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Les Sommets du Cinéma d’Animation 2013 – Overview

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It would be quite a strain to imagine a city I’m more fond of than Montreal. Granted, with my mixed-nationality, whatever-the-hell-I-am background mine wouldn’t be the most impartial testimony, though I’d be baffled if anyone claiming to have an affinity with creativity and the arts didn’t feel an inherent connection to the place. From Rue Ste. Catherine – which boasts a 50-50 split of both wholesome, family retailers and strip joints straight out of a seedy, pulp fiction paperback – to Plateau Mont-Royal – where the bagels are so divine as to make any goy weep – even for us Anglophones it’s a true home away from home.

But it’s cold.

Oh, dear mother of everything sacred, it’s goddamn freezing here.

Pfft, you derisively snort, we know what cold is. We’re British.

Talk to me when you’ve had to duck into a Van Houtte to thaw your frozen eyeball juices out, my friends. Talk to me then.

sommets_carte_postale_2013_1Aside from bundling up adorably, what better way to stay warm and hydrated than to check out a nearby animation festival? As guests of this year’s 12th edition of Les Sommets du Cinéma d’Animation, Skwigly were privileged enough to get a glimpse of a Canadian take on the animation scene, one which celebrates both international and home-grown talent. Curated and organised by Marco de Blois, the festival takes place in two locations (Quebec City from the 21st-26th, Montreal from the 27th-1st) with visual branding courtesy of the RCA’s Nicolas Ménard, who also animated the main ident.

The intimacy of Sommets is evocative of several UK animation festivals, in particular Bristol’s own Animated Encounters, and the sense of comradery and community amongst filmmakers is strong. Montreal’s Cinematheque Quebecoise is the main venue for the fest, and perfectly timed to the occasion is a fabulous exhibition of rare and valuable American animation art, boasting original panels from Bud Fisher’s Mutt and Jeff, cels from Felix The Cat and, most impressively, original Winsor McCay art from Little Nemo and Gertie the Dinosaur. The venue also houses Third Page from the Sun, a specially-commissioned installation piece by acclaimed NFB director Theodore Ushev.

'Third Page from the Sun' (Theodore Ushev)

‘Third Page from the Sun’ (Theodore Ushev)

It’s against this encouraging backdrop that the event kicks off on Wednesday night. The opening night film, which will be reviewed later this week, was Ari Folman’s The Congress, a fascinating albeit divisive piece of work, discussion of which dominated many conversations at the subsequent opening night party until mild inebriation played its part in steering discussions in the direction of more ephemeral matters.

The strength of a festival, be it of the large’n’sprawling or small’n’focused variety, is its sense of identity, something which Sommets has put a lot of thought into. Two of the stronger screenings showcased French and Québécois work respectively, the former boasting several Skwigly favourites including Augusto Zanovello’s Lettres de Femmes, Hefang Wei‘s beautifully-constructed Le Banquet de la Concubine and Amélie Harrault’s Mademoiselle Kiki et les Montparnos which dips into the fascinating life story of Parisian model and socialite Alice Prin with nods to a wide variety of artistic styles matched perfectly with her bohemian lifestyle.

'Mademoiselle Kiki et les Montparnos' (Amélie Harrault)

‘Mademoiselle Kiki et les Montparnos’ (Amélie Harrault)

The Québec-Canada Panorama was equally strong, with established highlights such as Joël Vaudreuil‘s Le Courant Faible de la Rivière (screened in the original French, which was welcome as the voice performances of the English-dubbed version that’s been circulating amongst UK fests aren’t quite as effective) and Jeff Chiba Stearns‘s truly impressive Yellow Sticky Notes (Canadian Anijam) which brings the crème de la crème of Canadian animators together on one project with a charming ‘to-do’ list premise. Other strong work in this offering include The Day I Became a Man by Samuel Jacques, a rite de passage tale married with retro video game culture; Greg Doble‘s one-minute crowdpleaser Super Exposure (the reveal on this one got a great reaction); Also worth mentioning is Guillaume Blanchet‘s A Girl Named Elastika which is a lot of fun from a visual-execution standpoint (somewhat reminiscent of Chris Gavin’s TXT Island) but the dialogue grates a bit and said visuals may have benefited from being allowed to speak for themselves.  

'The End of Pinky' (Claire Blanchet)

‘The End of Pinky’ (Claire Blanchet)

Particular highlights came from two rising stars of the National Film Board – both of whose films are set in Montreal itself – Emmanuelle Loslier‘s Borowczyk/Gilliam-esque Rue de l’Inspecteur which, though very different conceptually, carries with it a similar sense of satisfaction as the work of PES, and Claire Blanchet‘s The End of Pinky, a darkly-humorous short story adaptation narrated by the original writer Heather O’Neill which combines wonderfully ethereal, dreamlike visuals with the cinematic conventions of film noir.

