Friday, March 19, 2010

Too Much Animation Makes You Cranky

Animation screenings are generally exhausting and often discouraging.

This week were the final nights of screenings for the ASIFA East judging.

from "Why Does The Sun Really Shine?"

The rules for judging, if you don't know, are opaque and borderline nonsensical. One category screens per night, although stragglers and miscues will screen on other nights. People come in late, leave early. Given these variables, it would be good to know exactly how the winners are calculated. Are they averaged? Highest score wins? Either way, both are highly flawed given the loose nature of balloting.

Then there are the craft awards within each category. Voters circle which craft they find a film excellent in. Or they don't. Or they circle them all. How this is tallied is never revealed, although the manner of filling in the form gets explained several times throughout the evening.

a humorless corporate film from Flickerlab which refused to take its own advice about innovation.

On top of that, a significant number of attendees are SVA students. That's like letting the Presidential Election hinge on the Florida electorate. To be fair, even with this apparent majority the SVA bloc typically hasn't held significant sway in the final tally.

My number one personal peeve (the above are all practical problems) with the ASIFA East voting system was largely absent this year: the hooting cheers when certain names are announced to be screened. While I find any cheering at such screening impolitic and improper, applause before a picture even screens establishes a bias of celebrity which is completely unfair to "outsider" films. Superior films which don't get the inside track routinely miss out on the big ASIFA East show. This is probably typical for any festival/awards show but it doesn't mean it should be happily accepted.

Tuesday night featured Independent films (and one commercial work less than 2:00).

Tops for the evening was Stephen Neary's "Let's Make Out". Last year, I felt his "Chicken Cowboy" was the best student film. I didn't even make the connection until it was pointed out later.

Julie Zammarchi's film "The Passenger" is also good. That screened in Ottawa last year. She's worked very closely with Suzan Pitt over the years. It's evident in the design and certain animation tropes but the narrative style and subject matter are wholly her own.

I also appreciated two films from "The Paper Theater": "Annie's Circus" and "Puppy's Super Delicious Valentines Day Biscuits". They had a charm. Though unpolished, they were convinced of their idiom.

Another annoyance with the festival: a few entries were clearly in the wrong category. They were commissions. Either ASIFA needs to explicate what defines "Independent" or they should be serious about segregating the categories. Miscatagorized pieces are unfair to all the films.

Looking over the list now, there were more "OK" films than I remembered: John Dilworth's "Rinky Dink" (which is best once we get passed the surface Dilworthisms to core ideas that make up his films), Aaron Hughes & Lisa LaBracio's "Backwards", Edmond Hawkins "Spare Time", Elliot Cowan's "The Thing in the Distance" and others -all solid. Not enough "great" to make the evening stand out.

Wednesday was sponsored films over two minutes. This one, this was tough.

Mo Willems' "Don't Let The Pigeon Drive The Bus".  One film that didn't make you feel run over.

Not much in the way of filmmaking. Two Weston Woods pieces based on Mo Willems books were good -Mo's a brilliant guy, but the directors/animators of each are both talented: Pete List and Karen Villareal.

Buzzco's "It's Still Me!" was nice. At 15:00 it pushed patience's limits, but that's the nature of a commission -you've got requirements to meet. Beyond that, the film (about asphasia) falls back on the most severe forms as an example. It's not until deep within the piece is it clear there are many forms the disorder can take. It's a nice film, though.

"Hey, animation screening, what are you going to do to my patience?"

There were a bunch of They Might Be Giants films and pretty much every entry was devoid of filmic narrative opting for either music video-ness or single panel gags cut after cut.

Liesje Kraai and David Cowles "Why Does The Sun Really Shine?" was my favorite of the TMBG videos. Probably a little biased on that, as she works with us sometimes.

Oh, and the first film of the night was -I kid you not -a 14:00 minute film (Flash, ugly) convincing kids to eat broccoli.


Elliot Cowan said...

Awww, shucks.
I think you're ok too.

Also - the broccoli film was wretched.
It represents everything hideous about children's "entertainment".

Candy said...

Thank you for the nice words! I was told after the screening that it was a bit of a downer, which is true after very upbeat films, but it really makes people with aphasia and their families really happy. It's the first time I've seen it with non-affected audiences.

I also agree about the sponsored/non categories. I placed it in sponsored even though I had made it as an homage to my mom (with no financial assistance), but I thought it fit better with sponsored than personal: since non-sponsored has no "educational" category, I felt it belonged in the other.

Suggestions about how to rework categories in this environment of people making music videos as both personal and sponsored films, etc. would be very helpful.

