SPECIAL MENTION – Love, Dad, Diana Cam Van Nguyen, Czech Republic
Greek graphic designer and animator Margarita Simopoulous and her group of seniors explored the relationship between watercolors and the famous Delacroix painting The Slaughter of Chios. Their two-day workshop attempted to discover if the painting could be brought to life.
INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION GRAND PRIX – Affairs of the Art, Joanna Quinn, United Kingdom
After much deliberation, the project that the pitching jury selected was The Little Blue House At The Beach. Director Nicolas Fattouh (How Grandmother Became A Chair) from Lebanon did a beautiful job of pitching his short film about two brothers who are fighting over their family home and end up destroying all of the ties that bring them together. The artwork that we were shown was lovely with shades of blue and the design of the two siblings looked like two people who could destroy everything that they loved. The jury stated that “The film touched us on many different levels. The story about families is one that many people can relate to. The visuals were strong, especially the use of salt as a metaphor for the hate eroding the relationship between two brothers.”
TELEVISION AND COMMISSIONED FILMS – Iizuna Fair, Sumito Sakakibara, Japan
Thank you to Agora Coordinator Marineta Mak Kritikou; Maria Anestopoulou, Festival Director; and AnimaSyros President Vassilis Karamitsanis for inviting Nik and me to be part of AnimaSyros. Next year the festival will be one day longer. I am already looking forward to the 2022 edition of the festival which will take place 20 – 25 September 2022.
My Favorite War is the personal story of director Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen. Ilze grew up in Cold War-era Latvia which was under Soviet control. She believed all of the Soviet propaganda she was brainwashed with at school until the day she discovered the remains of a German soldier buried in a sandbox. Soon she began to discover other buried lies. Ilze attended Anima Syros and gave a presentation at the Agora about animated Documentary making. She said that animating a documentary can keep a story true and poetic at the same time. She was also a member of the International and Hellenic Competition juries.
SPECIAL MENTION – Vanille, Guillaume Lorin, France
Over the past seven years The Agora, under the guidance of Marineta Mak Kritikou, has become an important part of AnimaSyros. As the meeting place for professionals, the Agora hosts presentations by professionals and representatives of organizations and institutions as well as round table discussions. The highlight of the Agora is the Pitching Forum.
The second film in the Ninety Seconds series, Attik – Ninety Seconds for Kleon Triantafyllou, narrates the intense and adventurous life of Triantafyllou who was known as Attik. His famous song Zitate na sas po (You have been asking me to tell you) can be heard in the film in a new cover by Christina Golia. The film uses rotoscoped images of Attika and his life combined with stock footage. Directed by United Kingdom animator Georgia Burnell, this is her first commissioned film.
This year the Agora came together with Studio Folimage to organize a three-day Pitching Coaching Workshop along with the final presentation of the pitches to the international jury and the public. The Pitching Coaching Workshop was run by production manager Catherine Blanc-Maurizi and director Hélène Friren, both representing Studio Folimage.
I have never thought about animators that live in Gibraltar but that has changed after watching Shadow of The Rock by Gibraltarian Krishna Sachanandani. The three shorts that make up the film, each thirty to 40 seconds in length, were part of a marketing campaign for the Gibraltar Literary Festival. The main character is Spike Sanguinetti, a lawyer and want-to-be detective, created by the writer Thomas Mogford. The title of the film is taken from Mogford’s first novel Shadow of The Rock. In the book, Sanguinetti enters Chicardo’s Passage and discovers a mysterious man standing outside a door. Chicardo’s Passage is an actual location on Gibraltar.
Hermoupolis’ classic revival architecture reflects the city’s former importance and wealth as the leading commercial and industrial center of Greece as well as its main port. The magnificent Apollon Theatre, home to AnimaSyros, was built between 1862 and 1864 by Italian architect Pietro Sampo. The first work to premiere at the impressive opera house was Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi.
THE K.ID.S AWARD – Mum Is Pouring Rain, Hugh De Faucompert, France
You can read more about the 2021 edition of the festival at: www.animasyros.gr
This year the winner of the Pitching Forum Agora AnimaSyros will be the official guest of the Artist-in-Residence program organized by Studio Folimage for one month to work on his film utilizing their excellent studio facilities. Thank you to Studio Folimage for donating such a lovely prize. The pitching jury was comprised of Catherine Blanc-Maurizi and Hélène Friren from Studio Folimage, animator Joanna Quinn, Agora Coordinator Marineta Mak Kritikou, and me.