Several events that were commended highly by festivalgoers were, alas, French only, and while I couldn’t get any valuable firsthand coverage there was special enthusiasm voiced for Sexe, Femmes et Cinéma d’Animation, a panel discussion on the relationship of sex and animation from a female perspective between noteworthy animation producer Julie Roy, as well as filmmakers Janet Perlman and Amélie Harrault amongst others. Other anticipated events were a sound workshop aimed at a younger audience and retrospectives focusing on Jeremy Clapin and Alexandre duBosc, both of whom attending in person. A personal highlight was a special screening of Treasures from the Academy Film Archive, presented and compiled by jury member Brian Meacham. Screened from the original 35mm prints it proved a fascinating study of notable and exceptional animated works, such as Carmen d’Avino’s Pianissimo (1963), Will Vinton’s Closed Mondays (1974) and Mark Baker’s The Village (1993). One of the more interesting films of this selection was Brian Jennings and Bill Kroyer’s Technological Threat (1988) which, to a contemporary audience, manages to come across as both dated and relevant at the same time.


'No Time For Toes' (Kari Pieskä)

‘No Time For Toes’ (Kari Pieskä)

The student work was concentrated into two competition screenings, given which the calibre of filmmaking on offer is less consistent than one might expect. Amongst the more sterling work is Wing Yan Lillian Fu’s First Light (UK), an impressive sci-fi fusion of cultural design styles; Sean Buckelew‘s Another (US), a curious tale of a family unit and its coming to terms with an unexpected interloper – it’s beautifully animated though the post-production freelancer in me feels itchy to reach into the project files and switch off the artificial film-grain plug-in; Lucrèce Andreae‘s Les Mots de la Carpe (France), a well-observed study of discordant personality types set perfectly against a backdrop of a speed-dating evening with an atmosphere reminiscent of Channel 4’s 90s heyday. It’s Kari Pieskä‘s wittily conceived No Time For Toes (Finland) that, once the audience acclimates to the approach taken to both visuals and sound, fires on the most cylinders at once.

Other work that Skwigly has previously voiced fondness for make appearances, such as Anna Mantzaris and Eirik Grønmo Bjørnsen’s But Milk Is Important (Norway), Michael Frei‘s Plug and Play (Switzerland) and Rusharil Hutangkabodee‘s Life of Fire (Thailand). Some of the stronger works of abstract animation that warrant acknowledgment are Evgenia Gostrer‘s sensual claymation piece Framed (Germany), La Mécanique Du Plastique‘s David o’Reilly-esque glitchfest Courtmétrg, a condensed celebration of the culture of cinema, and Louis Morton‘s charming Passer Passer (US), which effectively brings skilful timing together with a contemporary design sensibility.

The screenings which drew the largest crowds were, naturally, those that made up the International Competition, and with the good sense to schedule them in the evening (something that, bafflingly, a lot of festivals that take place during the week don’t seem to do) they were all sell-out affairs. As a season of festivals is coming to a close, a large percentage of the official selection is rather familiar at this point, established favourites being Astigmatismo (Nicolai Troshinsky), Invocation (Robert Morgan), Palmipédarium (Jeremy Clapin), Trespass (Paul Wenninger) and, of course, Carl Roosens and Noémie Marsily’s Autour du Lac, a music video that by rights should be utterly insufferable and yet never leaves a crowd unsatisfied (once the song earworms its way into your brain it’s there to stay, so you just have to resign yourself to it).

'The Lonely Bones' (Rosto)

‘The Lonely Bones’ (Rosto)

Several other personal highlight from this year’s Annecy were thrown in, amongst them Rosto‘s superb nightmare vision Lonely Bones, Pierre Mousquet and Jérome Cauwe’s Wind of Share, Rémi Vandenitte’s Betty’s Blues, Špela Čadež’s Boles, Steven Subotnik’s Fight and Tom Schroeder‘s Marcel, King of Tervuren along with the NFB’s excellent offerings Gloria Victoria (Theodore Ushev) and Subconscious Password (Chris Landreth). Several films I’d yet to encounter which stood out most of all were Nicolas Brault‘s Foreign Bodies, an abstract piece drawing upon medical imagery that, while veering more into motion graphics territory, demonstrates a strong knack for atmosphere; Santiago Grasso‘s Padre is a deeply foreboding film from the director of El Empleo with stop-motion puppetry so detailed and fluid as to be confusable with CG at several points; Philippe Vaucher‘s The Well, which pushes the medium of sand animation to great effect and boasts staggeringly-detailed character animation; Nadia Micault‘s tremendous and beautiful music/dance study Sonata; and representing a more mainstream, old-school physical comedy use of animation (with, curiously, very little company in this regard) was Dmitri Voloshin’s Dji. Death Fails, which gave everyone a chuckle or several.

Wrapping up the festivities on Sunday, the awards were announced from the Cinematheque café:

Special Mention (Student Film): But Milk Is Important (Eirik Grønmo Bjørnsen, Anna Mantzaris)
Best Student Film: Plug & Play (Michael Frei)
Public Prize: Boles (Špela Čadež)
Best Canadian Film: Le Courant Faible de la Rivière (Joël Vaudreuil)
Special Mention:
Autour du Lac (Carl Roosens and Noémie Marsily)
Special Jury Prize: Padre (Santiago Bou Grasso)
Grand Prix: Trespass (Paul Wenninger)

Keep your eyes on Skwigly in the coming days for more on the festival’s notable events, as well as exclusive chats with some of the officially-selected filmmakers.

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