In launching the Animation Is Film Festival last year in Hollywood, GKids Films Chief Executive Eric Beckman was pursuing a big dream: to build an American answer to France’s Annecy Festival while changing the way people think of animation.
“Trying to create a must-see event in a town where there’s seemingly a film festival every weekend and lots of free screenings with free hors d’oeuvres … until we actually did it, it was hard to know if people would agree with our reason to exist,” says Beckman.
“It’s sort of nice to have your mission statement be the title of the festival as well,” says festival programmer Rodney Uhler of the event’s goals: “To get people who never really gave [animation] much thought or went beyond the kind of mega-releases from the big studios each year to see it more as just a part of the cinematic landscape and not see it as a genre for one specific audience.”
After drawing about 5,000 attendees for the inaugural edition, this year’s festival opens Friday at the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood with two screenings of Japanimation titan Momoru Hosoda’s new “Mirai” — one in English and one in Japanese, with each followed by Hosoda Q&As. He’ll also be there for screenings of several other of his films. In “Mirai,” which premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, a young boy is visited by time-displaced phantasms and spirit guides who help him accept his new familial reality.
“‘Mirai’ is based on an experience my son had when he was 3 years old,” says Hosoda. “We had just welcomed a new baby, and he had difficulty accepting her as his little sister. He threw a tantrum on the floor, saying that she stole mom and dad’s love from him. When I saw that, I thought I saw the true nature and naked soul of what a human is. I felt that humans — and life — are about wanting others and love, from the time they are born until they die.”
Uhler says another film to watch for is the Belgian “This Magnificent Cake! (Ce Magnifique Gateau!),” which he says “has been racking up awards left and right. It’s sort of an oddball film, but that’s why I love it. It’s 45 minutes. It’s about the European occupation of Africa. The story is told with dark humor and in a surreal sense, but oftentimes, you’re distracted by how beautiful the frame is.”
“Magnificent Cake” is in intensely tactile stop-motion animation, shot and lit with arresting realism. Co-writer and co-director Marc James Roels, who will be on hand, says, “We did a lot of research, reading diaries from missionaries and various people who went to Africa during this period. There’s a scene in which a group of porters who are all chained together fall off a bridge. This is something that apparently happened quite often. The way it’s described in these diaries, it seemed kind of matter of fact. They don’t care too much about the porters; they were very upset about the cargo.”
Other titles include the Spanish “Buñuel in the Labyrinth of Turtles,” in which the famed surrealist director undertakes a documentary as the result of a bet, and the Hungarian “Ruben Brandt, Collector.”
“We have a really international lineup,” says Uhler. “We celebrate American indies as well. Animation is not immune to the underrepresentation of female filmmakers, so having Nina Paley present on opening night with her film, ‘Seder-Masochism,’ is really special to us. It’s a film that will inspire a lot of conversation.”
“Seder-Masochism” is an American film depicting narrative themes of the Passover seder. It’s irreverent, jarring, not for kids, and is set to a puckishly selected array of popular songs. Writer-director Paley says her motivations to make the film were partially rooted in objections to her previous film, “Sita Sings the Blues,” which was based on the Hindu epic poem, the Ramayana.
There “was the idea that there was a genetic or racial permission to these certain stories, which I don’t agree with. But that was a peculiar strain of criticism: ‘How dare this white, Christian woman appropriate our epic,’” says Paley, who is Jewish. “I was like, ‘OK, I’ll do this, but you won’t like this any more.’
“Simultaneous to that, my father was dying. I thought, this was a way of trying to understand something about him; I’m going to explore the religion of my father. What ended up happening was I did end up understanding the religion of my father: atheism.”
Uhler and Beckman point out that many of the films and events are intended for the whole family, including behind-the-scenes looks at upcoming studio juggernauts “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
Beckman says, “This is a festival that isn’t specifically for people who are into animation; it’s really for people who are interested in film. It’s a really rare opportunity to see all these films in one place. You may not love every film, but it’ll open your eyes as to what the medium is capable of.”
Animation Is Film Festival
When: Oct. 19-21
Where: TCL Chinese 6 Theatres, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, 90028