February 10, 2009

After winning a Golden Globe, Andrew Stanton's Wall-E also picked up the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film. Persepolis and Waltz With Bashir were the other two nominees in that category. These last two films were also in the running for Best Film Not in the English Language.

Nick Park's latest Wallace and Gromit short, A Matter of Loaf and Death won for Best Short Animation.

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July 2, 2008

Just a few weeks ago I was in a car with Tee Bosustow, on the way to an interview for his Toon In podcast. We kicked around a few thoughts on different animated productions, and when I mentioned that I really liked Persepolis, he said he wasn't as enthusiastic about the film.

"What?!?" I said. "Let me out of the car right now. You know what? Don't even bother stopping. Just slow down and let me jump out."

Okay, so maybe that's not exactly how it went down. For that matter, I don't really remember why he didn't like it as much as I did. But at the time his reasoning struck me enough that I recently re-read the comics in anticipation of the DVD release, which I watched not too long ago, along with all the extras. Here are some of the impressions I came away with:

It's always kind of funny when you mistakenly get the DVD with Spanish menus.

Catherine Deneuve is at the Persepolis press conference at Cannes and doesn't get asked a question? How is that possible?

I suspect that Iggy Pop is incapable of sitting in one place for too long without taking his shirt off.

Finally, upon rewatching I think that Persepolis is as much a tribute to Marjane Satrapi's grandmother as it is an autobiography. Never mind the bittersweet ending; from the moment the young Marjane opens her mouth to question authority in school, she's negotiating the principles of self-awareness and honesty to oneself that her grandmother taught her against the realities of the world around her. Whether she's telling off members of the Guardians of the Revolution or standing up to French bigots, she's channelling her grandmother; and guess who's the person she goes to whenever she has serious problems, and the first person to bite her head off if that's what she needs?

Because of the story's geographic and spiritual location in Iran and the timing of the movie's release, some might consider Persepolis political. Because of the strength and intelligence exhibited by Marjane, her mother and her grandmother, some might consider it feminist. After watching the extras, I don't think Satrapi would agree with either sentiment. Persepolis is the story of ordinary-yet-extraordinary people—we all know folks who fit in that category—in trying circumstances, and the legacy that she carries.

Yeah, I'm still on the Persepolis bandwagon.

Where to Get It
Buy Persepolis books and DVDs from Amazon.com

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January 22, 2008
Today, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the 2008 Oscar nominees. For all the concern of Beowulf getting a spot, the worry was for naught. The shorts are diverse, in technique, storytelling and geography.


Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, France)
Ratatouille (Brad Bird, US)
Surf's Up (Ash Brannon and Chris Buck, US)


Even Pigeons Go To Heaven (Samuel Tourneux and Simon Vanesse, France) entire short
I Met The Walrus (Josh Raskin, Canada) clip
Madame Tutli-Putli (Chris Lavis & Maciek Szczerbowski, Canada) clip
My Love (Alexander Petrov, Russia) clip
Peter and The Wolf (Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman, UK) clip

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January 16, 2008
Montreal's Cinematheque Quebecoise is screening two modern anime favourites this month. Today, they are showing Akira, and next week Thursday, they offer the opportunity to see Princess Mononoke on the big screen.

Princess Mononoke was overlooked for an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 1997. It seems like the pattern has been repeated this year. Check out this Cartoon Brew post about this year's snub of Persepolis.

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January 5, 2008
2007 wasn't too bad as far as animation coverage was concerned in the local arts weeklies in fps's hometown of Montreal. The Montreal Mirror, Hour and Ici reserved the cover for the opening of Paprika, Tekkon Kinkreet, Lucky Luke and even the homecoming of an animated short, the worthy Madame Tutli-Putli.

So how do you beat that?

The first week of 2008 features Persepolis creator Marjane Satrapi and co-direct Vincent Paronnaud on the cover of Hour looking hipper-than-thou (I actually passed the stacks a few times around the city until I took a closer look and realized Satrapi was on the cover). The article does neglect to mention that the features, of which we're fans, begins its general run January 11.

