November 19, 2008
Joseph Chen, curator of the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, likes to highlight the fact that animated films are neither tied to a specific genre or animation technique, nor are they thematically hide-bound – the only thing linking them is that they are animated and generally do not include much live-action (although some do mix it up). The “Midnight Madness” screenings are, in Joseph’s words “all about edge” – both story-wise and in the techniques used to “paint” the story.

This year’s two midnight screenings were We Are the Strange (by MDOTSTRANGE, a filmmaker based in San Jose) and From Inside (by John Bergin, a Missouri-based artist and feature filmmaker).

We Are The Strange is definitely edgy - an assault on the senses for which I wasn't really prepared, but which had me thinking for some time afterwards. It was a clever composite of 8-bit, pixelated gaming imagery, cut with stop-motion animation, a couple of live-action appearances, and anime-style animation. The soundtrack was cranked to 11, and, frankly, you're not meant to be comfortable with it. But I was definitely engaged - and it was as visually complex and interesting, as it was disturbing. Not for everybody, but I really liked it.

From Inside was the Saturday night midnight screening. John Bergin, the writer, director and animator, warned us before the movie started that the story was as bleak as the weather outside (it was windy, bitterly cold and snowing). What followed was a visually stunning, dark allegory. How do you find hope in a world going to hell - what can you do to stop it, and should children be brought into this chaos? Or are children the only redemption we have? I loved this movie - it combined 3D animation along with awesome 2D 1930s-inspired, dark illustration. Again, not for everyone, but a truly beautiful piece of artwork, and a story that ends on a more hopeful note than you're lead to expect.

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November 18, 2008

On Day 2 of the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, we got to see a screening of an original 35mm print of Grave of the Fireflies. This is an Isao Takahata, 1988 Studio Ghibli film, based on a short story about a 14-year-old boy who tries to care for his sister after their ailing mother is killed during a raid in the 1945 Kobe bombings. He and his sister experience the fear-inspired selfishness of an aunt and he must find a way to take care of himself and his sister on his own.

There was a panel discussion following the film lead by Fred Schodt, author of Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics; John O'Donnell, founder of Central Park Media (the publishers who license the film for North America); and Fred Ruh, author of Stray Dog of Anime: The Films of Mamoru Oshii.

The conversation between the panelists and the audience covered debates as to whether the film was anti-American or rather just anti-war generally, given that the American bombers were barely referred to directly except by the subtle display of some American signage a couple of times on the bomber planes. Another point was raised about the divide between the themes considered culturally sensitive in western animation versus the plain-speaking storytelling of Japanese anime. As a nod to the animated film genre, it was agreed that this socially important, and poignant story couldn't be told the same way in a live-action film (a live-action version was made in 2005), given the youth of the actors required to play the parts and the fact that they couldn't be represented as realistically in the unhealthy conditions in which they were portrayed for the anime version.

This screening was also presented by UrbanEx and their Out Of The Cold programme.

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November 17, 2008
Quirino Cristiani's parents had really wanted him to be a doctor. Just after the turn of the 20th century, the Italian immigrants in Argentina had hoped that Quirino would "get over" his penchant for drawing, and be a doctor in the Buenos Aires hospital where his father worked.

Young Quirino only wanted to draw and was especially fascinated with representing movement, and later made a living drawing political satire cartoons for various newspapers and magazines. Newsreel producer and entrepreneur, Frederico Valle, first commissioned Cristiani to make artwork for the end of his newsreels, and wanted Cristiani to see if he could make them move. This lead to them making El Apostol: a 70-minute animated feature satirizing Argentina's President Yrigoyen, which premiered in 1917 and was a runaway success, playing to packed cinemas for six months.

None of the footage survived a fire that destroyed all of Valle's precious stock in 1926. But we know about it - and its impact on the history of animation from the Italian documentary, Quirino Cristiani: The Mystery of the First Animated Movies.

