ReAnimania 2010: A Moveable Feast

Armenia Back on the Animation Map

Animation is a word that probably doesn’t have an exact match in the Armenian language, but the art of animation itself certainly has multitudes of fans and lovers across Armenia. The first Armenian animation film, “The Cat and the Cog” by Lev Atamanov, was produced in 1938. Today, after more than 70 years of artistic legacy, the ReAnimania International Animation Film Festival of Yerevan is reviving an old-rooted animation tradition, and catering to the growing interest towards this art in Armenia.

At the beginning, the ReAnimania Festival didn’t enjoy a well-trodden path as it started out as newborn international event. This unique festival, the brainchild of animator and filmmaker Vrej Kassouny in 2006, was co-founded in 2008 together with Lucineh Kassarjian, the producer of children’s digital educational entertainment products, bringing the dream to reality in the midst of the global financial crisis. It survived a period when more established and long-standing projects were starting to fade and quit the animation arena.

Nevertheless, last month, the second ReAnimania Festival, besides providing a clear benchmark in the animation scene worldwide, also made Yerevan sparkle with a sumptuous fusion of the latest international animation productions and the presence of world-class animators from various countries.

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According to Kassouny, both local and foreign partners and guests contributed to overcoming the difficulties in making this festival stand on its feet. The toughest test for these kinds of festivals lies in gaining respect from the wider artistic community in Europe and America—which explains one of the motives behind inviting and hosting more than 20 of the world’s top animation artists as guests and members of the jury.

Max Howard, the president of Exodus Film Group and former president of Warner Bros., took part in ReAnimania for the second year as Board president of the festival. Speaking to reporters, Howard said it was a lot harder to make such a festival happen 10 years ago, but that last year it finally kicked off. “However, organizing this event for the second year is much harder than doing it the first time because people have expectations now, and you cannot satisfy them with something average,” he said.

The guests list included other international names, like the co-founder and managing director of Aardman Studios, David Sproxton from the UK; the president of the Brazilian Association for Cinema Animation, Marta Machado; Frank Gladstone from the U.S.; Mohamed Ghazala from Egypt; Suzy Wilson and Paul Smith from the UK; Johannes Walters from Germany; Federico Vitali, Serge Avedikian, and Eric Riewer from France; and many others.

“Our festival has succeeded because of these people who have always stood by us,” said Kassouny. “These friends have helped us create the silk road of animation between east and west,” he added.

The midnight meetings with the guests at The Club tearoom during the festival also provided a unique opportunity for journalists and animation fans to meet the foreign professionals in a cozy atmosphere and participate in discussions about animation in all-night indulgences, sometimes until dawn. The guests, parallel to answering questions, also told wonderful stories about the creation of specific animation movies and shared their impressions.

In addition to serving on the jury, the foreign visitors conducted daily master classes, workshops, and various lectures on topics like animation and media, stop motion, feature film animation production, storyboarding, and history of character animation.

“In 2008, I used to go to Tbilisi [Georgia] to attend these kinds of workshops and paid 150 euros to be able to hear the Swiss animation professionals there, who were perfect, but they were definitely not like Max Howard or David Sproxton,” said film director Lusine Gevorgyan, who attended the workshops. “Today I am enjoying all these educational workshops in Yerevan, and for free!”

Marianna Aslanyan, another participant in the workshops and seminars, said she now understood how to be exposed to the international market and how to present her prepared scenarios to foreign producers. According to the organizers, the guests and professionals themselves were astonished by how much the participants were able to learn in only five days.

“I am amazed by the geographic location of Armenia, its nature and its people,” said Howard. “You are sitting on a goldmine of materials and stories to make animation. This country has an artistic heritage, and it’s very strong. You have wonderful painters, sculptors, poets… So why not animators too?”

Mohamed Ghazala, who presented a detailed and exciting review about African animation, said, “I’m glad to take part in ReAnimania 2010 and to have the opportunity to present the African animation. This was a very remarkable experience for me. I will remember and talk about this event wherever I go.”