Ninety Seconds is a joint project of AnimaSyros and radio station Melodia 99.2 It was created to honor the lives of much loved Greek songwriters and singers who have left their mark on Greek musical history. Each animated film features one of their most emblematic songs and is created by an up-and-coming director.
I have seen Wolfwalkers and My Favorite War but I was disappointed that I didn’t have the opportunity to see A Colorful Dream by Czech director Jan Balej because it was screened at the open-air cinema which is a ways away from the Apollon Theatre, the main screening room. I am looking forward to seeing this puppet adventure story which deals with the timeless theme of conflict between unlimited power on the one hand and the desire for freedom, courage, and love on the other. Jan Balej made Little From The Fish Shop (2015), a fantasy drama feature that I like a great deal.
The workshop for persons with disabilities, led by Greek animator Elena Pavlakis, was based on one of the epic works of the Greek National Poet Dionysios Solomos. Hymn To Liberty praises the struggle of the defenders of the city of Messologhi during the Greek Revolution. The words of his poem were later set to music and became the Greek and Cypriot national anthems.
In keeping with the theme two programs of short films were screened under the title Concepts of Freedom. They explored freedom in many different guises from revolutionary war and the struggle for human rights to animal liberation and personal freedom. French-born Austrian animator Rebecca Akoun captures the theme perfectly in Body Stranded. Based on an interview, this true story is about David who is Jewish and trapped in post-revolutionary Iran. Living in a world of constant fear, censorship, repression, and violence that Akoun represents in black and white drawings, David’s only escape into a world of color is through art.
The Death of the Lustful Paolo and Francesca, set in Italy in 1285, was presented by Greek animators Nikoletta Chouchouli and Eftychia Maria Kondyli. In their fifteen-minute short film, the story revolves around two adulterous lovers who are murdered and sent to the afterlife to stand trial for their earthly sins. Alban Rodriguez from France pitched his television series My Granny is a Spy. According to the plot two kids and their ex-spy granny battle against wrinkly old megalomanic adversaries to save the world. Fishbowl is a short film about a boy trying to help his mother with her work. The film is the idea of Daphne Xourafi from Greece.
Although the family no longer lives there, the historic house is available to rent for private parties and tours. Stavros Kois, who was raised in the family home and has an upscale optic store on the ground floor, was on hand to give us a guided tour which concluded in the dining room where a lovely spread of food was laid out.
Nik and I had the opportunity to sit down with him and discuss the terrible situation for Greek voice-over talent who are often paid as little as 10 Euros to dub an entire feature film. The studios have a stranglehold on the voice talent because if they refuse to work for such ridiculously low wages the studios simply go to Cyprus where they can get the job done for next to nothing. Gkikas would like to organize a union such as SAG or AFTRA for voice-over talent in Greece but we all know what a difficult uphill battle that is.
Opening night guests were treated to the animated documentary Hellenic Places: Hermoupolis. Greek Cypriot director Charalambos Margaritis told the story of the city of Hermoupolis, the capital of Syros Island. Located at the center of the Cyclades Island complex, in the Aegean Sea, the history of the city contains all of the elements that shaped contemporary Greece.
It was also my great pleasure to conduct an on-stage chat with Joanna Quinn at the Agora titled The Woman Behind Beryl. During our forty-five-minute conversation, we talked about how Joanna got into animation and about the birth of Beryl. She also introduced us, via a photograph, to Menna Trussler who has been the voice of Beryl in all four of Joanna’s hilarious films about her beloved character who throws herself wholeheartedly into every new endeavor she enters into.
The delightful film is about Kookoo Rikoo, the only Arab Christian Israeli clown. He sings in a Byzantine choir, hunts snakes and works as a hotel receptionist. He also plays numerous instruments, but what he really likes to do the most is to make the Syrian children who have ended up in the hospitals in their neighboring enemy country, Israel, smile. The eighteen-minute film revolves around his friendship with a young female Syrian war survivor.
For the third year in a row, This is #EU – European Values Award was presented by the representative of the European Commission in Greece. The award goes to a film that the jury feels best promotes the values of the European Union. This year’s winning film was La Prima Cosa (First Thing) by Spanish animators Omar Al Abdul Razzak and Shira Ukrainitz.