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This year’s Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema kicked off last Thursday night with a screening of Europe’s first animated feature film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Die Arbenteuer des Prinzen Achmed). Considered Europe's first animated feature film, it is 81 minutes long, and was made in 1926 by Lotte Reiniger (along with her husband and two others).

Reiniger made the film with paper cut-out shadow puppets – apparently over 100,000 of them. What was particularly special about Thursday night’s screening was the live soundtrack performed by Miles and Karina, who were commissioned earlier this year by The Northwest Film Forum to compose a new score for this amazing piece of cinematic history. I lost myself in the story – a tale based on 1001 Arabian nights – partly because the beautiful details of the animation worked so well at propelling the story, but also very much because the music was such a brilliant complement to the visuals… Miles and Karina’s music evoked the moods and humor of the story beautifully – and so subtly that I completely forgot the music was being performed live!

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November 13, 2008
(photo courtesy of Stephanie Yuhas)

The founding editor of fps passed away peacefully in the presence of his family on November 11, shortly before 10 p.m.

You may have noticed this year, we tried to keep up with news in the animation industry but Emru wasn't posting as often. He was having difficulty wrapping up our annual animation charity auction at the end of last year because of a mystery ailment, which turned out to be an aggressive form of leukemia. Ironically, last year's auction proceeds went to the Cancer Research Society.

Emru is also my big brother.

On January 30, he found out that I was not a compatible match for him as a bone marrow donor, something neither he nor I knew anything about until I began to research it. We talked and messaged about it that day. The next morning, he asked me remember to post about the early Japanese animation retrospective at the Cinematheque Quebecoise because he had another checkup, since he found out he was also not in remission. Even though we were trying to save his life and help other people, animation was still an important part of our lives. When we would talk on the phone we would discuss the day's accomplishments in terms of donor recruitment and awareness, and what news was interesting in the animation world.

Truthfully, Emru treated his relationship to animation and stem cell awareness in a similar fashion: People over things. When he was passionate about an idea or a movement, he would reach out to people and try to bring people together to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. He encouraged others to believe in their abilities and aim high.

Vicky Tamaru of Plexipixel encouraged people to attend bone marrow drives around the US to help Emru, and provided an exhaustive list to make it easier for people to get involved. This was crucial, as Canadians cannot run bone marrow drives and Emru and I had to rely on other ways to educate people in our country.

When the Cinematheque's retrospective began in February, I was incredibly touched by the outpouring of support from the local animation community, and animation curator Marco de Blois mentioning Emru's need for a donor during such an important occasion.

The day after the retrospective began, Toon Boom Animation added a new page to save the Toon Boom Voice: Emru had provided the voice for the company's tutorials. After Emru found a match in early June, they understood many other people needed to find donors, and decided to keep the page running so the information would be available.

We created flyers and other promotional materials, and it was no surprise that one of the biggest attention grabbers was a portrait of the anime version of Emru, designed by local artist Veronique Thibault. Young people especially were drawn to the image, then paid attention to the important information that was included. At Anime North this year, I ran into old friends of Emru who remembered how he was present when anime was an inchoate "trend" and how he championed the works that he felt deserved more attention. At Otakuthon, it was similar.

Emru was notified in June of a potential match the day before he was set to travel to a planning meeting for the annual ACM SIGGRAPH conference. He was co-chair of the Computer Animation Festival until he fell ill, but the SIGGRAPH organizers refused to let him resign and insisted he stay on as a consultant even if he was only able to help in a limited capacity. He was thrilled at the idea of being cleared to travel, seeing fellow volunteers again, and being able to help out.

Just as I was gearing up for the Fantasia film festival, I was also preparing an ad for the Rock The Bells concert tour with the help of two friends. One was Ward Jenkins, who provided this beautiful illustration of Emru. Two of the films Emru especially enjoyed this year before he really had to stay away from crowds were Genius Party and Fear(s) of the Dark at the Fantasia Film Festival and he registered his enjoyment of them days before his death. Fantasia organizers donated the proceeds from one of their films to Emru, and this helped his family enormously, as neither he nor his wife could work much in 2008.

