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July 2, 2007

impressions from the PLATFORM festival

by sven at 8:00 am

Wallace and Gromit puppets on display

After going to my last screening on Saturday, I walked out into the Performing Arts Center lobby. I just stood there for a moment and looked around the room.

There was Henry Selick having a conversation with Peter Lord. Behind them was Joan Gratz talking with some friends. "Spike," from the Spike & Mike festival, walked by. And just outside I could see Will Vinton sitting at a table.

That moment was emblematic of the festival for me.

the "Attack of the Blog" panel

What films did I go see at the festival?

I prioritized going to screenings of films rather than going to presentations. Nonetheless, I also made it to the following presentations:

Profoundly exhausting!

The first showing of the day was often at 9:30am, so I'd be getting up at 7:30 in order to eat, shower, drive across town, and find parking. The last showing would often run til 1:00am -- so by the time I'd driven home, caught my breath, and gotten to bed, it was usually heading toward 2:30 or 3:00am.

Everyone was similarly tired. I managed to stay awake... But I did have to give a friend a little nudge at one point, when he'd nodded off.

There reaches a point where the exhaustion just makes you stop caring. You know that what you're seeing is amazing animation -- but you're just too tired and numb to feel anything.

In addition to the sleep dep, sitting still for six days is also a bit of a marathon. It's physically demanding to have to stay still that long -- it's like taking a cross-country flight every day. There were screenings where every-other-film I'd have to switch which cheek I was sitting on.

myself and fellow stopmo blogger Karl Sigler

There were fewer films that had characters and a beginning, middle, and end than I would have expected. Often if a film had humans in it, they didn't speak, and were somewhat inscrutable. I'm not sure if this was numerically the case, but it felt like a majority of films weren't story-based at all... I was surprised by my own reaction: it felt like the films that did have story had an inherent advantage, that they were able to engage me and draw me into their world in a way that artsier stuff just couldn't.

For the competition programs, audience members were given ballots as they entered the theater. After each short, the lights would come up and an announcer (the "voice of god," I quipped) would say the name of the next film and what category it was in. Filmmakers were encouraged to stand up and be recognized during these pauses.

I had the impression that these pauses are something that happens at other festivals -- an etiquette that PLATFORM's organizers have chosen to emulate. It never felt like the audience (and filmmakers) really got comfortable with it. For the first program, I don't think any filmmakers stood up -- which just left the audience futilely craning their necks, searching the room.

One of the categories that the "voice of god" would announce was "Best Film Over $50,000." I think, to an extent, we were expected to feel impressed -- like we were in the presence of celebrity... But every time "Best Film Over $50,000" was mentioned, what I perceived was uncomfortable, mildly embarrassed chuckles and shuffling in the audience.

During the awards ceremony, legendary animator Marv Newland was one of the presenters. At one point he appeared to "break from script" and commented on the money-based categories... Saying that they were somewhat ridiculous, that the finances for independent films are always rather muddy, and that he had "literally" stolen the money to make one of his films. ...It was a surprising moment of on-stage criticism.

people painting designer vinyl toys at the UniPo table

The award ceremony was really a curious beast.

Bill Plympton was the emcee. He was great -- he really had the gravitas to do the role justice.

There was an on-stage band, Portland's own "3 Leg Torso" -- which was also an excellent choice. An accordion, cello, violin, xylophone, and percussion... A sophisticated mix of klezmer, tango, and chamber music.

Children all dressed in white (under age 12, I'd guess) were in charge of handing the awards to the competition winners. (Personally, I rather liked this choice. Much better than using supposedly sexxxy women, imho.)

The award itself was a designer vinyl toy called "the god of animation." It's a hot pink, six-armed, three-eyed cartoonish character. Me, I think I'd feel more honored with something made out of bronze or glass... But I gotta hand it to the festival organizers: it's a unique and daring design.

the PLATFORM awards ceremony

There were at least three big TV cameras, presumably for Cartoon Network. There was a sense that this event was maybe supposed to be a black-tie gala...

But animators don't glitter.

Most of the animators who got up on stage were in jeans; some in T-shirts. They were awkward and self-effacing. Animators aren't celebrities. They get up on stage and remain... Geeks.

The makers of "I Met The Walrus" won the award for Best Sound. A little baffled, as they accepted the award they pointed out that there actually wasn't any sound design in the film -- it used a tape of John Lennon being interviewed by a high school kid who snuck into his hotel.

Don Hertzfeldt won the "Best Film Under $5000" award for "Everything Will Be OK." When he got up on stage, he talked bout how strange this was... How he'd just been asleep, and literally only woke up minutes before! He said he was able to make his film so cheaply because a friend of his had won at several international festivals that award Kodak film stock. But the friend is a computer animator! ...So he simply gave the film stock to Don.

The anecdote about receiving a useless gift symbolized for me a disconnect between money/status-driven festivals and animators. Animators are so often scrounging to get by, and are used to being in a poorly understood/disrespected profession. After years of slaving away like this, a moment in the gilded spotlight seems kinda bittersweet. There's a tinge of... Not exactly resentment... But perhaps a sense of the facade?

It's hard to explain the vibe at the awards ceremony without it sounding like I'm putting down PLATFORM. Let me be clear: PLATFORM was wonderful! What I want to convey is the disconnect between animators and the trappings of celebrity.

Gregory Barsamian, who created the astonishing and transfixing installation piece "No Never Alone," as he was accepting his Grand Prix/Installation award made a lovely comment on who we are as animators... He referenced the film, "Freaks," and its famous line "one of us." The animators filling the auditorium: freaks. Wonderful freaks.

At the very end of this (at times oddly awkward) awards ceremony, PLATFORM festival director Irene Kotlarz was brought to center stage and given a huge bouquet of roses. (They never see it coming!) The audience gave her a standing ovation -- the first and only standing ovation of the festival, I believe. After three years of bringing the event to life, she wept at the recognition.

It sounds so predictable... But the moment was authentic. It made my eyes tear up. The man standing beside me teared up, too.

posted by sven | July 2, 2007 8:00 AM | categories: exhibits & events, movies