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Vera Saunders

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Tricky Women
by Vera Saunders   

Last edited: Saturday, August 30, 2003
Posted: Sunday, June 22, 2003

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The Female Perspective in Animation Film

The battle of the sexes rages on. But one thing is clear – men and women make different kinds of animation films. As a juror at Culture2Culture’s Vienna, Austria award ceremony in March, 2003, said, “Women are more interested in expressing feelings. They have different insights. Their stories are about the body, about growing up. They make more independent films. Men are more commercial, more dominant.”

This festival, held every two years, is the only one of its kind worldwide showing animations made by women. They’re cheeky. Irreverent. Mini-length. Seeing them for the first time is an eye-opener because with the minimum of words, or no words, they convey a message starkly told.

The word “Tricky” comes from the German "Trickfilm", which connotes cleverness, having good ideas; it also means variety and using new techniques.

The competition was open to filmmakers from all over the world, but their entry had to have been made in the last two years. In particular, they included the Czech films because of the Czech Republic’s long tradition in animation. They selected the East Asian ones because of increasing government support for women - a new phenomenon. “It took one year to find sponsors and put it all together,” said Birgitt Wagner, a “Tricky Women” team member.

So what’s special about women’s films? As Linda Simensky, vice-president of Cartoon Networks says, “ the field seem more interested than men in animation as an art form.” And Birgitt Wagner’s quick reply when asked this question was, “Men wouldn’t make a film about old age.”

On the March 12 evening, several animations dealt with death and the meaninglessness of daily life. Gaelle Denis’s six-minute “Fish Never Sleep” discusses these issues. The protagonist, Naoki, who lives in Tokyo near the biggest fish market in the world, can’t sleep for two weeks. The characters don’t stop to think about killing the fish who are insomniacs. If the fish sleep, it will be too easy to catch them. We see Naoki on a Sushi conveyor belt. This is a visually beautiful film in red and white with simple lines. However, it’s a pity that the soundtrack is raw. Environmental pollution acts as a backdrop to the story.

Placha Marketa’s “Gloss”, the scholarship-winning Czech film, portrays a woman, her husband and their three children in drawing form. The woman does not remember her youth, she gets old, she dies. This story unfolds in a breathtaking one minute and fourteen seconds.

“Solo Mutant” Marketa’s brilliant six-minute critique of our café society grapples with the theme of death. The film, for which she also won a scholarship this year, opens with two red chairs around a table. Then come dancing matches. Cigarettes. We see three women in matchboxes. A pistol. Soldiers. Cubes of sugar burn. She uses bold colors and loud music to warn us “Consumerism kills!”

Ruth Lingford’s entry “The Old Fools” takes five minutes and thirty-seven seconds. She shared the first prize of €3,650 for her "Fish Never Sleep" with Gaelle Denis as this year’s winnings were split in half.

“The Old Fools”, a no-frills portrayal of subjects that are still taboo in our society, focuses on senility, old age and denial of death. The message is so powerful and disturbing that a jury member cried while watching it. The audience sees senior citizens playing cards. The old people reflect on old age and ask each other “Do they fancy there’s been no change? Why aren’t they screaming?” A skull appears. Flashbacks remind onlookers of time passing.

Besides this thought-provoking film, Lingford made “Pleasures of War” in 1998 and “Death and the Mother” in 1997. She studied Fine Art at Middlesex University and Animation at the Royal College of Art.

Even though death was a major topic of this evening, it was by no means the only one of the entire event. Sexuality and desire as well as parody of western civilization played an important role.

Mai Tominaga, a Japanese animator, participated with her 2001 film entitled “Bustaman”, which means ugly.

In six minutes and twelve seconds she shows shapes made of pasta dancing to loud music. They kill one pasta figure. It’s clever and creative, making fun of McDonald’s and our throw-away society. It poses the question “Do you want to change your face and get a new one?” The instant answer, just like the service at a fast-food restaurant, is “Yes, it’s quick and easy. It’s as cheap as buying a burger at McDonald’s.” Tominaga’s message also suggests that we have no personality.

Jayne Pilling, the well-known lecturer, author and expert on animation as well as Director of the British Animation Awards, curated the “Sexuality and Desire” program and the Korean entries. Furthermore, she acted as jury member, as did Michaela Pavlátová from the Czech Republic (Oscar nominated for her “Reci, Reci, Reci/Words, Words, Words”), Maya Yonesho from Japan, and Sabine Groschup from Austria.

As mentioned, they awarded the well-deserved €500 scholarship to Placha Marketa. She gets the chance to live and work in Vienna for three months.

The second prize of €1,500 went to Alys Hawkins from Britain for her six-minute domestic drama “Crying and Wanking”. Her animation explores emotional and sexual issues. While brushing her teeth, a female character says, “You asked about my past and I told you. Had sex with a man I didn’t know. Told him to slap me and he did. He made me feel beautiful. One day I ended it.” The drawings are excellent but the plot is less compelling.

The goal of the festival was to present the work of these talented women to a broader audience. Wagner also hopes to introduce more feminist themes in 2005.

It’s only since 1988 that this genre has been taken seriously from an artistic viewpoint. At the beginning, few women contributed but now they represent 50 percent of animators.

A team member sums up this festival best when she said, “Animation is a bit like magic.”
Festival Organizers:Culture2Culture
Founded: 1991
Number of Entries: 138 films
Activities/Programs: Lectures. Film workshops for children. In the works, a public video library for modern, classic and rare films.
Specialization: Cultural, scientific and transdisciplinary events focusing on film, video and the Internet. In particular, women’s participation in art, culture and science.
Competition Venue, 2003: Votivkino
Date: 6-13 March, 2003
Animation Film Schools: Royal College of Art, London
National Film and Television School, UK
National Film Board of Canada

Web Site: Vera Saunders

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