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While I was in Banja Luka in Bosnia, I met Anjan, a guy from Goteburg, Sweden, who bragged about the film festival there. He said that I'd get 10 times the audience in Sweden that I got in Bosnia - so I decided to take him up on his invitation, and in January I made the pilgrimage to this ancient city in southern Sweden.
First off, I was amazed that the climate, in the depths of winter, was actually quite mild, because of the warm Baltic currents. What Anjan had said turned out to be correct - the audiences were amazing, packed into the theater and ready to laugh. My shorts program was a sell-out in a large multiplex screening room. Likewise, there were large appreciative crowds at the Scandinavian premiere of "Idiots and Angels".
I got to hang out with Estonian legend Priit Parn and his lovely wife, Olga Margenko - they screened their latest film, "Life Without Gabriella Ferri". We did an appearance at a local gallery, where we met a lot of local animators, and a very interesting debate evolved between Priit and me, about the differences between independent and state-sponsored animation - I think it would have made a great panel for the whole festival to watch!
One of the highlights for me was meeting Roy Anderson, he's one of my real inspirations. His film "Songs for the Second Floor" is one of the funniest and driest films I've ever seen. How he can get so much surreal humor out of such a slow-paced film is beyond me. He was very kind and friendly, and he gave me his DVD of shorts in exchange for one of my books, which are equally slow and surreal. Apparently he only makes a feature every 5 years or so, and in the meantime he supports himself with commercials - unfortunately I didn't have my camera when I met him - so consequentially, no photo.
There was one mystery about Sweden that baffled me - Sweden, the home of the Vikings, has practically no reference anywhere about them - hell, I went to college at Portland State - go Vikings! - and there are pictures of those sturdy, whiskered pirates of Scandinavia everywhere. Just like in Norway, they seem to be ashamed of their ancient exploits. I don't know if it's a politically correct reaction to their raping and pillaging - but apparently they hardly mention it in school there.
I believe we have more awareness of Vikings in the U.S., with the likes of Hagar the Horrible, the Minnesota Vikings and such. I just think that they're missing out on a big tourist attraction - "VikingLand! And be sure to stop by the NorseShop!"
I returned to the U.S. and attended the annual Annie Awards, which are billed as
"The Oscars of Animation". It's one of my favorite events, because in one afternoon I can see everyone who's anyone in the animation Mecca of Hollywood. My short film "Hot Dog" was nominated in the Independent Shorts category, against "Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death", a student film called "Sebastian Voodoo" by Joaquin Baldwin, "Glago's Ghost" by Disney Studios, and "Presto" by Pixar.
So I flew out to L.A. for the day and stayed at my favorite hotel - the Magic Castle. I had the afternoon off, so I went to see a revival screening of "Pinocchio" at the local cinema - it was 1 pm so it was a sparse crowd of kids. The pre-show was a huge organ recital and a dancing kid wearing a Pinocchio mask. I have great memories of seeing the film as a young boy, but seeing it now, on the big screen, it doesn't hold up at all. First off, the character design (especially the fox and cat) are ugly, and the animation is very jerky. Also, the story just rambles on without any real direction - compare it to any of the great Pixar stories and if falls apart.
Later that afternoon, I drove to Royce Hall on the UCLA campus - I wanted to get there unfashionably early, so I wouldn't miss anyone. I walked the red carpet alone - in fact, I think I was the first, since the paparazzi were still arriving. I went straight to the bar on the terrace and waited for the creme de la creme of the animation royalty to arrive. I didn't want to get too drunk, first of all because I was driving, but secondly if I won a prize I would have to give an inebriated speech. So I stuck to soft drinks.
I got to catch up with Matt Groening - I hadn't seen him since Annecy - then chatted with Nick Park, a real gentleman. Rumor has it he's next in line to be knighted - imagine that, an animator addressed as "Sir". They were both there to get the Winsor McCay prize, along with Mike Judge, who couldn't show up because of his new film commitments.