Animation in Armenia represents a potent seed to a fertile soil, but despite indications that Armenia is ahead of most other post-Soviet republics in this domain, it is not completely open to the foreign market. According to Kassouny, there are not enough proposals for a demand.

“Demand and proposal. Following this principle, I decided to respond to these problems by creating a marketplace for this industry, which is called MarAni, the Market of Animation business forum,” he said. “Its purpose is to foster relationships between local, regional, and international animation companies and individuals or organizations representing affiliated professions. This will give us the opportunity to create new possibilities and perspectives for the animation industry in Armenia,” he added.

Within the framework of MarAni, the ANITA Summit was held and covered the animation technologies in Armenia. At ANITA, participants discussed the steps needed to undertake the development of markets for animation, software development, CGI animation, game development, as well as the development of interactive educational programs.

During the opening of the forum at the Cinema Moscow, Vatche Kirakosyan, the president of HighTechs in the Ministry of Economy of Armenia, said, “When we started supporting HighTechs forums in Armenia, we received very modest participations. But now we cannot even find a proper space to fit the venue. I’m convinced that the same will happen with ReAnimania and MarAni. In a few years we will have to think where to organize this forum to match the growing demands.”

From Sept. 9-13, ReAnimania held daily regional and international premieres of international animation films. On the first day, the audience had the opportunity to attend the regional premiere of a 2010 French production by Sylvain Chomet, “The Illusionist,” a touching story about a simple magician whose life changed when he met a little girl. The second premiere, “Boogie,” was a Tarantino-style animated thriller by Argentinean director Gustavo Cova. The third premiere, “First Squad,” was a fictional tale that took place during World War II, a 2009 Russian production done with Japanese anime style by Yoshiharu Ashino. The last premiere was an earlier work of French director Sylvain Chomet, “Triplettes de Belleville,” which tells of a young boy raised by his peculiar grandmother.

This year, in addition to “Best Feature Film,” “Best Short Film,” “Best Graduation Film,” and “Best TV and Educational Film” were new award categories, such as “Best Short Film Music,” “Best Debut,” and “Good Citizen.”

Compared to last year, both the number of participating films and the countries represented increased. Films were submitted from such countries as the Czech Republic, Japan, China, Singapore, Turkey, Syria, Greece, Bulgaria, and the Netherlands for the first time. And 263 films out of the 400 submitted from 35 countries were included in the competition.

While 12 filmmakers submitted their work from Armenia, only 3 were accepted by the professional pre-selection jury team to be shown during the contest: Aram Muradyan’s “John Silver,” Naira Muradyan’s “Angel in the City,” and Sebastian L’Hermitte’s “The Needs of the Nature.”

The festival also played host to numerous events, like the Children’s Program, the Globe Trotter, Special Features, Exhibitions, and Open Air Screenings in the Cascade Complex. The Armenian Tapestry Program was new this year, and included two commemorative events for the masters of Armenian animation, Robert Sahakyants and Yubik Muradyan, both of whom passed away last year, as well as lifetime achievement acknowledgments for other animation artists.

The Annecy International Animation Film Festival’s 50th anniversary program was one of the most unique programs this year, as it showed the best 10 films of the Annecy Festival 2010.

The Special Features Program included the screenings of animation masterpieces followed by a discussion with the filmmakers. “Wallace and Gromit” by David Sproxton, “Spirit” by Max Howard, “Lava Lava” and “Guano” by Federico Vitali, and several short films by Serge Avedikian were included in the program. Avedikian was in Yerevan for the second time this year; in July, he was a guest at the Golden Apricot International Film Festival of Yerevan. Avedikian, who participated in ReAnimania as a jury member, was the key guest of a post-screening discussion of his film “Chienne d’Histore,” which won the Palme d’Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival for “Best Short Film.” The 15-minute film takes place in 1910 and depicts how Ottoman authorities expelled all of the yard dogs from Istanbul to a deserted island; it draws a parallel with the fate of the Armenian population of the Ottoman Empire five years later.

