Association International du Film d'Animation
(International Animated Film Association)
by Karl Cohen

January 2010  includes review of Terry Gilliam's Imaginarium of Dr. Parnasus,  Nancy Phelps writing about an awful animation festival, 5 books you might want to know about and much more.

ONE OF THE BIGGEST FEATURES OF THE 2010 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL IS FROM THE BAY AREA - SUNDANCE WILL PRESENT THE WORLD PREMIERE OF “HOWL” ON OPENING NIGHT!  IT INCLUDES ALMOST 20-MINUTES OF ANIMATION DIRECTED BY JOHN HAYS. Howl was directed and written by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, two exceptional local filmmakers known for numerous award-winning documentaries.  Their credits include The Celluloid Closet and The Times of Harvey Milk.  It is a nonfiction drama about young Allen Ginsberg finding his voice, the creation of his groundbreaking poem and the landmark obscenity trial that followed.  The cast includes James Franco, David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, Mary-Louise Parker, and Jeff Daniels plus remarkable looking animation directed by John Hays (Wildbrain, Colossal Pictures, ILM) and designed by Eric Drooker, a frequent contributor to the New Yorker including many outstanding surreal covers. 

Not only will Howl be shown on opening night, the festival selected it to be one of eight features to be shown in major cities as part of the inaugural “Sundance Film Festival USA.”  Howl will be shown in San Francisco at the Sundance Kabuki on Thurs. Jan. 28 as part of this new event. The film’s directors will be on hand to introduce the film and to do a Q&A.  The festival runs Jan. 21-31 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah.

As a result of the special treatment Howl is getting and because it has an outstanding cast, well-respected directors, and is about a controversial poet, it has been getting an unusual amount of attention in the press.  One film website included it in their article “10 Films We’re Looking Forward to See” and it is the first film in another critic’s list of 8 films to watch at Sundance.  It made other “must see” lists including one publication that had it in their top three films to see. The New York Times called the film “highly promotable” as James Franco is in the cast.

I’ve seen a nearly complete work-in-progress print of it and I believe nobody is going to be disappointed with this film.  James Franco, who starred in Milk, turns out another amazing performance, the script is exceptional and the sets and costuming capture the feel of the Beatnik era.  An extra bonus is the animated images used to capture the mood and spirit of the poem.  This is a brilliant, remarkable work of art.

In a highly informative interview with John Hays that I’ll run in the February issue of our newsletter, he told me that, “Some people are calling the animation, ‘The Beatnik Fantasia.’  That is perhaps a bit far fetched, but it is a catchy subversive phrase.    The film is really all about passion.    We are trying to
create a sense of passion about not only what the Beatniks life was about, but also about intense fiery love.  Some may call it obscene, but it is really about sex, about liberation, freedom and everything else that goes with it.   It  is  an  unusual and amazing   project.”        photo

John Hays
ALLIGATOR PLANET CREATED ANIMATION FOR TWO FEATURE LENGTH DOCUMENTARIES ON THE ACADEMY’S SHORT LIST The animated sequences are in The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers and Under Our Skin, two of the 15 films selected by the academy for further consideration for the five nominations for best documentary feature.  For Under Our Skin Eli Noyes, president of Alligator Planet and an Oscar nominee, worked with artist Catherine Margerin on a series of sequences about the spread of Lyme Disease in the US and around the world.  Andy Abrahams Wilson, the film's director, says the images communicate complex information in a visually interesting and accessible way.


Most Dangerous Man in America

For the film about the Pentagon Papers Eli animated two sequences that are said to add a touch of humor to the film without trivializing it.   He avoided making it too cartoony or representational and used film noir lighting to give his scenes a sense of suspense.  Eli Noyes co-founded the company in 2003 with producer Ralph Guggenheim and CFO/COO Alan Buder.  The Academy Award nominations will be announced Tuesday, February 2, 2010.


Keith Tong of Monaco Labs loading dumpster. Photo by George Csicsery

MONACO IS NO LONGER PROCESSING MOTION PICTURE FILM I believe they were the last wet lab for film in the Bay Area.  Dumpster divers probably found wonderful treasures, while filmmakers shed silent tears.
VISIT US ON THE WEB AT www.asifa-sf-org


Jerry van de Beek, Creative Director, Little Fluffy Clouds

A PRODUCTIVE YEAR FOR LITTLE FLUFFY CLOUDS  Their recent clients included Mercedes, the Dallas Cowboys, Radio Shack, the California Lottery and several other advertisers.  You may have seen their Christmas Radio Shack spot, Santa GPS, the one where Santa and the reindeer are lost.  It's funny, has a crinkled paper, stop-motion look to it and a great voice over.

Their biggest project in 2009 was a series of spots for the University of Texas at Arlington and accompanying "ribbons" for the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium.  They did two one-minute spots plus a thirty and a fifteen.  While the ads are easy to put on their website and reel, they still have to figure out a way to show the enormity of them and the way they look in the stadium.  Their work is seen playing on the largest TV in the world, a 17 story high Jumbotron, simultaneously on two bands that circumnavigate the entire stadium and on all the TV screens in the public areas.  As Betsy de Fries says, “The specs for this job were the strangest ever.  The creative is jam packed with all the programs UTA has to offer so there are lots of characters in many situations.  It's very fun, colorful and moves along at a fast clip, but it was an enormous endeavor and I thought Jerry (van de Beek) might crack up under the sheer amount of assets and animation that he had to create.”  RhinoFx’s Harry Dorrington was the director with LFC creative director, Jerry van de Beek, as designer, VFX supervisor, animation director and sole animator.

