Monday, December 29, 2014

Oscars Round-Up, Part 2

I'm now in the process of screening all of the animated films in the hunt for Oscar contention, even though I'm not allowed to vote this year.  A quick round-up:

"Giovanni's Island" - I believe I've reviewed this wonderful film before, and I love it.

"A Boy and the World" - an abstract look at a young boy trying to grow up, it's excellent.

"Henry & Me" - a very weird story of a boy with cancer who meets up with all of the legendary NY Yankees baseball players to be able to win against his illness.  Terrible storytelling and amateurish art.

"The Hero of Color City" - a colorful feature for kids, produced by Max Howard and directed by Frank Gladstone.  Not my cup of tea.

"Rocks in my Pockets" by Signe Baumane.  A very bold and courageous look at suicide, great design and color but too much dialogue for my taste.  But she's been winning prizes all over the world for this film, so what do I know?

"Legend of Oz: Dorothy's Return" - standard CG animation, with bad color and storytelling.

"The Tale of the Princess Kaguya" by the legendary Isao Takahata. Everyone was very excited about seeing this ancient folk tale, especially since it's his last film - but I fell asleep during the film.  And the drawing near the end is atrocious.  It looks like they ran out of money so they hired high-school kids to finish the animation. 

"Big Hero 6", by Chris Williams and Don Hall - it's beautifully animated and designed.  I loved the main character, Baymax, his design is so original.  Also I loved the backgrounds, very futuristic yet also retro.  My only problem was that it was so derivative.  It looks like they took "The Iron Giant" and mashed it together with "The Incredibles" (both are Brad Bird films...).  However, I did enjoy myself, so I give it a "B". 

But my favorite of the low-budget films is "Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart".  It has everything - great art, design, color, story and music.  It's very similar to a Tim Burton film, in that it doesn't just cater to kids but appeals to adults also.  The story is dark and it doesn't have a happy ending, but it's still a very enjoyable film.  I hope it gets distribution here in the U.S., because I believe it would do very well.  

For the nominations, I predict a mix of big studio films and some indies:
1. "The Lego Movie", directed by Christopher Miller and Phil Lord
2. "How to Train Your Dragon 2", directed by Dean DeBlois
3. "The Boxtrolls", from Laika Studios, directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi
4. "The Book of Life", directed by Jorge Gutierrez
5. "Song of the Sea", directed by Tomm Moore

For animated shorts nominations, I predict:
1. "Feast"
2. "The Dam Keeper"
3. "Duet"
4. "The Numberlys"
5. "Me and My Moulton"

Just so you know, I still have two films in the running, the animated feature "Cheatin'" and the animated short "Footprints".   The reason I'm not expecting a nomination is simply because all of the films that I believe will get nominations are 10 to 100 times more expensive than mine.  Still, I suppose I can allow myself to dream for a minute.

--Bill Plympton

Friday, December 19, 2014


I'm fascinated by Russian history - what the Russian people have had to endure throughout their existence is truly tragic.  When I got an invitation to go to Ekaterinburg for their Kinoprobe Film Festival, I jumped at the chance.  Ekaterinburg  is famous as the place where Czar Nicholas II and his entire family were assassinated by the Communists in 1918. 

As I arrived in the city, I soon realized that this place was much farther north than I expected - every day it was 20 degrees below zero.  I couldn't walk more than a block without my face turning into an ice cube.  I severely underdressed.

The festival itself was wonderful - it's mostly aimed at students who want to discover animation, documentaries and live-action films.  Even though my films had never shown in Ekaterinburg before, I was very well-known there.  I soon found out why, when I tried to sell my DVD's - everyone already had all of my films, via the internet or black market.

My master class was packed with a lot of fans, and when I told them about my next project, "Hitler's Folly", they became obsessed.  They all wanted to know more about my Hitler faux documentary.  In fact, there was another Russian faux documentary there, about the Russian's early moon landing and exploration in the 1930's.  It was quite good.

I had forgotten to bring my special screening copy of "Idiots and Angels" for a grand Ekaterinburg premiere - and they said not to worry, they'd rip it off the internet.

I was able to visit the shrine of the location of the assassination of the Czar and his family, the original home where they were killed in the basement was torn down in the 1950's, and a large Orthodox cathedral was built in its place, the Church on Blood in Honour of All Saints.

Inside, it's your usual Orthodox cathedral, with lots of candles, incense and holy icons.

I had to go to the basement to find a crudely put together scrapbook display about the deaths of Czar Nicholas and Czarina Alexandra and their 5 children - Tatiana, Olga, Mario, Anastasia and Alexis.

I asked around about the darker side of their rule, especially Rasputin - and no one seemed to want to talk about him.  Too bad.

I give the Kinoprobe Festival a B-, mostly because it's so damn cold!

--Bill P.

Monday, December 8, 2014

MMI Screening on December 12 / Annie Awards

Hey everyone, great news!  My new animated feature "Cheatin'" just got nominated for THREE Annie Awards, in the categories of Best Animated Feature, Best Directing in an Animated Feature, and Best Music in an Animated Feature.

If you don't know about the Annies, they're run by ASIFA-Hollywood, and they're sort of like animation's equivalent to the Oscars, and they are taken very seriously by all the big studios.  So, for "Cheatin'" to get three nominations, it's a big deal and it means that my film should be taken seriously as a contender.

(In other words, my $400,000 movie is kicking butt against some very expensive films with $200,000,000 budgets.)

