ASIFA-East Juries Second Night of Independents

Posted by on Mar 20, 2009 in ASIFA Events | 58 Comments
Life on a Limb by House of Chai

Life on a Limb by House of Chai

Article written by David Levy.

After two days of independent animation screenings for this year’s ASIFA-East jury screenings there are lots of thoughts circling around in my head. Some are my impressions of the films themselves and some are from the insightful comments of friends after the screenings.

One filmmaker, who happened to have made a very lush spectacular of a film screened the evening before, asked: “Why do so many indies cut so many corners in their films? Why do they act as if they are making a film to a set tight budget and schedule? Indie films don’t have a deadline. Indie films should be SHOW-PIECES, not a bunch of short-cuts and animation cycles.”

Another filmmaker remarked, “The point of most of these indie films seems to be to out sophisticate each other.”

Q & A by The Rauch Brothers

Q & A by The Rauch Brothers

Of course, no one label could fit a whole night of indie films. And, its easy to imagine that each filmmaker screening a film this night might have fancied themselves to be “the outsider,” apart from the rest. As a maker of a children’s film with my partner Robert M. Charde (“Owl and Rabbit Play Checkers”), I certainly felt that way.

I had trouble relating to some films due to objectionable content…and it occurred to me that most often a scatological-themed film will have production values to match. But, the whole point of indie animation is independence. And, this includes independence from this voter’s opinion. To each his/her own.

Among the highlights of the night for me were, “Santa: The Facist Years” (a very inspired film by Bill Plympton that was his best entry this year by a mile), “The Lost Tribes of New York City” (a delightful and imaginative “Creature Comforts”-esque film by Andy and Caroline London), “Life on a Limb” (David Chai’s thoughtful mixture of heartache and comedy), “Western Spaghetti” (PES’s latest lavished-upon creation), “Q & A” (The Rauch Brothers latest film was the most important film of the evening), “I am So Proud of You” (Don Hertzfeldt’s second film of a trilogy is another masterpiece) and “That Hand Film” (Adam Ansorge’s perfect gem of a little film).

The odd moment of the night happened when we screened a “film” submitted by SVA students, which turned out to be an 11 minute render of a single image of drawn spirals on white. No sound. No anything. We stopped the film after a minute and the prank was complete. One of them was heard to say, “I just wanted to see what the reaction would be.” Shortly after, most of the students got up and walked out, baffling most of the audience in their wake. So, for the record, the response from the audience was a mixture of confusion, hostility, and frustration.

And, with that, the four night jury process was complete. We’ll see you at the festival on Sunday May 3. Save the date!

Owl and Rabbit Play Checkers by David Levy

Owl and Rabbit Play Checkers by David Levy


  1. Elliot Cowan
    March 20, 2009

    “The point of most of these indie films seems to be to out sophisticate each other.”

    Just to check, mate.
    Did you include this comment as a balance to the comment before it? (the one about cutting corners).
    Was it supposed to be satiric?

    I’m not being confrontational here, just unsure of your tone.

    I’m glad you mentioned Adam’s film here.
    It’s full of difficult animation and it’s enclosed in 60 seconds.
    It should be the kind of thing festivals lap up if he gets it out there.

  2. Tim Rauch
    March 20, 2009

    Somehow the jury screenings always feel like the main event and the actual festival is like a brief but glorious highlight reel. One big mixed bag of color, sound and audience reaction. There was something delightful about squirming through the less tolerable films without the option of calling time.

    Your film was a delightful bit of storytelling and it’s no wonder you excel as a director of children’s entertainment in particular. Bill’s new film was one of his best in years, the London’s film deservedly drew a solid wall of laughter, and the new David Chai film was by far his best yet. Mike and I were quite pleased with the audience reaction to Q&A and hope we get a chance to be in the festival and show a print with the colors a little more in tune with our original intent. ( )

    Thanks to everyone who makes the jury screenings possible and all who participate, as I’ve said a thousand times before, this kind of community is why I live in New York City!

  3. David Levy
    March 20, 2009

    By out-sophisticate, it was meant about subject/content. I should have been clearer.

  4. Kat
    March 20, 2009

    Dave, I don’t think “NBTween Days” was a still image. Try watching it again more closely.

  5. David Levy
    March 20, 2009

    Hi Kat,

    I asked the filmmakers if the rest of the NBtween Days was the same and they said it was… so, with that we pulled the film.

  6. Kat
    March 20, 2009

    I understand, but if it was moving, wouldn’t the film technically be “the same” all the way through? If you have the time and even the slightest interest, I really do urge you to take another look.

  7. David Levy
    March 20, 2009

    Hi Kat,

    On your urging, I watched the film, (by fast forwarding through it) and I see that the spiral moves ever-so-slowly in the film…

    A film like this could work as an installation piece in a gallery… as a festival entry its a prank, but it could be “art” in a gallery.