In September, I gave him the run-down of all the happenings at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, which began the day after Emru's received his bone marrow transplant. He received it at the Ottawa Hospital, and he joked about the timing of the transplant being perfect, because he was planning since the previous year's festival to be in Ottawa anyway. I hardly reported on the festival this year, as I was busy campaigning for stem cell donor registration with Emru leading up to it, and I was more exhausted than I thought I would be when I got to the festival. Once there, I received an astonishing outpouring of support for Emru, a festival regular for 19 years - this would have been his 20th year, and I think his presence was still felt despite his physical abscence. It was actually an extension of the support he had received in the form of calls, emails, blog postings, articles, letters, and events that had been occurring to help him. He cherished the sketchbooks he received full of sketches from festivalgoers.

He was happy to hear about the great films at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, a small festival with a big lineup. He and I always looked forward to it, whether we could attend or not. In the last few years we made a point of it and enjoyed ourselves tremendously. It starts today and I wish I could be blogging about that and heading there tomorrow as I had originally planned, instead of writing about this. Joseph Chen, the WFAC curator, just sent me an email saying he wished he could be in Montreal for Emru's visitation.

No matter where you are, if you love Emru or love animation, he loves you too.

Visitation Information

Learn more about becoming a stem cell or bone marrow donor.
It starts with a cheek swab (Canada, US) or blood sample (Quebec, UK).
If you match, you do not put your own life at risk to potentially save another.

UK - Anthony Nolan Trust, African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust
US - National Marrow Donor Program, DKMS Americas
Canada - Hema Quebec Stem Cell Registry, OneMatch Stem Cell Network

Other Countries

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October 12, 2008

Oooo...Now I'm getting really excited! I can't wait for November 13th, the kick-off of this years Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema in Kitchener-Waterloo. We've just found out that Fred Schodt (writer, translator, interpreter and anime scholar supreme) will be in attendance to lead a panel discussion about and following the screening of Ghibli masterpiece, Grave of the Fireflies. Sitting on the panel with Schodt will be Grave's North American Executive Producer, John O'Donnell and Anime Research editor, Brian Ruh.

We expect further details to be announced shortly, along with a complete list of the films screening at the festival.

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October 1, 2008

Studio 4°C’s Genius Party Beyond has just been confirmed for fps as one of the many delectable films on the menu at this years Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema. This is an incredible treat for fans of the studio who brought us Tekkon Kinkreet and for animation enthusiasts alike as the anthology film has seen very few screenings on North American shores.

Festival details, further film listings, and more will be available soon on the official Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema site! We'll post a full schedule here on fps as soon as it's confirmed.

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September 26, 2008

Big news for Ontario Otaku - The new Rebuild of Evangelion film, 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone will have its premiere at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema in Kitchener-Waterloo, November 13th-16th.

All films at the festival are screened from 35mm prints or in Hi-Def at The Gig Theatre (the old Hyland theatre), 137 Ontario Street North, Kitchener.

The Evangelion film joins an incredible list of animated gems being screened at the festival:

and many more to be announced in the coming weeks!

Kitchener-Waterloo is approximately 100km, or less than an hours drive from Toronto and can be reached easily by Greyhound bus, Airways Transit and Via Rail.

Read more: Neon Genesis Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone Blu-ray Disc Review

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November 8, 2007
This Saturday and Sunday afternoon, November 10 and 11: leading up to the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, WFAC in partnership with Bandai Visual and the Waterloo Children's Museum will be holding a 20th anniversary screening of Wings of Honneamise, one the best anime features of the 80s, and the first feature ever produced by Gainax.

If you go on Saturday, On both days, you can catch Jin Roh, also in high-definition, based on the comic by Mamoru Oshii, and the English premiere of Detective Conan.

If you are anywhere near Waterloo, Ontario, this is not to be missed. All screenings are free.