Some of what LFC did in 2009 is still “under wraps”.  For example LFC is presently working on a project that finishes up in January and begins airing in time for the Super Bowl.  Earlier in the year they also did a discreet "branding" job for a large corporation, developing a number of concepts for several departments and creating a number of animations with some left to tackle for 2010.  The work is done, the client is happy with it, but the project still remains to be seen.  Betsy de Fries says, “The wheels of industry grind slowly.”

As we all know, all was not rosy in 2009.  There were periods where LFC developed amazing pitches for agencies whose ideas either didn't catch fire or who saw their projects vaporize (they also saw agencies go through layoffs, fold and merge).  Being a small studio they managed to weather the storm.  They were able to find creative projects, “although the budgets were challenging to say the least, so you aren't making a lot of ‘do$h’ but you make enough money to pay the bills and to keep you in business and that's all you can hope to do in such an economy.”  So their production reel has stayed fresh and hopefully 2010 will be a more prosperous year for all studios doing commercial animation. 

Little Fluffy Clouds is now flying under the Hoytyboy Pictures banner, helmed by Executive Producer, Clint Goldman.  On that roster are several other local and west coast directors - Steve “Spaz” Williams (The Wild), Steve Beck, John K. Kricfalusci (Ren and Stimpy), Richard Kizu-Blair, Rob Maya and Rob Schneider amongst other talented people.  Betsy says, “It's really fun being part of a more west coast centric group and having people around to bounce ideas off and to get together with now and then.”

LFC is also featured in two new books just released, Lee Lanier's Professional Digital Compositing (Cybex) and Ian Lumsden's A Critical Guide to The Animated Short.  Jerry van de Beek and Betsy de Fries look forward to showing some of their studio’s work to ASIFA in 2010.

Joe Sikoryak, ASIFA-SF’s webmaster, holds an 18” high armature of King Kong used in the 1933 feature.  Behind him is Bob Burns.

KING KONG ARMATURE SOLD FOR 125,000 POUNDS AT A CHRISTIE’S AUCTION IN LONDON The armature sold is one of two that have survived from the making of the 1933 production.  It stands 22” tall.  In the photo Joe Sikoryak holds the 18” armature owned by Bob Burns who lives in Hollywood.  Bob has had several film and TV roles over the years including Major Mars, the star of an early TV show.  Joe is ASIFA-SF’s web-master and the creator of Major Mars, an animated short.  His design company is Design Well

ANIME EXHIBIT GOES INTO THE PAST TO REVEAL HIDDEN TREASURES Drawing the Sword: Samurai in Manga and Anime, January 16 through May 2 at the Cartoon Art Museum, explores the complex evolution of Japanese artistic traditions by demonstrating the ever-changing image of the iconic samurai. Curated by Julian Bermudez, the show juxtaposes 19th century woodblock prints with 21st animation production cels and drawings. Also on display are animation production models, motion picture stills, original comic book drawings, American and Japanese comic books, plus toys from private collections. Work from Afro Samurai, Bleach, Evangelion, Gundam, Rurouni Kenshin, Samurai Champloo, Samurai Jack, Lone Wolf and Cub, Usagi Yojimbo, and Wolverine is included. The show touches on anime’s influences on American culture and significant social issues relevant to our times: mass globalization, war, peace, identity, and nationalism. Through this visual history the exhibit affirms manga and anime as true works of art, and demonstrates the links between fine art and popular culture. The Cartoon Art Museum is located at 655 Mission Street (between 3rd and New Montgomery).


FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 7:30 PM, ASIFA’S OPEN SCREENING FOR PROFESSIONAL ANIMATORS, INDEPENDENTS AND ANIMATION COMPANIES At the Exploratorium’s McBean Theatre, free, public invited, anyone is welcome to bring professional or independent animated work (16mm, DVD, VHS can be shown).  See flyer for details.

Starts January 8 in the Bay Area, Terry Gilliam’s “THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS”

Starts Jan. 22 in the Bay Area, “A TOWN CALLED PANIC” It stars three plastic toys named Cowboy, Indian, and Horse who share a rambling house in a farm village with other silly citizens prone to the lunacy that could only arise from a child's mind. Cowboy and Indian's plan to gift Horse with a homemade barbeque backfires when they accidentally buy 50 million bricks… This is a stop-motion film by Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar from Belgium.

Thurs. Jan. 28, “HOWL,” at the Sundance Kabuki as part of the Sundance Film Festival USA.  The film’s directors will be on hand to introduce the film and to do a Q&A.  I assume it will be distributed in the US, but that might not happen soon so don’t miss this chance to experience this exceptional film.


THE 2009 ANNIE AWARDS MAY BE A CLOSE RACE FOR A CHANGE In recent years Pixar has walked off with the biggest number of nominations and the majority of the prizes, but this year Henry Selick’s Coraline received ten nominations and Pixar’s Up got nine, followed by Disney’s Princess and the Frog with eight.  Cloudy with Meatballs received four nominations, Monsters got three and 9, Ice Age, Secret of Kells, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Ponyo and Astro Boy received one or two nominations each.  The nominations for best feature went to Coraline, Up, Princess and Frog, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Secret of Kells and Cloudy with Chance of Meatballs.

The Annies only give one prize to short films.  The five nominated films are Santa, The Fascist Years by Plymptoons, Goldfish: In the Dark by Picnic Pictures, Robot Chicken: Star Wars 2.5 by ShadowMachine, The Rooster, The Crocodile and The Night Sky by Barley Films and The Story of Walls by Badmash Animation Studios.  None of these films are on the list of films being considered for the Best Animated Short Oscar and, except for Bill’s film, neither Nancy Phelps who attends lots of festival nor I are familiar with the other four shorts.  We are curious to see what they have selected.

In the television animation categories the most nominated shows are Prep and Landing from Disney and Merry Madagascar from DreamWorks.  The Simpsons was once again nominated for Best Animated Television Production and it received three of the five Best Writing nominations for three different episodes.