So, we all filed into the auditorium, where Tom Kenny as the M.C. kept the show fun and fast-paced. I could tell early on it was going to be a "Kung Fu Panda" night - Dreamworks really packed the place. I think that Jeffrey Katzenberg, who knows a good publicity opportunity when he sees it, bought ASIFA-Hollywood memberships for his entire studio, and then told them to vote the party line. They did, and they were all in attendance. I really liked "Kung Fu Panda", and I'm an old friend of Mark Osborn from when he made "More" - but Christ! It won every prize it was up for, I think 11 prizes. It was unreal - I believe that "Horton Hears a Who" or "Wall-E" should have won something. The unfortunate reality is that it feels like the elections were rigged - they were bought! What a travesty.
In any case, I had a great time seeing a lot of old friends and great talents, so I can't complain. By the way, I should have gotten drunk, because Nick Park won my category, and my rental car got a $50 parking ticket!
The New York Comic-Con has now become a very important event. So my studio manager (and comic-book geek) John Holderried and I set up our table and spent three days in February in the Jacob Javits center, hawking our wares. I did have an hour
for a special panel to show some of my new films - it was a packed room, with lots of fans, and they particularly liked the new short "Horn Dog" and a quickie I made over Thanksgiving weekend, called "Santa, the Fascist Years".
With this crazy recession going on, I really wasn't expecting to do great business - especially since I had nothing new to offer - my "Guns on the Clackamas" DVD was delayed due to a production glitch. But much to my surprise, we were constantly busy - so I wasn't able to check out a lot of the other booths or visit friends. I was able to take a brisk walk through the aisles early in the morning when I came in, and I was stunned to see that about a third of the floor space was taken over by videogames! And they had all the kids drooling - which seems odd to me because the granddaddy of Comic-Cons in San Diego is now primarily taken over by Hollywood. Pity the poor comic book artist!
The only problem with the event was that everyone kept asking me for the "Dog" series - "Guard Dog", "Guide Dog" and "Hot Dog" on DVD - I could have sold a bunch at the Comic-Con. But please be patient, dear readers - as I write this, my able and talented staff are putting together the next DVD collection of my short films, which will also include "The Fan and the Flower", "Shuteye Hotel", the music videos "Heard 'em Say" for Kanye West and "Don't Download This Song" for Weird Al Yankovic, and lots more. So we're calling this collection "Dog Days" - watch for it this summer on my web-site or at the San Diego Comic-Con.
Next, my travels took me to Belgium. I think I've been a guest at the Brussels Animation Festival (now called "Anima") more than any other animator - which either shows that I travel more than most animators, or I just like Brussels better than most others do. In fact, it is the home of more great comic artists than anywhere else.
Philippe and Doris have been running this festival at least as long as I've been an animator. I think the first time I visited was in 1989, after I made "25 Ways to Quit Smoking", and that's where I first met Peter Lord.
This festival has now relocated to a large, converted National Broadcast Center - it's a 1930's Deco-style building that's perfect for the festival, and as usual the audiences were large and very appreciative. In fact, both my workshop panel and the "Idiots and Angels" screenings were extremely popular. I highly recommend this festival.
As you may know, I survived in the 1970's by doing illustrations and gag cartoons, and one of the guys who helped me survive was Joe McNeill - he was the art director for a number of men's magazines like "Penthouse", "Hot Talk" and also some computer magazines - so I owe him a lot. When he and the Sedona Film Festival invited me out to Arizona, I had to take him up on the offer. I usually only see Joe briefly at the San Diego ComicCon.
I've heard that Sedona was a beautiful place, but its rare colored skyscrapers of rock were beyond my imagination - I can see why people flock here to retire. There are limits to the size of the city, because of geography and water availability - so you must be rich to live here, no trailer trash allowed!
There were great parties - I think this festival had more yoga instructors per capita than any place I've been to. It's a much older and wealthier crowd than I'm used to, therefore my film didn't perform that well - some of the older folks got a little offended. But Patrick, the organizer, did a great job and everyone at the organization was very nice.
And while I was there, CNN stated that "Idiots and Angels" is one of the top ten festival favorites of the year. So, if you want a festival with a lot of crystals, vibrating rocks and stunning scenery, check out the Sedona Film Festival in Arizona.
