Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Interfilm Berlin

I've been showing my films at Berlin's Interfilm Festival for as long as I can remember.  It's a festival that shows ONLY shorts, which are a much bigger deal in Europe (more about that later).  They invited me over this year to show some of my shorts and also do a Master Class.

They booked me on Norwegian Air, a real cut-rate outfit, and sure enough, before take-off at JFK they had problems with the plane's door - so we left NYC an hour late.  And naturally it was then a tight fit to catch my connecting flight to Berlin.  I was racing through the beautiful Oslo Airport only to find long, slow lines for customs and luggage checks.  I just made my flight to Berlin by seconds, but, sure enough, my luggage didn't.

(Which was almost a disaster, since my luggage held my DVDs with the shorts I wanted to show in my Master Class - I called my office manager in a panic from Berlin, but thanks to some German efficiency, the festival had already requested links from my staff, so they already had copies of most of the films I wanted to show.  It turned out my office manager had told me to bring the DVDs only as a back-up - whew!)

I stayed at the wonderful artistic Meyers Hotel, and hoped to get my luggage in time for the evening show, since there was also merchandise in the luggage that I wanted to sell to the crowd.  It was a packed, standing-room only crowd, and the show went very well.  But unfortunately because of Norwegian Air, I couldn't sell my original art from "Revengeance" or sign any "Cop Dog" cards, which was a bummer.  But everyone seemed to have a good time.

The next morning, the wonderful TV channel Arte did a long interview/documentary about me as an American independent filmmaker.  I love Arte!

My suitcase finally got delivered, as I was checking out of my hotel.  Fortunately, the trip home was mishap-free.

But I would like to discuss the whole phenomenon of short film festivals.  In the U.S., shorts-only festivals are few and far between.   The only two of substantial merit that I'm aware of are the Aspen Shorts Fest and the Palm Springs Short Film Festival.  I've been to both festivals and had great times there, but sometimes the cinemas are half-full and have very few business opportunities.

But in Europe, shorts festivals abound and are thriving.  The most obvious example is Clermont-Ferrand.  It takes place in an ugly industrial town in the middle of France, yet the place is packed with fans of short films.  They have, by my count, 5 very large 1000-seat cinemas that can be packed from morning until midnight with people who love short films.  That's crazy!  Plus, they have a film library where one can see every film in the festival and even every film that was entered!

In the past, I would get sales from my short films, even when my film was rejected by the Clermont-Ferrand Festival.  How about that?

Here are some of my other favorite shorts-only film festivals:
Filmets in Barcelona, Spain
Expresion En Corto Festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (though I think it has a new name now...)
International Weekend of Animation in Wiesbaden, Germany
Palm Springs Short Film Festival
Aspen Shortsfest
Flickerfest International Short Film Festival in Sydney, Australia
Tampere International Film Festival in Finland
Uppsala International Short Film Festival in Sweden

I'm now working on three big projects, two of which I will reveal in the coming weeks, I'm not allowed to discuss them just yet.  The one I can discuss is the Jackie Greene featurette - I'm almost done with the 6 music videos, and then I'll start on the connecting storyline.  We're planning to enter the (as-yet-unnamed) 30-minute short on the festival circuit - it's looking very exciting and here is some of the artwork from the last few videos:

Next week, I'll have a report on my night with the great Don Hertzfeldt, the rock-star of animation.  He's coming to town soon to show his new short at the IFC.  See you then -

Bill P.

Monday, November 13, 2017

BitBangFest, Buenos Aires / "Coco"

I just returned from sunny Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I heard a story that explains a lot of mysteries. 

Apparently, 30 years ago, some mysterious woman came to Buenos Aires from Los Angeles to visit the famous cartoonist Caloi, and she brought along a videotape of some animation that had appeared on MTV (which at that point was a new channel, and only in the U.S.).  Caloi and his wife Maria viewed the cassette, and for the first time they discovered the weird animation of Marv Newland and this guy named Bill Plympton.

At this time, Caloi was using his substantial fame to create a TV series to spotlight independent animation - so he included work from Marv and me in his show.  Apparently the show was a big success and Caloi kept asking for more of my films on his show, and I promptly supplied them.

Later, I got to meet Caloi and Maria in person in Annecy, and eventually visited them in Buenos Aires, where they hosted a giant BBQ for me.  So, all that explains why there were lines of fans around the block to see my recent Master Class in Buenos Aires, and why I got recognized as I arrived in the airport.  And why numerous artists in Argentina credit me with inspiring them to become animators (what a responsibility!).

This is very weird, because back in the U.S., hardly anyone knows or cares who I am.  In any case, my appearance was a big success at the 3-year-old Bit Bang Festival, which took place at the prestigious DaVinci Art School.

With the director of the BitBang Festival, Barbara Cerro
having ice cream with Barbara Cerro
speaking to the audience at the Bit Bang Festival
with Carlos Valiente, whose father, Rodolfo, wrote the book on animation
with Juan Pablo Zaramella (on left)
with Walter Tournier, Maria Veronica Ramirez and Rodolfo Pastor at a party
One of the great side trips was a BBQ at Carlos Nine's house.  Unfortunately Carlos died a few years ago - but his lovely wife Alice and his sons Santiago and Lucas (with his wife Nancy) welcomed me.  I had visited the house about 10 years ago when I had a film in the Mar del Plata Festival.  I took a cab to the great Carlos' house in the suburbs and got to visit with him, even though he spoke little English and I had to habla EspaƱol.  He showed me a bunch of his paintings and illustrations and I went nuts.  They were soooo beautiful!  He was on a whole 'nother planet.  My brain explodes when I see his work and weirdly, he's not well known in the U.S. or even in Argentina!  It's only in France that he's famous - naturally. 

