Leipzig Is Also Animation

in 46th International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film

by Heikki Jokinen

Leipzig is not only documentary films, though it is the cornerstone of this old and appreciated festival. Animation has traditionally been an integral part of the programme. It has its own competition and international jury, retrospectives and other programmes.

And an audience; all of the five animation competition screenings were completely full of people, many sitting on the floor. Even the re-runs gathered almost full houses.

This rush took place even though the festival programmers screened both documentary and animation competitions usually at the same time. This makes life difficult for a journalist who’s intrested in watching both competitions. Usually festivals do it other way round, do everything to favour the competion screenings.

How was the animation competition? Generally speaking of quite good quality, it could well be compared with the animation festival competitions. Leipzig is in a good position to screen unseen animation, because the major festivals Annecy, Leipzig, Stuttgart and Hiroshima takes place in summer or spring.

Golden and Silver Doves

The animation jury gave the main prize, Golden Dove, to the Russian Oksana Cerkasova for her film “Man from the Moon”. It tells the story of Russian ethnologist N.N.Miklukho-Maklaia, who worked in New Guinea in the 19th century. The film is a kind of poetic travel diary, combining ethnological drawings with the events of Miklukho-Maklaia’s life.

The animation is beautiful and uses many forms of expression. The victories and defeats of Miklukho-Maklaia are made visible. Though documenting the life of a real person the film is more about emotions and atmosphere than about facts.

The Silver Dove went to a film that has already collected many kilograms of prizes, “Atama Yama” by the Japanese Koji Yamamura. It is an original story about a man who has a small cherry tree growing on his head. The strength of this film is in the combination of a strange story with a most beautiful drawings and effective traditional Japanese music. It builds its own world and remains faithful to it.

One of the three honorary mentions went to Australia to Adam Benjamin Elliot for his clay animation film “Harvey Krumpet”. This bitter and funny biography of a man who was cursed with bad luck has also collected a lot of prizes.

The Jury clearly wanted to give the main prize to a film which has not yet got everything, but couldn’t pass by the two most celebrated films of the year. To decorate “Man from the Moon” with the Golden Dove is, however, was not a wrong or forced decision. It is a film with a lot of inner strength.

An interesting part of the animation programme is the annual Animadoc, films that combine documentary film and animation. The word documentary has to be understood here broadly. Borders between fiction and documentary are difficult to define, not less when using animation as a method for expression.

Unsecure future

The Leipzig festival was held this year for the 46th time, which makes it one of the oldest film festivals in Europe. It was one of the crown jewels of the late German Democratic Republic, a very big event with a lot of guests. I participated in the Leipzig festival also in the times of the GDR, as it was one of the few places to meet film makers from developing countries.

When most of the GDR was sold or demolished, the Leipzig festival remained. It has been able to keep one the best parts of its tradition, being a window onto the east. The festival programme included a lot of Russian films, both in documentary and animation sides.

The most intresting part was definitely a retrospective called Blick/Gegenblick (Look/Look Back). The 23 screenings presented a unique selection of both unknown and well known documentaries from the Soviet Union, and some from the GDR. We saw propaganda films, war news reels and documentaries of the happy life in Gulag camps but also some astonishing avantgarde films.

One of the topics that ruled the discussion on the festival was the question of a new festival director. Fred Gehler has done the job since 1994, and now he wants to retire. The candidate for new director is Jean Perret, who is known as the competent director of the Nyon documentary film festival in Switzerland.

The problem occured, when Perret said he wants to be simultaneusly director of both Nyon and Leipzig festivals. He also said that he plans to eliminate animation from the festival programme. This caused a new discussion, and many people – including Gehler – said that a double job for two festivals is not possible.