  8. Kat
    March 20, 2009

    Hi Dave,

    I completely agree that “NBTween Days” is something more traditionally suited to a gallery space. At the same time, I feel calling the film “a prank” because it seemed out of place is too strong a criticism. By saying this particular piece has no place in an auditorium, you’re essentially saying there are limits as to how far an “experimental” film can go. I honestly wasn’t especially moved by Harrison and Shraga’s entry, but the piece was done in ernest, and should be treated with a little more respect. I think the one mistake they made last night was leaving the theater prematurely, but given the rude handling of their work, I can’t blame them.

    Regardless of whether or not they hit their mark, I think it’s important that filmmakers always try to make films that push established ideas in both style and content, without fear of how they will be received. Furthermore, I think film festival screenings need more films that try to be different. There were a good deal of entries last night and nights prior that were stale, poorly thought out, and downright boring. I understand no idea is a “new idea”, but certainly as artists and individuals we can try harder to do something more than merely parody work that has been done in the past.

  9. George Tsouris
    March 20, 2009

    I certainly agree with your two main observations. I submitted my first film (not having attended an animation program, this was my ‘student film’), and although I wasn’t trying to out-sophisticate anyone, I can admit that I was guilty of cutting corners (I usually only learn the hard way). All I could think of was that my next film will be a lot better, and such corners will not be cut (pre-production is already under way).

    I also agree that some films were quite offensive (I hope my own use of adult language does not qualify my film as having objectionable content). But I don’t think that ‘NBtween Days’ qualifies either, especially in light of it not being a still image (as I originally thought). I disagree that such a film only belongs in a gallery, and that entering it here was a prank. In that case, why isn’t ‘Line Dance’ also a prank? Why would you want to limit the scope of your film festival to not include artistic pieces? That said, such a film should still be subject to the democratic process of your jury method.

    Just to put in my two cents, I especially appreciated the Rauch Brother’s film and Don Hertzfeldt’s film and their use of serious adult stories. Eliot Cowan’s film was appreciated in the same vein (and curiously reminded me of the Rauch’s film from last year, which is among my favorite animations ever).

  10. Adam Ansorge
    March 20, 2009

    I give the filmmakers of NBTween credit for taking the risk of doing something different or at the very least giving an entire audience an emotional reaction to it.

    What I don’t think they did was show the film at the right time to the right audience. Had this been any other year, I have to guess that a film of this nature would be “timed” in no time.

    That doesn’t mean the film didn’t get me interested, and in a way I could see myself getting a laugh at “how long can we make them watch this”.
    It was a risk.
    I’m glad they took a risk.
    Risks are what make for the best animation that I know…..i guess I just wish there was more animation in this one:)

  11. David Levy
    March 20, 2009

    Hi Kat,

    I respectfully invite the filmmakers, to comment on this blog and explain their film and intentions.

    All filmmakers (student or otherwise) should be expected to defend their work and choices… I think it would be a good idea for you and I to stop trying to guess at their intentions at this point.

  12. David Levy
    March 20, 2009

    Hi Kat,

    And, in response to you:
    “Furthermore, I think film festival screenings need more films that try to be different. There were a good deal of entries last night and nights prior that were stale, poorly thought out, and downright boring. I understand no idea is a “new idea”, but certainly as artists and individuals we can try harder to do something more than merely parody work that has been done in the past.”

    Why not wait to see what gets into our festival before you rule us out. Even films that have been prematurely stopped in the past have won awards at our festival.

  13. David Levy
    March 20, 2009

    Kat, one more thing… you are obviously someone who has strong feelings about festivals, films, and the process… why not join us in planning and running these jury screenings next year? We are a volunteer group. If you want to make a difference and promote your point of view, step up. We’ll be here…

  14. Kat
    March 20, 2009

    Hey Dave,

    Please don’t misunderstand me – I appreciate all the filmmakers who submitted their work (whether they appealed to my personal taste or not), and Asifa East for giving the films a place to be shown to our peers and the general public.

    My major objection was basically I felt “NBTween Days” was shortchanged last night. It may never have had a good chance to get into the festival, but now it has virtually none because no one was able to view it in its entirety. The real problem seems to lie in miscommunication, however, so I think it is fair to drop the argument until Harrison and Shraga contribute to the discussion. Ultimately, it’s unfortunate that “NBTween Days” was cut short, but neither party is culpable.

    I appreciate the invitation! If the president of Asifa East personally asks me to join the cause, it’s definitely something I will have to consider in the future.

  15. DarthFurby
    March 20, 2009

    Hi David, here are my thoughts from last night:
    “Life on a Limb” was clearly the crowd favorite, as we all kept erupting in hysterical laughter. This is the one to beat, no contest.

    “The Lost Tribes of New York City” also got a very good response for it’s humor and creativity. Extremely original.

    “Santa: The Facist Years”, another short with a highly developed sense of humor, marks the first time I’ve enjoyed Plympton’s work.

    Many films were trying to be comedians, and most of them succeeded. Humor was everywhere, even in the more serious pieces. In my opinion, yesterday’s jury screening was better than last year’s entire ASIFA-EAST film festival, but maybe that’s because I’m partial to comedy.