The twelve-minute comedy/tragedy depicts a neighborhood where 2D traditional animation co-exists with 3D environments. The rich character of the Athens neighborhood is captured in vivid colors and strong lines. According to the director, his . . .” goal was to capture crude people in an artful medium and tell this story in high speed achieving impressionism in motion”. He obviously succeeded because From The Balcony was selected as the best Hellenic film.
SPECIAL MENTION – Tie, Alexandra Ramires, Portugal
A very important part of the festival is the Hellenic Competition. It is open to films from Greece, Cyprus, and the Diasporas. The fourteen films in the competition ranged from a lockdown lament to a love story in an airport lost luggage room where one suitcase finds his true love. The film that won the competition, From The Balcony directed by Aris Kaplanidis, is a slice of life film about a lonely Greek woman who never leaves the balcony of her apartment. She observes and loudly comments on everything that happens within her site from passersby in the street below to events in the apartments across the way. The entire neighborhood knows she is watching and has mixed reactions until the day her son is killed in a traffic accident. After the accident, she is so traumatized that she never goes out on her balcony again and the neighborhood is changed forever.
At his presentation, Nik spoke about how improvisation can inform the compositional process when he is writing for film. He explained the differences and similarities between the two using examples for music that he composed for Simone Massi’s short film Piccola Mare and Nina Paley’s Fetch.
HELLENIC COMPETITION – From The Balcony, Ioanna Sultani and Aris Kaplanidis
For five days each year the beautiful island of Syros Greece becomes the capital of Greek animation. Along with numerous screenings, the festival also encompasses a Media Literacy program and the Agora which is the market section of the festival.
The noted cartoonist Giannis Xagoraris aka DoReMi, or Zagor worked with teenagers in a workshop devoted to satire, cartoons, and comics. Romanian animator and artist Paul Muresan led a group of teenagers in a three-day animation workshop dedicated to teaching the basic principles of 2D animation. The theme of the workshop was built around the folk stories of the Sons of Samarina/Exodus and was a fusion between history and animation, bringing the past back to life in the context of the Greek Revolution’s 200TH anniversary. From December 2020 to July 2021 seven additional workshops were held for young people both in-person and online.
STUDENT COMPETITION – Have A Nice Dog, Jalai Maghout, Germany
A special two-part program, MEDAnima, paid tribute to animated films from the wider Mediterranean region. The program screened films from North Africa, Asia, Southern Europe, and the Bulkan Peninsula. One of my favorite films in this program was How My Grandmother Became A Chair by Lebanese animator Nicholas Fattouh. The 2D drawings from this 2018 film tell the story of a grandmother who is surrounded by what she thinks is her loving family and her housekeeper who she sees as a predatory cat, just waiting for the right moment to pounce on her.
SPECIAL MENTION – Fly, Carlos Gomez Mira Sagrado, Spain
I was pleased to finally have the opportunity to meet Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen. I have seen her film My Favorite War which is her personal story of growing up in Latvia during the Soviet occupation. During her presentation, she focused on how animation can affect documentary storytelling, relating the answer to her particular film.
Along with the many gems in the Concept of Freedom short film screenings, three feature films were also shown. Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart’s Wolfwalkers is well on its way to joining The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea as another classic for Tomm and the crew at Cartoon Saloon. The film is set in 1650 Ireland which was ruled by England. Oliver Cromwell sends English bounty hunters to try to rid the forest outside of the city walls of Kilkenny of wolves. Bill Goodfellow arrives from London to hunt the wolves with his daughter, Robin, who learns that there is more to the wolves than meets the eye. She also begins to understand how badly the English treat Ireland, its people and its environment and why the Irish are fighting so hard to be free.
Her family also despises the housekeeper and fills their grandmother’s head with reasons why she should not trust the “cat”. It soon becomes apparent that the grandchildren are not acting from honest, caring motives but want all of Grandmother’s money and possessions for themselves. As Grandmother slowly turns into a wooden chair, a metaphor for a march toward death, the relatives turn into loud screeching birds. When a terrible storm washes away the spiteful family, Grandmother is saved by her loyal servant who has turned back into a human form. In the end, she realizes that her faithful servant is the only person who really cares about her. Fattouh dedicated the film to his own grandmother and to her housekeeper.
This year the theme of AnimaSyros was freedom and revolution on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution. Inspiration was drawn from the words of the Greek revolutionary hero Theodoros Kolokotronis, who said “Just like rain, the desire for freedom fell upon us . . . and we started the revolution”.
