assistance in funding Cal Arts, an institution to train young creative artists.    His daughter, Diane Disney Miller, was in attendance at the homage. Guests appearing on stage included actress Hayley Mills and critic Leonard Maltin.

Other Films

Also screened at the festival were “The Old Man and the Sea” by Alexandre Petrov (Russia), an adaptation of Ernest Hemmingway’s novel,

and “Socialization of the Bull?” by Zvonko Coh and Milan Eric (Czech), a story of evolution, focusing on a world-famous geneticist. There was also  “Fragile,” by Daniel Wiroth (Luxemboug/Belgium), in which drinking glasses engage in combat with each other.

Additional winners in animation during the festival were at the Awards of the 30th Canadian Student Film & Video Festival.

Best Animation film went to “Shat Mat” by Mike Pelland (Concordia University)

and Best Animation Video was awarded to “Four Moves” by Adam Shecter (McGill University).

It was a good year for animation at the festival…and not so good for some of the jury members. 


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