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Animation festival is pure imagination

By Matt Hume, October 26 2017 — 

The Quickdraw Animation Society boasts over three decades of non-profit, artist-run experience in production, screenings and workshops. In addition to fueling the spirit of animation on a daily basis, it organizes the Giant Incandescent Resonating Animation Festival (GIRAF) held every November. This year, from Nov. 23–26, Quickdraw’s 13th annual GIRAF is bringing life and colour to the Globe Cinema, EMMEDIA Screening Room and the Quickdraw Animation studios.

Quickdraw executive director Peter Hemminger says the festival has changed plenty since its inception, but has synthesized its history to become what it is today.

“When GIRAF was started by Quickdraw member Brandon Blommaert, it was really just spotlighting a lot of those super weird Quickdraw member works. Like one that was just insects and dried fruit taped to film and projected to see what happens,” Hemminger says. “It was small, Quickdraw-focused and not presenting itself as a film festival. I think that’s reflected in the name of the festival too, which honestly I’m sure is a ‘backronym.’ It gives it that weird personality.”

As GIRAF grew, so did its scope. A few years after the first festival, then-programming director Kerilynn Thompson attracted a larger audience by bringing in visiting artists and showcasing international films. In recent years, Hemminger and Quickdraw have combined member spotlights and international screenings, culminating into today’s GIRAF.

This year’s festival kicks off with a screening of French animator Sébastien Laudenbach’s adaptation of the Grimm fairytale, The Girl Without Hands. In addition to the screening, the opening gala will include a live performance and visuals from local musician and artist Hermitess.

GIRAF13 will also screen Junk Head, a feature written, directed, animated, scored and voiced by Takahide Hori. The two-hour film, which took the one-person production team eight years to complete, was a hit at the Fantasia festival in Montreal. Hemminger is excited to put the humourous horror on a Calgary screen.

“It just blew me away. The aesthetic really feels like [Swiss surrealist painter] H.R. Giger or really grotesque monsters in this dark imagination, but there’s a lot of humour in the movie so it’s actually silly in a lot of places,” he says. “There’s a big preamble at the start of the movie to put you in the world but the easiest way to think of it is just a character exploring a world that he’s never seen before — weird stuff is gonna keep on happening.”

A double retrospective on Satoshi Kon, a widely influential Japanese animator who passed away in 2010 at the age of 46, is also a huge draw for GIRAF13. Kon’s 1997 feature Perfect Blue and 2006 feature Paprika will both screen.

“[He’s] one of the first animators from Japan that was really taken seriously in North America,” Hemminger says. “Perfect Blue gets into some very dark territory. It’s a psychological thriller that’s been described a few times as if Hitchcock made an anime. He really takes advantage of the fact that in animation he has full control of everything that’s happening. He has this ability to keep you completely disoriented, but in a way that’s so structured.”

Paprika centres on technology that allows therapists to enter people’s dreams — and was released three years before Inception, Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster built around the same concept. Hemminger says the plot gave Kon an excuse to animate surreal dreamscapes, resulting in unparalleled beauty.

“If you think of the way Inception looks at dreams, those worlds are very straightforward, and sure, sometimes the scenery will fold up, but it’s still a grey dreamworld,” Hemminger says. “Paprika is the most colourful movie you’ll ever see. Every single image on the screen is something that you’ve never seen before at all. It’s such a striking, beautiful movie even though it’s a thriller in its own way.”

The animation collective Late Night Work Club (LNWC) is the focus of another spotlight at GIRAF13. The group started as a collection of friends on Twitter making independent animations on evenings and weekends outside of their day jobs. Two 40-minute LNWC anthologies, Ghost Stories and Strangers, will screen at the festival. LNWC member and California-based visiting artist Sean Buckelew says a theatre setting brings a new dimension to these works, which are currently available online.

“The internet is a good way to disseminate animated shorts, but I still believe in the movie magic of watching something in a room,” Buckelew says. “I feel like my favourite movie experiences are in crowds that are ready to react. I want to make movies that can embrace the energy of a room, even if it’s going to go online first.”

Buckelew is also hosting a workshop on making cinema-style animations on a zero-dollar budget.

Among other artists highlighted at
GIRAF include University of Calgary MFA student Brandon Hearty. The artist will contribute work to the festival and host a workshop on augmented reality animation.

GIRAF also boasts screening debuts from the Quickdraw Scholarship Program. The program connects first-time animators to classes, equipment and membership to make their first animated film.

GIRAF13 runs from Nov. 23–26 at the Globe Cinema, EMMEDIA Screening Room and Quickdraw Animation Society studio. Tickets, schedule and festival information can be found at giraffest.ca.

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