If your idea of animation is limited to a cat and mouse doing their best to off each other in comic style, get ready to expand your horizons - by a long way.
Animation is far more than just kids' stuff, says Dudu Shalita, and he should know. For the last seven years, Shalita has been the man at the helm of Tel Aviv's annual Animation and Caricatures Festival. This year's cartoon bash will be held at the city's Cinematheque between August 25 and 28.
Shalita expresses enthusiasm about his own event, of course, but he's also happy to talk about the state of cartoons in Israel more generally. "Interest in animation, comics and all related formats is increasing all the time in this country," he says. "We had about 3,000 visitors at the first festival. Last year we had 20,000, and I am expecting even more this year."
Animation's surge in popularity can be traced in part to the form's appeal to people of all ages and from all walks of life. Last year's festival featured dozens of stalls with comic books, magazines, books and computer games, and attracted throngs of youngsters, senior citizens, families and students, including both religious and secular festival-goers. Fans young and old crowded stands offering a sneak preview of the latest in animation software, while small children and pensioners alike happily leafed through comics produced over the last seven decades.
Animation doesn't just appeal to all age groups, Shalita says - it can also be used to examine their lives. "Last year, we did a program on old people," Shalita says. "We brought busloads from old-age homes. Don't forget, we are talking about a generation, many of [whose members] grew up without TV ... Some knew just about Mickey Mouse. [But] they loved the program we put on for them. The material spoke to them in a direct and uncomplicated manner."
This year's festival should also appeal to a variety of ages and tastes. The connection between art and politics will be examined in a special section of the festival that will include works by the German animator known as Krome, who looks among other issues at political rumors that turn out to be fact. Czech artist Favel Kochki's Media takes a look at the cynicism of the media and its power to impact public opinion, while Croatian filmmaker Simon Narat's Leviathan is inspired by the eponymous book by 16th-century political thinker Thomas Hobbes.
Local projects include Super Camel, an Israeli-Palestinian co-production about two boys from either side of the security barrier who cross the area by camel and turn regional violence and battlefields into oases of hope and peace. The work of eight Israeli and eight Palestinian students, the projected received technical support from an Italian animation team.
A number of familiar animated figures will also appear at the festival, including Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry in the "Classic Animation" portion of the proceedings. Some visitors will inevitably be intrigued by a Dutch effort called Naked, a documentary in which kids between the ages of 12 and 15 talk frankly about their problems to the accompaniment of painted animation.
"There is no end to the subjects covered by animation," Shalita says, "and I don't see anything strange in that."
He adds that animation has expanded its role greatly over the last few years in the global film industry.
"Today," he says, "animation is almost the reason for cinema's existence. Animation and cinema were born together. They were twin sisters. But cinema was considered an art form, while people thought of animation as not much more than a bit of fun. But today there are almost no movies made anywhere in the world without using animation techniques. All the Harry Potter films and any movie with monsters, for example, use them. We're not just talking about Wallace and Gromit here."
For more information about the Animation and Caricatures Festival, visit www.anicomfestival.co.il.