    Therefore, I felt the biggest disappointment by far was Don Hertzfeldt’s “I’m So Proud Of You.” A genius of comedy gave us a serious(and boring) art house flick instead. I had very high expectations for this one.

    As for “NBTween Days” I applaud your decision to call time, but felt it could’ve been handled with more respect and tact for the people involved. In other words, you were somewhat rude. Imagine how you’d feel if someone handled your film that way? On the other hand, did I want to sit through what was essentially a still image for 10 minutes? HELL NO.

    But sitting through the Jury Screening for 3 and a half hours was time well spent. I LOVED IT. I only wish there had been a formal post reception to meet the film makers as well as other ASIFA members, but I’m really glad we had a chance to talk last night. As for your short, I was pleasantly surprised by Owl and Rabbit Play Checkers. Not what I expected from the director of Assy McGee.

  16. P. Skyler & M. Shraga
    March 20, 2009

    There seems to be a huge misunderstanding here.


    We would like to explain our utmost respect for ASIFA-East. These screenings give an opportunity to people who take the time to make independent, personal work. I have a great deal of compassion for these filmmakers , and it is a privilege that ASIFA-East gives animators a place to share their thoughts about animation, their heroes, and their beliefs to an audience of like-minded people. We’ve attended ASIFA screenings for several years, and it has always been a positive experience for us as students. It was never our intention to disrespect the ASIFA community, or to damage our relationship with any of our peers or our teachers.

    The film entitled NBTWEEN DAYS was not a joke, a prank, or a performance piece. The design that you saw before it was removed was a moving image. In fact the image is continuously in motion the moment it appears on the screen. Over a period of ten minutes, the image morphs and inches across the screen at a slow, steady pace. Sound is gradually introduced within the first few minutes. It was intended to be an experimental piece that – not unlike trance music – uses minimalism to create a psychedelic experience for its audience. The piece was not made to anger people, or to make a mockery of the ASIFA screenings. It was an attempt to pay homage to the structuralist filmmakers Tony Conrad and Michael Snow. These artists are heroes of ours and we admire them in the same way that we admire filmmakers like Bill Plympton and Norman McLaren.

    Thursday night was a fiasco. Between the announcements about time-calling, the phone call with the projectionist, and our immediate reaction – It couldn’t have been more dramatic. The unfortunate response to our film caught us by surprise, and we left because we were upset and embarrassed by the entire situation. The people who walked out of the screenings after us were loved ones who came to the screenings to see our film and support us.

    Currently we are unsure as to why our work was so misunderstood. Perhaps it was the context in which the film was presented, and it is entirely possible that the ASIFA screenings were not an appropriate venue for our film; however, we believe the reaction to our film was prejudicial. NBTWEEN DAYS is an experimental film, and like any experiment it is not complete until it is witnessed in its entirety. Therefore, we think it’s fair to ask that people withhold judgment of our film until they actually experience it. We embrace criticism.

    Last night people were upset by our film, and we are genuinely apologetic for the misunderstanding. However, we are not ashamed of our film, and we continue to stand by it. If you would like to give our film a second chance, we’ve uploaded it onto the internet to help clear up any misconceptions.

    If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us. Thank you.

    Mikhail Shraga

    Peyton Skyler Harrison

  17. dayna gonzalez
    March 20, 2009

    As one of the attendees last night, I have to admit that the first thought that came across my mind was that the film was a bad copy of dvd and wasn’t playing. The second thought was that it was trying to hypnotize us. As it continued to appear motionless, I grew even more confused. When it was asked if the whole film was like that, and the answer was yes, I (mis)understood that to mean it was a still image, and then as time was called and a whole group walked out without a word, I was confused, then frustrated, and then annoyed because I thought it was an immature joke. I can’t speak for everyone there, but I know others felt the same. I understand and respect that you were trying to do an experimental piece but for me (and I stress that this is just my opinion and my specific likes and dislikes) I was there to judge animation, and I wasn’t seeing animation there. Yes, it’s my concept of what animation is, but there were other films I judged last night that didn’t move as much either, and I judged them appropriately. I often feel the same way about certain abstract art (not all) but art is entirely subjective. Viewing your film the whole way through hasn’t changed my feelings on it, and the sound can be grating. Perhaps people reacted the way they did because they are used to expecting 12-24 per second movement, and this was entirely different. It throws you off. It may be the wrong reaction but it may be a subconscious one.

    Obviously, there’s been a big misunderstanding, and perhaps it does have to do with it not being the best venue to introduce your film. I don’t really have the answers, but I could definitely see your film succeed in a gallery or installation setting, and that is in no way a put down. I appreciate and thank you for taking the time to explain where you were coming from.

  18. anon
    March 20, 2009

    honestly i think the confused/frustrated reaction of the audience contributed to the film. i wish it had been shown in its entirety (or even halfway through) just to witness the tension of the room mount.

    i’m not one to look at a stroke on a piece of cardboard and shout ‘GENIUS!’, but i felt that the minute or so of tension, confusion, and awkwardness was definitely an experience that can’t at all be duplicated by a youtube viewing. i’m sure it wasn’t the filmmakers’ intent to make the audience feel like they were being played, but that’s the beauty of art! something happened in that room that elicited a strong emotional reaction, which is more than i can say for ‘anal cleanse pill’ or whatever that was.

