Thursday, May 5, 2011

Interview: Malcolm Turner & Helen Gibbins - Melbourne International Animation Festival

(image source: MIAF)

In just over a month (19th - 26th June) the annual Melbourne International Animation Festival will be held at ACMI. To coincide with the upcoming festival, we wrote to Malcolm Turner the Executive Dicrector and Helen Gibbins the Festival Manager to have a chat to them about the history of the festival, their thoughts on stop motion animation and the Australian names to look out for when the festival starts. 

This is an awesome festival and there are so many things on offer in the program this year (especially for you stop motion fans). To buy tickets you can either go to ACMI Online or to their box office in the city at Federation squre.

Now for the interview!

Can you give us a bit of background information on how MIAF started?

In 1999, 2 Melbourne animators (Nag Vladermersky and Susi Allender) had completed a short animated film called Ashputtle Or The Mother's Ghost. They toured with this film and were amazed to find animation festivals existed in every corner of the world except here. Meanwhile, in New Zealand Malcolm Turner had been running arts festivals and theatre companies and other arts events and was becoming increasingly interested in animation, including bullshitting his way into a job programming animation for a the New Zealand Film Festival (just one of many great leaps of faith to pay off for visionary NZFF Director, Bill Gosden). All three began communicating about Ashputtle and in no time had formed a plan to unite in Melbourne, set up a festival and live happily ever after. Two outta three ain't bad.

What does MIAF11 have on offer this year in regards to stop motion animation? Is there a strong presence?

Stop motion is an interesting term. There's certainly plenty of classic/traditional puppet animation spread right throughout the program. Probably the most specific answer I can give is that this year's technique focus is "Cut-Outs". There will be an entire program devoted entirely to cut-out animation both contemporary (which is in competition) and classic, dating back to some early McLaren work from the 1940's (the print of which arrived this very afternoon). MIAF exists to present the notion of animation as a diverse artform (both words carrying equal importance). In part, this means reinforcing the fact that most animation is not, in fact, in CG but is still to one extent or another truely handmade, even if computers are called upon to help with the drudge work. This means that there is always a hell of a lot of stop motion animation in the festival line-up - always has been, always will be. So long as people keep makin' em, we'll keep showin' em.

Have you noticed an increase or a resurgence in stop motion animation in recent years through your work with the festival?

Yes and no. I think there is AT LEAST as much stop motion around as ever there was and in many ways computers have made some fringe elements of the workload easier and, of course, have great boosted distribution opportunities and in turn that has made more people want to give it a go. But I think there is a decrease in the perception of most people about how much stop motion animation is out there. The roll out of main stream animation (be it features, commercial applications, gaming, etc) would probably present a false impression to someone who only looked to the mainstream for their view of where animation trends are heading. The one possible exception to that rule MIGHT be TV ads, there's a surprising number of stop motion ads out there but how the ratio of stop mo to CG runs I don't know.

Are there any stand out Australian entries in stop motion you can mention?

Yep. ZERO (Christopher Kezelos, David Cox), GRAVITY (Darcy Prendergast), THE BATCHELOR EXPERIENCE (Fiona Dalwood), REMEMBERING BONEGILLA (David Pennay), BLOWN AWAY (Seamus Spilsbury), AWW JEEZ (Michael Greaney). Interestingly, there was probably just about as many stop motion submitted for the student section as submitted for open competition.

Why do you think audiences still connect with animation and in particular stopmotion animation?

Geez, where do you want me to start? It is WAAAAAY more likely to have a soulful componant to it, they are real objects. There is a sense of understanding how it is made, a sense the audience can appreciate the wonder. There is a stronger chance that it will feel like a personal statement and will be a more individual looking and feeling work. They tend to lack polish and sheen (the non-charlie variety.... whatever happened to that dude anyway, he was big news this time last week) which makes them easier to connect with on a more personal and instinctive level. None of these are universal truths (trust me, there is no shortage of shitty, souless stop mo out there) but as a generality I think they're undeniable elements of the auteur animation landscape and I just never see that changing, some people just really want to make films using those tools and while people are making them people will watch them and seek out the best ones.

Big thanks to Malcolm and Helen for answering our questions. We are hoping to have more on the festival when it hits Melbourne in June including reviews and hopefully some chats to the local animators as well if we are lucky!

Stay tuned...

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