Article by Emmett Goodman.
It’s that time of year again, or those times of year again. ASIFA-East’s jury screenings for the upcoming animation festival in May. For those who are unaware of how these affairs work (and it seems we have a few newcomers), we take all submitted films and separate each night by category. There are four nights: 1) Student Films; 2) Commissioned Works; 3) Independent Films; 4) Educational/Music Videos/Experimental Films. Paid-up members of ASIFA-East get to participate in the judging, and in the end, those jury numbers are tallied up for the results. I am told this is one of the most democratic ways a film festival can work.
The Student Night this year was an odd night. Because most of the films are by unseasoned students, the animation can’t always be judged fairly compared to professional looking work. Sometimes, students are so desperate to prove themselves, their work can have a very serious and preachy quality. It is with that realization in mind, I was able to suss out what I didn’t like more easily and find a few films I particularly liked.
Something I really admire about these Student nights is that you can always sense a running theme and trend amongst the films. Each year, it is something different or slightly evolved from a previous year. From the majority, you can see what is culturally relevant to these young filmmakers. This year, one of the common themes is a concern about technology: whether it is sincere or not, some films demonstrated a growing concern over how much of our lives are controlled by technology today. In particular, relationships maintained through social networks and those we can not physically see. Another trend that’s become noticeable in independent animation are monologue films. This is a trend I credit Signe Baumane with giving new life to. The trend of the filmmaker discussing a personal experience in voice-over, and then animating it with overly exaggerated imagery. I prefer the latter of these two trends.
These themes can get pretty tiresome, and you have to mentally remind yourself that these films have to be judged individually, not as a collective. And in doing that, I found my favorite films of the evening to be those that did not follow any trends (actually one of my favorites happens to be a monologue, but I guess that’s alright).
This year’s Commissioned works worked differently from previous years. Instead of separating the nights by “under 2 minutes” and “over 2 minutes”, both were combined into one night. To me, this works better, because the “under 2 minutes” nights always had the least amount of people showing up (most of these works are commercials, which we generally avoid anyway). Don’t get me wrong: there are some decent pieces in this selection. The most unusual ones in general can’t be ignored.
The “over 2 minutes” category has been one of my favorite screenings in the past. This year, I’m a little indifferent to it. These are longer works commissioned by studios, and as such, are more slickly produced and audience friendly. Sometimes slick is very attractive (kind of like most pop music), but it doesn’t always say enough about the work. This year, some of the films were very bland, although I was able to name a couple that I really liked.
At the end of this screening, we all went out for food and drink as we usually do, and I couldn’t help but feel like I had only just been reminded of what keeps the animation business afloat. And how as an animator, it can be difficult to enjoy these works as an audience member.
For an evening with so many disparate styles, this year’s Independent screening was one of the best I can recall in the last few years. A wonderfully colorful array of works from both seasoned veterans and relative newcomers. It is a rare thing when these films play together and work so well. But when they do, it makes a pretty amazing show, jury screening or not.
Now something else to mention: aside from numerical judging, there are also craft citations. In this case, they are Animation, Design, Humor and Soundtrack. In this screening, the Humor craft seems to be the most competitive. Any film festival should always have some funny work, and my favorite films from this evening were generally the funniest films. But that can be complicated to judge, because just as tastes are different, senses of humor can be pretty disparate as well. What I find funny someone else may not understand. Still, the democratic process should be meant to find some commonality in all our tastes.
Some filmmakers used the screening as a debut center for their new films. Whether or not this is intentional, it is something filmmakers have to be cautious of. Some of us are watching these films as judges, not as casual audience members.
A new arrangement of the Jury Screenings this year. These works were often dispersed into Commissioned or Independent, or just cited for craft awards. But this year, these specialties have been separated, allowing for easier judging.
Educational films are pretty easy to judge, although they are not my favorite category. Since they also count as children’s films, they can be pretty sparse in their content. Again this is a matter of tastes, and you have to judge them as you see fit. Still, there were a couple of nice pieces in there.
Music Videos is a great favorite of mine, but also another to be cautious of. You may have an animated video with a great song, but not much in the visuals. You can’t let a good song cover a bad piece of work. But as usual, there were a couple of great videos in there. And I am once again reminded of the different frontiers that music and animation can reach together.
Finally, the Experimental Films. These films can either be very tedious or stimulating in some way. When it is the latter, you can’t ignore it. I think we had a great selection this year, again with work from both industry veterans and newcomers. The best experimental films for me are ones that can have a life beyond just showing in a museum exhibit, and can be viewed alone for personal pleasure. And we certainly have plenty of those this year.
At the end of the first three screenings, the majority of ASIFA members and associates gather at the local Rodeo Bar. And as the evening moves along, some of us try to pick apart each film we have just seen, and we realize what seem to be the most popular picks of the evening. We did not do this on the last night, due to everyone feeling burnt out by all this judging (I wonder how Academy members keep doing this). Anyway, the judging is done, and we can all go back to watching films for enjoyment…at least until the next judging.
I think this year we have some great selections to choose from. I look forward to what gets chosen for the festival in May.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here reflect those of the author and are not reflective of the ASIFA-East community, all of whom will have their own opinion on the films they viewed and judged.