This is also the time of year for the ASIFA-East awards, the longest-running animation competition in the Western Hemisphere. I love this event, because I see a wide range of work, good and bad, and it really gets me inspired.
The first night of judging is student films - there was some crap, as usual, but there were also a handful of brilliant student films - like "My Tough Animation Project", "Adventures in Broccoli", "Chicken Cowboy", "I Zombie", and then my favorite, "Divers" by Paris Marodis.
One the last night, we screened the independent films - my favorites were Signe Baumane's "Birth", "Western Spaghetti" by Pes, and David Chai's wonderful film "Life on a Limb", about a tree vs. a lumberjack.
The great thing about the ASIFA judging is going out for drinks afterwards, and arguing about the films - especially the bad ones. The awards will be given out on Sunday, May 3, at the New School. It's a great event with great films - be there if you want to see some amazing animation. It's free!
I was invited to the 2nd annual South Beach Animation Festival, and there were two reasons I wanted to go. First, I wanted to help support a young festival and promote animation in Miami - and second, I've never been to South Beach and I've heard great things about it.
The opening party was in the wonderful South Beach Cinematheque, where I got to hang out with Joe Kennedy and the charming and famous John Canemaker. This was at the peak of spring break so the streets were packed with college kids stoked on liquor.
The next night was my show, and the director promised up busloads of kids from all over Miami - so I invited my brother and his family up from the Florida suburbs to see me in all my glory, as a "rockstar" animator. The screening was in Little Havana, but apparently it was in the middle of a fiesta day, it was like Carnival with the volume at 11. There was this well-dressed gigolo guy dancing on the sidewalk with a female mannequin doing moves that shouldn't be seen by minors.
But, apparently the County of Miami was in a budget crisis, and all the buses were cancelled, so the audience was just my brother's family and 14 other spectators that afternoon - it seemed like they had a good time though.
My next stop in a 3-city tour was the Florida Film Festival in Orlando. The main reason I wanted to go there was that the Tiedkes had recently expanded the historic Enzian Theatre to include an outdoor bar and restaurant, called the Eden Bar. I had been commissioned by Alex to design a mural as a backdrop for the bar, with a "Garden of Eden" theme, and lots of indigenous animals. It was a lot of fun to create - but even better was seeing the finished wall (painted by Spanky and Maureen) in person.
So I had dinner that night in the jungle that was my mural, and it felt so primitive. They made these wonderful coasters with my art, and during my "Idiots and Angels" screening, I tossed them out into the audience like frisbees, and signed them after the screening - cool!
My next and last stop on this excursion was at the Ashland Film Festival in Ashland, Oregon, also home to the famous Shakespeare festival. I grew up in Oregon, and unfortunately never ventured south to explore the beautiful scenery there, including Crater Lake. Joanne Feinberg, the director of the festival, invited me to attend, so Patty Schnabel and I stayed at the beautiful and historic Ashland Springs Hotel. Even though it was technically spring, nature was still in winter mode. Crater Lake was snowed in, but we were lucky enough to experience two summer-like days. We explored the tiny frontier town of Jacksonville (they shot "The Great Northwest Minnesota Raid" there), where Dennis Nyback and Ann Richardson (of the Oregon Sesquicentennial Film Festival) showed us the boyhood home of the original Bozo the Clown - yes, he's from Jacksonville, his name was Pinto Colvig, and he also did a lot of cartoon voices for Disney, including Goofy (one of my favorites).
We were able to hang out with my old friend and famous documentarian Elvis Mitchell (I juried with him in Sitges, Spain), who was there to accept the Rogue award - and I was there for the Special Achievement award for all my animation. We had a great time, it's a beautiful town and a beautiful festival with great audiences (all the shows were completely sold out) so I highly recommend you check it out.
When I returned, I was invited to the New York premiere of "Monsters vs. Aliens", the new Dreamworks 3-D feature with the voices of Seth Rogen, and Reese Witherspoon. I loved the concept, and the 3-D effects were mindblowing - great use of the new technology. However, the story wasn't that engaging - it can't compare with the quality of Pixar stories.
