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
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.
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.
first heard the folktale on the radio. There was an original play lasting 1½
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
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.
Newlove are also known for winning an Oscar for “Every Child” in the category
Best Animated Short (1980).
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
Their “smorgasbord of films” ranged from
the 1952 “Neighbors” by Norman McLaren to classics such as “Pas de Deux,”
and “The Sweater” (Sheldon Cohen, 1980)
to more recent films Strings” (Wendy Tilby, 1991).
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 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:
email@example.com. 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
Drawing on Film
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
by Lois Siegel
Torill Kove, 1999
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 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.”
“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
by Lois Siegel
and many others,
the history of the country at this time and its effect on the animators is most
by Lois Siegel
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
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.
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.”
“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
Also screened at the festival were “The
Old Man and the Sea” by Alexandre Petrov (Russia), an adaptation of Ernest
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 &
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.