Anilogue in Budapest 2018 – my Best of the Fest and the City

How do you holiday?

The possibilities, if you really think about it, are overwhelming. You could visit every village in Yorkshire that has a funny name and interview strangers about nomenclature. You could systematically visit every city in the world with a population greater than one million in alphabetical order, consuming only media in that city that begin with the same letter. You could stage a murder mystery party with friends on the actual Orient Express.

The problem with any of these ideas is that they only make you (or me at least) feel more strongly that there’s an even better idea out there that you’re missing out on. Obviously if you also have children, things are further complicated.

So, here’s my generic quite-interesting-holiday generator that feels fairly optimal:

  • Pick something you love (animation, juggling, poker, murder mysteries)
  • Find a list of places in the world where that thing is being celebrated in the next year (a festival, convention, tournament or whatever)
  • Pick a date and destination from that list, and do sightseeing in the day and the thing you love in the evening

Clare and I love animation, and needed a holiday before Christmas; consultation of festival listing websites like this one meant we ended up in Budapest in late November 2018, to attend the Anilogue animation festival.

Also: European Train Travel

If you’re travelling within Europe, I maximally endorse The Man In Seat 61, a website by Mark Smith, who uses his extensive rail experience and appetite for railway-based research to maintain this incredible resource, covering the best routes in Europe and how to buy tickets. Including getting from London to Budapest via Eurostar and sleeper train:

Budapest crash course

As a moderately well-travelled UK resident, I am embarrassingly ignorant of Eastern Europe. Visiting Budapest was a great way to start putting that right. Here’s an extremely terse list of the things I found most insightful:

  • Budapest occupies a strategic position on the Danube in the middle of the Pannonian/Carpathian Basin, a useful geographical feature to reference when making sense of Eastern Europe on a map
  • For purely frivolous reasons I enjoy the fact that Budapest was formed by joining the two historic towns of Buda and Pest (on the West and East banks of the Danube respectively)
  • Buda was built on the Vár, a distinctive steep and lozenge-shaped hill. It appears much more strategically advantageous than it actually is, as throughout history it was taken and re-taken, “ ravaged and rebuilt 86 times over seven centuries”, according to the Rough Guide.

  • Hungarian (or Magyar) is a Finno-Ugric language, which places it amazingly far from the Indo-European languages most Europeans (or indeed most people in the world) would be familiar with. Don’t expect to figure thing out by similarity to any French, German, Latin or Greek you may know!
  • Hungary entered WWII as an Axis power in 1941, sought peace with the allies in 1943, leading to a Nazi coup to install a puppet fascist government, which then transitioned directly and tragically to a brutal Stalinist regime after the war. A revolution in 1956 was brutally suppressed, and the first free elections were in 1990. The scars of this recent history were palpable in much of the art, the beautiful-but-battle-damaged architecture and the museums that we visited.
  • Lots of mysterious staircases:

If you’re planning to go, I would recommend the following two things slightly off the beaten tourist track.

The Flippermuseum / Pinball museum

Everything you would hope it could be: 140+ pinball and other arcade machines from all eras, all playable for free for as long as you want, covered by one very reasonable entrance fee.

An interesting trend you can experience here is that over decades pinball machine design tended towards faster movement but also greater player agency.

The Labyrinth

Two kilometers of poorly lit and unsupervised tunnels, with an optional detour you can take entirely in pitch blackness; warm, damp, and with some creepy mannequins to encounter. You can tell from that if you’ll love it or hate it. Also, surprise cinema screening sub-cave:

Anilogue Animation Film Festival

We caught four of the feature-length animations shown as part of the festival’s competition:

Dilili in Paris (2018) 1h 35m, trailer

Director Michel Ocelot’s series of African folk-tale Kirikou films saw him graduate from a traditional 2D animation style to a sort of 3D cell-shaded version that surprisingly maintained their idiosyncratic charm. Dilili transposes the action to Paris, maintains the precocious child protagonist, and adds real-world photography to the backgrounds, which some might regard as cheating and others as efficient, but most importantly is aesthetically interesting.

The story requires a certain amount of suspension-of-disbelief as it takes in just about everyone who was anyone in Belle Epoque Paris, and like the best children’s stories gets surprisingly dark at times. While I’d sooner re-watch a Kirikou, I’m nonetheless extremely interested to see what Ocelot does next.