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November 7, 2007
The Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema is a small festival in the quiet town of Waterloo, Ontario, dedicated to long-form animation. WFAC's lineup has grown at a reasonable pace, from three anime films each for its first and second editions to a dozen or more selections since from all over the world, including independent features from North America.

The website is live and all the films are listed here.
"The World Cinema programme includes Oscar-nominated Leslie Iwerks’ The Pixar Story, a chronicle of the history, the challenges, the triumphs, and the people of Pixar Animation Studios and the art they pioneered: computer animation; the charming re-imagined fairytale The Ugly Duckling and Me, the hilarious and completely outrageous Aachi and Ssipak, master Czech stop-motion animator Jan Balej's incredible horror film One Night In The City, the infamous hilarious Norwegian romp Free Jimmy, Shinkai Makoto's heart-wrenching anime drama 5 Centimeters Per Second, vampire action RH+, and the edgy hard-boiled Film Noir, and Otto Guerra's irreverent hippie satire Wood & Stock: Sex, Oregano and Rock 'n Roll."
Balej's Fimfarum 2 was one of my personal favourites from last year's festival, but One Night In The City seems to be in a whole other league. On Saturday at 6:30 p.m. EST, Ladd Ehrlinger's adaptation of Flatland will be screened and the director will be present for a Q&A afterward, both of which will be broadcast live online. As if that weren't enough, Katsuhiro Otomo's latest short project is screening in the timeslot just before it.

The festival is about 90 minutes from Toronto, ON, 3 hours from Rochester, NY or Detroit, MI. I'd say it's definitely worth at least a day trip for animation fans in search of more than the slim pickings at the cineplex.

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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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November 21, 2006
What would you do if you found out you could jump backward through time? The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema's closing film, gives us an answer: If you're high school senior Makoto Konno, you extend your karaoke session until your voice gives out.

It all starts when Makoto has an accident in the chemistry lab after school. Not the superhero-comic kind, with electricity and beakers and bizarre chemicals; rather, she's startled, slips, and falls—landing on a walnut-shaped object which, she later discovers, lets her go back in time at will. (Her power works best when she takes a running jump, leading to a series of hilarious landings throughout the film.) After tentatively trying out her power by recovering the pudding her little sister stole, she sets about correcting all the little mistakes she had made throughout the day, ending it with that marathon karaoke session. It isn't until later that she realizes that even innocuous changes, or those made with the best of intentions, can have consequences ranging from inconvenient to horrific.

It's not the first time a filmmaker has played with the idea of altering history by changing a seemingly insignificant detail—The Butterfly Effect is probably the most recent example—but The Girl Who Leapt Through Time does so with a level of humour and humanism rarely seen in any film, let alone an animated one. Set as it is in contemporary Tokyo, its vibe is somewhere between Satoshi Kon's Tokyo Godfathers and the work of Studio Ghibli, which is unsurprising: Director Mamoru Hosoda was originally to direct Howl's Moving Castle before Hayao Miyazaki stepped in, but at 39 he's closer to in age to Kon's (he's 43) and likely his sensibilities.

While I'd like to see what would have become of Howl under Hosoda's direction, I'm glad that he left to make The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. While the film could have been made at Ghibli, a studio that is no stranger to films with mild science-fiction elements, I can't help but think that its atmosphere would have been different. Makoto's character lies between the fierce independence of Miyazaki's heroines and the more traditional female characters found in Takahata's films; she feels very much like a real human being as she pieces together bits of advice from the people around her and combines them with her own experience to form her worldview. Unlike most movie characters with fantastic powers, she's well-adjusted throughout the film, coping the same way as all ordinary people cope with extraordinary but ultimately solitary events.

At 98 minutes, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is just the right length with every scene serving a purpose without it feeling like a logic puzzle or a screenwriting exercise. Blending belly-laugh humour, adventure and wistful memories of the twilight of childhood, this feature is, quite simply, one of the best films I've seen in recent years. I'm looking forward to seeing much more of Hosada's work.