I tried my best to get his work shown in the U.S.  Four years ago I organized an exhibition called "Icons of Animation" at the Society of Illustrators - also included was work from Peter de Seve, William Joyce, and myself.  The show was a tremendous success, but alas, Carlos is still not very well known here in the U.S.

But I digress.  It was wonderful to see his son, Lucas Nine, who is also a very talented illustrator and animator.  He worked on "Bu Bu", a short animated film created by Carlos for the wonderful animated feature "Anima Buenos Aires".  To my mind, "Bu Bu" is one of the most genius short films of all time - it's so good, it almost makes me want to quit animation.  Lucas also made a fabulous animated short in the style of the old Fleischer brothers, called "Les Triolets", and it's also hilarious.

with Lucas Nine and his wife Nancy
I hope to return to lovely Buenos Aires again some time, to visit with all the artists and my friends there.

with Maria Veronica Ramirez at her gallery show
with Maria Veronica Ramirez
eating Argentina BBQ with Juan Pablo Zaramella
Also, I just saw the new Pixar film "Coco" - as you may know, it's already been a big success in Mexico, partly because it all takes place there, but also because it's a wonderful film. 

I do have a few criticisms, though.  I'm a big fan of Frank Capra, and one of the things I love most about Capra's films are his secondary characters.  Sometimes he would have up to 20 supporting characters and each one would have a strong personality and each would be able to carry a film by themselves.  However in "Coco" there are 12 or 15 supporting characters, and they're all forgettable - so why have them?  They just clog up the story - there's no need to include these characters if they add nothing to the emotional thrust of the film.

But I did love the film's message, about the importance of family and family history.  At the Academy screening I went to, the audience broke out in applause at the end, which is very rare.  I give "Coco" an A-. 

If you noticed that I haven't been posting that much, it's because I'm juggling four projects at the same time right now - when things slow down a bit, I'll fill you in on all the juicy details...   See ya,

Bill P.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Bucheon Animation Festival

About four months ago, I was invited to the Bucheon International Animation Festival in South Korea. I'd heard good things about the festival, and they wanted to screen four of my films, so I thought I should go.  But of course, this was before Trump got into a war of words with the fearless leader of North Korea, Kim Jung-Un.  Well, as my trip got closer the rhetoric became red hot, and I wasn't sure there would be a Korea for me to visit.  People said, "Don't go - you'll never survive the nuclear blast..." but I did, and to my great surprise, the people there seemed oblivious to the war-like threats between these two bombastic leaders.  In fact, they seemed very apolitical.

So with that in mind, I was able to relax and enjoy the animated films - they had a wonderful program of feature films including "Revengeance" (co-directed by me and Jim Lujan) and four great short programs, plus programs of student and commissioned films.

The last time I was in Korea - about 10 years ago - I was told that Seoul had around 30 animation schools, which blew my mind because even the U.S. only has about 20.  So I figured that upon my return to South Korea, I'd find a populace mad for animation.  However, to my disappointment there weren't mobs of fans at the festival.  Even though there were some great animators there - Eric Goldberg ("Aladdin") brought the great Burny Mattinson, who has worked for Disney from 1953 to the present.  He's a great storyboard artist and directed "The Great Mouse Detective".  Their table was a fascinating revelation on the roles of art directors and storyboard artists on a big animated feature.

Luckily, I won 2 prizes at the closing ceremonies at BIAF (one for "Revengeance" and one for "No Snow for Christmas") and I felt a real warmth and friendliness from the staff there, from the director all the way to the volunteers.  It's a festival with a lot of heart - be sure to enter your film next year in the lovely Bucheon Animation Festival.

Now that Oscar season has started, I've been getting a lot of DVD's to watch - here's a short list of the highlights so far:

"High Rise" by the great Ben Wheatley, a powerful metaphor of British society captured in a high-rise apartment building - starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons and Luke Evans.  The film is very brutal and graphic, which is typical Ben Wheatley.  I give it a B+.

"Blade Runner 2049" - A delight to see, directed by Denis Villeneuve.  But unfortunately a bit confusing.  I think I liked the first film better, but this film could qualify for my stoner film list.  I give it a B.

and "Okja", by Bong Joon Ho.  Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Tilda Swinton and Giancarlo Esposito. This one came out of nowhere for me - I had never heard of it before, yet when I started to watch it, I was amazed by the originality, the humor, the details - what a crazy film!  It's about a huge mutant pig created to solve the world's hunger crisis, and how it prevails with the aid of a little girl and a crazy animal liberation gang.  Check it out, it's a wonderful film.

And finally, I was invited to the 93rd birthday celebration for the great New Yorker cartoonist, George Booth.  It was held at the prestigious Society of Illustrators, and a bunch of my old illustrator buddies were there: Steve Brodner, Peter de Seve, Felipe Galindo, plus J.J. Sedelmaier, who organized the whole event and the exhibition of Booth's cartoons.  For 93 years old, George is very sharp and funny - he was quite friendly to me even though he had no idea who I was.  I hope that when I get to be 93 I'll be as funny as George is.

                                                                   with George Booth

                                                                         with Peter de Seve

Now I'm off to Argentina for another animation festival there - you can read my report on that next week.  See you then!

Bill P.