Seder-Masochism (2018) 1h 18m, not-very-representative trailer

Nina Paley’s debut feature Sita Sings the Blues entwined a personal story of love and loss with the Ramayana as told and discussed by several Indian storytellers, accompanied by some brilliantly-chosen out-of-copyright songs by Annette Hanshaw. The nature of copyright was something Paley studied and wrote about extensively, and that’s at least partly why the film is available for free.

Her long-awaited (by us at least) follow-up Seder-Masochism takes a somewhat similar approach by juxtaposing the story of Moses with her childhood experience of the traditional Jewish Seder, as recounted by interviews with her father – again with some extremely well-chosen songs, this time from a range of more recent artists, in a direct challenge to the restrictions of copyright law as it stands.

Overall though the result seemed less successful, assuming quite a lot of knowledge by the viewer, and ending up somewhat unevenly weighted. It doesn’t help that there are ten plagues to get through, each animated with amazingly ridiculous aplomb to a range of surprising music choices.

The film tacitly addresses the fascinating topic of how an ancient history of goddess-worship was supplanted by more patriarchal religions in multiple cultures. The musical format elevates this to a visceral feeling of an ancient and epic tragedy, but begs many more questions – fortunately there’s a bibliography at the end.

Similarly, the topic of Paley’s own upbringing and relationship with her parents doesn’t dig too deep, and one senses that she is limited by the range of the (now 7-year old) recordings of her father she had available.

If you haven’t already, you should at minimum watch This Land is Mine to see the kind of effect Paley is so great at creating.

Virus Tropical (2017) 1h 37m, trailer

Instantly recognisable in style and tone as an autobiographical coming-of-age story that started life as a graphic novel, Virus Tropical finds a way to breathe animated life into the idiosyncratic caricatures of Power Paola’s original comic, retaining the charm without merely puppeteering cutouts. Being based on real life, the story is strangely meandering, but told with a judicious economy that holds the attention throughout and leaves a strangely lasting impression of life growing up in South America.

Funan (2018), 1h 24min, trailer

Denis Do’s directorial debut Funan draws from the harrowing real-life experience of his own mother, trying to survive and keep her family together through the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime. It was particularly haunting to see in Budapest, having read and seen so much about Hungary’s double occupation. Most importantly, I think a film like this paints a vivid picture of day-to-day life in such a regime that history exhibits barely begin to evoke.

Another Day of Life (2018) 1h 25min, trailer


The ultimate winner of the festival’s feature-length competition, and another film on regime change, this time covering one reporter’s experience of the outbreak of civil war in Angola (1975-2002), which quickly became (another) proxy battle in the Cold War. The film joins the dots all the way from geopolitics to ground-level reality, and also powerfully intercuts live-action interviews with some of the participants in these events. Where Waltz With Bashir cut in live action at the very end to bring the message home, Another Day of Life does well to round out some of these characters and ground the story by intercutting more regularly.

The film is rendered with a fascinating take on the cell-shaded 3D style, backed up with motion captured performances. The result is visually arresting, especially on some of the dreamlike interludes, but has one major shortcoming: in a simpler animation we easily accept that the voices are emitted by the characters you see, but in some sort of uncanny valley effect, Another Day Of Life fails to achieve this, and the combined effect is a little less than the sum of the parts.

Short Animations

Art in general and animation in particular is fascinating for the range of creative possibility, but also frequently disappointing: faced with the possibility of creating anything, the average human (or typical artist) is seemingly interested in visualising just one thing: naked people.