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November 20, 2006
Saturday night at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, the main question on my mind was whether Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles would break the curse that had plagued Robotech spinoffs. The first movie (Robotech: The Untold Story, a bastardized Megazone 23) died ignominiously, and rightly so. The wholly original Robotech II: The Sentinels series got caught in an economic crossfire and had to be released as a direct-to-video movie. The Shadow Chronicles, the first spinoff effort to hit the screen in almost 20 years and the first not to have Carl Macek at the helm, has a lot to overcome.

The first third of the movie overlaps with the last two episodes of the TV series, focusing on the Robotech Expeditionary Force's return to Earth in a last-ditch effort to expel the alien Invid. Robotech fans know what happens next: Thanks to a small band of resistance fighters and the human-Invid hybrid Ariel, the Invid leave Earth, leaving humanity to try to rebuild a world ravaged by three interstellar wars.

Fans also know that to claim the title Robotech, the Shadow Chronicles has to serve up love, loss, the fear and eventual acceptance of an alien race, a new and mysterious enemy, and thrilling combat scenes. It does offer all these things in principle, but the execution stops just short of really delivering.

Emblematic of this problem are the computer-animated battle scenes. CGI presents all kinds of opportunities for space combat scenes—just watch Battlestar Galactica for proof—and none of them are taken here, with directors Dong-Wook Lee and Tommy Yune opting instead for a "more of everything" approach instead of actually choreographing the battles. If anything, the scenes here make you admire the hand-drawn work in the original series all the more. Demerits, too, for the unnecessary and fan-service T&A, which not only includes two female characters on a warship's bridge in skintight outfits that display awe-inspiring cleavage, but two shots of women with their butts sticking up in the air.

But the real problem with The Shadow Chronicles is that it spends too much time just doing stuff, rather than fleshing out characters. Marcus, a new character and a hotshot pilot clearly destined to be the focal character, is a complete cipher. He's got a thing for his commanding officer, the half-Zentraedi Maia Sterling, he's still mourning the loss of his sister Marlene (killed at the opening of the TV series' third part), and... that's it. Outside of that, the three things to look forward to in this movie are Louie Nichols's dialogue, especially in scenes with commanding officer Vince Grant; catching obscure Robotech and anime in-jokes; and finding out more about what kind of alien threat will bedevil our heroes now. Frankly, that's pretty thin. Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles is better than The Untold Story and Sentinels, but that's damning with faint praise; they'll have to do better if they want us to keep watching this new story unfold.

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An interesting aspect of many of the films at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema is that many of them are culturally specific. That is, unlike the Disney (or is that American?) tendency toward Americanizing stories from other nations, these films tell stories that are specific to the cultures of the people that created them. Currently we experience that with anime—in fact, its "Japanese-ness" is a big draw—but beyond that, the animation we're exposed to (with the exception of short films) is nationality-free.

We saw two such films back to back on Friday. Fire Ball is from Taiwan and is yet another retelling of part of Journey to the West, an ancient story that is constantly adapted and retold in popular culture (some recent examples are Dragon Ball, the live-action A Chinese Tall Story and the futuristic CG Journey to the West TV series).

Fire Ball is about one of the many adventures faced by Monkey, Sandy, Piggy and the monk Tripitaka on their journey to find the Buddha's sutras—in fact, it's based on the same story as one of the first animated features ever made, Princess Iron Fan. In Fire Ball, a feisty kid named Red is tricked into believing he has to kill Tripitaka and grind his bones to cure his sick mother, Princess Iron Fan. As it happens, Tripitaka and his companions are nearby, trying to clear the Mountain of Flames; a feat they can only accomplish using the giant iron fan the princess is named after. Mischief, action and humour abound as the many characters find themselves at cross purposes and play off of each other's weaknesses.

