There's lively action at the Animation Block Party.
Thu Jul 20 2006
Photograph: Laika Entertainment
Curating an animation festival is like making the perfect mix-tape, according to Casey Safron, founder of the Animation Block Party, Saturday 22 to Monday 24 in Brooklyn. “How do you go from the Pixies to Nirvana to Johnny Cash? ” asks Safron, an instructor and administrator in the animation department at the School of Visual Arts. “It’s just as weird to go from an animated music video to a gross-out short to a narrative piece. You need to find the link so you can show them back-to-back.”
Safron’s solution was to spread the festival across several Brooklyn venues and to schedule the 60-some shorts by sensibility, rather than technique. Opening night at Williamsburg’s Automotive High School, for example, showcases cheeky comedic shorts including Tim Reardon’s “Mary-Kate and Ashley Conquer the Bed Bugs.” In the celebrity-skewering clip, magazine cutouts of the Keane-eyed twins are divinely commanded to save New York from oversize insects. Other droll offerings include Eric Rothman’s “The Day the Dog Dressed Like My Dad” and “Don’t Fuck with Love,” a stop-motion tale of star-crossed lovers in a pop-up New York City.
Sunday’s program at Galapagos is more esoteric, starting with a panel discussion on the state of New York animation, followed by experimental works like the nonchronological “Tinnitus” and Joshua Frankel’s “Bicycle Messengers,” which posits animated gear jockeys against a live-action cityscape. On Monday, the festival’s most polished narrative works screen at BAM, including “Moongirl,” a computer-generated short from stop-motion hero Henry Selick of The Nightmare Before Christmas fame. “It’s his first foray into straight-up CG,” says Safron. “You have to wonder how his storytelling will change in a new medium.”
Originally a one-off screening at Tribeca nightclub Sugar in 2004, the Block Party has swelled in both scale and breadth. Last year, submissions came from as far away as Brazil, Israel and Greece, ranging from hand-drawn fairy tales to rotoscoped pornography. This year’s top draws include Bill Plympton’s “Guide Dog,” a sequel to his Oscar-nominated “Guard Dog,” and Aaron Sorenson’s spastic video for They Might Be Giants’ song “Bastard Wants to Hit Me.”
As an educator, Safron sees ABP as an avenue for encouraging the next generation of animators. “About a quarter of the shorts we screen come from students—not just from SVA, but RISD, CalArts, all over. They’re a big part of the festival, both as filmmakers and audience.” To that end, the festival’s top student filmmaker gets to direct a commercial for Crumpler Bags, one of the fest’s main sponsors.
But a niche event like ABP also holds a large appeal for more-established cartoonists, whose work is often sidelined in traditional film festivals. “Casey’s festival is the first that seems accessible to a New York animator,” says Scott Dodson, whose “Robot Boy” screens on Sunday. “It gives local talent a foot in the door. There’s a big difference between just screening at your school and having other people see it.” And despite the explosion of animation on the Web, formal screenings are still essential to creators. “As an audience member, you want to see your community,” says Emily Hubley, who is showing her musical picture-puzzle “Octave” at Galapagos. “And as a filmmaker you want to see your audience. That’s why you make things—for other people.”
Safron doesn’t have an abiding affection, however, for another, better-known animation celebration, Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival. “They’re basically just a traveling retrospective—there’s no judging, no local flavor. You don’t even know how old the shorts are,” he says somewhat dismissively. “A lot of our shorts were finished, like, two months ago.”
With attendance expected to reach nearly 1,500, Safron has high hopes for this year’s program. “There’s so much more of an audience for animation now,” he says, citing Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly. “You don’t have to be a glossy Disney movie to get people interested anymore.”
Animation Block Party screens Saturday 22 through Monday 24. For ticket and venue information visit animationblock.com.