If that wasn't enough, the Montreal Mirror's annual Noisemakers issue compiling 30 influential local artistic forces features an animator as a 2008 noisemaker! Marie-Josee Saint-Pierre's animated documentary McLaren's Negatives is highlighted as well as an upcoming animated documentary she is working on.

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October 13, 2007
We're all animation fans here, right? And there are probably few things that irritate us more than people who think that all we watch are the juvenile antics of anvil-toting funny-animals. I've said before that the mainstream press (and marketing departments) are a big part of the problem, as they help perpetuate a limited (and often inaccurate) view of animation's content and process.

As it happens, today I spotted two articles that both refer to their writers' limited views on animation. One of these is predictably disappointing; the other is surprisingly encouraging.

I'll start with the good news. In yesterday's New York Times, Stephon Holden summarized the New York Film Festival's highlights, and he led off with (and praises) Persepolis despite, as he put it, a "longstanding resistance to animation":
Because it is animated, Persepolis is a bold choice for the festival’s closing-night selection. "A cartoon?" you may sniff. "How dare they?" But the movie is so enthralling that it eroded my longstanding resistance to animation, and I realized that the same history translated into a live-action drama could never be depicted with the clarity and narrative drive that bold, simple animation encourages.
This is a refreshing and commendable report. Confronted with an animated feature that challenged his preconceptions about the medium, Holden adjusted his worldview in light of this new experience, without once feeling the need to denigrate the rest of animation's offerings. If only more film critics, fans and artists did the same.

Montreal's Al Kratina, on the other hand, gives a typical backhanded compliment in yesterday's Montreal Gazette:
In September, Anchor Bay Entertainment released a slew of anime titles, including Perfect Blue, a film that avoids most anime clichés. It's not futuristic, there are no robots, and at no point is a schoolgirl threatened by some sort of pulsating sex monster. Instead, it's a complex story of a young pop idol who's stalked by a crazed fan, with exaggerated themes of obsession and paranoia that feel like Alfred Hitchcock directing a Road Runner cartoon.
More of the same old, same old. Kratina has, like most mainstream critics (and more than a few in the animation press, as well) seen only a sliver of all that anime has to offer, and yet he figures he already knows "most" of its tropes—sorry, "clichés." So far as he's concerned, it's not typical anime if it's "not futuristic, there are no robots, and at no point is a schoolgirl threatened by some sort of pulsating sex monster." And of course there's the inevitable comparison to Disney films or Looney Tunes.

Enough is enough, already. As I wrote eleven months ago, if we want to see better animation writing we need to tell writers and editors when they've screwed up. I encourage you to write to newspapers, magazines, radio shows, TV shows and websites when this kind of lazy criticism occurs; it's the only way we'll ever see real change. Here's what I wrote to the Gazette:
Sad to say, I'm not surprised that Al Kratina makes the backhanded compliment to Perfect Blue that it "avoids most anime clichés. It's not futuristic, there are no robots, and at no point is a schoolgirl threatened by some sort of pulsating sex monster" ("'In' films for 'out' crowds," Oct. 12). There are many anime productions that don't fit into his preconceived categories, but as is often the case with people who don't take the time to understand a genre or medium, he figures a few generalizations will suffice.

The irony here is that Kratina reviews comic books, another medium that is often unfairly judged. If I said, "The Sandman is a title that avoid most comic clichés, because it doesn't have spandex-clad muscle-men whaling the tar out of each other in adolescent power fantasies," he'd probably tell me about how comics have become more mature and/or complex in content over the last three decades, and that there's a whole world of non-superhero comics that go beyond that tired stereotype.

In short, he'd be asking me to look at the medium with an open mind. He might consider extending the same courtesy to anime.
Have you come across anything egregious in the media lately? Let us know about it.

