FULL-LENGTH feature ‘Baldy Heights’ looks at disputes and conflict. (photo credit: Noam Meshulam, 2022)
FULL-LENGTH feature ‘Baldy Heights’ looks at disputes and conflict. (photo credit: Noam Meshulam, 2022)
Animation festival AniNation returns to Jerusalem

Shlomi Yosef says we have some added value to offer the world, something our very own. This has nothing to do with the usual suspects, like hi-tech gizmos or sophisticated military equipment. This is about the strides we have been making in recent years in animated endeavor. And as a highly active professional in the field and lecturer at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Yosef is eminently qualified to pass judgment on the state of creative filmic play over here.

He is also currently in pole position to disseminate the good word and show there is an abundance of collateral for his robust claim. For the past few months, he has been busy putting together a program for the four-day AniNation – Jerusalem International Animation Festival, which will take place at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on November 16-19. 

As he takes his bow as artistic director of the event, now in its seventh year, Yosef has devised a viewing agenda that takes in a broad swath of aesthetics, themes and techniques designed to attract and engage adults and children alike, from all walks of life and cultural leanings.

The roster incorporates shorts and feature-length works from across an international hinterland that covers contemporary and older films, and some lovingly sourced from the remoter recesses of animation annals. The global spread includes contributions from Hungary, Japan, America, South Korea, Spain, France and Canada, to mention just a few cultural corners. And there are plenty of creative fruits, courtesy of our own animation artists in there, too. 

Yosef is more than happy to blow his and his colleagues’ trumpet. “As curators, we are really proud to say there are tons of independent works that have been made in Israel. Some of them are in this year’s festival,” he notes, adding that we can hold our heads up high among the best of them. 

 DEBUT ARTISTIC director Shlomi Yosef has put together an eclectic program for this year’s AniNation festival.  (credit: Hanna Taieb) DEBUT ARTISTIC director Shlomi Yosef has put together an eclectic program for this year’s AniNation festival. (credit: Hanna Taieb)

“When you see works from all over the world at various festivals, and you take a look at what Israeli artists make, you see there is something very original about Israeli animation.” 

That, Yosef suggests, is partly down to the plethora of reference points available to local animators, as well as the support-group culture that has evolved in recent years. “There are so many voices here, and the industry – or let’s call it the community – which has emerged here has something of that Israeli spirit of innovation and invention. That has produced lots of individual voices.”

“There are so many voices here, and the industry – or let’s call it the community – which has emerged here has something of that Israeli spirit of innovation and invention. That has produced lots of individual voices.”

Shlomi Yosef

It’s not necessarily the case in the world’s art form powerhouses. “If you look at Japanese animation, you immediately recognize familiar attributes, and you can tell it is Japanese. In Israel, you see a wide range of styles and approaches. There is a wealth of voices here.”

THE PREVALENT eclectic element stretches across a spectrum of storylines and topics.

As the title suggests, and as per the festival notes, the Local Conflicts section of the program, for example, addresses “conflicts, changes and moments in the local Israeli space.” 

The films I was able to see ahead of the festival included a delightful work by Mor Yisrael and Tamar Sorovitch called A Journey with My Dad in which a young girl gradually learns about the physical and emotional damage her father sustained in the Yom Kippur War. 

There is a touching lyricism to the 10-and-a-half-minute film, which manages to convey a sense of the IDF vet’s trauma, and implied attempts to protect his daughter from some of the harshness of life, as well as of the special relationship between the two. The visual aesthetics depict the emotive storyline subtly and with great tenderness, and there is a beguiling oxymoronic blend of melancholy and humor.

If A Journey with My Dad is anything to go by, Yosef – and the rest of us – is on a winner here. “There is a lot of engagement in the day-to-day side of life and the social context in which we live,” the artistic director observes. “You see expressions of the political reality, with the conflicts we deal with – that is an ongoing component of life here. And it comes across in the themes in animated work, which interest creators here.”

Tom Koryto Blumen’s Friendly Fire is another delectable vignette in the Local Conflicts category, which is curated by Ido Shapira. The storyline brings the separation fence between Israel and the West Bank to life as IDF soldiers and Palestinian kids engage in a spontaneous kickabout. 

The visual technique is as compelling as the narrative in which Koryto Blumen manages to convey a sense of the absurdity of the human condition in our neck of the woods and the esprit de corps hovering beneath the surface. Still, there is no attempt to disguise the ugliness that is, sadly, a regional staple, too.

It is not just about military altercations and the concomitant violence they inflict on the physical level. “The films also examine wars and how they impact families, and how they leave their imprint on our lives on a national level,” Yosef explains.

MATURITY AND the process of personal evolution also feature prominently in the AniNation programmatic mix. The Growing Pains segment is described as “a collection of animated films about the process of change and coming of age.” The medley of shorts centers on the challenges of discovery and transition, which are viewed in surreal situations that lead to transformative junctures, with characters having to make critical decisions. 