Three Winsor McCay Awards will be presented.  They will go to Tim Burton, Bruce Timm and Jeffrey Katzenberg.  Tom Sito will be honored with the June Foray Award and William T. Reeves will get the Ub Iwerks award.  The awards will be presented February 6, 2010.

NINA PALEY HELPED AFRICA CELEBRATE INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION DAY IN SEVERAL COUNTRIES Mohamed Ghazaia, director of ASIFA Egypt (founded in 2008) wrote me about how pleased he was to see Nina Paley’s International Animation Day poster used by several IAD celebrations in Africa.  He said, “She honored us with her great artwork.  She was involved before with UNESCO’s 'Africa Animated' workshop in Kenya, 2004, as one of the founders of this initiative which continued for 3 years (it ended in 2007 due to financial difficulties).”

Mohamed also sent his report on how IAD was celebrated in Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Tunisia, South Africa and Algeria.  Events included workshops, lectures, receptions and screenings.  In Ethiopia over 400 people saw over an hour of short clips by 10 Ethiopian animators while in Ghana they showed films by Borivoj “Bordo” Dovnikovic from Zagreb and a selection of French animation one evening and a screening of African animation another night.  In Alexandria, Egypt they recognized their ancient ties to Greece and their founder Alexander the Great by screen a panorama of Greek animation from it’s beginning in 1945 to 2007.  In South Africa students won Toon Boom software.  In Algeria an event in December honored Moustapha Alassane, “dean of African filmmakers.”

GOLDEN GLOBE NOMINATIONS IN ANIMATION ARE : Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog and Up.  The event will be televised Jan. 17.

THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL TO SHOW THREE ANIMATED SHORTS FROM CANADA They have selected three animated films from the National Film Board of Canada to show: Cordell Baker’s Runaway, which is in Ron Diamond’s Show of Shows, Bruce Alcock’s Vive la Rose, an Acadian tale, and David Coquard-Dassault’s Rains, a meditation on the rhythm of human activity.

“WALL STREET JOURNAL” RAN “HOW TO MAKE $55,000 GIVING AWAY YOUR WORK,” A PROFILE OF NINA PALEY’S “SITA SINGS THE BLUES” BUSINESS It didn’t give many details about her business plan except to say she was giving away the feature for free, but it did explain the $55,000 came from online sales of DVDs and merchandise ($19K), theatrical distribution ($7K), TV distribution ($3K), and additional DVD sales ($3K). (WSJ, Nov. 23, technology news section)  Nina told me in an e-mail, “I didn't free ‘Sita’ for legal reasons, but for moral and economic ones.  Freeing the film makes me more money.  Yes, it's true.”

BILL PLYMPTON KEEPS ON TRUCKIN’ He plans to finish his next short, The Cow That Wanted To Be A Hamburger, in January in time to get it into Annecy.  Then he plans to get back to work on Cheatin’, his next feature.  He told me Idiots and Angels has almost paid for itself.  Distribution rights to the feature have been sold to 10 territories including Korea, Canada, France, Belgium, Germany and several other countries in Europe.  He is still working on finding distribution in the UK, USA and elsewhere.  To see pencil tests from Cheatin’ visit: and

A BAY AREA CORPORATION HAS HIRED A TOP BRITISH ANIMATION STUDIO TO CREATE THEIR TV AD CAMPAIGN Smith & Foulkes, who created the short This Way Up about two undertakers, has completed their second spot for the launch campaign of the HP Photosmart Premium, the world's first web-connected home printer.  The ad is described as super-stylish with a futuristic feel to illustrate the cutting edge technology of the printer.  Alan Smith, added,  "We decided to reinvent Manhattan as a future art deco Vegas fantasy.”

MISSISSIPPI MUSEUM OF ART IS PRESENTING A MAJOR EXHIBIT HONORING JIM HENSON Jim was from that state.  The museum is in Jackson and runs through March 14, 2010.

“LIFE WITHOUT GABRIELLA FERRI” WON THE GRAND PRIZE IN ITALY’S TOP ANIMATION FESTIVAL At I Castelli Animati Life Without Gabriella Ferri by Pritt and Olga Parn recently won their Grand Prize.  The feature is described as “a complex, sensual, poetic film.”  Wallace & Gromit: A Matter Of Loaf And Death by Nick Park won the special jury prize.

ANIMATION IS BEING USED IN PLACE OF NEWSREEL FOOTAGE IN DUBIOUS NEWS REPORTS FROM HONG KONG The company Next Media in Hong Kong has hired dozens of people to turn out over 20 animated videos a day illustrating how dubious “news” events might have unfolded when no cameras were present.  The company, which started producing their “news” footage in November 2009, hit it big when their not very realistic Tiger Woods report was posted on YouTube.  When the NY Times ran a front-page story on December 6 on this new questionable form of journalism, 1.7 million people had already seen the staged and inaccurate Tiger Woods report.

 Is this going to be the next form of tabloid journalism?  Apparently Next Media specializes in illustrating sensational stories regardless of accuracy.  They have already been fined $30,000 for exposing young people to obscenity on the Internet and their broadcasts are banned in Taiwan from some schools and libraries.  Next Media is described in the NYT as a billion dollar media business with over 3,000 employees.

WAS THE WAY THE COMPANY MASS MUSIC PRODUCED “LIVE MUSIC” A RIP-OFF OR A GOOD DEAL?   Members of the Animation Guild in LA, the official animation union, were complaining on a blog earlier this year that the short playing with Planet 51 was made by exploiting young animators.  They were paid a flat fee of  $500 for each sequence they did.  The Chronicle’s business section ran an article that explained that some of the artists working on it were recent college graduates and this was their first paid job.  Intel, the sponsor of the film provided free Maya software to the people who worked on it, and all got screen credit.  So were they “low paid sub-contractors” as the union claimed or was this a good deal?

