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September 19, 2011

review: best of the nw animation festival 2011

by sven at 10:58 pm

Best of the NW Animation Fest: Sept 10, 2011

The "Best of the Fest" show brought in a good-sized crowd and got rave reviews!

1. Hollywood Theatre

With 78 films at the inaugural fest back in June, it seemed to me that we had enough material to do a "best of" show, which might draw in a different audience. This was an opportunity to try out a higher stakes venue and learn its quirks — without having to simultaneously pull together an entirely new program.

2. marquee

We were well-prepared by event day, and things went off quite smoothly. A minor snafu at the very beginning: the restaurant I'd told my staff to meet at now closes at 5pm. Oh well — we sent folks over to the Plan B restaurant for food. The process of re-organizing, though, meant that I didn't really get to see the marquee with my own eyes before we headed in. I'm sad I missed that experience.

3. line outside

As is often the case at the Hollywood, the line for tickets stretched down the block. Still, even though I knew it was likely, it was thrilling to see so many people eager to get inside.

4. lobby

When we were at 5th Avenue Cinema three months ago, NWAF was the only show playing in its auditorium. That really allowed event staff time to take ownership of the space. At the Hollywood, there was another show prior to us that didn't get out until 6:30. From an organizer's point of view, it was a very different feeling waiting to be let in. Not bad — but I do look forward to a future when we'll be able to occupy the theatre entirely.

5. Gretchin Lair staffing our info table

We had three tables set up in the lobby. One was an info table for the NW Animation Fest. The other two were for local animation organizations: ASIFA-Portland and Cascade ACM SIGGRAPH. Thanks to Gretchin, Rob Bekuhrs, and AJ DeFlaminis for chatting folks up!

6. filmmaker name badges

There was less ephemera to produce this time around. There were name badges for filmmakers, programs for the audience, and a 24"x36" poster to put by the front doors... But no signage for the walls or specially branded tickets. Ticketing all went through the Hollywood's box office, which simplified things for us greatly. (And, boy, do I dig getting a prompt and well-organized financial statement at the end of things! Kudos to the Hollywood's business manager, Cailin Bell!)

7. Nicklas Nall hands out programs

As soon as the show prior to us let out, I went into the auditorium with our projectionist and did a final tech check... Then that magic moment, when the doors swing open, and the audience finds its seats! Thanks to Dielle Alexandre, Jeff Mulcaster, Nicklas Nall, and Temris Ridge for handing out programs.

8. audience getting seated

An interesting thing I've noticed: It's really hard to take photos from the rear of a theatre that make the screen look as big as it actually is. When you think about it, it's a trick of forced perspective. Because the seating slopes downward, your mind tries to compare the size of the screen to the seats in the foreground and gets fooled.

9. welcome!

Because there were still people waiting in line outside, we wound up delaying the start of the show by a full 15 minutes. That threw timing off and had me worried. But, by keeping questions-and-answers with the filmmakers short, we were able to make up for the delay and end the evening right on time at 11pm, as promised.

10. our projectionist, Matthew Combs

The DVD compilations I made for the show were flawless. Everything was sized to use as much of the screen as possible. The aspect ratios were correct. Image quality was as good as the original files. Transitions between films were seamless. Sound levels were equalized.

Despite all that effort, I made one dumb move. Though the sound levels were equalized, I failed to set the auditorium's sound system to the proper level during our tech check. The first few films were too loud, to the point of distortion. Fortunately, all I had to do was go up to the booth and get our projectionist, Matthew Combs, to turn the volume down. Lesson learned for next year!

11. Sam Niemann, Adam Fisher, Dean Holmes, Jeff Riley, Eric Kilkenny, Kartika Mediani, Marilyn Zornado, Barbara Tetenbaum

After the first block of films, I had all the attending filmmakers come up for Q&A. In attendance: Adam Fisher, Dean Holmes, Eric Kilkenny, Kartika Mediani, Sam Niemann, Barbara Tetenbaum, and Marilyn Zornado.

