THIS year the organizers brought 350 animated films together, and showed special programs on the greats of Polish animation, the work of American legend Fred Crippen, highlights from Korea's Indie AniFest, two excellent CG programs from ACM Siggraph in the US, and 'focus technique' programs on hand painted animation. The only lament for any animation fan was that, with the festival running over four evenings and two full days and showing programs in two cinemas simultaneously, there was a lot to see and no way of seeing it all.
Puppetry and other forms: Australian focus
If a festival like MIAF acts as an indicator of the vibrancy of animation in Australia, then MIAF 2007 indicates that it is very vibrant indeed. Festival director Malcom Turner wasn't sure why the number of Australian entries trebled this year, but both of the resulting Australian Panoramas showed strength and variety--a satisfying way to follow on from Oscar winning animator Adam Elliot's opening of the festival.
Most films in these programs showed a strong sense of narrative, many a good sense of humour and, though stop-motion with puppets was a favoured technique, there were also some stunning CG and hand illustrated works. Whether a result of the judges' selection or simply reflecting the total entries, the Australian program split almost evenly between funny and sad stories.
Among the funny stories, Carnivore Reflux (The People's Republic of Animation/Eddie White and James Calvert, 2006), based on a humorous rhyme, seemed to get the biggest laughs. Two dealt with animals taking revenge on naughty humans, with Drained (Gav Stevenson, 2005) looking at the topical issue of water wasting. Two other chuckle-producing films were both animated interviews. From Gold to Grapes: The Story of Landsborough (Al Macinnes, 2006) was a particularly interesting work because the animation was based on drawings by the young children who had collected the oral histories in the piece.
Why most of the sad films were based on puppets of various types is hard to say, but The Designer (John Lewis, 2007) certainly showed how much emotion can be communicated without words, and by characters that have immobile faces. An aesthetically stunning film, with a fully realized story, it was a definite highlight of the Australian program.
There were so many good Australian films it seems unfair to mention just these few, but as a fan of 3D CG animation I have to add a comment on Emit (Fergus Donald, 2007). This film, about an old-style alarm clock wandering through a post-apocalyptic landscape, avoided the smooth surfaces that so often predominate in CG rendering of machines, and was instead bursting with texture.
It is great for the promotion of Australian animation that a highlights program, drawn from the Australian Panoramas, will be taken on the road around Australia and overseas.
A final comment on the Australian programs: while the criteria used to choose films is obviously complex, I wondered how the hundred or so animators who weren't selected felt about the inclusion of two films by one person. Were they really that much better than all those other entries?
Delight and passion: animation by students and the careers forum
The festival included four Student Programs, but the MIAF organizers might need to rename them next year to convince more people to see them. Attending the third program, I was surprised at the low turnout and even more surprised to hear organizers commenting that this had also been the case for the previous two. As these programs weren't generally competing with 'more desirable' programs, I can only assume that people were put off by the idea it was student work. This is deeply ironic if all four programs were as strong as the one I saw. Two of my favourite films from the entire festival came from this program: the touching After (Kim Noce, 2005), a claymation work that explored the dark journey through depression; and the delightful The Mystery of Pig City (Johnny Luu and Garth Jones, 2006), with its 'graphic art' style and excellent music. …