The Iris Interview: Malcolm Turner, Director of the Melbourne International Animation Festival

  • Tegan Jones
  • June 13, 2014
  • Comments Off on The Iris Interview: Malcolm Turner, Director of the Melbourne International Animation Festival

MIAF14 Logo Landscape

The Melbourne International Animation Festival kicks off next week at ACMI (Running from June 19th until the 29th). Ahead of opening night, we caught up with Malcolm Turner, the Director of the festival, to discuss the program for 2014, his recent trip to Paris, his advice for young animators and much more…

What are the highlights to the festival this year? Anything special that wasn’t part of the agenda last year?

The curated programs (which form about 50% of the overall MIAF schedule) focus on vastly different subjects year -to -year.

This year the main focus topics are on things such as Parisian animation (four different programs), a South American Showcase (three different programs), a tribute to Norman McLaren (because it is the centenary of his birth) and a two program tribute to Canada’s Quickdraw Animation Society.

We almost never show animated feature films, but this year we actually have TWO. One of them is Consuming Spirits by American filmmaker Chris Sullivan which is unlike anything I have seen in an animated feature before. And the other one is actually a world premiere screening of a film called The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead And Roundhead by New York based but ex-pat Melburnian Elliot Cowan, and I am REALLY looking forward to sharing the screening of that with him when he visits.

Consuming Spirits

Which films this year are you the most excited about people seeing?

I always really want people to see the Australian Showcase program; it’s the one program that really makes MIAF different to any other animation festival in the world.

I personally always make the time to watch the Abstract Showcase because that tends to be the animation I like the most, but it’s a fairly specialist taste I guess.

I’m pretty excited to be presenting all of Chris Sullivan’s films – both his short films in one program and his indie feature Consuming Spirits in another. There is just nobody making films in the USA like this guy – there’s just this raw and utterly authentic electricity that comes off them, and anybody that sees them is in for a treat.

You recently went to Paris to check out as many studios as you could. Why Paris? What can you tell us about the animation scene there and the films you discovered?

In truth, I had a pretty good idea what I was going to find. I visit Paris at least once (and usually two or three times) a year, and I’ve been dealing with virtually all of these people for the entire time I have been running MIAF.

There is a vast amount of really great animation produced in France and the production, and especially distribution, of it is disproportionately centred on Paris, in the same way so many elements of French life and commerce are. There is a very strong culture of producing animation in France dating back to Emile Cohl.  There is a vast infrastructure to support and fund it, and France has the biggest and best cluster of animation schools in the world.

I came away with nearly 750 films to sift through. There is a very strong and unquestioned notion amongst the animation community in France that animation exists as a stand alone artform and that a person can actually make a career and a living making these sorts of films. That attitude invests those films with a certain power and dignity that might be missing from films that are made in somebody’s spare time, as they are forced to put their animation skills to use in more industrial contexts which come from a lot of other places.

Having returned from France to Australia, is there a noticeable difference between the animation style or the work being produced in the two countries?

The style, in and of itself, probably isn’t the main difference. The infrastructure to fund, make and distribute these types of films are chalk and cheese when comparing the two countries, as is the cultural respect this work enjoys in the respective countries.

Here it’s seen as a bit of a hobby, or an oddball way of using animation, but the attitude is a lot different in France. As a generalisation, French or Parisian films have a richer artistic fullness to them and reflect the fact that most of the filmmakers come through a system that is essentially one that trains artists, rather than one that trains technicians. Most French animation courses are five years, whereas our system here for providing tertiary education would make a five year course in almost anything prohibitively expensive for anybody taking it; and so most of ours are one or two years.

In that sense, aspiring Australian animators don’t really get the chance to make these kinds of films, but they could if were provided those opportunities. There is a wealth of talent here.

The festival received over 900 films from animation schools across the globe. Are there any films in particular that stand out amongst those chosen?

Oh if I started picking individual films I would have herds of angry animators coming down my street on horseback carrying flaming torches.

But if I could offer up a prize for most improved school it would probably go to MOME School in Budapest. I have no idea whatsoever why their grad reel this year was just such a jump ahead of other stuff they have previously sent in, but they are doing something right there.

Tama University (Japan) had the same vibe around it during screenings at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and I am already in conversation with getting somebody from Tama out to the festival next year.

How does 2014 fit into the history of animation? Is it a healthy time for animation at the moment?

I think so. Overall, the entries were really strong.

As an artform, we are beginning to put aside the unquestioning fascination we had with computer generated animation which was a pervasive “emperor’s new clothes” period in through the 2000s.

2014 is the centenary of the birth of Norman McLaren and that is a great time to reflect on the richness and diversity of styles and the limitless possibilities that animation offers artists (as opposed to the really narrow, paint by numbers formulaic and relentlessly CGI style animation of the kids/family blockbusters that most people think sums up animation).

There is a huge community of artists out there who simply want to see their images move and use the unique properties of animation to tell a story or create an artwork, and that community has never been bigger or better equipped.

There’s a number of workshops taking place during the festival. As its director, were these an important part of the whole to you, in terms of passing on knowledge and skills to future animators?

There’s a number of elements to it.

At it’s most basic, the range of talks and workshops gives the message anybody who goes through the program that there is a lot to talk about, and that there are endless nuances and permutations to this thing called animation.

To the people who take part in those workshops, I obviously hope they come away with improved skills or greater understandings in those topics.

But above that, any film festival has to provoke and provide a wider and more detailed conversation about the artform it draws from, and it has to give its practitioners the chance to share their views and learn from others.

We cannot just show films; that would make a giant YouTube and we already have one of those.

What advice would you give to a young animator starting out today?

In a way it depends what they want to do. But I do think that anybody that wants to animate anything (be it obscure non-narrative abstract films or special effects for video games) is going to do a better job of that and be a better animator if they take the time to learn the history of animation.  If they get to know how, over the last hundred years, we have learned how to fill a frame, compose the visual elements of work, and so on.

Learn about Norman McLaren, Oscar Fischinger, John Whitney, Pritt Parn, Jacques Drouin, Chris Landreth and Georges Swizgebel.

People that work in animation are lucky – we know the entire history of our artform, it only started 120 or so years ago, all the lessons are documented and much of the material that makes up the DNA of animation stills exists.

Learn from it.

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For more details on the festival, head to http://www.miaf.net/