BLOCK 1 (90min)
1. Ursula 1000 - Rocket ..... by Eric Kilkenny
2. Timber ..... by Adam Fisher
3. Heart ..... by Erick Oh
4. Spirit of the Bluebird ..... by Jesse Gouchey & Xstine Cook
5. Chicxulub ..... by Christopher Purdin
6. Gerald's Last Day ..... by Justin & Shel Rasch
7. Ruby Rocket, Private Detective ..... by Sam Niemann & Stacey Hallal
8. The Necessities of Life ..... by Gerald Guthrie
9. Zero ..... by Christopher & Christine Kezelos
10. Cheez…z ..... by Arut Tantasirin
11. Operation: Fish ..... by Jeff Riley
12. Breath ..... by Kartika Mediani
13. The Nose ..... by Neil Burns & Dean Holmes
14. Old-Time Film ..... by Barbara Tetenbaum & Marilyn Zornado

12. Adam Fisher, Dean Holmes (mic), Jeff Riley

Dean Holmes talked about how he and Neil Burns had been working on a stop-motion TV show in Canada that was put on hiatus. During the break, they were given permission to use the studio to work on "The Nose." The TV show wound up not being renewed — so they were able to use the facilities for almost a full year!

13. Marilyn Zornado demonstrates flip-book

Marilyn Zornado and Barbara Tetenbaum's "Old-Time Film" is thought to be the first animation made using traditional letterpress printing. I've been told that it's making something of a splash in the printer's community. For the fest, the two brought along a box full of flipbooks made from the film's prints, which the audience got to examine and play with in the lobby during intermission.

14. Temris Ridge, Dielle Alexandre, Jeff Mulcaster hand out surveys

An important part of growing a festival is learning about your audience and what works for them. At intermission we handed out surveys. As an incentive, the first people turning them in got NWAF lapel buttons (the last of the batch we made back in June). We had a great response rate: almost half of everyone attending filled out a survey.

15. filling out surveys

‎56 attendees handed in surveys. 36 wrote comments. Response was astonishingly consistent… See for yourself!

Frequency of adjectives used to describe "Best of the NW Animation Festival 2011":

Oh, and the number of exclamation marks? Thirty-three.

(Punctuation matters!)

16. intermission

I really wanted people to stay for both block 1 and block 2, to see all the marvelous films. As encouragement, I set ticket prices at $8 for one or $10 for both. It would have been simpler to have only one price for the whole evening, and I was worried about creating confusion. But, at intermission, another 15 people arrived just for the 9pm show. I think the gamble paid off.

17. getting seated again

Has everyone had a chance to use the restrooms? Get more popcorn at the concessions counter? OK, I'm ringing a hand-held bell in the lobby. Back to your seats, so we can move on to block 2!

BLOCK 2 (97min)
1. Medusa ..... by Nick DiLiberto
2. The Quiet Life ..... by Timothy Hittle
3. Just Can't Trust a Drunk Ninja ..... by Greg Doble
4. Ruby Rocket, Private Detective Web Series ..... by Niemann & Hallal
5. Slow Joe ..... by Philip Gray & Stephen Boot
6. The Lighthouse ..... by Po Chou Chi
7. The Box Game ..... by The Box Game Collective
8. Transformations on Bartok ..... by Stephen Campbell
9. Missionary ..... by Mike A. Smith
10. In the Fall of Gravity ..... by Ron Cole
11. Good Bot Bad Bot ..... by Marcus Ng & Nick Matthews
12. Something Left, Something Taken ..... by Max Porter & Ru Kuwahata
13. Landscape with Duck ..... by Patrick Neary
14. 24 Frames ..... by Brad Pattullo

18. Q and A after block 2

Attending filmmakers for block 2: Lisa Brackney, Patrick Neary, Sam Niemann, Mike A. Smith, Becky Steele, and Danie West. Sam had "Ruby Rocket, Private Detective" episodes in both blocks. Becky, Danie, and Lisa formally represented "The Box Game" — but we got a number of the other students who worked on that film up on stage, too.