Set in 17th-century Siam (now Thailand), the Thai Khan Kluay is named after its hero, a young elephant whose father had been captured for use as a war elephant before he was born. Overwhelmed by grief, Khan Kluay's mother refuses to speak about her lost mate, which drives him to find answers in a nearby soldiers' encampment. This sets in motion a chain of events that leads to his becoming Prince Naresuan's war elephant, and together they lead the battle that will decide Siam's future.

The two films are put together quite differently. The hand-drawn Fire Ball plays much like its source material, with a rambling structure and digressions that are fun, but would never make the cut in a meticulously constructed screenplay. The CGI Khan Kluay more or less follows the predictable Disney structure (it's directed by ex-Disney animator Kompin Kemgumnird), though with only one musical interlude. However, both films are similar in crucial aspects. For one thing, though the structures as I described them could be considered negatives, they're not: Fire Ball's story is well known to its audience, so its wonky plot progression is actually an asset. Khan Kluay's overall predictability is offset by its loose adherence to modern Disney storytelling. While it has most of the elements (the hero's driving need, the love interest, the loss of a parent and the climactic battle, to name a few) they're not adhered to slavishly, nor presented as mechanically as, say, Brother Bear.

But perhaps most important is that both of these films have children as their main audience, but are genuinely entertaining for adults as well. Rather than trying to keep parents' attention through nods, winks and sly asides, they come by their over-12 appeal honestly. Fire Ball does it by using a familiar story; Khan Kluay does it by crafting characters that resonate (Khan Kluay's mother radiates grief at her mate's disappearance, hope that he might still live, and fear that she might lose her son; on the other end of the spectrum, a recurring gag with a soldier who so longs for his wife he deliriously clings amorously to anything and anyone generated huge laughs from the audience). Meanwhile, they never talk down to the younger members of the audience.

The kicker is that neither of these films is as expertly polished as the blockbusters we're used to seeing, but they're done well enough to properly convey the ideas and emotions the filmmakers are trying to get across. And that's why Hollywood's rabid focus on technique will mean nothing in the face of more films like these. I say, bring it on.

Buy Fire Ball (Region 3) from

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November 18, 2006
Origin: Spirits of the Past is Gonzo Digimation's first feature, and it was the opening film at the Waterloo Festival of Animated Cinema on Thursday. The movie takes place on Earth after a disaster has wiped out much of humanity, made water a scarce commodity, and made the remaining forest an intelligent and semi-mystical entity. Agito is a popular boy raised in Neutral City, carved out of the shattered remains of a metropolis on the forest's edge. He discovers Toola, a girl awakened from a hibernation pod that had ben activated when the calamity started.

Slow to adjust to this new world, Toola leaves for the neighbouring Ragna when Shunack, another refugee from the past, offers her the chance to bring the world back to what it was. Agito, bestowed inhuman powers by the forest, races to get her back.

At its core, Origin is an adolescent power fantasy. In fact, there are two power fantasies here. Toola has the technological power to save the world by bringing back civilization more or less as we know it; Agito has the mystical power to save the world by preventing Toola from doing so. This tension is what adds an extra layer to the story. For most of the film you can ask which position you'd rather be in, which is another way of asking which is better: A world with clean air where getting water is a daily struggle, or a world that's comfortable but in many ways unnatural? Agito and Toola come from dramatically different backgrounds, so their answers are different. In some ways, the central questions and resulting clashes make Origins sort of a Princess Mononoke-lite.

Origin may be aimed at a younger audience, but it has a lot of nice little sequences that add some interesting touches. For example, I like how life in and around bombed-out skyscrapers makes Agito agile and totally unafraid of heights, and that what he considers a simple walkway over a chasm gives Toola vertigo. Still, there are a few nuances missing that you would find in a film that skewed older. I liked Origin, but I think I needed to be 13 to truly appreciate it.

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November 13, 2006
Emru and I are packing our bags and getting ready for the Waterloo Festival of Animated Cinema, in Waterloo, Ontario, which takes place next week. With an emphasis on feature films, we've noted before that the lineup is also notable because of its content and international scope. New films have been added since the initial announcement a few weeks ago, including The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Japan) and Blood Tea and Red String (USA).