PLAYBOY’S 2009 ANIMATION CONTEST PICKS THEIR WINNER It is Basement Gary by New York animator Sean Donnelly and actor Alessandro Minoli.  The prize is $10,000.  The winner and other top contest contenders can be viewed at

The winning animation tells the story of Basement Gary, a “geeky inventor,” who builds a “drug simulator.”  It allows his landlord’s teenage son to experience drugs without actually doing them.  The machine, Gary explains, “gives you all the real effects and benefits of drugs without any of the health risks.”  However, Gary’s invention, like all of his creations, is ultimately doomed for disaster “and hilarity ensues.”

Donnelly graduated from New York University’s animation program and Minoli, also a NYU graduate, is now a writer, comedian and actor.  Minoli did the voices of several characters in the film and composed some of the music.  The team is now working on longer format episodes of Basement  For information about the next contest visit

UNKNOWN PRODUCER FROM URUGUAY MADE A 4-MINUTE SHORT LOADED WITH ACTION/EFX WORK FOR $300 AND GETS $30 MILLION DEAL IN HOLLYWOOD Google Fede Alvarez, Ataque de Panico (Panic Attack) for details and see it on YouTube.

RECEIVE ADAM ELLIOT’S DRAWING OF THE WEEK Adam, who created Mary & Max and Harvie Krumpet, has a mailing list that he uses to send out his Drawing of the Week announcements.  He swears on a stack of vintage Mad Magazines that your email address will be kept absolutely private and there are no strings attached.  This fabulous free offer gives him a reason to keep drawing. The recent drawings I’ve seen are quite unusual looking characters.  If interested visit:

CENTER FOR VISUAL MUSIC HAS RECEIVED THE PAPERS OF OSKAR FISCHINGER The CMV in LA has received some major donations of materials recently, most notably the papers of Oskar Fischinger. They now say they have the largest collection of visual music materials in the world.  In 2010 they will begin online exhibitions of selected materials. Apparently it is an enormous collection.

ROY E. DISNEY DIES AT 79 Much has already been written about his long colorful life and importance to the surviva1 of animation at Disney.  He was highly respected by some and hated by others (Google his name) and was one of the richest men in the US even though some at the studio apparently believed he was a worthless bum. He played a major role in the ouster of two heads of the studio and in his leisure time he was a successful offshore yacht racer who had a real castle in Ireland.



OUR DECEMBER ASIFA-SF EVENT WAS A REVEALING DISCUSSION OF AN AUTHOR’S PASSION FOR HIS SUBJECT MATTER Jerry Beck calls Darrell Van Citter’s Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, “One of the best animation books of the year. Scratch that… one of the best animation books ever!”  Darrell, who is the animation director, founder and owner of Renegade Animation in LA, is an authority on TV’s first Christmas special, Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol.  He spent a lot of his free time over the last two years researching the story of this hour-long TV special.  He also located thousands of elements used to produce it.

The results were presented to us in an excellent illustrated lecture.  The book is both a handsome, beautifully illustrated volume and a serious scholarly study of a work of animation that is no longer well known.  For many years it was widely seen during the Christmas season both as a network (for 4 years) and then as a syndicated show.  As newer but not necessarily better shows were created as holiday specials, it was replaced as an annual TV event.

The book has been carefully researched and it includes all kinds of information about the show’s creation, from its conception to its exhibition.  There are even colorful back-stories about some of the people who contributed to the production.  One involves a well-known composer who accepted his job while he was writing Funny Girl, a show that went on to become a major hit both on Broadway and as a feature.  The composer took the job because he needed the extra money to pay off gambling debts.

Autograph copies of the book can be purchased from Amazon sells it for $29.95.  The Cartoon Art Museum’s store may have copies.

“IMAGINATION AND INNOVATION: THE STORY OF WESTON WOODS” You probably grew up watching films from this studio in school and/or at your public library without ever paying attention as to who produced those wonderful animated stories based on best-selling children’s books.  I’ve been a friend of Gene Deitch, one of their directors, since the 1980s.  He just wrote me, “I’m lucky, I suppose, that at my age (he is 85) I’m sill getting attention; lots of articles, interviews, etc, but it’s almost always about my distant past role in the pop animation media, and/or my adventures in commie-land, but my role in the development of the side-car genre of children’s picture book animation is largely ignored.  Finally a great book has appeared with the profusely illustrated story of Weston Woods, the unique Connecticut organization I’ve worked with for the past 40 years, the only outfit in the world exclusively dedicated to the production of animation adapted from children’s picture books.  I’m proud to have been a major contributor.  It’s all in the book!”

The book written by John Cech has a list price of $50, but Amazon can get you new copies from other vendors from $19.94 and up (plus postage).

BRITISH ANIMATION: CHANNEL 4 FACTOR” by Clare Kitson  (reviewed by Nancy Denney-Phelps) The book that topped my holiday gift list for 2009 was British animation: The Channel 4 factor by Clare Kitson.  For anyone who loves animation the book is a rich treasure with an in depth look at 30 classic British films and the animators who created them.  Clare brings to life the back-story of the creation of some of my favorite animated friends including wacky Beryl who was created by Joanna Quinn and Dolly Pond of Pond Life by Candy Guard.

From the production of The Snowman, which marked the dawn of Channel 4’s innovative move to funding animation for television in 1982, to Suzie Templeton’s Academy Award winning Peter and the Wolf, Clare is the insider who was a big part of it all.  For a decade, from 1989 to 1999, she commissioned Channel 4’s animation, championing young animators and vigorously fighting to give short animation a high profile on the station.