  19. Ryan
    March 20, 2009

    Hey Levy, great evening yesterday; for the most part(Noticed one of the entries was utilizing one of my nicknames[eh guess its common] and their content in their film didn’t exactly bode well with me.
    Any who thought I’d comment on a few things that caught my attention.

    “One filmmaker, who happened to have made a very lush spectacular of a film screened the evening before, asked: “Why do so many indies cut so many corners in their films? Why do they act as if they are making a film to a set tight budget and schedule? Indie films don’t have a deadline. Indie films should be SHOW-PIECES, not a bunch of short-cuts and animation cycles.””

    -While I agree to some level, I think there is a distinctive difference to Indie-films and said “SHOW-PIECES”, while I am not so sophisticated and seasoned to actually give an argument in this case; I believe without giving yourself a set deadline to any project, the initial idea and initiative of actually undertaking the project is lost.

    In this case I support such “Artists” who do short-cuts and animation cycles to preserve the freshness of their films. Why do we see films? What do we think of after it is done? Is it to find what the creator wanted to convey in his film? or to see sugarcoated imagery and animation going hand in hand with a film that has nothing to say.

    …While I don’t dislike films with amazing visual content I don’t believe it can be compared to Indie-films, unless it actually has something to tell the audience.

    So while I have not been to the last screening to see this person’s film, it could have been amazing and still got the message across and right now I would look like an idiot flapping his mouth but eh…

    I believe some other films should also be mentioned, like Irra Vertitsky’s “The Portrait” and personally Keren Algala’s “The Collection”

    …about Don Hertzfeldt’s epic film, I believe it was pretty funny at the beginning but after being 1-2’ed with repeated combo’s of similar humor, I can relate to DarthFurby’s comment. If it was somewhat downsized from its initial 22minutes, I believe it would have been more enjoyable and not drag on after getting the point.

    ..About “NBTWEEN DAYS” I believe it was unfairly criticized and labeled as a prank. As much as I like to get into it without making it a sour topic, I agree with ‘most’ of what everyone mentioned concerning it. One thing though, when it was initially shown, I had a gut feeling of the creators intent and what was actually going to happen, I mean if you put the title hand in hand with the image on screen you might notice what is happening, but that will only happen if you give the film any respect before criticizing it.

    and like anon said, I would have loved to seen the audience’s reactions if it was shown in its entirety.

  20. George Tsouris
    March 20, 2009

    I dont think that Mr. Shraga or Mr. Harrison should apologize for anything. After the last two days of screenings, I was disappointed that I happened to sit near people who expressed offense, or disdain for several of the films shown over the last two nights; theirs would not have been alone in causing several viewers discomfort.

    That said, having sat through the jury screenings last year, I don’t think that Mr. Shraga and Mr. Harrison should have expected anything less than having time called before screeners saw the whole film. It was a pleasant surprise when on Wednesday night, I learned that we would see all films in their entirety (except for this one, of course).

    I only say that to point out that ASIFA-East screeners have a history of not viewing whole films, and thus, to reiterate, Mr. Shraga and Mr. Harrison should have anticipated their film not being viewed in its entirety, and their film not being received well. I feel that the fact that Mr. Levy always has to point out that in the past a film has won an award after not viewing it in its entirety only lends credence to the point that this is a disappointing feature of the ASIFA-East jury screening process (in the same way that, as the saying goes, the exception proves the rule).

    I was very disappointed that the powers-that-be had patience to sit through a terribly offensive, homophobic film for six minutes, or other films that had little-to-no animation, but would not give half the time (which would have been enough to discover what NBTween Days was trying to express) to a film that challenged our notions of animation.

    As I stated earlier, I had previously thought that the film was a single frame. If I had seen the film in its entirety (as I did on youtube), I would have scored it higher, and would have nominated it for the ‘experimental’ category. I am not familiar with either Tony Conrad or Michael Snow, but I am familiar with Andy Warhol’s Empire State Building films. (I did not appreciate the other films that might get the award, which seemed to me to be little more than re-hashes of the 60’s or 70’s.)

    I don’t agree with people who believe that animation should not be serious, and that serious films are boring, or that art house flicks are in some way not admirable, simply in virtue of being art house films. Perhaps Nickelodeon is all the animation that some people need.

  21. George Tsouris
    March 21, 2009

    All my previous complaining aside, I do remember that Mr. Shraga and Mr. Harrison were asked if their film was anything more. Their embarrassed reply perhaps doomed the showing of the film. I can imagine that if they had replied differently, perhaps the film might have been shown in its entirety.