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October 11, 2007

When I sat down to watch Persepolis, the opening film at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, I was already a fan of the comics it was based on—even though I'd never read them. A year ago Kino Kid introduced me to Marjane Satrapi's work via Poulet aux prunes (Chicken with Plums), another comic set in her native Iran, and it quietly blew me away with its lyrical storytelling. Like Charles M. Schulz's work, Satrapi's style is deceptive: It would be easy to look at its simplicity and starkness (like most of Schulz's work, her comics are in black and white, with no greys) and declare it childish or naïve. It would also be an injustice. With heavy-lidded eyes, wide-open mouths or rubber-hosey limbs, Satrapi's characters convey everything from gleeful, kinetic action to stark terror to heart-rending anguish—which is perfectly fitting for the autobiographical Persepolis.

The movie opens in Tehran, just a few years before the Iranian Revolution. Marjane's educated, progressive and politically aware parents are anticipating the fall of the Shah, and when the demonstrations start they're out on the streets protesting. In the middle of all this upheaval Marjane is starting to piece together her world view in that broad, semi-understanding, somewhat egocentric way that only a child can. As the situation becomes more dangerous (the protests turn violent), then hopeful (the Shah goes into exile, political prisoners are freed), then horribly awry (the rise of Islamic fundamentalism) she's forced to learn complicated, terrible lessons in a very short time.

One of the hardest lessons for Marjane to learn is to temper her smart mouth. A bright child raised by socially conscious parents, she had long been encouraged to question and to speak her mind—not an especially bad thing during the Shah's last days in power, but a dangerous trait in an increasingly restrictive society, and especially in one that devalues its women. When she's fourteen, her parents realize that Marjane can't thrive in Iran, so they send her to a French school in Vienna. It's there that Marjane suffers the trials and confusion of culture shock, racism and adolescence, sometimes separately, often all at once.

I ended up reading the first two collected Persepolis volumes after seeing the movie, and was struck by how w
ell they complement each other. Because of the way comics telescope time, there are some things that the movie compresses, and others it extends. In some cases, it's a mix of both: A scene in which the Guardians of the Revolution, Iran's militia and moral police, break up an illicit party is given more play in the movie, but Marjane's emotional aftermath is reduced to mere moments—and the result is that much more powerful.

The movie, which is co-written and co-directed by Satrapi (along with Vincent Paronnaud), is extremely faithful to her style; though it includes more grey tones to provide some texture, there are only slight concessions to the animated medium. (Again, a comparison to Schulz's Peanuts is apt here). Faithful, however, doesn't mean slavish: rather than using the comics as a literal storyboard, the movie uses them as springboard. As loose as the comics' style is, the movie takes advantage of animation's possibilities, especially with regards to the chadors and habits of the strictly religious Iranian women and nuns who have the misfortune to cross Marjane's path. Bodies bend, curve and coil; rarely to extreme, but often with a liveliness that's just a step above Satrapi's more contemplative comics. Several one- or two-panel elements (or even just speech balloons) from the comic get extended, sometimes hilarious play in the movie, including a whimsical take on the Shah's father's installation by the British, and the best rendition of "Eye of the Tiger" ever.

Persepolis is the cinematic sibling of other autobiographical films that encompass cultures and experiences that most in the West have heard or read of, but only really know superficially, like Barefoot Gen and Grave of the Fireflies; but it's also quite different. There's no singular, epic tragic moment as in Barefoot Gen, nor is there the shadow of death that hangs over Grave of the Fireflies. What we do have is several decades of a life, rather than a tiny sliver; and by observing the growth of that life, we're given a nuanced look at the culture and the people that shaped it. Satrapi's gaze is unflinching as she exposes everyone's good and bad sides; she not only reveals her own failings and hypocrisies, she exposes the good in people it would be easy to write off. When two militia members stop her family late one evening, she and her grandmother try to get to the apartment quickly so they can ditch her father's supply of alcohol. When the grandmother plays at being hypoglycemic for their excuse, one of the guardsmen softens for a moment and says, "Just like my mother. Go on."

