Presidential Perspective: The ASIFA-East 41st Animation Festival!

Posted by on May 11, 2010 in ASIFA Events | No Comments

ASIFA-East Animation Festival 2010 Signal Film by Elliot Cowan

Article written by David Levy, ASIFA-East President.

On Sunday May 9th, ASIFA-East presented is 41st annual Animation Festival, sharing the spotlight with mothers everywhere, it being Mother’s Day and all. Speaking of which, we had originally booked the venue for the Sunday before but we ended up getting bumped a week. I suppose we should have next year’s festival on Father’s Day, lest we risk being accused of favoring the fairer sex.

For 41 years this festival has well represented the local community in all its scruffy “jeans and t-shirt” goodness. New York City has its share of glamor, with Broadway shows and world premiere red carpet movie events, but its animation scene is dominated by the indie spirit.

This year the student films were among the best stuff in the fest. The show started off with a pair of honorable mentions for Arjun Rihan’s Topi and George Thorman’s Sam the Super Sticky, and it would be hard to imagine two stranger bedfellows. Topi was a striking 3D film concerning the disastrous situation when Indie and Pakistan were partitioned in 1947, resulting in 1,000,000 million deaths as Hindus and Muslims collided on the way towards their new homes and nation states. Topi uses that charged atmosphere to tell the story of a Hindi boy who nearly becomes a victim of the violence but is saved by a old Muslim man he befriended. It’s a very serious and moving film, lovingly staged and executed. I met Arjun Rihan while in competition at the Hiroshima International Animation Festival in 2008. He was pointed out to me as “a talent to keep an eye on,” and boy did that turn out to be true.

Sam the Super Sticky was far lighter fair, depicting a battle (animated on post-it-notes) between a robot and a dinosaur. Some animated films (be they student or otherwise) seem to be about the joy of making a film, and George Thorman’s whimsical cartoon fits that bill to a tee. Further adding to the effect was his acapella soundtrack with all grunts and sound effects preformed by hand, or should I say, by throat?

Coming in at 3rd place was Together!, a Pratt University film by the affable and talented David Sheahan, which was a love letter to full and quirky animation, and (to my mind) a tribute to the lovely animation of The Greedy, a gloppy gooey character in 1977’s Raggedy Ann & Andy, animated by Emery Hawkins. It’s a delight to see hand drawn animation as good as Sheahan’s that’s not in the service of the cliched Hollywood factory subjects and styles. I’ve seen Together! four times now, and I’m still seeing new things to enjoy in it.

Jake Armstrong not only came in 2nd place with his masterful sci-fi pulp valentine The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9, an SVA thesis film that has nothing “student” about it.

Peter Ahern scored the 1st place student film with his Pratt thesis, Down to the Bone, a film just in time for allergy season. Not does this film score laughs, it simultaneously grosses one out. In fact, one of it’s scene’s (a cat licking the bloody “inside-out” shin of the main character) got one of the biggest reactions I’ve ever seen at the ASIFA-East film festival.

The student category simply had it all, showing even the most cynical among us that the future of indie film is secure.

Other highlights of the festival reel (for me) included:
– The energetic animation by Dan Forgione for the Dancing Diablo sesame spot, Spike and Bubble.
– The retro 60s and 70s fun of David Cowles and Andy Kennedy’s They Might Be Giants film, Science is Real.
– Tiny Inventions (Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata’s), They Might Be Giants film, Electric Car, which was an explosion of cute with love in every stitch. Max and Ru are filmmakers that don’t hold back, even when dealing with a low budget project such as this. The result is a real gem of a film that can’t help but make you smile. For an equally lovely, but more decidedly dark, check out their 1st place indie film, Something Left, Something Taken. It’s a hoot.
– Karen Villarreal’s animation/direction of Mo Willem’s Weston Woods film, Knuffle Bunny Too might be his most realized animated storybook yet. All the nuances of Mo’s work are perfectly captured by Karen’s wonderfully rich and delicately subtle animation. This is a real charmer.
– Elliot Cowan’s new Boxhead & Roundhead film, The Thing in the Distance was another finely crafted outing for his character serial. But, better still was his announcement, at the festival, that he’s secured a first stage of funding for a feature film starring his two characters. In fact, Elliot was our festival V.I.P., having also made the classy opening film as well as the award certificates themselves. What a guy!
– ASIFA-East stalwart, Oscar-nominated John R. Dilworth, scored nice success with his half flash-half stop motion and all-raunchy short Rinky Dink. The film itself is partial retelling of the type of relationship study he’d done in his earlier The Dirdy Birdy, but using his own voice as narration along with some very snappy and crisp flash animation was new territory for the director.
– Tom Gasek provided the one stop motion film in the festival with his excellence in animation-award winning Off-Line, a look inside a typical microwave oven. As the circuits break down (a fork was left in the microwave!), the machine’s parts and guts begin to resemble the aftermath of a battlefield. Lots of great filmmaking here, from a veteran stop-motion director.
Backwards scored the coveted Best-in-Show prize, going to the newish indies Aaron Hughes & Lisa LaBracio, for their delightful back-to-front production. Although NYC has no shortage of established indie superstars, it’s extra special when an indie debut film lands the top prize of the night.

The free event concluded with wine, beer, soda, (but not necessarily in that order), and salads, sandwiches, and cookies, as everyone got to connect and congratulate the winning filmmakers. Those who survived the reception went on to the post-post festival drinks at at Greenwich Village pub called Filddlesticks. A memorable time was had by all! But, don’t feel too bad if you missed it. We do this every year!

Special thanks to the army of folks, without whom, we could not put on this crazy show:
Festival co-chairs:
Nancy Keegan Lennert
Linda Simensky

Party, food, and wine planners:
Linda Beck
Jen Oxley

Festival reel and website updates:
Adrian Urquidez

Festival postcards:
Justin Simonich
Dan Meth

entry sorting/processing help:
John Lustig
Tatia Rosenthal
Katie Cropper
Emmett Goodman
Masako Kanayama

wine wranglers
Alma Sheppard
John Lustig

wine pourers:
Emma Simonich
Jen Oxley
Pedro Delgado
Dayna Gonzalez
Mike Rauch

festival opening film and certificates designer:
Elliot Cowan

Our hosts for the evening:
Anezka Sebek
The New School

Our festival accountant:
Steve Zellin
The New School

And, last but not least:
Thanks to everyone who entered a film this year!…
and, also, thanks to the entire ASIFA-East board of directors