  22. David Levy
    March 21, 2009

    Hi P. Skyler & M. Shraga,

    Thanks to informing us at your intentions. The misunderstanding arrived when you replied two things at the screening, both of which caused us to stop your film:

    When asked if this was the whole film, (which, at this point everyone in the audience had only seen what appeared to be a minute of a still soundless image), you replied in the affirmative. Then, you said something like, “We just wanted to see what the reaction would be.”

    With those two utterances, the film was stopped…and as you say, a misunderstanding took place. And, based on the information above, you can probably see why –from our perspective –the whole affair could be seen as a prank.

    What might have occurred differently? You could have explained the nature of your film to Linda Beck and I before the evening began. Then, at least, the two people running the event might have understood the film and your intensions.

    Furthermore, ASIFA-East is not the be-and-end all festival in the world. Enter more festivals, make more such films and try to get an exhibit in a gallery. Your success with this film beyond Thursday night will be how you can get the last word and prove us all wrong. I’ll be the first one to toast to your success. Rock on and keep making films… and I do hope you come back to ASIFA-East.

    And, everyone above who has expressed failings within the jury process over the four nights– step up. Join the ASIFA-East board. Help us with the festival. It’s a lot of work and we can use you!

    Thanks .

  23. Elliot Cowan
    March 21, 2009

    Goodness me.
    I’m away from the internet for a single night and everything’s gone bonkers!

    Mikhail and Peyton.
    You’ve heard enough from everyone else but I’m still going to add my two cents.

    1) You can make something thought provoking without it being boring.

    2) You pretty much killed any chance of having your film treated with respect by turning up with a bunch rude, immature friends who needed to be told to shut up like school kids.
    Stomping out like spoiled kids was hardly helpful either.

    3) Dave’s comment above is correct. If you’d acted like an adult and said “There is animation in our film, it’s an experimental piece”, the film would have played through to the end. I wouldn’t expect anyone to have cared for it anymore, but your smug, smart arse response ensured the end of your film.

    I’ll give you a call sometime during the week because I’d love to be convinced that your explanation above is sincere.

    4) George does make an incredibly valid point about having to sit through the homophobic Anal Pipe Cleanse. I’d have rather sat through the 10 minutes of NBtween Days (as would many audience members, I am sure).

  24. jake armstrong
    March 21, 2009

    Dave and Eliot,

    First off, the filmmakers did not make that comment about it being more about audience reaction, it was me. Despite them being my close friends, I entered the screening knowing absolutely nothing about their film, which entirely was their intention. My “rude and immature” comment was the only one that was uttered by any of Shraga and Skylar’s friends. I only felt justified because I heard equally rude and immature comments being made by asifa members during that film.

    For that comment that apparently got them canned, I sincerely apologize.

    But that doesn’t mean that the rude behavior by both of you, calling them spoiled school kids, and their film as a prank is at all justified. It’s just immature. Next time I’ll withhold my comments. I hope to see the same respect from everyone else at these events as well.

    That being said, aside from that film, I had an excellent time last night watching some really incredible films. Q&A and Life on a Limb were two of my favorites and I look forward to seeing more from them, and the other excellent filmmakers at these events in the future.

  25. Celia
    March 21, 2009

    A little late to this thread.

    The NBTween days scenario reminds me of a film that screened at ASIFA six years ago. It was called “Spiral”, made by W.P Murton (you may know now that this was Bill Plympton).

    Spiral was meant to be a comedy, but the payoff didn’t arrive until the audience sat through three minutes of abstract shapes moving around in space.

    ASIFA’s jury turned off the film before the punchline arrived. It was a bummer for the few of us who knew what the entire film was like.

    Did the audience judge the film harshly because they didn’t know it was a “Plymptoon”, or did the film fail to to connect with the audience in the needed amount of time?

    All I can say is “that’s showbiz!”. Good luck next round.

  26. David Levy
    March 21, 2009

    Hi Jake,

    If your comment made in a dark room didn’t represent the filmmaker’s intensions, why did they let you represent them? Why didn’t they rise to disagree with you and clear that up? They had the opportunity to do so.

    And, don’t forget that one of the filmmakers answered that this image we were seeing (that for all purposes appeared to be a minute long still image with no audio) represented the whole film. In short, based on the filmmaker’s answer we were led to believe the film was a still image with no sound for 10 minutes and 28 seconds.

    Here’s a blow by blow of how it went down.
    -students enter late and take a long time to sit down and rudely talk amongst themselves while Linda Beck is trying to read off the next film title. How would you feel if you were the filmmaker playing next and nobody could even hear the host announce the film?
    -When NBtween Days plays for a minute, it is showing what appears to be a still image with no audio. The crowd is confused.
    -A call is made to the projection booth to make sure the DVD is playing properly although the image appears to be still. The projectionist is confused to, but affirms that the film is in fact “playing.”
    -I ask the filmmakers if this is the whole film. One of them answers “it is.”
    -Someone else answers something like, “We just wanted to see what reaction it would get.” An odd thing for someone who is not the filmmaker or not in on the films content to have said… But, most importantly the real filmmakers sit silent and let somebody else represent them and their film. Another odd choice. What filmmaker would let another person talk for them?
    -The film is stopped.