Also,I couldn't believe the broccoli film either! Who writes like that anymore?

Liesje said...

Thanks! Glad we made room for the 'Attack of the Clones' scenerio.

Also - Broccoli is delicious!

Michael Sporn said...

Sounds like fun; I'm sorry I missed it. Watching bad films on falling-apart beaded screens that shine rainbows into the video projections always get me a little high - or do I mean headachy. And then the student desks always work well with my elder-citizen butt.

But if they didn't hoot and holler for their own films, I guess I didn't miss much this year.

David B. Levy said...


Cranky indeed... I love your writing and your blog (I visit every day), but you should watch making statements/criticism not based on facts. For example, you write of an "SVA bloc" as being a significant number of attendees. I teach at SVA, and two other schools and can tell you that SVA students did not make up a large "bloc" of attendees. On one night I counted 6 of them. There were some additional students from Pratt and some from NYU in there too, and many of them were graduates already. AND, most importantly the majority of them are NOT voting members. That backs up your correct statement that they aren't holding sway in the final tally... yet, even though you know that you still manage to accuse the ASIFA festival of letting students choose the electorate. Makes a snappy thing to write, but you are just spreading mistruths and confusion by saying this.

For your voting question--Each film's numerical score is averaged and that chooses the winners. Craft awards are given only if a significant percentage of people have circled an area that is worthy. There has to be a high tally for that for us to consider giving something a craft award. An independent accountant (a CPA), totals our ballots and that's how the awards are figured out. How would you set up the voting system?

No films are put into categories in a random fashion. And, today's models of production make it tricky to figure out where a film belongs. But, we do our best to get it right and we have our standards for categories and we also crosscheck with filmmakers as to where their films should play if there is a confusion. For example, a music video may be an independent film or it may be a sponsored film. Depending on if a record company engaged the filmmaker and provided a budget, or if the filmmaker made the film as a favor to the band as an indie self-funded/self-produced film. See what I mean? Of course we have to be vigilant here and stay with the times, but I assure you that we try to get this right.

We do our best to try to keep this festival running–– to continue the work that veterans like Tissa David used to do and (if this post is any indicator) receive smack downs and unwarranted criticisms for our efforts. You're entitled to your opinions, but there's a group of people working hard to put this show together year after year, even if that sometimes means just to make a target for a blog post like this.

roconnor said...

Thanks for the note, Dave, and my apologies if my criticism sounded personal.

I'm sure it's not the first time you've heard these concerns and while they are difficult for ASIFA to address they remain valid.

15 years ago people complained about larger studios "stacking the vote", today it seems like students blocs have some sway. Whether they alter the vote or not, there's the feeling in the room of an Alpha male making himself felt.

That's the nature of the system, ASIFA has decided the benefits outweigh the negatives. I tend to agree, but don't dismiss the negatives lightly.

The same is true for categorization. This slips through in every festival. Given the nature of the selection process -one time only, no second chances -proper placement becomes all the more critical. Maybe the solution is specific criteria for categories, maybe its default to "sponsored" if there's a question, maybe it's a complete revamping of categories.

I've asked several times over the years how the voting is calculated, this is the first time I've gotten an answer beyond "a CPA does it". The voting process should be more transparent than it currently is. If awards are based on votes it should be more regimented: one must screen all the films, the manner of the voting could be broken down (each craft category given a value, etc.).

These are simple things to make the process better.

Animation is ubiquitous these days -web ads, viral shorts, motion graphics, station IDs, documentary clips. It would be good for the organization if the awards had a place for all these.

I don't post these recaps with intent of seeming smarter than everyone else, they're honest observations which hopefully help improve the process. I do the same for Ottawa and I only write about things I care for.

David B. Levy said...


I don't know that I'll be able to convince you that a significant student voting bloc doesn't exist. Yes, there are some students and recent grads in the audience, but most aren't voting members. But, if the student or youngish audience members seem like a large group in the screenings it is created by the absence of veterans participating in the voting process. What are their reasons for not coming? You'll have to take that up with them. Our policy is that all are welcome and we'd love a large mix of participation of all ages and experience levels.

I can see other categories like you mention becoming a part of the process. This year there were not enough (or any) entries of the new categories you suggest to warrant it... but, I can see that changing and as a festival we'll have to stay on top of those trends.

I believe your goal is, in fact, to make things better, and I believe that you care about the festival. But just as you write about the festival because you care, we who put the festival together as volunteers also care and believe in what we're doing for the community the festival serves.