Melbourne International Animation Festival 2013 Launches Tonight

Australian animation legend Alex Stitt is a guest of MIAF 2013
Australian animation legend Alex Stitt is a guest of MIAF 2013

The Melbourne International Animation Festival (MIAF) 2013 kicks off tonight with a gala screening of highlights from across the program, including a last –minute addition, zany short Kick Heart, from Japanese animator Masaaki Yuasa.

With over 400 films, including 200 in competition, whittled down from almost 2350, there’s a wealth of movies on offer that will challenge and delight, opening eyes to a world beyond the latest Pixar blockbuster.

Australian highlights include a retrospective of Alex Stitt, perhaps best known for his iconic advertising campaigns, including Slip, Slap, Slop and Life: Be In It.

The festival features not one but two of his animated features, the ground breaking Grendel Grendel Grendel, with funds being raised to preserve it digitally, and pioneering 3D film Abracadabra, never before shown in Australia, and requiring it’s own uniquely-designed goggles that were only recently uncovered, stashed in a long-forgotten box and are genuine collectors pieces each audience member gets to keep.

Festival director Malcolm Turner says he’s been trying to secure Stitt as a festival guest for years. “I’ve been applying water torture,” he laughs. “I’m determined to up our showcasing of our own animation history. He’s a godfather of our animation scene. When we became aware of an unused 35mm print of Grendel Grendel Grendel, 30-years-old and never been through a projector, we sent it off for digital duplication, so it will be preserved forever.”

Turner watches every film submitted, and spends four to five months attending animation festival overseas. “I loathe selection committees,” he says.  “There are certainly people whose council I regard, but at the end of the day, if I see a film I like, I’ll show it. I have the ability to move on the spot.”

MIAF 2013 will also showcase 100 years of Lithuanian animation, including the dark fairy tale We May Meet, We May Not. “It uses all the unique properties of animation,” Turner says. “You need good art work, you need to have something to say with it, and you need to understand that it’s not just a film, but also animation, and that can do certain things that no other art form can do.

We May Meet, We May Not moves very smoothly from one place to another, you find your self in a house, then a forest, then inside someone’s mind. It’s just beautifully made.”

Traveling to Lithuania, Turner expected to focus more on the archives, but was pleasantly surprised to encounter a thriving emerging scene. “I found a small but pretty young and vibrant, subtlety energetic animation community. Mostly female, mostly fine arts.”

The old guard is represented by one of the founding fathers of animation, Ladislaw Starewich. “He’s variously claimed by the French and the Russians, because that’s where he did most of his work,” Turner reveals. “He invented most of the rules on puppet animation, which really didn’t change until computers came along. He made it an art form. It’s an animation geek’s poke in the eye to people who would subvert other people’s work, like we do with the handful of really good New Zealand artists, who subtly become Australian.”

There’s also showcase of Canadian indie animation, with special guest Patrick Jenkins from Toronto. “It’s a very fringe, fiercely independent model, and the best of those films have this organic, raw quality to them,” Turner says.

Render is a mini-conference that runs simultaneously with the festival, with expert opinions from local and international talents. “We can’t just show films, that’s not enough, otherwise we become a giant YouTube,” Turner says. “You have to convince people to stop what they’re doing, come to a particular place at a particular time, which is becoming an anathema mindset. We’re used to consuming whatever, wherever, wherever we want. You have to offer something unique to that experience, giving people the chance to talk in greater depth.”

He says he worked hard to find enough high-quality animations to populate the kids program, with the vast majority of films showing during MIAF aimed at adult audiences, dispelling the myth that animation’s just kids’ stuff. “It’s like buying a book,” he says. “There’s a difference between Ulysses and Spot The Dog.”

The Australian animation scene’s in rude health, according to Turner. “It’s cyclical, but it’s getting better and better. The best of it has a hand made, DIY feel.”

He points to the success of Isabel Peppard’s stop animation Butterflies, voiced by Rachel Griffiths, which debuted at last year’s MIFF and has achieved international acclaim. The offerings get more and more complex.

“We’ve moved through the early phase of ‘hey, I can animate something on my phone,’ that’s not cool anymore,” he says. “That was bullshit then, and it’s bullshit now. The best of all of these films have that auteur’s voice. They are all attempting to say something.”

Stephen A Russell

MIAF opens today and runs until  June 28,