The saga of Nina Paley and her film "Sita Sings the Blues" continues - we now call it "Nina Sings the Blues" - she created a wonderful Flash film that's amazingly beautiful, but she neglected to fully clear the music rights. It's a mystery to me how she forgot to do that, because she's made many films and knows the rules. So now, since the owners of the music are demanding a lot of money, she's decided to give away the film on the internet. Also, she's played the film on PBS, since apparently they have a deal with the music industry that they don't have to pay music royalties.
She also has a distribution deal with a couple of companies, so it will appear in theaters across the country eventually - so go see it, it's a beautiful film.
I've been to Istanbul before (2 years ago for the Istanbul Animation Festival, I think) I had such a wonderful time that I wanted to return again. So when I got the invitation to do a career retrospective there, I started packing my bags.
The former Constantinople is one of the most beautiful and lively cities in the world - in fact, it reminds me of San Francisco somewhat - beautiful old buildings with narrow vertical streets, surrounded by beautiful bodies of water. The people are overly friendly - gladly offering me samples of their food as I wandered the many wonderful restaurants and food stalls. My screenings took place, appropriately enough, in a recently-converted porno cinema - the floors were all linoleum for quick and easy clean-up. The "Idiots" premiere was sponsored by Ben & Jerry's, and free ice-cream cones were had by all - there was even a full-sized cow mascot with huge udders waiting to be yanked.
I was able to take a day off with my trusty guide, Yoel, and Indian superstar actress Nanita Das - we took a ferry to the famous Princess Islands, and spent the day walking by the 19th century gingerbread vacation homes along the narrow streets that only allow horses and carriages. I was able to take a very refreshing swim in the Bosporus, but cut short my swim when I was surrounded by jellyfish. We topped off the afternoon with fresh fish served on a table sitting on the rocks by the edge of the sea.
My Master Class was a big hit in Istanbul, with people crammed into every corner (I believe there is a real thirst for animation in Turkey, and I hope that my visit can help spark an animation revolution there). Unfortunately, I decided to screen "Santa, the Fascist Years", not realizing my mistake (Turkey is an Islamic country) until I introduced the film. Fortunately, no one tossed me in jail, in fact they laughed all the way through the film.
I saw a number of interesting films there - Nanita's film "Firaaq" is a gripping look at the terrible massacres of Muslims by Hindus in 2003, from the perspective of ordinary people. "$9.99" is an animated feature by my friend Talia Rosenthal - I'd heard a lot about this film, as it played in a lot of the same festivals as "Idiots and Angels" - unfortunately, I didn't like it so much. I felt that visually it wasn't that compelling, and there was too much talk - I prefer visual storytelling for animation. But hey, it was a packed house, and I applaud Tatia for making an animated feature. It ain't that easy.
Then I saw "The Secret of the Kells", a wonderfully charming animated story of book illustrations by monks in medieval Ireland. Everything works - the story, the character, the sound and especially the design. It's like an ancient illustrated book come to life.
One highlight was a reception thrown for me by the U.S. Embassy - it took place on a majestic hill overlooking the Bosporus, it was packed with dignitaries and great food. Only a week earlier, they had a reception for Barack Obama - pretty fast company!
Some miscellaneous items - I was finally able to see "In Bruges" with Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell. I missed it in the cinemas, so I NetFlixed it - it's fantastic! My favorite film of last year - so dark, funny, twisted and yet tender. I wish I could do animation with the same kind of strong storytelling.
Also, an update on "Idiots and Angels" - it's still playing festivals to great success, and my agent, Catherine Branscome, is making a lot of foreign sales. We've sold (or are about to sell) the film to 8 territories, and we're very close to finalizing a deal for the U.S. and Canada - watch my web-site for further developments on this and the DVD release also.
The cartoon for this installment of the scrapbook is from page 47 of "Sloppy Seconds". The ubiquitous sirens of New York - cop cars, ambulances and firetrucks - remind me of cats in heat. So I always imagined these official vehicles going off somewhere to get it on. So that's the inspiration for this cartoon - enjoy!