This is Persepolis's magic. It presents a complex, layered, compassionate and often humorous look at the people of a country that has been presented only superficially to Westerners, most recently as a member of the "axis of evil" with a lunatic as a leader. It's a shame that the people who most need to see Persepolis likely won't, but in the meantime we can experience the joys and sadness of a life that is at once alien and familiar, in glorious black and white.

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October 10, 2007
Since Persepolis and Madame Tutli-Putli each screened at Cannes and won awards this year in May, they have appeared at animation and mainstream film festivals to acclaim. Montrealers can now finally see both films by attending the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, which begins today.

Animation seems to have taken on a more important role in the festival with more shorts than ever. However, a few might slip through the cracks if you aren't careful. The visceral Face lies in wait in Competition 1, on Thursday, October 11 and Wednesday, October 17th. Madame Tutli-Putli is showing during Competition 2 this Friday, October 12 and Tuesday, October 16. Selina Cobley's Crow Moon screens in Competition 3 next week on the 17th and 18th.

The National Film Board of Canada Stereo Lab is screening four stereoscopic shorts, which 2004 OIAF attendees might have seen, but this screening includes the premiere of a stereoscopic version of Theodor Ushev's phenomenal Tower Bawher.

Previously on fps
Festival du Nouveau Cinéma coverage
Persepolis coverage
Two Podcasts for Madame Tutli-Putli

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September 18, 2007
Festival madness: Animatu 2007 kicks off its appreciation of digital animation in Beja, Portugal on October 17, featuring shorts like Ark, Codehunters and Guy's Guide to Zombies; in Spain, Animadrid starts off strong on September 28, opening with Nocturna; I'm still a little peeved at Aurora (formerly Norwich International Animation Festival) for dumping the word "animation" from their name because they think it's too restrictive, but damn do they have a lot of cool animation and animators in this year's fest, which starts November 7; Animae Caribe hits the University of the West Indies, Trinidad on October 25 and will feature a history of African animation; and the awesome Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema returns to the tiny town starting November 15, with an undoubtedly incredible lineup and steady supply of excellent hot chocolate.

Two new additions to our Sites We Like blogroll (over on the lower right sidebar, in case you hadn't noticed): Fill This Space is Patrick Smith's space for ruminating on the art and animation that he makes, and that inspires him; Diego Stoliar's self-titled blog features his personal and creative work. I featured Patrick's Moving Along in our Flicker newsletter a while ago, and praised his Handshake ever so briefly in my review of the second Avoid Eye Contact DVD; Diego was a participant in the National Film Board of Canada's most recent iteration of the Hothouse project, and you can see his contribution, One, along with the rest of them here. They'e both great guys, and I hope one day we'll all share beers together.

In the past we've mentioned the weekend animation workshops that the National Film Board hosts for kids here in Montreal; I should also mention that the NFB in Toronto has been running the same kind of program at the Mediatheque, for budding animators aged 3 to 13. The current program runs through to April 2008, but you can jump in at any time.

The Iranian feature Persepolis has been making the festival rounds for most of the year, but it looks like Sony Classics is giving it at least some sort of a theatrical release. I don't know about the rest of the continent, but Montrealers will be able to catch it in English and French starting January 11.

Speaking of Sony, the company is picking up where Disney left off with direct-to-DVD sequels of its feature properties; the first title is Open Season 2. Fans may howl at the resurgence of cheapquels, but I imagine it's hard for executives to ignore the heaping piles of money they generate.

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September 12, 2007
There's just a week to go before the Ottawa International Animation Festival opens, and the lineup is impressive. If you'll be in Ottawa for the first day, Wednesday, September 19, then you will be among the first to see the film adaptation of Persepolis, adapted by the author Marjane Satrapi. It won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes earlier this year and screened recently at the Toronto International Film Festival. Unless you will be at the VFF in October, you won't want to miss it in Ottawa with a crowd that can't be beat for enthusiasm when the film is deserving.

