Happy Birthday, ASIFA!

Posted by on May 5, 2009 in ASIFA Events | 4 Comments


Impressions on our screening by Rich Gorey.

Forty years of creativity, imagination and animation. It’s quite an accomplishment, and on May 3rd, ASIFA East threw itself quite a party, to celebrate the fortieth running of its’ annual festival.

Over five hundred fans, filmmakers, and industry professional – a record number of guests for an ASIFA function, attended Sunday’s event. The screening was held in the Tishman Auditorium at Parsons/The New School. Our thanks to Anezka Sebek, whose cooperation and appreciation for animation have made us feel welcome in this impressive venue.

Anezka opened the festival with a warm speech in which she expressed her affection for ASIFA, her passion for animation and her respect for those who labor to create it. At one point, Anezka called animators “magicians” – and she must have been precognitive, because later on we made eight tons of donated food and fifty bottles of wine disappear within ten minutes.

ASIFA East president David Levy served as facilitator and shared a laugh with guest host Linda Simensky, who suggested the most important skill set of an ASIFA president (a post she has held as well) was the ability to overcome the reaction to a bad joke. Some people might claim the state of modern animation is a bad joke: studios are closing and despite advances in technology which make films easier to create, it’s still hard to turn animation into a viable living. One producer at the event lamented that although their winning film was created for an airline, that organization wouldn’t spring for a free ticket, to allow the filmmaker to accept her award in person. Others thanked their interns, without whose unpaid contributions their films could not have been finished. So yes, a free meal may have been an incentive many struggling artists found impossible to ignore.

All kidding aside, this year’s festival was notable for several reasons: ASIFA East is not only celebrating its’ fortieth annual festival screening, we are in our ninth year of partnership with Parsons/The New School, a relationship that has been mutually beneficial, since, as Anezka says, “I’ve often raided the ranks of ASIFA for teachers.”

It’s wonderful to share an evening of quality work with like-minded artists and technicians. Sunday night’s event offered an opportunity to spend time with participants from every strata of the industry, from students to established leaders in the field. But central to the evening’s agenda were the winning films, and this year’s entries were particularly sharp. Several of the artists I spoke with commented on how many of the screened cartoons were psychologically complex and thought-provoking, not merely well-drawn.

In the student film category, Paris Maroidis’ “Divers” displayed an impressive sophistication in rendering, design, and technical skill. Katherine Morris’ “The Story of One-eyed Ophelia Jackson” got laughs in all the right places, and was an example of clever storytelling supported by an edgy visual style.

I was engaged to create the introductory sequences for the festival, and I experienced a moment of surreal discomfort when my spoof of a smoking commercial (“Bob the Turtle, from the Happy Zoo”) ran right before a sponsored film for St. Joseph’s Hospital for Cancer Care. Did the juxtaposition enhance the impact of each film, or did their contradictory messages cause tension? Hmmmm…. Such moments of serendipity (or of conflict) are not possible on venues like Youtube, and are a primary reason such festival screenings should thrive and continue, even in the internet age.

The mixture of narrative and non-narrative films played well, and the audience seemed genuinely supportive of films whose visual aspects were often quite elegant and opulent, even when those visuals weren’t always executed in support of a laugh or simple story. David Ehrlich’s lyrical, non-narrative “Line Dance” offered a calming, meditative moment of respite between films like Elliot Cowan’s intense, starkly designed “Boxhead and Roundhead” anti-war film, and Bill Plympton’s very funny “Santa, the Fascist Years,” which perhaps intentionally recalled Leni Riefenstahl’s troubling propaganda masterpieces of the thirties.

This year’s screening was unusually brief, with less than ninety minutes of films. This kept the energy in the room from lagging, and the program played briskly, with something for nearly every taste and sensibility–from the childlike (and unexpectedly hilarious) “My Sister’s Butt,” created by PilarToons to the sensual elegance of Acme Filmworks’ “Butterfly” piece.

This year’s “Best in Show” was a deserving entry by the Rauch Brothers called “Q & A,” in which a child with Asperger’s Syndrome converses with his sometimes baffled, sometimes bemused, but always unconditionally loving Mom. This reminded me of the kind of films Michael Sporn became known for, and it was refreshing to see animation designed and executed in a subtle, whimsical style that wisely took a back seat to the more powerful writing and voice performances.

As Linda Simensky said, ASIFA’s festival is one of the only annual Animation Events in the United States. It’s not always easy to coordinate such high-profile extravaganzas, and in these tough times, ASIFA, like similar organizations of volunteers, has had to make some sacrifices (our newsletter is now an online publication most of the time) and has had to find ways to survive and thrive in the face of unexpected sociological and financial challenges. That’s why it’s so invigorating to see hundreds of people come together (in the rain, and under the threat of Swine Flu, no less) to support their fellow artists and to celebrate the love of this vital art form. During the evening, I had the chance to speak with several attendees, winners and fans, all of whom expressed their delight at the huge turnout and the quality of the animation on display during the screening. In fact, the crowd was so sizable it threatened to overflow the banquet room at The New School: my three tours of the packed room took over an hour to complete, during which time I encountered several old friends and made several new ones. After the cocktail hour at the New School, several dozen animators took the party to a local watering hole, and celebrated to the wee hours.

Attached are some of the photographs Tom Mehrtens took during the screening and the party afterwards: enjoy these memories from a very memorable night! We invite anyone who attended to comment on the event and to offer insights, opinions and stories about the evening. I congratulate ASIFA on forty magnificent annual screenings, and wish it endless success in the coming years.

Editor’s note: A collection of many more pictures from the 2009 ASIFA East Animation Festival can be found here:

And we’ve also started a Flickr group for current ASIFA-East members:  http://www.flickr.com/groups/asifaeast/


  1. Adam Ansorge
    May 5, 2009

    I’m not going to cover any terribly new ground in this post because Richard Gorey did the hard part. Thanks Richard!

    I would like to add one thing that wasn’t added, and this goes especially to animators out there who make films on their own…

    The films we all saw this night were made by hard working people who I know put their heart and soul into everything that they did. Festivals like ASIFA remind me why I love animation and I hope more animation like what I saw Sunday gets out into the world if it isn’t out there already. Well done ASIFA! See ya next year!!

  2. Nancy Keegan Lennert
    May 5, 2009

    I’d like to clarify that our partnership with the New School actually goes back to around 1997, when we officially outgrew the Donnell Center, but there was one year when we held the festival at a different location–the “9 years” refers to our current streak, not our overall history with them. They have been a wonderful partner and very helpful in helping us put forth such a great event year after year.

    Many thanks also to all of the volunteers who helped us, from the sorting through the cleanup! An event like this takes a lot of hard work, and we greatly appreciate the enthusiasm (and assistance) that our volunteers bring to the process.

    And finally, a huge round of thanks to everyone who takes part in the festival, whether as a participant or as an attendee. You helped make the 40th ASIFA-East Festival one for the record books! Here’s to the next 40 (and beyond)!

  3. Rich Gorey
    May 5, 2009

    Thanks, Nancy. Dave corrected my first draft, but it’s a relief to have informed voices keeping us all honest. Congratulations again to all the winners, and my thanks to everyone who contributed to the article. I had a great time Sunday night!

  4. Dayna Gonzalez
    May 6, 2009

    Thanks for writing such a great peice, Richard! I had a wonderful time last night and want to congratulate all this year’s winners! I also blogged on our ASIFA Festival over at Pavaline Studios: http://blogs.pavaline.com/dgonzalez/post.cfm/asifa-east-animation-festival-celebrates-its-40th-birthday