Having seen a lot of short animations over a fair few festivals, there are also a few standard tropes that now rarely evoke much interest:

  1. The protagonist suffers through a series of nightmarish scenes
  2. Cute creatures struggle and suffer, procreating only to pass on the suffering
  3. Sexual objectification with a male gaze

Skipping over those (although some amount of (3) is depressingly hard to avoid entirely), a few highlights stood out:

Łukasz Rusinek’s music video, Ohoho (Vimeo) was my overall favourite. From the perfectly musical gait through to judiciously timed glitching, it’s a synaesthetic joy, even if a little (3) sneaks in there:

Vojtěch Domlátil’s Waves experiments with the idea of combining time-lapse photography from rolling fields with the sounds of water, to increasingly fascinating effect:

Something of a reversal of trope (1):  SOLAR WALK by Réka Bucsi. Available in full on Vimeo; trailer on YouTube:

Directed by Lucia Bulgheroni, Inanimate gets very meta with the stop-motion ouvre, and is well worth seeking out for an epic and exquisitely planned wide shot at the climax, which the trailer only begins to hint at:

In Jon Frickey’s Neko No Hi (Cat Days), a young boy is surprisingly diagnosed with cat flu, compellingly conveyed by the doctor using an outline drawing of a cat with a molecule in it. Here’s a trailer:

Georges Schwitzgebel’s The Battle Of San Romano brings Paolo Uccello’s 15th Century painting to life in a mind-boggling loop, which you can glimpse for a tantalising moment about 19s into the Anilogue 2018 trailer:

I’ve seen semi-abstract rotoscoping used to beautiful effect a few times, most notably in Ralf Hildenbeutel’s 2-minute Disco, but never before at the scale of Zbigniew Czapla’s Strange Case, which you can glimpse from this trailer:

In conclusion

Anilogue was a lovely animation festival, although the weekday afternoon shorts screenings were surprisingly poorly attended. Perhaps this was due to the programme being published only a few days in advance, or possibly being in conflict with the simultaneously held Israeli film festival. On the plus side this did mean we got to have some interesting conversations with two of the jurors (Piotr Kardasz and Veljko Popović).

Through the history and art explicitly on show and implicitly embedded in the battle-damaged city, Budapest reads as a plea to humanity: to learn from history, and to strive for peaceful, democratic power transitions. Those lessons are just as urgent now, especially in Hungary, to the point that I would specifically recommend checking the gov.uk travel advice before planning a trip there, as the current political trajectory is looking depressingly familiar.

- Tim Mannveille tweets as @metatim and also wrote about IDFA 2016 and Tricky Women 2011.

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IDFA (Amsterdam) 2016 – My Best of the Fest

In our ongoing plan to watch interesting films and visit interesting cities, Clare and I attended IDFA,a documentary film festival in Amsterdam in November 2016. I’ve picked out my top 3 favourites below.

The War Show

The War Show (2016) on IMDb
Release dates: No major releases planned

I suspect most people following the news from Syria over the last few years have found it confusing and depressing. That’s why I highly recommend this film – it’s still depressing, but at least it’s also enlightening.

Through judiciously chosen on-the-ground footage and some light contextualising commentary, the film delivers penetrating insights into how peaceful protest escalated to civil war, and the terrible cost the civilian population has borne as a result.

This film changed how I look at politics and history, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

National Bird

National Bird (2016) on IMDb
Release dates: US 11th Nov 2016, UK no major release

As far as I can figure out, this film got released in the US and doesn’t seem to have gained anywhere near the attention it should have. It very clearly lays out the enormity of the US drone programme: how it is far more secret than is healthy, massively more likely to escalate conflict than resolve it, and on a significantly larger scale than most people assume.

The experiences of three whistleblowers are woven together, taking great care to avoid falling foul of the 1917 Espionage act with what they can reveal. I initially worried that this hamstrung the film from being as powerful as it needed to be. That changed when the film focussed on one particular incident from 2010: a drone strike that mistakenly targetted a convoy of unarmed civilian families, killing 23. The drone footage of the strike (and, crucially, the build-up to it) is accompanied by an acted reading of the transcript from the strike crew, and then intercut with interviews with actual survivors of that strike.

This by itself was incredibly powerful, but that power increased tenfold when they ask one of the whistleblowers, Heather (an ex-visual analyst herself) to comment on that incident. She drew attention to the fact that the visual analysts identified that children were present and that no weapons could be seen, but the strike crew effectively overruled both judgements. But most damningly of all, she says that this was typical of what her work as a visual analyst had been like every day: trying, and failing, to convince strike teams not to kill civilians.

Perhaps the documentary itself doesn’t make a sharp enough point of it, but putting everything together it seems clear (especially after having seen The War Show) that the drone programme is certain to escalate violence rather than to solve it.

