Anthony Kirby reports from the fourth Montreal International Animation FestivalAnimaze, which ran from 17 – 20 August in Montreal, Canada.    

“There’s a buzz about this festival,” said festival director Laurie Gordon when opening the festival on Thursday, 17th August, “each year we attract larger audiences, especially among youth”.

The well attended festival featured seminars on international co-production, techniques used in presenting proposed projects, narrative forms from cinema to mapping, and Virtual Reality Techniques regarding entertainment, education and medicine.

At the closing ceremony, Laurie Gordon announced a new award for a film promoting peace. “We want to honour the film Dr Junod and its message of tolerance and peace. Our screening is the North American premiere of this remarkable film.” Dr Junod showcases the life of Dr Marcel Junod (1904-1961), a groundbreaking and courageous humanitarian.

Combating tears, producer/screenwriter Shinichiro Kimura gave details of her journey to bring this project to the screen. “I’m a doctor with a PhD in pharmaceutical medicine. I worked with the Red Cross following the Iran/Iraq war. Following the end of hostilities, I invited a delegation of ten to Hiroshima. There they experience a great feeling of peace and are now active peacemakers. I’d heard of Dr. Marcel Junod from my father in law. Then I discovered his diary in the Headquarters of the Red Cross in Geneva.  I completed the screenplay in 2010. The film is financed by the Japanese Red Cross.” The target audience of this film is children of five to sixteen years of age. A group of twelve-year-old students visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and see a plaque to Dr. Junod giving brief details of his work following the nuclear explosion on 6th August 1945. They’re fascinated; then using a tinker-bell Disney technique, they’re transported back to France in 1935. Raised with strong ethical values, Dr. Marcel Junod first encountered the ravages of modern warfare in the Italian-Ethiopian Conflict in 1935. Later he was involved in the aftermath of the war in Europe. Then in summer 1945 he was appointed the Red Cross Commissioner to Japan, He made a presentation to General McArthur. Following this, the U.S released 245 tons of anti-burn and other medicines to Japan. “My message is one of special hope. This award means I can make more films of this type. Now after seventy-two years, Hiroshima is again a beautiful city. We share Dr. Junod’s message of love”.

Following Dr. Kimura’s passionate speech Laurie Gordon announced the rest of the prize winners:

Best International Short Film 

Ex aequo award to Meeting MacGuffin by Catya Plate (US) and Drifting Away by Cyprien Clement Delmas (Spain)

Best Canadian Short Film 

Cigare by Tom Tassel (Canada)

Best Short Film: Student Film Contest 

Nana by Alexandra Kellner (Canada)

With a special mention to In a Heartbeat by Beth Davis and Esteban Bravo (US)

Best Feature Film 

Abina and the important men by Soumyaa Behrens (US)

Best Experimental Film 

Nutag – Homeland by Alisi Telengut (Canada)

Animation for Peace Award  

Junod by Shizuko Tsuya (Japan)

Best VR project 

Fortress Europe by Neil Bell & Simon Hultgren

Simon Hultgren, Neil Bell, Martin Petrov, Alice Chen, Tsuya Shizuko, Laurie Gordon, Rei, Soumyaa Behrens, Catypa Plate

Drifting Away is the poignant story of a pre-teen son and his father. They have a damaged yacht that they begin to restore. Then, because of a bad diagnosis, the father loses interest in the project. Following a row with the boy’s mother the father further angers his son. The son uses his anger positively and, overtime, restores the yacht. As a family they drive to a sheltered beach where father and son sit together and look at the yacht. The son wants them both to sail together. However, God, or whatever greater power there is, hasn’t ordered things this way. The final scene shows just one set of footsteps in the sand. Then a shadowy hand raises the sail and the yacht departs. This coming-of-age film has beautiful animation and well deserves its accolade.