Animation is also a forgiving discipline which, by dint of its artistic and aesthetic parameters, enables creators to convey subject matter that would be considered overly challenging and, possibly, even taboo if presented in a live-action work. One only has to think of Ari Folman’s 2008 Oscar-nominated animated documentary Waltz with Bashir to get that. It is hard to imagine a bunch of PTSD-afflicted IDF war vets sitting in front of a documentarian’s camera unloading their traumatic memories of the First Lebanon War. 

Animation may not be exclusively a children’s domain, but there is something about the visual structure and dynamics that allow us to open up to difficult topics without immediately running for cover. “Animation is so creative and colorful and fantastical,” Yosef posits. “That means we can bring fantasy into our lives,too.”

 ‘BLIND WILLOW, Sleeping Woman’ offers a fresh perspective on Japanese culture. (credit: The Match Factory GmbH, 2022) ‘BLIND WILLOW, Sleeping Woman’ offers a fresh perspective on Japanese culture. (credit: The Match Factory GmbH, 2022)

Yosef says he had rich pickings to feed off for his artistic director efforts. “The festival shows how rich and varied this field is, and it aims to dispel the stigma that animation is only for children.” One would have thought we had, by now, taken that realization on board, thanks largely to the Animix Animation Festival in Tel Aviv, which has been making sterling efforts in the marketplace for more than two decades. “We collaborate with Animix,” Yosef points out. 

Synergies appear to very much part and parcel of the way our animators go about their business. “The field has really taken off in Israel in recent years,” Yosef says. “There are a lot of organizations and bodies that work in this now.” Joining forces in the creative endeavor is the way to go. “Animation is a medium of cooperation. Most animated works necessitate the coming together of many people.”

That, he says, has a ripple effect with interpersonal benefits. “You can really see that people in the community who work in this field are generous and pleasant and support each other.” The mutual beneficial and appreciation mindset also spawned the Tohoo Animation Collective of eight artists – all Bezalel graduates – including Yosef, Uri Goldberg, Stav Levy and Anan Gibson, all of whom are leading members of the sector. Thus far, the collective has presented screenings and lectures at various spots around Jerusalem, such as the Hamiffal arts community, Independence Park, Beit Alliance and downtown watering holes.

Tohoo sets its sights on envelope-pushing ware. Its stated credo cites the members’ output “engages in Israeli conformism, the mechanisms that consolidate it (schools and other institutions of education) and the mechanisms that facilitate an escape from that, like trips and vacations.” 

The collective also spells out its ground-level plan of action. “By combining realistic photography with caricature-style animation, one can aim to capture moments that shed new light on what is considered to be normal, and taken for granted.” With such a statement of intent, it is no wonder that Yosef has come up with a definitively intriguing program.

“As a collective of people who are very active in this field, we bring things from all sorts of festivals from all over the world,” Yosef says. “These are things that the audience won’t see just anywhere. You won’t necessarily catch these things on TV.” 

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t any good old basic viewer-friendly entertainment on offer at the festival. “There is, for example, The Bob’s Burger Movie,” Yosef adds, referencing the feature spin-off from the long-running animated television series. 

It is, he says, a matter of striking a fine balance between uncharted waters and simple fun. “Even though we want to open things up and show a range of things that you don’t see everywhere, we also thought about families and kids. There is content that is more suitable, say, for Shabbat-morning screenings with all the family coming together.”

Yosef has spared nothing in terms of casting his directorial net as far and wide as possible, across diverse and seemingly disparate cultures, too. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman pertains to the cultural boundary-crossing category. The 100-minute-long feature is the fruit of a multinational project from France, Canada, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. 

Fans of Japanese literary superstar Haruki Murakami should dig the movie, which reels off a fantastical cast of characters and elements, including a giant worm, malicious trees and a mysterious empty box. The narrative bottom line considers the meaning of true identity. “It is a drama that takes place in Japan but has a very French nature,” Yosef explains. “It is an interesting amalgam that offers a different way of looking at Japan.”

There is a plethora of inviting slots right across the four days, including the premiere of Noam Meshulam’s Baldy Heights, a full-length Israeli feature that considers disputes and the opposing viewpoints of life. Other items to watch out for include a first-Israel showing of a restored 1980s masterpiece, The Song of the White Mare, by Hungarian Oscar-winning director Marcell Jancovic. 

There is another local blast from the past on offer called The Amlash Enchanted Forest. The experimental animated musical film was made in 1974 by Shlomo Suriano using the stop-motion technique, inspired by Aesop’s Fables. “I don’t know how many people saw it back then,” Yosef says. “But it is funny and weird. We have to uncover these works and get them out to the public.” 

Plenty of reasons to be cheerful at the Jerusalem Cinematheque next week. ❖
For tickets and more information: www.aninationfestival.com/

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