Compai! The 7th International Animation Festival Hiroshima ?98 by Deanna Morse

I had heard from other filmmakers what a wonderful festival this is. How it was so well organized, friendly, respectful of the films, and how it was so interesting to be in Hiroshima, to be in Japan. At other film festivals, I’ve been with groups of filmmakers who talk and talk and talk about what a fabulous time they had at the Hiroshima festival. Now, I have joined that cheerleading club.

I was asked to serve on Selection Committee so I experienced the festival as a bit of an “insider”. In addition, I was elected Chairperson and was the media spokesperson. The other members of the committee were Irina Margolina, a producer and writer from Russia, Thomas Reynolder, a filmmaker and A S I FA Board member from Austria, Thomas Basinger, formerly the animation programmer for the Stuttgart festival (Germany), and Toshio Iwai, an interactive media artist from Japan. Most of us met each other for the first time at the Selection Committee, and we built solid friendships working together on the process.

We met in Hiroshima for three weeks in May to view the 1127 entries (from 57 countries), and selected 64 films for competition and screening during the festival. It was interesting, if a bit intense. We met for about 10 hours every day for nearly 3 weeks. We spent eight hours a day in screening, and then discussed our selections for another two or three hours.

Each of us selected work based on our own artistic criteria. However, we were each looking for powerful animation. We considered each piece on its own merits; we did not consider nationality in our judgment. People often ask me how I could keep that number of films straight. This actually was not so much a problem. During the screenings, I would take notes in the dark, describing the film, or making a sketch of the characters or scenes. After each film, I would grade the piece. Sometimes my handwriting was sloppy or overlapped, but at the end of the day, I could use my notes to remember the pieces we saw.

It was a rare opportunity to be able to see such a wide variety and quantity of films. It gave me a sampling of what is happening in animation internationally. And of course, I saw some wonderful individual pieces; many did not make the deep cut and were not included in the festival. Later, when I went to Ottawa and SIGGRAPH I was surprised to see some different pieces selected --works that were not even entered in the 1127 we screened for the Hiroshima competition. There is an amazing amount of animation, being produced each year. Much of it is independent work, self-expression by a single artist or small group of filmmakers.

Somewhere about half way through the process, several of us began to feel a bit down. It was spring in Japan, but every day we just sat in a dark room, screening films - it seemed like we never were going to get through this quantity of work. It was taking energy to look at each piece with fresh eyes. As filmmakers ourselves, we wanted to be fair, to give each piece equal respect. But we were drinking lots of coffee to stay “up”!

One night during our discussion, Sayoko Kinoshita, the festival director, told us a s t o r y. It was a long story, and took even longer to tell since it was translated for us from Japanese to English. I will try to paraphrase it: In old Japan, a young woman got married and went to live on the farm of her husband’s family. The mother- i n - l a w instructed the new wife to clear an overgrown field. The new wife looked at the sprawling land, and said “this is not possible! This is such a huge field, and I can only clear a tiny patch each day, even though I work so hard!” The wise mother-in-law responded, “Don’t look at the entire field, you should only consider the small patch you are clearing.” The young wife took this advice. Soon, of course, the whole field was cleared. At the end, we laughed as we remembered Sayoko’s sage advice, given to us through this story.

The films we selected for the competition program were varied. Some conveyed visual statement of beauty and hope, others told a story. Some were quiet poems, others had louder voices, some tried to shake us up, asking us to question our assumptions. Each film expressed the voice of an artist, a voice that we can understand whatever our native language. This is the beauty of animation. Animation art knows no boundaries or nationalities. Animation art can speak to viewers across geographical, political and territorial lines.

The Festival's theme is "Love and Peace". It is no coincidence that the festival is held in Hiroshima, and there is much awareness and discussion of the significance of having such a festival in that city. We did not narrowly select films based on that theme, however... we selected the best animation regardless of theme or content. The festival promotes peace and understanding through its structure, by defining itself as an international animation festival. Artists, educators, and fans come together across national borders, finding a community of peers who share their love of animation art.

I returned to Japan in August as a guest of the festival and screened a short program of my films. Another jury awarded cash prizes from the 60 films we selected.

The festival lasted five days. Each night, competition films were screened, and during the days a variety of programs and workshops were off e r e d in two theaters. Screenings included national/regional programs: Russian, Indian, Welsh, Asian, and A u s t r i a n animation; Animation for Peace, and Animation for Children. There were two wonderful presentations on Music in Animation by Judith Gruber- S t i t z e r and Normand Roger which included works in progress, where we could hear the tracks develop in complexity.

For an enthusiastic full house, Academy Award winner Ray Harryhausen (the International Honorary President) gave a retrospective of his puppet animation, with his earliest films, made in his garage in 1945, and clips from the 16 features he worked on (from “Mighty Joe Young” to “Clash of the Titans” ). He also showed sketches, armatures and models of his creatures.

In addition, there was an excellent daily festival newspaper, a lounge for animators, a Macintosh room, demonstration of new animation equipment, booths to buy books and cels, a children’s workshop, and more.

There were two installations: the Renzo Forest celebrated the career of Renzo Kinoshita, festival co-founder, who died last year. The exhibit included artwork, storyboards, and sketches, and a retrospective program of his films. Computer artist (and selection committee member) Toshio Iwai exhibited several interactive pieces and gave a presentation showing his development and influences as a computer artist. His work, which is in a number of permanent collections including the Exploratorium in San Francisco, was stunning. Iwai reworks pre-cinema technology in a very contemporary way. Included in the exhibit were a number of hand-cranked three-dimensional Zoetropes. T h e s e had simple clay figures, inside traditional Zoetrope drums, but the silver edges of the slits made them seem holographic. Four “Ti m e Stratum” pieces, half-domed crystal balls of moving energ y, reworked the Zoetrope concept with new technology. A suspended video monitor provided the light source for an acrylic dome which contained morphed human, animal or mineral images. These light sources were choreographed to original music, also by Iwai. The animation was rhythmic and complex.

Parties. Of course, no festival is complete without them. ASIFA Japan hosted a roof-top beer garden; there were opening and closing receptions, traditional dance and bingo at a temple. One day, buses took filmmakers to Miyajima Island. Considered one of the most beautiful spots in Japan, Miyajima had tame deer, a swimming beach, and tasty barbecue. This outing was a big hit with everyone. On the island, they sell biscuits for the deer, who are very hungry. They gobble the biscuits, as well as the paper wrappings. They insistently poke their noses in open bags looking for more biscuits. One deer found Ray Harryhausen’s open camera bag, and Ray had to wrestle with him to get his video manual back! (Ray got the manual intact, with just a couple of teeth marks. The rest of us got a good laugh.)

At the closing night of the last reception, the Sayonaraparty, you could hear cheering outside the exit. A group of strong festival workers were doing D o n g a i - air tossing the filmmakers as they left. You lean back and are lifted -and tossed- in the air three times, to three cheers. It was exhilarating. I wasn’t the only filmmaker who went back into the party to exit, and be air tossed, a second time!

I offer a toast to the success of the next Hiroshima festival, in the year 2000. Cheers! Compai!

Deanna Morse is an animator and professor at Grand Valley State University. She is currently president of ASIFA/Central, and is on the International Board of ASIFA.