19. Patrick Neary (mic), Sam Niemann, Becky Steele, Vanessa Pridgen, Crystal Tabaldo, Lisa Brackney

For the Q&A sessions, there just wasn't enough time to allow interaction with the audience. Instead, I posed a very open-ended question and let each filmmaker have a turn responding. I phrased it something like this:

What was the inspiration behind your film, or what made you want to make it? Or, tell us an anecdote from the process of making it... Something that went horribly wrong, or fantastically right. Entertain us!

(A little awkward, but it did the job.)

20. Mike Smith

As the festival director, I watch the festival from an odd vantage point. While the audience lines up, I'm introducing my volunteers to the Hollywood's staff. While the event staff welcomes people into the lobby, I'm in the auditorium doing tech checks. When everyone gets seated, I'm up on the stage blinded by lights, talking into darkness. When the films begin, I'm far in the back of the audience in an aisle seat so I can run to the projection booth if there's a problem. When the filmmakers are answering questions, I'm at the side of the stage maintaining a poise of respectful interest...

It's disorienting. I'm extremely pleased that everyone who attended seems to have been blown away. Yet, I sort of feel like I wasn't able to attend the same show that they saw. After it was all over, I had a bit of post-partum depression. At a visceral level, I couldn't understand where the event I'd put so much work into had disappeared to. Getting to see the photos a few days later helped enormously, making it all seem real again. Huge thanks to Carly J. Cais for being our event photographer!

21. good night!

All told, 120 people bought tickets. 105 for the first show, 75 for the second. 60 stayed for both blocks. Additionally, we had 24 filmmakers/guests and 8 event staff. A pretty good number of warm bodies, really, for a first-year festival.

22. milling outside the theatre

As the evening came to a close, I invited everyone to join us for an informal post-show gathering at the Moon and Sixpence, a British pub. Being 11pm by that point, few joined us — mostly just the event staff. Your loss... Best. Pasties. Ever.

23. Gretchin considers a snack at the Moon and Sixpence

Finally we come to the big question... Was the event successful enough to justify doing another festival?


We were in a huge auditorium and news coverage was disappointing. Yet, we still managed to break even, and have gotten tremendously positive feedback from everyone who attended. We are definitely doing another full-scale festival next year — and we're doing it at the Hollywood. The dates have been set!

24. goodbye Hollywood Theater — see you in May!

Let's end this review where the "Best of the Fest" began — with this introduction I wrote for the program:


Beyond Hollywood and Cartoon Network, there is an amazing world of animation you've never seen.

Independent animators produce hundreds of short films each year that are in turn hilarious, heart-warming, and profound. Sadly, without million-dollar advertising budgets, you probably won't ever hear about these gems. Through the newly-formed Northwest Animation Festival, I want to help change this.

Here's the dream: I want Portland to host the biggest animation festival west of the Mississippi. Instead of a dozen or so films, give me an abundant feast of 100+ each year. Let there be a mix of new work both from masters of the art and from remarkable amateurs. An event that inspires and brings together a community of artists.

It's a lot to wish for. But we've made an excellent start.

The inaugural NW Animation Fest took place in June. Three days of films packed the house at 5th Ave Cinema. “I gained a newfound respect for the art of animation—and if they keep things going, this festival has a future ahead of it,” wrote Cecilia D'Anastasio for the Portland Mercury.

“It was a life changing experience!” animator John Divide told me, having flown all the way from England to see his film’s screening.

This is the impact a film festival can make, and why it’s important to give indie animation a platform.

Tonight's “Best of the Fest” show gives you a taste of the finest treats from our first event. It’s also meant to be a teaser for things to come. I’m very proud to announce dates for our next full-scale fest: please join us on May 18-19 for the 2012 NW Animation Festival — here at the historic Hollywood Theatre!

Now, let’s watch some films!

— Sven Bonnichsen

posted by sven | September 19, 2011 10:58 PM | categories: nw animation festival