    Consider this a learning experience.

  27. David Levy
    March 21, 2009

    And, Jake, you are more than invited to step up and help us run/organize next year’s festival… we look forward to you joining us. If you’d like to make a difference, you know how to find us.

  28. jake armstrong
    March 21, 2009

    I think you misheard me, I said, “The idea is to see the audience response.” At that time, I don’t think they thought you could have thought that I was them, especially since many other people were talking at that point. Also, they didn’t walk in late. They were there early along with everybody else who left early. I saw both asifa members and “immature children” walking in late, equally being loud. The filmmaker’s group were being respectful, there and quietly sitting when I walked in before the screening started. People were talking like they do at every Asifa screening.

    Them having an argument with you or explaining their piece shouldn’t be necessary. You turning the film off was a matter of consequence for them feeling they shouldn’t have to explain it, and that’s okay on both counts. Their leaving is also a matter of consequence, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. It’s that you are pursuing them as being wrong and pulling some kind of childish prank is what’s objectionable. Their film being turned off isn’t the issue.

    I know you have no reason to believe me, and you will continue to think they were being loud and immature the entire screening, but please stop pinning everybody there as some kind of group of wild renegade filmmakers. Your complaint is of half the audience, not the filmmakers. All of us just wanted to watch some films that night, and for that, it was a successful event.

  29. jake armstrong
    March 21, 2009

    And Dave,

    Thanks. I’m looking into the idea of joining and helping Asifa continue to sponsor great work. Despite my argument, I feel I’m overshadowing how happy I am that we have events like this and hope to see many more.

  30. Mike Liu
    March 21, 2009

    Hey Guys,

    I saw your link on facebook and decided to check out your film. I watched it in it’s entirety and based on the comments on this board I see that it’s caused quite a stir. Here’s my two cents:

    As you have said that it is an experimental film, I understand that part of your intention might have been to cause controversy and discussion. In that regard, and based on the comments on this board, I’d say you were successful.

    My main objection to the film is that from an ethical standpoint. Your film seems very apathetic. It does not reward my viewing time in any sense other than the fact that I get to see the spiral move from one side of the screen to the other. I feel like I’ve wasted ten minutes. I am really trying to find your meaning in it or else it’s just seems like it’s something any animator could have made in ten minutes. If that’s the case then I feel like you are really detracting credibility of upstart, hard working artists. I guess what I’m trying to say is, are you raising the bar for animation, or are you lowering it?

    Also, I feel like you should have a look at this and because I care about you, my advice is to be careful how you handle your controversial art and it’s effects on the masses. Perhaps taking Bica’s Art and Ethics class if you have not already.


  31. David Levy
    March 21, 2009

    Interesting thoughts, Mike.

    Jake, I hope you follow through on your thought to join and help asifa to continue to do great work. Be part of the solution.

  32. Patrick Smih
    March 21, 2009

    Well said Mike Liu. Thanks for sitting through it, a true sacrifice to us all.

    Film, unlike fine art in a gallery, has a heightened responsibility to the viewer due to the fact that we are trapped in a screening room. If you betray that trust, audiences can turn on you.

    “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”
    —Orson welles

  33. Paco4
    March 21, 2009

    Here’s a free tip: if you’re trying to confuse people into thinking something is legit, then own it 100%. Doesn’t help when one of the filmmakers jokingly refers to the film as “our masterpiece” on Facebook and that the invitation to your friends refers to it as a “wacky” film. Act like serious filmmakers if you’re trying to fool people into thinking that you are.

  34. richard o'connor
    March 22, 2009

    Were the NBetween directors students?

    Then they entered the wrong catagory.

    It sure had the makings of a student film. Sophmoric, unsophisiticated, full of a false sense of worth and originality.

    Compare to Erhlich’s film, you see the difference.

    Compare to “Empire”, you see the difference.

    As a student experiment, it holds a modicum of interest. As a professional independent film, it is profoundly terrible.

  35. Nancy Lennert
    March 22, 2009

    I was not at these screenings, but I feel compelled to make a couple of comments. First of all, the process of calling time on films always carries with it a certain level of controversy. I don’t see any easy answers as when a film fails to connect with a particular audience, mandating it to be played in its entirety is just as unpopular a choice. I will confirm that films have been stopped that have gone on to win even the top prize, but I do appreciate that it carries a negative stigma.

    Secondly, I would like to point out that calling time on entries is not limited by any stretch of the imagination to our open screenings. Our festival is (afaik) the only festival with open judging so our process is on display for everyone to see and thus critique. But complaints of unfairness and predjudice routinely get lodged against any subjective judging method. If you can elaborate on a method of choosing winners, outside of a random drawing, which is not affected by the particular likes and dislikes of a jury then I’d like to hear about it.

    I’m always sorry when a filmmaker has a negative experience with our festival. Unfortunately, in practice, it’s not as simple to avoid as just saying “no calling time”.

  36. anonym
    March 22, 2009


    What you’ve said makes absolute sense under normal circumstances..