For anyone interested in the inner workings and politics of arts programming for media, this book is a must read.  Arts and commerce always seem to be at war, and it’s really insightful to be taken into the war room by someone who fought on the front lines.  Clare was not only a fighter but also an innovator creating such programs as Four-mations, a series that showcased young British animators.  It brought the work of international animation legends into the living room.  Kitson even managed to get some of these programs aired during prime time.

Clare Kitson’s struggle to bring quality adult oriented animation to the public is a true labor of love and who better to tell her story than Clare herself.  I found this book to be as exciting and engaging as any page-turner and I am still enjoying leafing through it to look at the 300 illustrations and pictures, many in color.  It also has a lovely forward by Peter Lord.

For those in the UK and Europe you can purchase the book from 17.99 pounds + shipping.  In the US it is available from Indiana University Press: $29.95

THE CARTOON ART MUSEUM HAS A FEW COPIES OF THE MARY BLAIR EXHIBITION CATALOG IN STOCK It’s a full-color, 300-page catalog with hundreds of hi-res scans of Mary Blair’s artwork, most of which haven’t been reproduced before (including a big archive or Mary’s personal and family artwork, plus a lot of material from the Disney archives).When they’re gone, they’re gone.  They are $45 (plus CA sales tax)

DAN BESSIE’S “REELING THROUGH HOLLYWOOD: How I Spent 40 Fabulous Years in Film and Never Made a Nickel ,” published in 2006 can now be downloaded as a free PDF copy  As a child he worked on the blacklisted feature Salt of the Earth and he spent part of his adult career working for animation studios.

Dan also has about 25 copies of the book's first edition remaining, so should anyone want a copy ($20, plus postage) you can contact him at



The grant Wood painting “Young Corn” influenced the  background design in the “Ladder World” sequence

TERRY GILLIAM’S “THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS” IS A BRILLIANT SURREAL ROMP THROUGH HIS TWISTED IMAGINATION If you enjoy Terry Gilliam’s features (Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Brothers Grimm, Twelve Monkeys) or are a Monty Python fan, you will be pleased to know this may be his finest film effort to date.  People who like simple, easy to follow stories that don’t tax your mind should stay away from this adventure into the world of dreams and desires.  It is not a lovely Hollywood romance, comedy or action film, but a delightful fun absurd romp.  His work is in the same league at that of Jean Cocteau, Luis Bunuel and Jan Svankmajer for absurd images, strange humor, outrageous sequences, impressive sets (digital), lush costumes, fantastic moments…  They all know how to combine joyful celebrations of life with darkness and cynicism to create powerful film experiences.

The story concerns a man who won a bet a thousand or two years ago with the devil for eternal life.  Being a habitual gambler he made a more recent bet that resulted in his fathering an extremely beautiful daughter who is about to become the devil’s play thing on her 16th birthday unless… The action is divided into adventures in both a world of dreams that can be entered into through the doctor’s magic mirror (perhaps made by the same company that made Alice’s looking glass, but Parnassus gets different results) and action that takes place in modern London around his traveling stage, an extremely strange contraption built on a horse drawn wagon.

Cartoon sensibilities seem to have helped shape Gilliam’s dream world.  Creating this world began on a blue screen soundstage in Vancouver, Canada.  Then amazing computer generated backgrounds were composited with the live action footage and models.  Just as in Chuck Jones’ Duck Amuck, Gilliam has characters walking down a path that can be a sunny pastoral landscape one moment and a foreboding forest the next moment.  In one interview he told the artists making some of the dream world backgrounds to make them “cartoon-like, but make it believable.”  Aljs in a Roadrunner cartoon people can fall off high cliffs and land without a scratch.  Solid landscapes can turn to dust with the actor left standing on a small plot of solid ground.   Some of the more amazing dream images reminded me of golden moments from 1920s and early ‘30s surreal Fleischer cartoons.

The film is loaded with violent sequences and every character gets roughed up at some point, but I view these scenes as exaggerated cartoon moments, not as painful sequences from Hollywood action films.  The evildoers include a gang of Russian Mafia enforcers, drunks coming out of a pub, and others who all manage to get knocked out or blown up in events that are as real as those in a Roadrunner cartoon or a silent era slapstick comedy.  I’m sure some viewers will disagree and take the violence seriously, but I don’t recall any blood, slow-motion shots of faces being smashed, or other gross shots.  Somehow the good guys end up in the next scene as if nothing happened.

The film opened Dec. 25 in NY and LA so it could qualify for the Oscar competition, and it opens in other parts of the US on January 8.  Reviews from Cannes, Toronto and other festivals and places where it opened theatrically have been mixed.  Much of the discussion has dealt with how Terry Gilliam used Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law to perform the scenes of Tony that hadn’t been shot when Heath Ledger, the actor who originally played Tony, died.  He died before the blue screen footage was shot.  While using three actors to complete Ledger’s role is an impressive accomplishment; Christopher Plummer’s performance as Doctor Parnassus and Lilly Cole as his daughter steal the show.  They both are worthy of Oscar nominations, but the roles are so unorthodox for Academy voters that I suspect the film is more likely to be recognized, if it is recognized at all, for its art direction (sets, costumes). Tom Wait also stands out as a contemporary sly prince of darkness.  Gilliam says of Wait, “He was born for the part, his music is dark but tender.

Although I’m quite fond of this film, I suspect most of the general public in the US will not see it and if they do many people will not enjoy it.  I think Gilliam’s objectives were to create a fun 2-hour romp through an impossible landscape that is surreal and illogical.  His films are for a sophisticated film audience looking for something different.  Getting us to smile, be bewildered and delighted seems more important to Gilliam than delivering a logical course of events leading to a climax and a satisfying conclusion.  If others share my opinions of this film, I suspect it will join films like The City of Lost Children, Brazil and Harold and Maude as perennial cult favorite at the few remaining repertory theaters in the US. 