Meeting McGuffin is part of a trilogy which began with Hanging by a Thread. Made with great humour, the film is set in a post-nuclear  age. People live deep underground and lack vital organs – these are supplied by their leader. They then begin to have quality of life and journey to a promised area… which sounds a lot like Las Vegas. Ms. Plate is presently working on the third part of her trilogy.

Cigare is a visual tone poem. A drop of water meets a drop of oil and they start dancing. They shape into morphing characters and build a dance sequence alternately elegant and grotesque.

Abina and the Important Men is based on a graphic novel by Trevor R. Getz.  The novel dramatized court transcripts from the 1870s.  Abina, a married woman, moves from her tribal home to the British Colony. Of East Africa. There she is virtually sold into servitude. She knows that under British Law this is unjust. Through the friendship of a court translator she takes her case to court. Britain had abolished slavery in the late 1830s. As colonialists they’re in something of a bind. Yet they want to establish British Justice. Yet must respect local customs. Mr. Getz adopted his novel to the screen. The animation by Daewon Kim beautifully captures the colonial era. Producer/director Soumyaa Behrens, who teaches documentary film at San Francisco State University, involved her students in the project and used university editing facilities. The overall cost of the film was $30,000 U.S. This feminist film about human rights resonates with the 21st century values. Ms. Behrens well deserves her award. Hopefully the film will be widely seen.

Nana tells the true story of the deportation of 1200 Jewish Hungarian Women in the last year and a half of WW2. “We lived in a house known as yellow star house,” says the narrator. “We went first to Austria then to Germany. We were abandoned. We were over 1200. Only 300 returned. The Russians freed us. I was reunited with my mother and my brother. ” Produced by the National Film Board. This film tells a story very succinctly. Ms. Kellner has a bright future ahead of her.

Nutag – Homeland is a moving visual poem and requiem for the Kalmyk people, who were deported from the USSR from 1943 to 57 and half of them died before they were allowed to return home. The film consists of surrealist frame by frame of hand-painted imagery. The director, Ms. Telengut, is presently living in Montreal. Her films have won prizes at 24th Stockholm World Film Festival and at the 36th and 38th Montreal World Film Festivals.

Migrant’s Journey uses Virtual Reality techniques to enhance the documentary form. Filmmaker Neil Bell says, “Virtual Reality is a departure from normal storytelling. When wearing the V.R. mask the viewer is at the very center of what he’s viewing. The experience is often intense. As filmmakers and as human beings we were moved by the plight of new immigrants. We wanted to follow a migrant from Mali in East Africa to safe harbour in Europe. We travelled to Mali. We developed an interactive narrative and stop motion techniques. Our V.R. cameras follow migrants travelling from Turkey through Greece and then in a closed lorry without toilet facilities from Serbia through to Austria and eventually Germany. The lorry is stopped for many hours at the Hungarian border. The viewer experiences the claustrophobia and fear of these displaced people fleeing hunger and often civil war in their native countries. As filmmakers we felt a little guilty about making profit from the plight of these migrants. We also developed a board game and all the profits from this go to Medicines sans Frontiers.” Virtual Reality is still being developed. The undersigned followed the section of the documentary from Serbia through the Hungarian Border. The V.R experience was all encompassing and superior to viewing events on screen.

Migrant’s Journey deserves its honour. Hopefully it will reach a wide viewership.

The final event of the festival was a re-screening of first-time animator Ruth Coggins’ poignant tribute to her great-grandfather, a soldier of the Great War. “I discovered this film while trolling the net in February. Ruth was putting the final touches to it. I asked her to submit the completed work,” said festival director Laurie Gordon.

Coggins’ film, A War to end all Wars, has already gone viral on the internet. “I made all the clay models and sets and shot every scene,” said Ms. Coggins in a BBC interview. “The overall cost of the film was 500 pounds.”  The film follows the story of Tommy Atkins over the months of his service in the trenches and under fire. Ms. Coggins uses music and a poignant poem by a Yorkshire poet to great effect. The film will be released commercially in the coming months.

Anthony Kirby.  August 24, 2017    






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