Cambridge Animation Festival 1985

Report by Neil Carstairs

The main theme?
Publicity for this year’s Festival stated that a theme running through many programmes would be ‘the rather neglected question of narrative and story telling in animation.’ Having seen over 100 films in five days of screenings the only conclusion I can come to is that neglected was the right word! Many of the films in programmes with titles like Telling Tales and Tall Stories had little narrative structure, some had none.

Breaking the Mould – Womens animation.
This show had more variety than might have been expected. There were some hard-hitting feminist polemics, also some very witty films. One in particular, Second Class Mail by Alison Snowden, was a reversal of Bob Godfrey’s Dream Doll, and every bit as funny as the original.

Indian Animation
Mostly government sponsored films, technically competent, but uninspired. The exception, made at the National Film Board of Canada and titled Paradise by Ishu Patel, was graphically stunning and also witty in places.

Carnival by Susan Young.

Student Animation
About 30 student films were shown. A few were worth seeing, a couple were funny, but the majority were either obscure or illustrations of the words on the soundtrack. My favourite was Carnival by Susan Young. In one scene a Carribbean dancer whirled across the screen, her form defined solely by colour and movement, with no hard outlines. Many of the other films were simply pencil line-work on white paper. Although this reduced their impact, it meant that complex 3D movements could be attempted.

Six animators each had a programme devoted to their work. Five of the animators and the widow of the sixth were present in person to introduce the films.

Oscar Fischinger made abstract films in Germany in the 20’s and 30’s. Seeing a series of these in quick succession was a strain, but individually they were very effective. One film from this period, Spiritual Constructions, with two warring characters in silhouette, was my favourite film in the Festival.

Bob Godfrey introducing Spud Houston at the 1985 Cambridge Animation Festival.

Spud Houston has worked in animation for fifty years with Anson Dyer, Halas & Batchelor and many others. The films in this programme were more varied than in the other retrospectives which made them easier to watch.

Chuck Jones had two programmes of similar content to the Chuck Jones TV programmes shown over the Christmas holidays.

Caroline Leaf is best known for films like The Street, made by moving sand or glass under the camera. Recently she has tried other forms of filmmaking, but the new films lack the style of her earlier ones.

Monique Renault.

Raoul Servais makes films which are individually very effective and stylish, but seven in a row was a bit overpowering.

Monique Renault uses animation for pacifist/feminist propaganda. Again, although each individual film put its message across effectively, seeing one after another was a strain.

Borderline by Monique Renault.

Computer Animation Event.
This turned out to be an illustrated lecture showing the preparity labour required to feed the computer enough information to allow it to ‘fly round’ an object. It finished with a tour de force called Tony de Peltrie, this seven-minute film took a team three years to make using some of the biggest computers around. Three quarters of it could have been done in plasticine in an afternoon, the final sequence where everything disintegrated into its constituent parts seemed to have been added to prove it really had been done by a computer!

Channel 4 Discussion/Scriptwriting Discussion.
These were both dominated by a few speakers from the floor airing their hobby horses, leaving the audience and most of the panel feeling cheated.

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