Saturday, 14 July 2018

NZIFF Q&A - Malcolm Turner, Animation Now

NZIFF Q&A - Malcolm Turner, Animation Now

Welcome back to the NZIFF - and part of the festival run's Akl aftermath - how did that come about?
There have been a couple of animation programs in the general body of the NZIFF for a long time. When I first started programming those in the mid 1990s we were getting 400-500 submissions and everything was shown from 35mm film prints or betacam tapes. Nowadays we get in excess of 4,000 submissions and the entire line-up can be moved around on a pendrive. So, basically, expanding those couple of programs into a stand-alone festival is a response to trying to ensuring our animation programming continues to be representative of what’s happening out there in the big wide world of independent animation while at the same time acknowledging that New Zealand was one of the last countries to not have a specialist animation festival.

What are the trends this year for animation?
Every year there are random thematic ‘trends’ that pop up for no discernible reason – this year, for some reason, there were a number of films depicting Rubic cubes – who knows why. In terms of technique and technology there aren’t really any emerging trends above and beyond recent times but I get a sense that there is a growing divide between the countries who are funding and those who are not funding animation as an artform.
NZIFF Q&A - Malcolm Turner, Animation Now

4000 films vied for a place in the festival - this seems up on in the past - where was the most prolific in terms of animation and why do you think this is?
Europe and funding are the two short answers to those questions. Beneath that though it is a big more complex. Some countries – the USA for example – have never really funded auteur/independent animation which is why they produce so little. Funding in China hasn’t appreciably increased but animation is being taken a lot more seriously there and a really interesting community of true auteur animators are emerging. In other places (particularly New Zealand, Australia to some extent the UK) the concept that animation can be made and appreciated as an artform is giving way to a more purely utilitarian understanding of what animation is. Another angle is that prolific doesn’t automatically equal quality. Some countries produce and distribute vast numbers of often pretty ordinary work whereas Estonia produces 15-20 professional films a year, virtually all of them ranging from very good to outstanding.

I'm really pleased to see a handmade section in there as well - what's your favourite from this one and why?
Oh-hoh, I learned a long time to be – ahem – judicious about picking individual favourites. That said, “Negative Space” seems to be a firm favourite pretty much everywhere it screens (and appears to have stolen the hearts of some of the people at NZIFF HQ) plus it was nominated for an Oscar. And “After All” is one of the most genuinely affecting films I think I’ve ever seen and it took out both Best Of The Fest and Best Australian at MIAF in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago, the first time any film has taken that double prize there.

What's the state of NZ animation? Are we doing enough, could we do more?
I think it’s fair to say it’s patchy. The best of it (such as the films “Tom” and “Trap” screening in the festival this year) are world class though. And it seems to alternate between high tech CG and  authentically kiwi DIY in terms of technique. Are we doing enough? Hard to know if you are asking the right guy or not. Of course not is my reflexive answer. I don’t buy for a moment that the level of support for animation in New Zealand is because of its size; one only has to look at Estonia (a country with half the population of New Zealand and nothing like the per capita GDP) to see what a committed society can do when it wants to. But I would say that and there’s more to it. Just lifting the lid and pouring in tsunami of cash probably wouldn’t change a hell of a lot and every country has differing priorities in what it supports. Sometimes those priorities shape social/cultural debate, sometimes they respond to it. My hope is that the rising priority we are giving to animation by establishing a stand-alone animation festival will help raise the profile of animation as an artform in this country and ultimately that is the kind of thing that is going to encourage wider respect for the artform, inspiration for coming generations of animators and perhaps a reappraisal of whether certain animated projects are worth supporting financially. Somebody also needs to sit down and make sure that what good animation that is produced here is properly distributed through the international animation festival network – that would be one significant kick-start that would probably bear early fruit.

Fresh Eyes on Estonia seems to be a recognition of a country that regularly produces material - what do you think motivates their content?
Estonia is probably the most culturally rich society I know. I’m not necessarily talking about huge museums, giant opera halls and lavish events; I’m talking about a society-wide understanding that everything gets filtered through a cultural prism simply as a way of life. And this happens at pretty much every strata. It produces a kind of social honesty that you don’t really encounter much and it’s an all-permeating part of the air they breathe. It’s a kind of ‘smart’ that has to be inhaled. They have become acculturated to incorporating a level of cultural expression into pretty much everything they do and this shows in their animation particularly because animation is such an expressive artform. When you blend in the geo-political history of Estonia you find older animated films with an astonishing texture and nowadays with that awful history behind them you see an emerging generation that are taking the artform in new directions.

Are there any films you couldn't get and what were they?
Not really. There was a great film called “Happiness” that I had originally included in the line-up but some issues with the music rights emerged and I elected to replace it. The task is more about which films to leave out – it’s great having the expanded Animation NOW! structure, it gives me lots more real estate to programme work into but even so, there are some really great films that there just weren’t room for.

I'm guessing you want the animation section to inspire new fans and also budding animators ?
Absolutely. And I also want people to understand that animation – along with all its other uses and permutations – is also a credible artform in its own right AND one that certainly has not been overrun with computers in the way that most people think it has.

What's the best Animated film in your programme and why?
I think I’ll take the 5th on that one

And finally, what's the one film from the rest of the programme you're excited for and why?
If I had to just pick out one I think it would probably be “Manivald” by Chintis Lundgren. It was co-produced with the National Film Board of Canada which always helps but in Lundgren we are witnessing the emergence and rapidly maturing mastery of a really unique filmmaker and one who is confidently leading the way not just for female animators but for those who create and develop interesting and complex female characters within the narrative structure of their work. Luckily I secured “Manivald” last year the minute I saw it at the NFB in Montreal before it was released so that made it easy but it is a film I would have fought to the wire to secure for Animation NOW!

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