Machines

Machines (2016) on IMDb
Release dates: Not yet shown anywhere else

The trailer above is an accurate summary of the film: mesmerising shots of a vast, semi-automated textile factory, interspersed with brief interviews.

It may not seem likely, but this remains enthralling and thought-provoking over the full 75-minute run time. By dedicating so much of the film to simple observation of the work itself, I think it makes a more compelling case for the workers than a more traditional approach might have yielded.

All the interviews touch either implicitly or explicitly on worker’s rights, and astonishingly frank comments from every level of the hierarchy paint a very vivid picture of the situation. The interviews are one-sided: we never hear the questions and no retort is offered, but again this ends up giving a more powerful effect than something more confrontational. This is especially true when we finally reach the top of the hierarchy, and after everything else we’ve seen, the big boss’s comments on worker pay (delivered off-hand while checking his email) are all the more incredible.

- Tim Mannveille tweets as metatim and previously highlighted some of the best short films from Dresden FilmFest 2016

 

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Dresden Filmfest 2016 – My Best of the Fest

In our ongoing plan to watch interesting films and visit interesting cities, Clare and I attended FilmFest Dresden in April 2016. We attended 6 of the showings covering 45 short films, and I’ve picked out my top 10 favourites below.

The trailer sets the tone suitably:

 

A note on context

While the festival is primarily about the international and national short film competitions, we’re most interested in animation, so we focussed on the (non-competition) animation strands. Since these are curated out of some of the best animation over the past decades, this has the fortunate side-effect that almost all of the films I found interesting are available to view online!

Do also note, however, that the viewing context here is almost completely opposite to the festival experience. On the internet, you can skip through a video or stop at any time; when attending a short-film selection, you are far more obliged to take in everything put in front of you. You also know very little about what is to come – in fact I can’t think of any other media experience that has a wider gap between how little you know about the work, and how strongly you are compelled to consume all of it!

(An emergent result of this is the applause behaviour of the crowd. It seems an audience for short films will usually applaud at the end of each one, but if the first film is over-long, distasteful or otherwise displeasing no applause will start, and the crowd will remain silent after each film! However, if they are then shown a particularly delightful film, applause will break out, and is then likely to continue after each subsequent film regardless of quality).

Consequently, I recommend using your internet browsing power to get a taste of the highlights below, and then set aside the time and find a good screen to watch the ones you like the look of most in the best way, back to back.

Film highlights

The more accessible:

Photograph of Jesus (2008) is a whimsical animated documentary on the subject of less reasonable requests received at the Getty photographic archive:

Jain: Come (2015) isn’t really an animation, but combines a number of nifty visual effects throughout and achieves a few particularly striking moments:

Dahlia (2008) is the most abstract of the films I’m calling ‘accessible’, being a montage of stop motion-style animation generated seemingly off-the-cuff by looking for interesting things in San Francisco. Nevertheless it achieves that thing I’m always looking for: a kind of animated beauty unlike anything I’ve seen before.

We caught Wider Horizons (2015) by at one of the festival’s award-winner roundups (in this case the Minister of Fine Arts Promotion Prize), and I’m glad we did. It’s a fascinating animated documentary on what a holiday by the sea was like in East Germany in the 80’s. Being more recent you can’t view it online yet, but here’s a trailer:

Less accessible:

Some animations displayed were significantly more abstract. This is where the festival format really shines, because if it were easy to turn away or fast forward, most people would, but when you don’t have that choice you must simply allow yourself to fall under the spell being cast. Well, that or perhaps fall asleep.

Recycled (2013) was my favourite of the whole festival. As the film usefully declares near the start, French “collector” Thomas Sauvin salvaged over half a million photos (!!) from a recycling plant; over three years, the Chinese artist Lei Lei picked out 3000 (!!!) and, presumably with some amount of computer assistance, assembled the following montage/animation. It starts out quite abstract, but soon you realise hundreds of images are being carefully strung together to produce a kind of emergent stop-motion:

Imagine yourself in a screening of short films, and the next one begins with a caption informing you that “All animals photographed were found as roadkill”. I felt a silent wave of apprehension ripple across the crowd as Yield (2013) began in this way. Fortunately the film was about the most promising thing one could make from that alarming preamble, achieving similar effects as Recycled by stringing unrelated photos together to generate animated effects. Fascinating, but still very disturbing, so I won’t embed it. (link)

