October 19, 2007
Atopia has acquired North American rights to The District (Nyocker!), the 2005 Hungarian feature by Aron Gauder. The film screens in Montreal beginning Friday, October 26th at the Cinema du Parc for a two-week run. The film will then show at Boston's Brattle Theatre, Austin's Alamo Drafthouse Cinema beginning November 16 for a week, Winnipeg's Cinematheque from November 26 to 28, and Cleveland's CIA Cinematheque in late January.

In Fall 2005, I had the pleasure of seeing it at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and Matt Forsythe saw it a several weeks later at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema. It sported bold visuals, an infectious hip-hop soundtrack, and starred a motley group of teenagers from the streets of Budapest. Gauder did not shy away from any subject and touched on many, including sex, ethnic differences, politics, and time travel, just to name a few.

The District's satire is raw, strange and very funny, and you never know where the story is going to lead you, and that is all part of the experience. Some films try to be too many things at once, but the film's break-neck pace and unpredictability are definitely a part of its charm.

Over the last two years, fps contributors joined the chorus of voices that have noted the film's irreverent style and storytelling. It continued to be a hit a festivals and many people wondered why more films that broke the mold weren't available to a wider audience. If you didn't have a chance to see The District, here's your chance.

Hopefully, the continued successes of non-formulaic international animated features like The District will open up the theatrical market to innovative animated features that are not afraid to tell new stories, with distinctive visual styles.

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November 19, 2005
Today, I'm writing from the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema. The great news is that Waterloo's ultra-cool Princess Theatre (which is hosting most of the festival films) has wireless internet. So, when most people get up for popcorn - that's when I'll be posting and checking my email.

The festival started yesterday, but I just took the train (and bus) down from Montreal today, so that's when I'll start.

The print of the first film was late getting to the theatre, so the audience was treated to the work of this year's Sheridan grads. Some of the shorts were fantastic. Especially a little film called...

An Eye for Annai

This is an irresistable short story of a one-eyed polygon searching for its second eye. The art is so simple and endearing and the flute score beautifully matches the action. I could keep ranting about it, but you'd do better to see it for yourself as it looks like it's usually available on-line.

Bookmark Burst of Beaden

The theme for today's films was heavily political but wrapped in whimsy. We took in two Eastern European animated feature films that both had harsh things to say about American foreign policy, but said them in two completely different ways.

Frank & Wendy (Estonia)

The heroes of this 2d feature are based loosely on Muldar and Scully prototypes from X-Files fame. In a very appealing minimalist, absurdist style, Frank and Wendy wend their way through a surreal landscape of sausages, shaved monkeys, and obese Americans as they try to uncover an alien plot to replace all living beings with glowing green cubes.

It sounds surreal and it is. But it yet somehow remains engaging and at times hugely entertaining. As festival curator, Joseph Chen pointed out in his introduction to the film, it "pokes fun at everyone: its creators, its own country, Europeans, and, of course, the United States."

I also wholeheartedly agree with Chen's caveat: "Whether you enjoy this film largely depends on how much you had to drink the night before."

The District (Hungary)

This is the first animated feature film to come out of Hungary since 1989. Using a combination of Photoshop, Flash, and 3D software, a team of 15 animators spun this rambunctious and beautifully drawn story of a dysfunctional neighbourhood that finds itself in the middle of an international oil crisis.

At first, the film lulls viewers into a sense that perhaps it's fit for families. But as we get to know the motley, multi-ethnic neighbourhood better, we realize this is one to leave the kids at home for. Predictably, the film involves the US dropping an atomic bomb on Bucharest.

For a sense of the fresh, complex aesthetic, definitely, check out the Trailer.


Tomorrow (Saturday) is the big day at the festival. I think I'll be watching about six films and taking in a couple lectures... so check back for more updates!

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November 14, 2005
Looking for something to do next weekend? Take a plane, train or automobile to the 5th annual Waterloo Festival of Animated Cinema (WFAC). Unlike many other animation festivals, which tend to focus on animation shorts, WFAC concentrates on feature films.

Each year the festival is a little more ambitious than the prior one, and is growing at a steady and healthy rate. Five years of patient work have paid off: this year's selection is even more jaw-dropping than the last. Knowing they would have to beat the 2004 lineup, which included guest speakers, Canadian and North American premieres and screenings of the new Appleseed, Rock & Rule, Kaena: La Prophétie, Steamboy, the first animated African feature Legend of Sky Kingdom, and Hair High among others, the organizers have managed to outdo themselves:

Thursday, November 17th, 2005
The Place Promised in Our Early Days (Japan)
Terkel In Trouble (Denmark)

Friday, November 18th, 2005
Frank and Wendy (Estonia)
The District! (Hungary)

Saturday, November 19th, 2005
Alosha Popovich and Tugarin the Serpent (Russia)
Fragile Machine, free admission (USA)
Mind Game (Japan)

Sunday, November 20th, 2005
Strings (Norway)

Wait! That's not all! Emru's heart probably stopped when he read that the festival includes a Kihachiro Kawamoto retrospective. One of the Japan's greatest animators will be featured, including a screening of the anthology Winter Days, although you'll be able to see shorts throughout the festival before other feature screenings.

Most people would have stopped here. Probably long before.

WFAC will have the honour of receiving Mike Nguyen for a special lecture and a screening of his work-in-progress My Little World. For free.


The reasons to attend are many. If you still need more: there will be other guests; The District! and Mind Game were among my favourite cinematic experiences of the year; it's easy to get there (okay, if you live in Quebec, Ontario, Michigan, upstate New York or New England); it's affordable to check out the entire festival or just one or two films.

