Animated: Ivana Sebestova's 'Four' plays in the Control Freaks program at the San Francisco International Animation Festival, which begins Thursday, November 13. (Photo courtesy SFFS)

Sean Uyehara On the S.F. International Animation Festival

Michael Guillen November 10, 2008

The San Francisco International Animation Festival moves into its third year this coming Thursday, November 13. Spread over four days at Landmark’s Embarcadero Center Cinema, with special live events at the Apple Store and the Ninth Street Independent Film Center, this emerging showcase of animation presented by the San Francisco Film Society celebrates what it calls "one of the most fertile, creative and productive forms of artistic, experimental, commercial, and industrial media." If, in the ol’ days, they were called "‘toons," these days, some heavy-duty words are required to express the strength and breadth of contemporary animation, as represented by this year’s eclectic program. I spoke with SFFS programmer Sean Uyehara to get some perspective on the shifting dimensions of animated filmmaking.

SF360: How do you go about shaping a program like the International Animation Festival?

Sean Uyehara: I do research and keep abreast of what’s out there. My approach at least is that I want to present animation from as many different perspectives as possible. We have different feature-length films, an Annecy Festival shorts program, a couple of curated programs of shorts, a music video program, an animated titles program, and a retrospective. Basically what I’m trying to do is look at animation from historical, aesthetic, formal, technical and, obviously, entertainment perspectives.

SF360: You’ve certainly accomplished that in this year’s edition. Historically, you’re providing a retrospective of Gene Deitch, which allows for a great blend between the ‘elders’ of animation and a representation of new and cutting edge animators fresh to the scene.

Uyehara: Thank you. That’s very nice to hear.

SF360: I appreciate your straightforward approach of repeating programs that have been successful in past editions of the festival, namely, The Best of Annecy, and this year’s compilation of music videos. How do you go about selecting those?

Uyehara: There are several houses for talent that direct music videos, such as Partisan, Revolver or Radical Media, and I try to keep informed about what they’re doing. Also, over the years in doing this kind of work, I’ve met people who make music videos for a living so there are certain directors that I know personally whose work I can pull from, or talk directly to the producers. It’s nice for me to curate this program because I actually learn about bands that I wouldn’t know about otherwise.

SF360: A new intriguing entry this year is
Play: The Art of the Animated Film Title.

Uyehara: That’s a program that developed from my talking to Dav Rauch, who works at The Orphanage, with whom we have an open line of communication because we co-presented The Host at our first animation festival. Dav is part of a collective, Design Films, with two other guys: David Peters and Kai Christmann. One of their main studies is the art and design of film titles. I was talking to him about that one day and it occurred to me that many of the best film titles are animated, so I asked them to put together a compilation of animated film titles that we could present at the festival, basically through an historical and aesthetic lens. There are some amazing entries in that program from Saul Bass, Art Clokey and Richard Williams. It’s pretty cool.

SF360: That working collaboration between The San Francisco Film Society and The Orphanage is a rich one. I actually interviewed Webster Colcord during The Orphanage’s involvement with
The Host and I’m pleased you’ve booked Webster to do the free presentation at the Apple Store as well as showing his own short in the music videos compilation.

Uyehara: That’s right. He has a music video he did for the Dandy Warhols and his presentation at the Apple Store is an interesting look at how to translate Genndy Tartakovsky’s 2-D aesthetic into 3-D animation. Tartakovsky hates the rounded full look so his 2-D doesn’t translate directly into the traditional 3-D style so they had to reinvent what they thought about 3-D and what it’s capable of.

SF360: Can you provide an example of what you mean by full, rounded 3-D style?

Uyehara: The stuff that Pixar does, for instance, is a very rounded 3-D style. The characters are somewhat full and when they turn to the right or the left, you catch their full profile; but, Genndy Tartakovsky’s characters—which are super flat—if they turn to the side they would look like a line. Panning around his characters doesn’t make sense so they had to think that through, like a Cubist approach to 3-D.

SF360: Tell me about Encyclopedia Pictura, who has likewise caught my eye.

Uyehara: Encyclopedia Pictura are three guys who just recently moved out of San Francisco into Santa Cruz. They’re on Filmmaker’s 25 filmmakers to watch list this year. They’re really inventive. They just made Björk’s "Wanderlust" video, which is epic. Not only did they make it for TV but they devised their own stereoscopic 3-D filming technique. They built their own sets and used puppets and animatronics and animation, basically anything they could get their hands on in order to make their movies, and they’ve made some really mindbending stuff. It’s going to be a cool presentation.

SF360: Is this their Bay Area debut? I’ve never heard of them before.

Uyehara: That’s one of the reasons I’m presenting them. They’re not real self-promotional. They really do make work just because they like making films and they’re trying to do something different. They’re not super well-known to people in San Francisco, generally speaking, but they’re making not only the best, but some of the most widely seen work in the Bay Area. So they should be known. They’re really interesting guys. They’re into crypto-zoology, and Bigfoot, and the environment.

SF360: San Francisco’s going to love them?

Uyehara: Totally.

SF360: The Control Freaks program, I couldn’t quite get a handle on what that program is about. What’s its focus?

Uyehara: Control Freaks and Locomotion are two shorts programs, the best and most diverse shorts that I could find. In Control Freaks, most of the films have to do with over control or lack of control. Cable Car is about people dangling from a cable car in the Swiss Alps. Chainsaw is about infidelity and how it can destroy the psyche. A Child’s Metaphysics is about how a child imagines the world works and how it actually works. The Control Master is about a person who controls the urban environment through his mind. Fantasie in Bubblewrap is about these bubbles on a plastic bubble sheet and a guy who is basically popping them and—before they’re being popped—they’re talking to one another, ‘Well, it was nice knowing you . . . "

SF360: [Laughter.] That’s going to make me feel guilty because popping bubblewrap is one of my favorite pleasures.

Uyehara: I think Fantasie in Bubblewrap will be one of the sleeper hits of the festival. It’s truly difficult animation because Arthur Metcalf, the animator, places faces on top of an actual piece of bubblewrap and—as they’re turning around—he has to catch the curvature of the bubble in order to make the face seem believable.

SF360: Bill Plympton’s
Idiots and Angels just screened at Toronto After Dark to favorable reviews and—though I’m aware it recently played in the Mill Valley Film Festival—this is its San Francisco premiere, with Bill Plympton scheduled to attend?

Uyehara: Bill Plympton will be here and the thing you need to know about this film is that people who like Bill Plympton will love this movie; it’s characteristically surreal, but very dark. It’s about avarice and whether or not human beings can be good. It involves a terrible person who grows angel wings, which become a problem for him because he doesn’t want to be an angel. He has to wrestle with the fact of who he is and who he’s becoming.

SF360: And then you’re bring Ari Folman’s acclaimed
Waltz With Bashir, which I’ve seen at the Toronto International and which I can highly recommend. It’s a beautiful, disturbing film.

Uyehara: It’s an amazing movie and very powerful non-fiction animation.

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