Film Independent writes, “The movie is Faustus on acid, and it is impossible not to be enchanted by the stunning imagery and the vision of contemporary London as lived by a group of seemingly medieval actors wobbling around the city in a horse drawn carriage/house/portable theater.”

Kenneth Turan told readers in the LA Times “Imaginarium is the director’s best, most entertaining film in years… As one of the characters puts it, ‘this world is full of enchantment for those with eyes to see.’  Nothing rewards those eyes as richly as this remarkable film.”

The film opens January 8 at the Metreon, AMC Van Ness, Empire in San Francisco, Shattuck in Berkeley, Century 20 in Daly City, Tanforan 20 in San Bruno, Santana Row in San Jose, Century 20 in Milpitas, Century 25 in Union City, Century 16 in Mountain View, Century 5 in Pleasant Hill, Hacienda Crossing 20 in Dublin, Regency 6 in San Rafael, Rialto Lakeside in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park Stadium in Rohnert Park; Del Mar in Santa Cruz.

GENE HAMM SAYS “DISNEY FINALLY GOT IT RIGHT” He writes “With The Princess and The Frog, Disney has put 2D animation back on the map with a bang. Disney finally got it right and it is all the more satisfying because their work has been so rudderless for so long.  When Walt died, committees, not a director with a great vision, tried to figure out what Walt would do.  Princess and the Frog has taken anime, 3D, and Flash Internet style and thrown it into a gumbo so it comes back totally absorbed to the point where the sources are hidden inside the newly metamorphosized Disney style. Some reviewers say the black heroine reflects our black president and first lady. But Disney Studios was working on this long before the election, so the social shift on our screens and in the Oval Office must have just been in the air.”

“Tiana is a good role model for girls. She is independent and works hard.  The story is compelling. I laughed several times at great slapstick animation that was as good as a Warner Brothers short. I was pulling for the characters and had a lump in my throat a couple times.  The songs were catchy. You can see little homages throughout to older Disney animated features, but it builds on the tradition of the past and points to a bright future for 2D animation.”

An interview with Gene on "Working Titles" can be seen at:

WES ANDERSON VENTURES INTO STOP-MOTION ANIMATION – IT’S CUSSIN’ GOOD by Raen Payne    Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on a story by Roald Dahl, has been described as a comeback after the critical disasters that were The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic.

Though most animated films adhere to a particular studio’s look and tone – think Pixar or DreamWorks Animation – Mr. Fox has no such limitations or backing. His stop-motion film captures the look of the book’s illustrations as well as Anderson’s directorial style. A strong effort has been made to portray the stiff two-dimensional quality of a picture book. Shots are often divided into flat planes. During action scenes, such as when Mr. Fox and the other animal characters must dig tunnels to flee their pursuers, the frame is filled with a two dimensional cross section of the world above ground and the many layers of dirt beneath.

Anderson’s live action films are often characterized by dry wit and the deadpan delivery of emotionally charged lines. Mr. Fox is no exception. Anderson approached animation, as he would have any live action film.

During a Charlie Rose interview on PBS Anderson speaks less about the techniques of animation and more about his ignorance, “I didn’t really know that much about the process (directing animation). I just knew I liked the way it looked in movies.”  He also said about the making of the film, “This one has actually been great, I really enjoyed this one.”

The play between the possibilities of stop-motion and the experience of directing live action films is what makes Mr. Fox unusual and fresh. The film has, along with Coraline and Mary and Max, reminded audiences this year that stop-motion is just as viable commercially as computer-generated fare and costs a lot less to make. Anderson’s budget was around $40 million.

Though Anderson is primarily a live action director, or perhaps because of it, Mr. Fox was directed as a live action film. The movie is dialogue driven and shot as any other film of Anderson’s might be. With Mr. Fox, Anderson has demonstrated that it’s possible for any live action director to helm a successful animated feature with a small budget. This raises the possibility that other live action directors could produce innovative and stylized animated features. It is possible that a director with an even more pronounced one, such as Quentin Tarantino, could direct in animation.


HOW NOT TO RUN A FESTIVAL:  THE 2nd XIAMEN INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION FESTIVAL by Nancy Denney-Phelps When I received my invitation to 2nd Xiamen International Animation Festival (October 30 to November 3, 2009) I was looking forward to revisiting Xiamen.  The first edition of the festival had been a positive experience, even though the animation that I saw was sadly lacking in quality.  The members of ASIFA China who organized the event showed every sign of trying to follow ASIFA festival guidelines.

The e-mail that invited me said that my formal invitation, which is necessary to get my visa to visit China, would follow.  Then I waited, and waited, and waited.  Months passed.  It finally arrived on October 13th, barely two weeks before I was due to leave for China.  I had assumed that I was being invited for the entire festival, so I was surprised to see that I would arrive on November 1 and leave on the 4th. I would only have two full days there and would be in the air or in airports for almost as many hours as I would be at the festival.

I later found out that four other ASIFA board members had similar problems receiving their invitations.  The local government had taken control of the festival from last year’s organizers and while ASIFA China was still listed as a co-organizer, ASIFA’s policies regarding treatment of films and filmmakers were being woefully ignored.  Apparently the new government organizers decided to “un-invite” at least five ASIFA Board Members to save money, but we were not informed about this.  What I did not find out until much later was that we were not re-invited until ASIFA made it plain that either the entire board be invited or none of us would attend the festival.


Gene Deitch and his wife now and 50 years ago

On October 29th (I left for China on the 31st) an e-mail arrived from Oscar winning animator Gene Deitch who had been invited to the festival as a special guest and keynote speaker.  He had gone to the Chinese Embassy in Prague where he lives and was denied a visa.  Deitch thought that they took one look at his age and decided that they didn’t want to risk having to ship a guest back home in a body bag.  Gene is 85 years young and shows no signs of slowing down either mentally or physically.  The festival staff was very apologetic and asked Gene to videotape a message to be played at the festival.  He duly did that and his controversial message can be seen on over a dozen websites (Google “Gene Deitch, Xiamen”).