Continuing the theme of achieving artistic results through ridiculous amounts of effort (as animators are fond of doing), Liquid paper (2010) generated animated figures by flicking through catalogues with pages cut in precise shapes:

An alternative demonstration of prowess is to produce a work that implicitly asks the audience to wonder: how on earth did they do that? This was demonstrated in Kaizer (2006), in which a steadily rotating camera taking in a crowd continues to pan while people move forwards and backwards with hypnotic effect:

(This reminded me of State of Flux, which appeared to show a continuous traversing shot over a water barrage while the water itself flowed impossibly backwards and forwards, although I suspect was achieved by a very different method).

Finally some more experimental works each elaborated on a simple idea with perhaps too much thoroughness, testing the patience of the casual viewer (and perhaps being more pleasurable online where you are free to take as much or little from it as you like).

Atman (1975), makes extravagant use of a sequence of possibly just 12 photos of a figure sitting in a field in some sort of Noh mask:

Spacy (1981) makes portals out of photos within photos to dizzying effect:

 

Q&A / discussion

When it comes to the Q&A section of an event, I think Kate Beaton summarised it best:

(I can’t find the original link for that but it’s referenced here)

At the animation events, a new layer of entertainment was added to the proceedings thanks to the need to support two languages. The host (Carola Queitsch I think) began to translate as necessary. Unfortunately for her, much of the questioning and discussion was conducted by the academic curators of the films, who would tend to elaborate on an idea with run-on sentences for about two minutes, after which she was expected to provide a summary in English; possibly one of the hardest translation tasks going.

To add to the fun, everyone concerned actually knew a reasonable amount of English as well as German. As a result, primed by hearing the host’s English translation, the speaker would then resume their line of thought or questioning in English – which obliged Carola to then translate into German, provoking a response in German, and so the language cycle could begin again.

Over the course of several showings the translation approach was tweaked, finally settling upon having a film-maker more fluent in English, Gusztav Hamos, translate the high-brow musings of academic curator Thomas Tode. This seemed reasonable, but it gradually became clear that the words did not correlate: Thomas offered his opinion in German, and then Gusztav would make some alternative point in English, to which Thomas might respond in German, and so on. This proved more entertaining and satisfying than any other alternative and so became the main approach.

A more surreal form of Q&A arose when Japanese animator Maki Satake was brought on stage to answer questions about her work. It proved difficult for her to understand the questions posed by the German-spoken English, even when they repeated just the nouns in the sentence with more emphasis and waved their arms for effect; the curators asking the questions also already knew the answers they were hoping to evoke, so ended up spelling out the point completely, enabling Maki to, when understanding was reached, finally answer ‘yes’. A translator from the audience volunteered to smooth things over, but, perhaps on the basis that this would have been too easy, was only called upon to help out with one question.

Finally, in one of the most entertaining Q&As I’ve seen, the children attending the special selection of child-friendly animations were invited to ask particular animators about their work. In a revealing clue to a child’s understanding of culture through the lens of gender, the animator behind a work starring an animated reindeer and a live-action young girl was first asked point blank by a boy: “Why was it a girl and not a boy?”. The animator shrugged, but this line of enquiry provoked a stir among the young crowd, who then demanded to know: “Is the deer a boy or a girl?”. (While neither implied within nor important to the film, the animator responded that the deer was a boy, perhaps because he had provided the animal’s wordless vocalisations).

This raised another important question from a child in the audience: “Does the deer like dancing?”. It should be noted that the film did not involve dancing in any way. Vaguely intimating the rules of improv, the animator got over his initial confusion at the question to answer in the affirmative.

Finally one child stumped the animator by asking “Do you know what reindeer eat?”, to which he could only hazard “Grass… and cocoa?” (the deer was depicted drinking hot chocolate). The host was about to move on when he realised that this had been a rhetorical question, and the child wished instead to impress his own knowledge of the matter upon the audience, demonstrating a precocious understanding of how adults usually interpret their part in a Q&A: “Chestnuts… carrots… and grass. And cocoa.”

- Tim Mannveille tweets as metatim and previously highlighted lovely short animations from Tricky Women 2011

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