Tricky Women: Vienna Celebrates Female Animators

A festival for animated films runs the gamut with entries from beautiful to bizarre

Top Stories | Gina Lee Falco, Tav Falco | April 2013

Imaginary friends in Emma Burch’s Being Dillmann Bradford (top), self consciousness in Michèle Lemieux’s Here and the Great Elsewhere, human trafficking in Anna Kuntsman’s Catherine the Great, perfect love in Guadalupe Sánchez Sosa’s Apple of my Eyes (left to right) (Photo: Tricky Women 2013)

The Pillsbury Doughboy, Mickey Mouse, the Simpsons – whether a Disney character in the movies, a hand-rendered family TV series, or a 3D computer-generated Hello Kitty, what we have come to know as objects, caricatures, forms that move and appear to live and breathe, are created by a process known as animation. The process is nothing more than a trick of the eye, whereby still images are repeated on the screen, giving the impression of movement and hence the illusion of life.

While animated films are conceived as entertainment, explication, or political drift, the Tricky Women Animation Festival in Vienna takes a more subversive, powerful and expressive – and of course feminist – approach. Now in its 12th iteration, 2001-2013, Tricky Women is the fi rst and only festival of animated film worldwide that is dedicated exclusively to animation by women.

This year’s festival and competition were held 6-13 March in the newly-refurbished Haydn English Cinema on the Mariahilferstraße in Vienna’s 7th District. At the same time, Austrian women filmmakers were also featured at a Tricky Women parallel programme at the Tehran International Animation Festival. Concurrent events – such as the ASIFA (Association Internationale du Film d’Animation) installations spearheaded by Stefan Stratil, creator of the celebrated animated character, FrankieBoy, are also underway in the MuseumsQuartier.

Summer Animation Academy

From 6-10 July, the Summer Animation Academy at FH St. Pölten again welcomes filmmakers for five days of workshops, screenings and master classes in all aspects of animation. A spin-off of the Tricky Women animation festival, the academy is open to both men and women of all levels of experience, and in its second year is already making waves.

The 2010 Tricky Women Festival received the Outstanding Artist Award for Women’s Culture conferred by the BMUKK, the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, Arts and Culture. Clearly the festival has evolved into the foremost event to focus on contemporary animation and its international signifi cance. While creating a platform for networking and dialogue, the festival also encourages theoretical discourse among scholars and critics, who are devoting much discussion to justifying the relevance of animation as an art form predicated on digital technology.

But they often struggle to find the resonance and deep thought inherent in the pioneering films of avant-garde artists such as dadaist Hans Richter, with his studies of pure rhythmic abstraction, the elegant shadow fi lms of Lotte Reiniger, or the motion paintings of Oskar Fischinger.

The grand winner celebrated at this year’s competition was Julia Ocker for Kellerkind, about a woman living alone who gives birth to a child. But the child is different. The mother is frightened by it and hides it in the darkened basement. She is haunted by the child’s screams. The jurors praised the film for telling the dark side of motherhood, transcending the clichés of sweet utopia perpetuated in every generation.

Festival speaker LIA never wanted to be an artist. One of Austria’s leading experimental software artists, she confided, "It simply happened. I was just looking for things that were fun for me."

Other filmmakers seemed to be stretching for a firmer grasp on reality. "Animators are trying to control what’s around them," commented juror Lourdes Villagómez during a break between the lectures and spotlight films on Mexico, Spain and Iran.

She pointed to films highlighting the grotesque relationships between work and wages in Hard Labor, Meager Pay; accidental death on the pavement depicted in White Line Syndrome, in which the spirit arises and lives on as a chalk outline; other films feature monstrous destructive creatures living in dark worlds, self-immolation, and bizarre acts of cannibalism, in which two lovers eat up parts of each others bodies.

Others agreed. "Animators are very controlling people," corroborated another juror, Signe Baumane, as popcorn popped in the spacious lobby of the Haydn Kino. Creator of festival favourite Teat Beat of Sex – a monumental study in desire and feats of orgiastic gymnastics – Baumane talked about the psychological hurdles involved in going from making short to feature films, and how Kickstarter and social networking had helped her raise $213,000 from online funding platforms, grants and donations.

The Summer Academy at the University Of Applied Sciences in St. Pölten offers the budding animation filmmaker intensive training with all the tools of the trade. You can create "filmic micro-narratives" and "parallel worlds", or take workshops focussing on balancing motivation, content, and technical aspects; storytelling; documentary; colliding with live action narratives; classical drawing; soundtracks; 3-D and cameraless animation.

If invited: Like? Join? Maybe? Decline? I’m going! As Vienna becomes a hotbed of animation arts and cinema, with cash prizes abounding from Synchro Film and Video, the Sawczynski Audience Awards and incentives flowing from the City of Vienna, organisers hope to encourage new talent to kick-start their own films.

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