That evening I also received an e-mail from my ASIFA Board colleague Mohamed Ghazala from Egypt who had received his invitation to give a presentation in Xiamen several months before.  He had been anxiously awaiting his plane ticket and it finally arrived that day.  The festival had arranged for him to fly out October 30, the next day.  He would arrive on the 31st, give his presentation on the 2nd and then depart for the airport 15 minutes after he finished delivering his paper.   He would be in China one full day, which was even more absurd than my two-day visit.  A very frustrated Mohamed decided not to attend the festival.

I began asking myself “Why am I going?” but I forged ahead as I was curious to see for myself exactly what was going on.  In Beijing I had a 4-hour delay due to an unexpected heavy snowstorm.  The government had seeded the clouds for snow as an experiment without announcing it to the public.  I arrived in Xiamen too late on Sunday to visit the Animation Products and Technology Exhibition and Exchange or to see the end of the 2-day Cosplay Competition.

Monday began with my catching an 8:15 bus to the Forum.  After welcoming speeches from the director of the Xiamen Municipal Information Industry and Nelson Shin from ASIFA, the General Manager of the Application and Multi-Media Center of China Mobil, Fujian Branch, delivered the keynote speech “Mobil Phone Animation, the Next Stage for Animation.”

After lunch there were more talks.  The program ended with three presentations from ASIFA Board Members.  Heikki Jokinen from Finland talked about Scandinavian animation, illustrating it with clips from several beautiful films.  I wish that we had time to see the films in their entirety, but the 30-minute time limit per presentation made that impossible.


Bret Thompson of ASIFA Atlanta and Bill Dennis of ASIFA India

Ed Desroches of ASIFA Colorado presented early American animation and Brett Thompson of ASIFA Atlanta screened excerpts from classics including Little Nemo, Gertie the Dinosaur and one of my personal favorites, Felix Woos Whoopee.  I would have liked to see all of Brett’s excellent films, but we were scheduled to attend a banquet hosted by the Mayor of Xiamen at the hotel that evening and the Mayor arrived almost two hours early.  Brett’s presentation was cut short and we were rushed back to the hotel.  I guess that not keeping the Mayor waiting was more important than animation.

The next day a small group of us were taken to Gulangyn Island.  This beautiful island was home to Westerners during Xiamen’s colonial past and has beautiful architecture in a worldwide array of styles.  Streets in China are packed with automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians so the vehicle free island is a refreshing change and a perfect place to stroll through narrow streets and lush, tropical vegetation.  We were taken to a government owned teashop where a young lady brewed and poured several varieties of tea for us.  The island is also home to China’s only piano museum.  Unfortunately our visit had to be cut short so that we could be back at the hotel in time for four of us to go to rehearsal for the award ceremony that evening.  We ended our visit to the island with a wonderfully bumpy, fast speedboat ride back to the mainland.

Heikki, Brett, Hannah (Brett’s girlfriend) and I were requested to accept the awards for Best Foreign Animation.  In my article about the 2008 festival I complained that the awards won by foreigners were accepted by young Chinese who acted as if they had won them.  When we were told that we would appear on stage I assumed that it would be announced that we were accepting the awards on behalf of the absent animators.  At the rehearsal it became apparent that would not be the case.  We were told that when the trophy and diploma were presented to us we should smile gleefully, wave at the audience and look very proud.

I was upset and embarrassed to accept an award where I was clearly portrayed as the animator.  I would have no problem if they announced I was accepting the award on behalf of the actual winner, but I was told that they wanted European faces to accept the awards so that no one would know that the animators were not there in person.  This is highly unethical! 

Prior to the ceremony, when I raised my objections, I was assured that it would be stated that we were accepting for the actual creators.  The ceremony was in Chinese with no English translation and our interpreters were not allowed to attend the ceremony with us, but I was sitting next to a lady from the French Film Commission who spoke fluent Chinese.  She confirmed my suspicions that nothing was announced except the title of the film, the winners name and country.  It was embarrassing to have members of the audience come up to congratulate me on my award.

It seemed very strange that the jury was not introduced at the awards ceremony, nor was there a catalog so that we could see what films were considered, which awards were being given and who was on the selection committee and jury.  I did hear from one of the jury members that they didn’t receive a list of film titles in English and that the government organizers interfered in the evaluation of the films and even banned some of the films from being considered for awards!  I also heard that the jury had selected three films in each category to receive awards but at the ceremony four awards were given in each category.  The juror I spoke to had no idea where this fourth film came from or what it was.

The entire awards ceremony was televised complete with a 1950’s I Love Lucy type laugh track.  The person operating the applause track didn’t always come in on cue, which made for some very funny effects.  Following the awards, an overproduced, untelevised theatrical piece that had nothing to do with animation was presented.  I thought some of the award winning films might be shown, but that was not the case.

Earlier that day a tour of Xiamen Software Park was offered.  I was looking forward to getting a glimpse at what the 4,000 animators were doing in all of those buildings.  Unfortunately I was told that I had to go to the rehearsal at the awards ceremony at the same time the tour was scheduled so I wasted a lot of time sitting in an auditorium and waiting while lots of people with clipboards ran around shouting at the top of their lungs.  I finally walked on stage for 2-minutes and stood on an X and then walked off.  That was the extent of our rehearsal.