“The subjects I chose are very dark and violent. They put so much pressure on the audience. That’s why I chose to represent my art through animation because it creates more space to understand and communicate with the audience. Cinema doesn’t have to be only realistic. Sometimes you can represent your idea in different ways and styles,” said Avedikian, answering a question on why he chose animation as a medium.

“New technologies provide an alternative to overcome the limited resources and help young artists to create and achieve their goals,” he said. “For example, I am working with only five people. In this regard, the ReAnimania International Animation Film Festival is very important for this city and her young generation,” he added.

At the end of the festival, the jury members summarized the results. “Piercing” from China won for “Best Feature Film,” while “Big Band Big Book” from Italy won the “Best Short Film” prize. Max Howard received the Robert Sahakyants Special Prize for his contribution to international animation. Young scriptwriter Mary Kyureghyan was honored with the “Best Debut” award for her script of “The Sun and the Cockroach.”

“Mary will not get a monetary award but she will have the opportunity to make a film with the financial assistance of the National Cinema Center, ReAnimania management, and the Ministry of Culture of Armenia,” Kassouny said.

The big surprise was the announcement of an agreement with Eric Riewer, the head of the animation department of GOBELINS, one of the most prestigious schools of fine arts in France. According to the agreement, Armenian students will have the chance to attend animation courses next year in Paris.

Howard announced that the Exodus Film Group would be launching a foundation in Armenia to teach animation, and to train students and develop their talent, while searching for new talent.

“There is neither infrastructure for animation in Armenia, nor any national support, but you have people who love animation passionately, and I think that’s what matters the most,” Howard said.

Master animator Federico Vitali from France, who also conducted a workshop on storyboarding, was one of ReAnimania’s key guests. Vitali’s films are a splendid combination of voice, freedom, rhythm, and time. According to the artist, people need love, freedom, and peace. “We especially need peace, for all of us, and for your country,” he said. “Armenians have wonderful directors like Henri Verneuil, Atom Egoyan, and Artavazd Peleshyan, with whom I really want to make a film,” he added.

Animation critic and journalist Johannes Wolters from Germany said the festival was an absolute success. “If you see what they do at other festivals you’ll understand that what ReAnimania is doing is wonderful indeed,” he said.

International animator Mohamad Ghazala stressed this was the best advertised animation festival he had ever been to. “I’ve seen the posters and the advertisements everywhere in the city, even out of the city, in the countryside,” he said. The organizers of the festival also took advantage of the opportunities afforded by the online world: Facebook posts, tweets, blog posts, email newsletters, and forwarded messages about ReAnimania flooded the online space—explaining why the majority of the audience flocking to the events were from the younger generations.

After the festival, Kassouny and Kassarjian announced that 80 percent of the 2011 ReAnimania program has already been projected, and many initial agreements and arrangements with foreign guests and companies have been made.

Animation is no longer only a form of art, but also a big market and economic field. In order to gauge a more nuanced understanding of the situation, one should see each image on its own—images that are in constant motion, moving our thoughts and emotions in their turn. Every single image is a moveable feast, and it represents an already matured value. The organizers of ReAnimania have 11 months to return next year with a new festival. And the fans, audience, companies, journalists, and even government officials will have another opportunity to catch the value brought to Armenia through ReAnimania.

Harout Ekmanian

Harout Ekmanian

Harout Ekmanian worked as a journalist with the Arab, Armenian, and Western media for years prior to the beginning of the Syrian conflict. He studied law at the University of Aleppo and was a fellow at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights of Columbia University in 2015. Ekmanian has worked in media and development in Armenia in various capacities at the Civilitas Foundation and Investigative Journalists of Armenia (HETQ). He speaks Armenian, Arabic, English, and Turkish fluently, as well as some French and Spanish. He contributes regularly to the Armenian Weekly.

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