    The difference with Thursday night is that David Levy announced that we would not be calling “time” on anything evening, and then chose to make an “exception” for NBTween Days.

    It seems to me that’s where the “complains of unfairness” are stemming from.

  37. Dayna Gonzalez
    March 22, 2009

    And in all fairness, Dave asked the flimmaker if the whole film was like that, and he answered affirmatively. Based on that answer and the unmoving image that we saw, he made a decision to call time on it. Had he answered differently or informed the organizers on his experiment, perhaps we would have reacted differently. It’s all in the circumstances.

  38. David Levy
    March 22, 2009

    Hello Anonym,

    I understand where the complaints of unfairness are coming from, but, you should also understand why the “misunderstanding” took place.

    Did the filmmakers adequately explain their work when they were given a chance to? Absolutely not.

    We, running the event, only know the information we are told.. in this case by the film, the filmmaker, and their friend who chose to speak for them.

    What’s the point of making a “statement” film and then not defending it. Why should a filmmaker think an audience should sit through a film they are not prepared to stand behind themselves?

    On the bright side, I have no doubt that the filmmakers and their friends learned about responsibility for their own art and to an audience.

    And, Anonym, I extend to you the same invitation to help us with the festival next year. We can use the help…

  39. Tim Rauch
    March 22, 2009

    “Artists” who worry about where they are in relation to “art” and viewers who look at “art” and ask “is this art?” are pain’s in the arse… in my opinion.

  40. Mike Liu
    March 22, 2009

    With no disrespect, what I meant was why would the audience want to watch it. Mikhail said he wanted to create an experience, but waiting in line at the DMV and chinese water torture are experiences too.

  41. Mike Liu
    March 22, 2009

    oops, my thing didn’t refresh with the new comments after my post.

  42. Elliot Cowan
    March 22, 2009

    Yes it did.
    You have to go to the very bottom and click “newer comments”.

  43. Kat Hulka
    March 23, 2009

    (different Kat than the previous commenter)

    Wow, so we’ve gotten to the age-old debate “what is art?” That spiral drawing has had quite an impact. On that note, kudos.

    At the screening, I’ll admit, I was glad to have the film stopped. This, however, was based on the fact that I was there to judge animation, and I was led to believe that the whole film was a silent still image.

    In hindsight, had it been made clear that there was movement and sound in the film, no matter how slight or grating, it should have played in it’s entirety. This, only being the case because the announcement had been made that we would not be calling time that evening. Any other year, when time-calling was the norm, the film would not have played for very long.

    On a positive note, I very much enjoyed a number of films many of which have already been noted here. “Santa: The Facist Years” was the first Plymptoon in a while that I loved. The concept, writing, timing and design were all well-thought out and executed. The London’s “The Lost Tribes of New York City” had me rolling with laughter. PES’s “Western Spaghetti” remains, even after repeated viewings, impressively imaginative and flawlessly executed. “Life on a Limb” hit so many different emotional notes and kept me on the edge of my seat.

    My favorite film of the evening was “Q & A” by the Rauch Brothers. The design was beautiful. The animation was wonderfully fluid. The story was heartwarming, funny and so incredibly honest. I don’t think it could have been better. Bravo!

  44. Nick Morrison
    March 23, 2009

    To all concerned:

    Let me be clear before I start. I am not an animator: I am a film maker engaged to an ASIFA member whose work was screened Wed night. Though I missed Thursday night’s screening, we WERE present on Wed.

    And, as far as I’m concerned, Thursday night’s “events” do not appear to have occurred in a vacuum. Wed night also had it’s issues.

    The screening Wed night, though fun and packed with promising shorts, was actually marred by a competitive air throughout the night, and overall did not feel like the encouraging space I expected.

    We were in the back, and the row behind us chose to jeer at the films they didn’t like. Overall, the applause seemed led only by young men who championed a certain brand of Adult Swim humor.

    I walked out disappointed – because there seemed to be a price to pay if your film was deemed bad (the jeering from the row behind), and an equally painful price to pay if your film wasn’t Adult Swim enough (a deafening silence from the crowd).

    There seemed to be little room on Wed at least for more emotional shorts, and shorts geared to a younger audience (kids).

    Going forward, I have a simple suggestion: the moderator should take responsibility for the tone in the room. He or she should lead a round of applause after each entry, establishing an encouraging air throughout the night. This would not only honor ASIFA’s mission as a incubator of animation, but also honor every artist who was brave enough to show their work.

  45. Adam Ansorge
    March 24, 2009

    I don’t want to see animation get buried because we were talking about a film that didn’t have as much animation as we would have liked.

    To each their own. Art is art. Some love it, some don’t.
    Isn’t the animation industry in enough pain?

  46. David Levy
    March 24, 2009

    Hi Nick,

    I appreciate your comments, but I think you are misunderstanding the nature of the event to some degree. Are you aware that ASIFA-East holds a very popular open screening every September? In that event, audience member arrive with their films and introduce them and they play before a very supportive audience that even asks the filmmaker questions at the conclusion of the film. I hope you and your fiance check that out sometime. I think it will meet the needs of what you’re looking for.