I was scheduled to fly home the next day in the evening so I mentioned to Janet, my translator, that I had not seen any animation and was sorry to have missed the Software Park tour.  It just so happened that her mother, Tan Yiwen, is the manager of Xiamen Software Park and so after a couple of phone calls a state of the art screening room was put at my disposal.  The screening room was as fine as anything I have been in at Skywalker Ranch or Dolby Laboratory.  The sound system was superb with the volume and balance adjusted to the perfect level.  The butter soft leather seats were very comfy and there was a table separating each chair.  I felt I was in a living room and not in a theatre. 

I’m sorry to say the majority of the work that I viewed was as not as impressive as the screening room.  Most of what I was shown was snub-nosed, big-eyed kids and animal characters or Ninja like warriors.  One piece did stand out above all the rest.  Heart Hugs, created by Space Mouse Animation Company in Guangdong Province, was designed to help children who had suffered from the devastating effects of the August 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province.  I was told that several animated films had been made especially to assist children who had lost family members in the disaster, to help them regain confidence and a healthy mental outlook on life.  Even though I couldn’t understand the words I could feel the warmth and compassion that poured out from the little characters on the screen.  The Space Mouse’s web site is (there is no English translation).

I want to emphasize that the problems with the festival were not due to Anni Lang or John Chill Lee of ASIFA China, who organized the 2008 festival.  They were placed in a most embarrassing and untenable position of having to act as go betweens for the foreign guests and the government officials who had taken control of the event.  They deserve great thanks for their hospitality and efforts to keep a bad situation from getting any worse.

I also can’t say enough nice things about Janet, my translator, who did everything possible to make my visit a pleasant experience.  She answered all of my questions and if she didn’t have immediate answers for me she took the time to find out the information for me.

I got the distinct impression that the guests were only invited by the government to prove that the festival was “important” by showing it could attract many foreigners.  There was no way that this event could be called an animation festival.  Some of the presentations were on interesting subjects, but it is hard to cover any topic in any depth in 30-minutes.  Most of the talks from the Chinese presenters dealt with technical and business aspects of running an animation business.  My overall impression was that the festival was created solely to attract partners for the Xiamen Software Park Company and it was never meant to be about animation.

If you see an announcement to submit your film for the 2010 “festival” I recommend that you check very carefully to see if conditions have changed, who makes up the pre-selection jury, and where your film will be screened. 


Newsletter Editor: Karl Cohen

Contributors: Nancy Denney-Phelps, Gene Hamm, Raen Payne, Mohamed Ghazaia, John Hayes, Betsy de Fries and other friends of ASIFA

Cover illustration by Ricci Carrasquillo

Proofreader: Sarah Chin

Mailing Crew: Tara Beyhm,  Dot Janson, Shirley Smith and Denise McEvoy

Webmaster Joe “the Calif. Kid” Sikoryak

Special thank to Andre Farago and the Cartoon Art Museum for hosting our joint event in December and to the Exploratorium for their years of support including hosting our January event.  Also to Tara Beyhm our VP, to our treasurer Karen Lithgow, to The G Man for sending out our e-mail updates, to Nancy Denney-Phelps for representing our chapter on the international ASIFA board, to Patricia Satjawatcharapjong who posts excerpts from our newsletter on the International ASIFA website –

ASIFA-SF is a chapter of: Association Internationale du Film d’Animation with almost 40 chapters around the world.

Our website and blog is:

 Mail can be sent to: - Or to PO Box 225263, SF CA 94122


Top row left to right Hamm, Dillworth, Chai.  Bottom by Paley, Setola and Sikoryak.  Wolf by Alexeev.

(Our open screening for student films will be held in May)

Friday, January 15, 7:30 PM at the Exploratorium’s McBean Theatre, free, public invited

Once again this looks like a great evening of new work by local artists and friends from around the globe. Anyone is welcome to bring animated/special effects work unannounced the night of the show  (DVD and 16 mm) and we will show it.

So far we expect to show:

· Joe and Steve Sikoryak, One Small Step, they show what really happened when we landed on the moon and the world held its collective breath.   Sit back and enjoy the completed film describing events that actually (?) took place on July 20, 1969.

· Julie Bayless, Christmas Tails and selected shorts, a surprising twist using well-worn holiday tunes and more.

·  Ken Pontac is bringing “something short and disturbing.” (He writes Happy Tree Friends episodes.)

· Eric Dyer’s Bellows March with music by Nik Phelps (film premiered at  Ottawa 09.  It was shown silent as an installation piece at SIGGRAPH 08)

· Nina Paley, Copying is not Theft – Let the recording begin!

· David Chai’s Ninjas vs. Guilt stars Nobu the Ninja.

· Don Albrecht plans to show Jiggles and Totem Pole  (these are not X-rated).

· Anton Setola’s Jazzed, a visually stunning work from the Netherlands.

· Michaela Copikova will screen her new music video “about fox from the cave.”

· Gene Hamm’s animated opening titles and closing credits for "The Don of 42nd Street." The movie won Best Comedy Feature at the New York International Film Festival.

· John Dilworth’s Rinky Dink. A Fairy Tail unlike any other, using drawn, stop-motion and cg animation.  John is best known as the creator of Dirdy Birdy and the TV series Courage the Cowardly Dog.

· Bradford Uyeda is bringing his stop-motion footage from Night of the Living Dead Reanimated

· Chris Perry, who teaches at Hampshire College in Mass. Is sending us Not Yet Uhuru, a collaborative piece between an African poet and his seminar students and his film Catch (His The incident at tower 37 was shown at SIGGRAPH 2009)

· Alexei Alexeev, Studio Baestart, Hungary, who made KJFG #5  (stars a musical bear, fox and rabbit), is back with the delightful opening used in a DVD about the 2009 KROK animation festival.

· PES will provide a roaring fire to warm your hearts before the show begins (thanks Bill Plympton for providing it).

· Several surprises brought in the night of the show unannounced.  So come and enjoy a really fine show!

Karl Cohen

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