NW Animation Fest: Just the right amount of weird

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With multiple entry points, the annual festival brings something for everyone.

In many ways, the animated short is a thankless medium. With few mainstream distribution channels, the joys of this usually bizarre medium are often known only to the most adventurous of YouTube explorers.

As a kid, some of the darker shorts peppered between installments of Wallace and Gromit — when Spike and Mike or the Animation Show came to town — were some of the least-safe feeling moments I can remember.

In a good way.

According to Sven Bonnichsen, the director of the Northwest Animation Festival happening through the weekend at the Hollywood Theatre, the festival is more focused on accessibility. “In the subculture of animation festivals, there’s often a subtext of rebellion against the Disney legacy of equating cartoons with kids,” he said. “The avant-garde gets put on a pedestal, and sometimes film selections can be really abrasive. In contrast, the NW Animation Fest aims to build bridges.”

Bonnichsen and Co’s goal is to deliver the largest collection of animation available from both new and established creators. While the aforementioned roadshows have given these animators an outlet, there are very few events that can match the sheer volume of this festival, with organizers committed to bringing 200+ films to the Northwest each year.

In a conversation over email, Bonnichsen recounts,

Earlier this week someone said: ‘Northwest Animation Fest is my favorite time of the year! It’s the festival…Then Halloween… Then Christmas.’ That is what I’m aiming for: an artistic Bridgadoon (Scottish village of the Alan Jay musical), that pops up once a year and makes everyone feel excited to be coming home.

The weekend program is anchored by three huge blocks of international shorts, and peppered with panels, after-parties, and a tribute to Portland’s own animation studio, LAIKA, well-known for Coraline and ParaNorman.

Here are some highlights:

Friday

The first block of three four-hour (with breaks) international shorts is kicked off by one of the most beautiful pieces of animation you’ll ever see. Swiss director Mauro Carraro’s “Aubade,” is a highly-stylized musical that wordlessly captures a moment as brief and moving as a sunrise, when instead of the sun, a cellist emerges on the horizon.

Directly following is an after-party hosted by the International Animated Film Society at the nearby wine bar and cafe, The Magnolia at 4075 NE Sandy Blvd.

Saturday

Saturday begins with a slate of family-friendly sorts, followed by a 10th anniversary tribute to local animation studio LAIKA, with a showing of its first full-length feature Coraline, and concluded with another block of international offerings. Not to be missed is “The Story of Percival Pilts,” by Australia’s Janette Goodey and John Lewis, a tale of a man who lives his entire life on stilts, reminiscent of the work of Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist).

An after-party will be hosted by PIGSquad, who always throws terrific events featuring indie games. Also at The Magnolia.

From “The Story of Percival Pilts”

Sunday

Another jam-packed day is kicked off (with free donuts) by a directors panel, followed by blocks of “Strange & Sensual,” “Locura Española” (Spanish shorts), and the final block of internationals. The latter is highlighted by a beautifully executed set piece about neurosis by Dutch duo Joost Lieuwma and Daan Velsink.

By giving festival-goers so many entry points and the ability to gauge the exact level of weird they’re in for, the NW Animation Festival is a singular event of its kind and it has found the perfect place of residence at the Hollywood Theater.

The festival wraps up Sunday night. Check out the link below for the full schedule.




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