So, in order to celebrate this wonderful event, the Museum of the Moving Image is having a party in my honor - also, to celebrate my screening of "Cheatin'" at their wonderful theater, and also a gallery exhibition there.

The event will be on Friday, December 12, at 7 pm - presented in collaboration with ASIFA-East.  After a special "sneak preview" of "Cheatin'" (we'll have more news shortly about this winter's release dates) there will be a reception, during which you can take in the exhibition "Plymptoons: Short Films and Drawings by Bill Plympton".  Oh, and everyone who comes will also get a free signed sketch from me - I'll be there drawing until my hand falls off. 

So, if you live in NYC or the nearby tri-state area, bring your friends and come celebrate the success of "Cheatin'" and have a drink with me.  The Museum of the Moving Image is located at 36-01 35th Ave. in Astoria, Queens.

For more information, please visit this link:

Or follow this link to purchase tickets:

See you all there!

Oh, and the Annie Awards ceremony will be held on Saturday, January 31 in Los Angeles at UCLA's Royce Hall.  Wish me luck!

--Bill Plympton

Friday, December 5, 2014

Gijon International Film Festival

Last year, I was pleasantly surprised when my film CHEATIN' won the Best Animated Feature prize at the wonderful Gijon Film Festival in Spain.  Not only did it include a money prize, but also an invitation to visit the festival the following year.  So, I was happy to come back in 2014 and hold a Master Class and some more screenings of my films.

Gijon is situated in the beautiful Northern coast of Spain, where there's a lot of beautiful nature and gorgeous beaches.  However, they kept me so busy with my retrospective, interviews and lunches that I was unable to even walk around the beautiful historic city.

Also, the weather sucked - it was raining almost the entire time I was there.  The sun was only out on the first day I was there and I was able to go swimming in the beautiful, crystal-clear warm water of the Bay of Biscay.

Still, there were a couple of amazing highlights.  I was able to share the spotlight with one of my favorite filmmakers, Terry Gilliam.  We were able to hang out together and enjoy the fantastic food and cider of the region.

He's such a raconteur - telling me all about his film projects, the successes and the failures, and especially his battles against Hollywood studios, which I heartily empathized with.  He says he still wants to complete Don Quixote and plans to return to Spain with a new cast.

The other great guest I met was Richard Lester - when I was in college, I discovered this great man's work.  Of course, he's famous for directing the great Beatles films "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!", but then I discovered some of his more non-commercial films, like "Petulia" (which I loved), "How I Won the War" starring John Lennon, "The Mouse on the Moon", and "The Bed Sitting Room".  Of course, he made some blockbusters too, like "The Three Musketeers", "Robin and Marian" and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum". 

But to my mind, two of his films really stand out - "It's Trad, Dad" (released in the U.S. as "Ring-a-Ding Rhythm!") which is all about the Dixieland revival in London in the early 1960's.  I loved Kenny Ball and the Jazzmen, Acker Bilk and others, but what's amazing about the film is the experimental editing and cinematography that wasn't seen again until 20 years later, when MTV started.  So Richard Lester really started it all.

The other film of his that changed my life was "Petulia" in 1968.  This film starring George C. Scott, Julie Christie and the brilliant Shirley Knight blew me away when I first saw it.  It had everything - humor, great San Francisco rock music, drama and fantastic acting, and yet in many ways it was an experimental film.  Watch it on Netflix, you'll thank me for it.

But I digress - I approached Mr. Lester and told him he's my God, and fortunately I didn't scare him away.  He's such a gentleman, he told me some great stories about his directing years.  He said he retired because he couldn't get used to the new technology - and he looks great, slim, trim and as youthful as ever. 

What a joy to hang out with my two favorite directors!  I give the Gijon Film Festival an A+.

--Bill Plympton

Monday, December 1, 2014

Napa Valley Film Festival

Last year, while I was at the Slamdance Festival in Park City, Utah, I met the head programmer of the Napa Valley Film Festival.  I mentioned to him that I'd always wanted to visit the famed Napa Valley, plus I have relatives in Sacramento that I could also visit.  So he invited me to come this year and hold a Master Class at his festival.

On November 13, I visited beautiful historic Napa Valley for their 4th annual film festival.  I was amazed - for such a young festival, it's already become a powerhouse event, with tons of celebrities like Mike Myers, Kevin Costner, and Michelle Monaghan, among others.  Almost all the shows were sold out, even those with 1000-seat venues. Plus, they had parties galore.

Part of the attraction is the beautiful location and of course, there's also the wine.  It seemed that whereever I was, someone was offering me a delicious glass of wine, and not the cheap kind of wine I usually drink.  No, this was the GOOD stuff.  From 10 am straight through to 3 am - this was definitely not the place for any AA members to be.

The highlight for me was my last day, when I took a side trip and visited the Lasseter winery - I'd read about it many times - and of course I know John Lasseter of Disney/PIXAR fame from the old Spike & Mike days.  So my cousins from Sacramento drove me to the Lasseter Winery in Glen Ellen (of course I made a reservation first).  It's a beautiful location and because I was a friend of John, we got a first-class tour and a complete tasting of their primo wines, along with local cheeses and nuts.

I was hoping to say hello to John & Nancy, being old friends and such - however they told me they had lost their dog and were out searching for him.  I wasn't totally disappointed, after all John runs two of the biggest entertainment entities in the world, and I'm sure he needs some time to be with his family -

But definitely check out the Napa Valley Film Festival, especially if you like drinking wine and eating great food. You'll love it there.

--Bill Plympton