It's especially easy to get to if you are in upstate New York, Michigan, Ontario, or Southern Quebec, but you shouldn't let distance stop you. Some of these films will not get this type of treatment in North America soon. This may be one of the few chances to see many program selections on the big screen. Would you rather see these films in 35mm or on DVD if you had the choice?

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October 9, 2006
The Waterloo Festival of Animated Cinema (WFAC) has launched the website for its 2006 edition. The initial announcement of the first 10 films was relayed earlier on the Festival Watch blog, but WFAC's first update includes stills from each film, as well as studio, country, rating and run time information.

Each year, WFAC's lineup is more ambitious and diverse than the last. This year does not disappoint. The features are international in scope, feature stop-motion, 2D and 3D techniques, no film looks like any of the others, and the stories are equally varied.

Keep checking their site for lineup updates and information on Earlybird discounts.

While you're waiting for the 2006 festival, check out WFAC's past editions and Matt Forsythe's 2005 reports for fps including his views on Mind Game, Fragile Machine and Mike Nguyen.

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November 19, 2005

(We've already reviewed Mind Game in an earlier print edition; but I'll add my two cents, if only because the movie is so damned good.)

The critically acclaimed Japanese film, Mind Game, was on the menu tonight in Waterloo. The film is the product of Tokyo's Studio 4°C. The studio was co-founded by master animator Koji Morimoto (Robot Carnival, Akira) and the studio's feature credits to date include: Memories, Spriggan and Steamboy, but they are perhaps better known in North America for overseeing the Wachowskis' Animatrix project.

The studio's CEO, Eiko Tanaka, was on hand tonight to introduce the film. It's fair to say Tanaka is veteran of Japanese animation. She used to work for Studio Ghibli and was line producer on My Neighbor Totoro.

Tanaka warned us that Mind Game is manga, but the kind of manga that is "not very popular in Japan." Indeed, this film takes all the anime cliches you can think of and soundly ignores them. The story follows a young manga artist to death and back, on a frenetic ride that is both ribald and exhilirating. It's is a melting pot of a multitude of animation styles, that somehow all work seamlessly together.

Mind Game is highly recommended for fans of innovative storytelling of any kind.

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Just finished viewing the 30 minute CG film, Fragile Machine. Check out Brett Rogers' eloquent and in-depth review of the film for details.

I'll add a few notes about the film, which is two parts Blade Runner, two parts Wong Kar Wai, and one part Ghost in the Shell. The film is produced by aoineko studios, which is basically a guy named Ben Steele working out of his apartment in Phoenix, Arizona.

Fragile Machine follows the life cycle of a woman as she is engineered into an android. The film moves through dreamlike futuristic vistas set to Evanescence-style songs. I had a chance to talk to Ben about his film over lunch.

"Our idea for the structure is based on Dante's Divine Comedy. It's the moment where every soul takes the journey from hell to earth to heaven."

The film is drenched in style, and explores new ways of thinking about depth, motion and design with only the occasional clue that it was not a high-budget, major studio release.

"We were trying to create a moving painting. The illustrator, Yoshitaka Amano was a huge influence."

Ben admits he's more interested in art directing and achieving a visual style than the human details that animation demands. "We've got a character animator now. So the next film is going to be a lot more kinetic with more emphasis on getting down the subtleties of human movement."

The visuals for Fragile Machine have been described as "groundbreaking." I asked him what he used to develop the film.

"LightWave. It's a very good program for indie stuff because it's very easy to use. It takes so long to do anything in Softimage, which is fine if you have a huge budget and a team of dozens of animators, but if you're just sitting in your room, LightWave works the best."

Check out aoineko studios to find out more about Fragile Machine or purchase the DVD.

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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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October 29, 2004
We'd really love to be at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, but it wasn't fated to be this year. However, we will be reviewing some of the films that are playing. First up is the new Appleseed anime.

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