Affairs of the Art is co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada. It premiered in January 2021 at the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival in France where it won The Best International Animation Award. The film has been winning awards at festivals around the world, including at AnimaSyros where Joanna was awarded The Grand Prize of the International Competition. It was a unanimous decision by the jury.
Some people like David, who lives a nightmarish existence, long for freedom while others don’t know when they are well off. In Kiki The Feather, Kiki, a little canary, has never known anything but the safety of her cage and the little old lady that feeds her. She sits on her perch all day watching the birds outside her window and dreams of flying with them. One day, with the aid of a cocktail umbrella, Kiki makes her escape to freedom where she learns that the world can be a scary and cruel space. The five-and-a-half-minute film by Julie Rembauville reminded me that I should count my blessings and be happy for what I have.
The 3D film uses a variety of shades of dark blacks, blues and plum with bright yellow lights. I not only discovered a short film that I liked. I am also anxious to start reading the Thomas Mogford novels. A good mystery is my favorite form of escape reading.
This year five projects under development have been selected from Greece, France, and Lebanon to be presented. Zacharias Mavroeidis from Greece pitched his feature film Nine Lives Left. Anyone who has been to the Greek Islands knows that there are cats everywhere. The tourists love and feed them. Zacharias’ film poses the question as to what happens to these cats during the winter when the tourists are gone?
Along with the already established competitions for best International Short Film, Student Film, Feature Film, TV and Commissioned Film, Greek Speaking Film, and the Audience Award two new categories were added this year. The K.ID.S competition comprised of films for the younger audience and Animapride which includes LGBTQI+ animation from around the world have both been side programs in previous years before assuming award status this year.
Joanna, along with her scriptwriter/producer husband Les Mills, was at Anima Syros with their delightful new film Affairs of the Art that was 10 years in the making. The new film not only follows Beryl who has taken up painting but also catches us up with Beverly, Beryl’s older sister who we met in Dreams and Desires: Family Ties. In Affairs of the Art Joanna voices the role of Beverly. We also get to meet Beryl’s son Colin who collects screws. Colin was inspired by Les’ real-life brother.
Hellenic Places: Hermoupolis was financed through the special Covid -19 program of the Ministry of Culture and Sports implemented in collaboration with the Greek Film Center to support the film community against the impact of the pandemic.
SPECIAL MENTION – Per Aspera, Nika Lominatze
#THIS IS EU EUROPEAN VALUES AWARD – La Prima Cosa, Omar Al Abdul Razzak and Shira Ukrainitz, Spain
The festival believes in giving back to the community that gives them such strong support. To this end, the Media Literacy Programs are designed to reach different age groups and ability levels of residents of the island. Noted Israeli animator Tal Kantor led a workshop for adults titled Animated Freedom. Using mixed media techniques the group explored the concept by giving life to a collage inspired by the work of the Italian artist Georgia Fabris whose studio is in Athens.
The Agora sessions covered topics that are relevant to Greek animation professionals such as Animated Film Production During Covid in Greece and Greek Support Funds For Emerging Authors. I was also very pleased to meet Akindynos Gkikas, the most famous voice-over actor in Greece. I was told that everyone in the country recognizes his voice. During the Agora he spoke about dubbing for animation, posing such questions as “Does it (dubbing) negatively affect the original version or can it afford the opportunity for an excellent transfer of the original story and characters to the Greek language?”
I was lucky enough to be able to see the interior of one of the stately old homes when the festival held a reception at the Kois Mansion. Built in 1860, the mansion was the residence of the Kois family. The mansion is a perfect example of neo-classical architecture that is prevalent in the stately homes near the waterfront, many of which were built to house a shop on the ground floor and palatial living quarters above. You enter the home up a majestic marble staircase. The crowning glory of the home is the ceiling fresco which represents eight of the gods of ancient Greeks, Zeus, Hermes, Themis, Apollo, Dimitra, Athema, Poseidon, and Artemis and four leading heroes of the Greek Revolution against the Ottomans in 1821. The fresco is completed with a frieze painting and crowned with a brim which leads to a jewel typical of the ionic order.
ANIMAPRIDE AWARD – Mahima, Mahboobeh Mohammadzaki, Iran
SPECIAL MENTION – Love, Dad, Diana Cam Van Nguyen, Czech Republic