    The jury process is a different thing altogether. It is a competition and some of the voting members make it to all four nights of screenings. That means they are sitting through 10-12 hours of animation. We have a limited time to view the films and we just try to keep things moving so we can get through them all.

    I hope you make it to the festival on Sunday May 3. That’s where you’ll see the true reaction to the films. You should not rule out our process until you see what actually made it into the festival.

    Furthermore, you should be aware that our jury process is the only open animation festival jury experience in the world. Other festivals do this behind closed doors. They turn films off after 30 seconds as a regular thing. They are not responsible to anybody. We are open to the public, and therefore are open to taking criticism such as yours.

    I don’t suggest our process is perfect and that no mistakes get made, but I am very proud to be a volunteer among the rest of us volunteers who work very hard to keep this festival going for the last 40 years.

  47. joe
    March 24, 2009

    dave – aren’t you a teacher at sva where these kids are your students? is it appropriate for you to be so negative to the seniors in your class? as an educator, you should be a postive re-enforcement to these students and not belittle them. very unprofessional and sad.

    consider this a learning experience.


  48. Lou
    March 24, 2009

    This debate has been really amazing. Much of art is frustrating because singular visions are often personal and require more from a viewer. I was there on Wednesday night and my film cakeaters went over like a lead balloon. I am only better off for the negative reaction. Learning experiences are usually painful but necessary. The overall tone of the screenings did not seem supportive but as a gauge of the entertainment value in a given film, it was an accurate measure of the films success. Also, with so many of the filmmakers with skin in the game, they are going to be more responsive to work that reflects their interests. On Wednesday night anyway, that seemed to be gag related flash work and not dramatic or more content driven work. That being said, I loved Elliot Cowan’s piece, Horn Dog and Signe Baumane’s work.

  49. Lou
    March 24, 2009

    right on Patrick. If you can’t take criticism you can’t grow.

  50. Mike Liu
    March 24, 2009

    I agree. I remember taking David’s class a year ago and thinking that he was being a bit harsh, but in retrospect, it did help me prepare for the real world alot. With the economy as it is, it’s growing increasing difficult to branch out as an independent animator, or animator in general, and balancing the need for shelter and food.

    It takes alot of courage and sensitivity say what needs to be said. I don’t think I would have paid so much for school just to have someone pat me on the back…

  51. Elliot Cowan
    March 24, 2009

    Lou, I’m glad you’ve made yourself known on here.

    I think the drawings in your film were stellar, on par with some of the best Plympton illustrations.

    When it started I thought “Great!!!!!”, but your story telling wasn’t great and the saddest thing of all was that despite such great illustrations, there wasn’t much animation in it.

    Go make another film now…

    If you’ve got a website I sure would like to see some more of your stuff.

    (And I’m glad you liked my film).

  52. Lou
    March 24, 2009

    Wow thanks Elliot. This is my first attempt and yes I will hit the disk running this time. No messin’ around. Thank you for the compliment. As Signe Baumane pointed out to me my editing was lacking and I need to pour more animation in. Of course I had many good ideas once the whole thing was done. I will be back and enjoyed the experience. your film was wild and made it’s point well.
    I am an illustrator by the way and perhaps shaking that off and embracing the inner animator is the way to go

  53. Lou
    March 24, 2009

    Wow! Thanks Elliot. That means a lot. I will be back with much more gusto and animation. There were many missed opportunities and I learned the valuable lesson to step back and analyse more. Finishing was the goal but I neglected to finish the animation performances. Something my teachers at Van Arts would surely point out.
    My site is:
    Thanks again.

  54. Richard O'Connor
    March 24, 2009

    Much of what Nick says rings true to me.

    I’ve always found it odd that in a “judging” atmosphere people hoot and holler at the very title of a film.

    As someone who’s never worked in a big studio or gone to art school -the clubbiness of the screenings is off putting.

    In fairness, that doesn’t always translate to the award winners but it does make the screening uncomfortable.

    For Joe’s comment:

    Why was INBTween in the independent category?

    Were it in the student category our harshness towards it would be unmerited. But it wasn’t. It was masquerading as a professional piece. Any professional film put forth is such an amateurish way deserves the treatment.

    Why have categories at all if they’re ignored?

  55. David Levy
    March 24, 2009

    Hi Joe,

    I am a teacher at SVA and the filmmakers of NBtween Days are students in my current class. I think my record as a teacher of the career class at SVA and the book it inspired (Your Career in Animation) speak for itself. I value the students in the class and try my best to prepare them to not only succeed in landing their first jobs but, to also effectively build up their careers over time. I look at all the students potential future peers and collaborators and my relationship with them continues long after class is over.

    The NBtween Days filmmakers and I were able to discuss what happened on Thursday night in last night’s class. We all shook hands and owned up to our part in the affair and we all felt we learned something from it. Make no mistake about that.

    If you’ve read my book you’ll know how important I feel it is to learn from mistakes. You are preaching to the choir.