The best reason to go is to support this incredible undertaking, and to ensure that there is a festival next year. I need to find what they'll do in 2006. Revive Walt Disney and Osamu Tezuka for a celebrity death match? Based on their track record, if they announced it, I'd believe it.

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November 4, 2005
Things have been pretty busy in the last month, between our fifth issue and the recent Animation Innovator event. So I didn't quite get around to watching Kakurenbo as quickly as I'd intended, though I'd been quite taken with the teaser I saw at the Japan Media Arts Festival screenings at this year's SIGGRAPH conference.

Kakurenbo concerns seven children playing hide & seek on the streets of Tokyo after dark, in defiance of their peers' warnings that demons wait for exactly those conditions to take children away. (One of the characters has personal reasons: his sister disappeared one night). They start out recklessly brave, but when strange creatures manifest and start to hunt them down, it quickly turns to fight or flight for the hopelessly outmatched kids.

As an atmospheric, short horror film (it's a mere 25 minutes) that leans heavily on digital animation (the characters are cel-shaded 3D CGI), Kakurenbo's most obvious spiritual connection is to Production I.G.'s Blood: The Last Vampire, another short horror film that leans heavily on digital animation. Both are also short on plot and heavy on atmosphere, but in an appealing way. (Kakurenbo, in particular, has the character of a ghost story being told among children.) The less obvious predecessor is Akira, which also brought out the idea of a nighttime Tokyo as a dark children's playground, combining the modern urban with the ancient mythological. Also, as far as I can tell, Akira is the first commercial anime production to have atmospheric nighttime scenes with truly dark palettes and a wide range of colours within the shadows, providing rich and enveloping textures. (Earlier films like Wicked City still tended to use colours that would pop on a dark background. The only movie that comes close is Osamu Dezaki's Golgo 13, recently re-released on DVD.)

The other similarity to Akira is its use of children who aren't particularly sympathetic. Only one kid here appears as an overt brute, from the beginning, but watch what happens when two other kids find themselves boxed in: wordlessly, they arm themselves with a rock and a lead pipe with unnerving familiarity. (We also never see their faces; the kids wear masks throughout the film.)

Kakurenbo highlights why teenagers and college students gravitate more toward anime than, say, Disney or Dreamworks. Kakurenbo is all about kids, but isn't in the least bit sweet. Children are put in danger, without the underlying expectation that they'll come out okay just because they're children. (This is also why you should stick with the Japanese language track; the Japanese voices are, or at least sound like, real children. The American voices sound like adults trying to sound like children.)

It's also interesting to watch how studios outside of North America experiment with CGI. Kakurenbo, My Beautiful Girl Mari, Sky Blue and The District are four CGI movies that point in four different directions, stylistically and thematically. As much as I liked Chicken Little, it didn't go anywhere new visually or storywise. And neither will Cars, Shrek 3, or Hoodwinked. And that's a damn shame.

Kakurenbo: Hide & Seek
Yamatoworks/D.I.C./Central Park Media
25 minutes
Buy Kakurenbo: Hide & Seek from Amazon.com

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October 28, 2005
Emru is busy recovering from Wednesday's Animation Innovator presentation with Mike Johnson. If you were there, thanks for attending. It really can't happen without you.

While I'm holding down the fort, I'd like to highlight some incredible animation events gracing Montreal this weekend. It is a beautiful thing, and I want to share it with everyone. If you love animation, this is the place to be for the Hallowe'en weekend.

Today is the International Day of Animated Film. Rejoice!

Friday at la Cinemathèque Québecoise

A full day of programming for the International Day of Animated Film
  • 1:30 p.m. Master Class with pin-screen animator Jacques Drouin.
  • 5: 00 p.m. DVD Launch of Embarquement immédiat (that's French for All Aboard) at the Café-Bar at the Cinémathèque, with the directors present, including Nicolas Brault, Michèle Cournoyer, Jacques Drouin, Masoud Raouf and Craig Welch.
  • 6:30 p.m. Screening of the animation films of Embarquement immédiat in the presence of the directors, who have a special surprise at the end of the screening.
  • While you're there, pick up a copy of Winsor McCay: The Master Edition for your collection and help keep the Cinemathèque funded and financially well-loved.

Saturday at le Cinema du Parc

If you were lucky enough to see DJ XL5's great selection of short films from around the world at this year's edition of the Fantasia International Genre Film Festival, you know you'll want to review it again to better commit it to memory. Here's you chance to review or watch more than 30 short features and commercials, including lots of animation, as well as dozens of sampled images, selected by DJ XL5 from around the globe—Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Japan, Mexico and USA. DJ XL5 will create the ultimate mash-up for the senses. (All for $7! - That's just ridiculous.)

Catch it again on Wednesday November 2nd at 7 pm.

Saturday and Sunday at The Imperial Cinema

Ottawa International Animation Festival in Montreal

For the first time in Montreal, the best of the fest will be screened in the lovely Imperial Cinema. After seeing a lot of the films at Ottawa this year, I must say the programmers did a great job of taking five days of screening and giving us the best the festival has to offer. My personal pick? If you're old enough, go see the District. If you aren't prone to nightmares, see Short Competition 2, just to be awed by The Mysterious Geographic Exploration of Jasper Morello. Truly, the best of the fest.



I'm told that if this mini-festival is a success, Montrealers can look forward to seeing the best of OIAF every year. Wouldn't that be great? Get your ticket ($8 per screening) at the door.

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