Following the opening feature, Short Competition 1 also features a notable selection including instant personal classic, UMO, the visceral J-Pop video directed by Shoji Goto. The video melds multiple techniques, including stop-motion, CG and 2D, and effectively makes you want more when it ends. It won't be the first or last animation short that you will see over the course of the festival the latches onto you.

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July 4, 2007
There's once again talk of a Samurai Jack feature, but this time, rather more sensibly, it's to be animated, with creator Genndy Tartakovsky directing. Fred Seibert has launched Frederator Films (along with Kevin Kolde and Eric Gardner), with the aim of producing animated features for under $20 million. Aside from Samurai Jack, the other initial projects are stop-motion The Neverhood (based on the game I praised last year, with creator Doug TenNapel on board to direct) and the hip-hop The Seven Deadly Sins, with Don King signed to provide a voice (!).

If you happen to find yourself in Beja, Portugal in the next two months, the Animatu digital animation festival is screening the best of last year's films. In July they'll be screening a short every hour from 9:00 p.m. to midnight at the Galeria do Desassossego; in August they'll be screening a short before every feature on Mondays at the Pax Julia Municipal Theatre. And if you're a digital filmmaker, don't forget: you've still got just under two weeks to submit your work for this year's festival. (The new deadline's July 15.)

Teheran's Experimental and Documentary Film Center wants to kick-start Iran's animation industry by supporting the production of more animated shorts, as well as theatrical features, with an emphasis on films with a distinctive directorial touch. I'm all for auteur cinema, especially those that are distinctly of the culture that produced them, but I'm curious as to the flavour of the films that will be produced, as Iran has a history of being less than supportive of films the government deems anti-Islamic, anti-Iranian or anti-government (including the recent Persepolis). In some cases that makes the resulting films more interesting, as directors find new, creative ways of slipping in their messages while getting around state censors and critics.

This Saturday the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco plays host to Blast Off!, an exhibition on comics and manga that will feature taiko drumming, cosplay, panel discussions with Gilles Poitras and Fred Schodt, and more. The event, which ties into the museum's Osamu Tezuka exhibit, appears to have the goal of connecting teens who are into manga and anime with a deeper understanding of Japan, anime and manga. Cool.

July 11 will see a tribute to Woody Woodpecker in Hollywood, at Mann's Chinese 6 Theater. On the guest list are Leonard Maltin, Billy West, June Foray, Maurice LaMarche and Phil Roman. (I'm assuming that there will be actual Woody Woodpecker cartoons screened as well, but there's no mention.) People in the neighbourhood can go to this event for free, and the rest of us can watch the show online. Either way, you'll need to visit the website to sign up.

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May 27, 2007
Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud received the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for the adaptation of Satrapi's graphic novel, Persepolis. I can't wait to see this film. If you would like to see why I find this encouraging, pick up a copy of the original comic, or copies of Persepolis 2 or The Emboideries. If you can read French, Poulet aux Prunes is also a great read, which, like her other work, finds unexpected ways to make you laugh and break your heart. UPDATE: Poulet aux Prunes is now available in English under the title Chicken With Plums.

While the official Persepolis website hasn't been updated in a while, Satrapi's Myspace for the film has trailers up. Even if you don't know French, you'll figure most of it out. (Maybe not this one: At the end of the second teaser, the policemen are telling her to slow down and admonishing her for running in a manner the shows off her bottom. She yells back at them because they shouldn't be looking at her butt in the first place!)

Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski have received two awards at Cannes for the stop-motion short film, Madame Tutli-Putli. Both awards were in Best Short Film categories. The short received the Petit Rail d'Or and another award from Canal +, which means that their film will be broadcast on Canal + and the creators will receive the gift that keeps on giving: 6000 Euros' (over 8000 US dollars) worth of film equipment, courtesy of Panavision Alga Techno.

In addition to the Canal + broadcast, the short will be screened at Annecy, Toronto's Worldwide Shorts Festival and the Rome, Paris, Beirut and Mexico screenings for Cannes' International Critics Week tour.

Previously on fps:
Two Podcasts for Madame Tutli-Putli

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