Norfolk Broadside

By Adam Pugh

norfolk-broadside.jpgRabbit, dir. Run Wrake

The Norwich International Animation Festival is a vital event in every sense.

There are two words which I find have begun to grate over the past year or so; perfectly serviceable words in their own right but which give me a sinking feeling when used in the context of a film festival. They are ‘industry’ and ‘technique’.

When we re-established an animation festival in Norwich last year, it was with an ambition to provide, in however small a way, an alternative to the ‘industry’ event model. The hallmarks included a commitment to thematic programmes instead of studio or country retrospectives; the establishment of an informal, discursive (and non-academic, but thoughtful nonetheless) arena for critical debate; and a series of retrospective programmes which focus on independent directors (this year’s guests include Igor Kovalyov, Koji Yamamura and Priit Pärn).

It’s by no means revolutionary: in continental Europe, where many film festivals routinely engage their audiences in a critical dialogue, and whose programmes focus on artistic integrity over profit or packaging alone, it would look conventional – unadventurous, even. But in the UK, it feels as though its position is becoming increasingly outspoken.

milch-igor-kovalyov.jpgMilch, dir. Igor Kovalyov

The event still hangs onto several traditional film festival elements: it features a competition and awards presentation, retrospectives; even its symposium, whilst alien to most UK events is often a feature of film and media art festivals in continental Europe and elsewhere. But it’s an event which is still pupating, a festival which is fast deserting the more conservative ‘film festival’ associations and looking towards wider art events as its bedfellows, including, for the first time, installation work (including Ben Rivers’ remarkable twin-screen work House) and live events with both AV stalwarts such as the London-based Light Surgeons and the rather more esoteric, but astounding film and sound artist duo Jürgen Reble and Thomas Köner, with their live-manipulated 16mm film piece Quasar.

This year’s tribute to Walerian Borowczyk, who died in February, also ventures beyond the standard format, with screenings of his films alongside special events with his contemporaries and admirers – namely the Brothers Quay, illustrator Andrzej Klimowski, leading commentator Marcin Gizycki and art historian Szymon Bojko, with Borowczyk expert and writer Daniel Bird.

quasar-j-reble-t-koner.jpgQuasar, dir. J. Reble & T. Koner

The critical heart of the festival, the wide-ranging Offscreen Symposium engages with debates in a uniquely informal way, favouring ‘screentalk’ sessions and panel discussions over dry academic papers. This year’s event looks at reappropriation – the found, manipulated and mashed-up – in animation and the wider moving image over four sessions with, amongst others, filmmaker Bill Morrison (Decasia); leading critical theorist Steve Reinke; directors Simon Pummell, Robert Bradbrook and Frank Mouris, and generative artists Marius Watz and Leonardo Solaas.

But there are no ‘industry events’, no product demonstrations, no big studios hawking their wares. Emphatically not about technique, nor about the products, processes or myriad other supposed industrial concerns, the festival is weaving a lonely path – at least amongst fellow animation events – with its truculent refusal to duplicate what is, after all, offered already elsewhere in the country (and offered with considerable experience and success, it should be noted). Certainly a little contrary, and perhaps even naïve in its pursuit – however pompously – of beauty over profit, it has nevertheless started to carve a niche for itself amongst UK audiences.

frank-film-frank-mouris.jpgFrank Film, dir. Frank Mouris

However, there’s considerable – and constant – pressure from some funders to homogenise our output: we should be including industry events; we should be focusing on new products, on animation techniques. Further, the petty regionalism driven by devolved agencies demands that we focus on films made in the region – even if few films are. It’s not enough that we screen new work from Japan, from Croatia, from Canada: it must instead have some connection to a spurious postcode-generated boundary in the east of England (any regional agenda is, I think, far more imaginatively embraced with Tall Tales, a special two-part programme inspired by the wide skies and open fields of Norfolk).

But in what way is our festival irrelevant to the industry? What are industry events if not those that appeal to filmmakers and artists, feature their work and give them an arena to exhibit and discuss? When did ‘industry’ come to mean the profiteers? We risk being defined by what we’re not, simply because we don’t fit into the neat parameters set for us by the postcode-punchers.

jeux-des-anges-walerian-borowczyk.jpgJeux des Anges, dir. Walerian Borowczyk

If ‘industry’ has become the keyword in the funders’ toolkit that we struggle with the most, then ‘technique’ must follow closely behind. Technique, it would seem, is everything, and events about how to make films, how to write scripts and how to become a producer (and, of course, the glorious product demonstrations that accompany them) have eclipsed those which timidly ask why one should make a film; why one should be forced to fork out on equipment which costs hundreds of pounds by default. Technique is meaningless without an artistic or critical faculty. Yet some would be only too happy if we discarded all the ‘art stuff’ (it’s awkward to market, anyway) and turned our attention to those ‘how to’ sessions and technical workshops that are received so enthusiastically at other events.

In short, then, I resent the bureaucratisation of something which is – or should be – about creativity; about the thoughtful and meaningful. I resent the commodification of creativity, of the way that creative thought is reduced to a pithy and marketable ‘talent’. I resent it all… but at the same time, it’s good when we manage to prove people wrong, that an audience will turn out for a programme of Borowczyk shorts; that they do agree there is as much relevance to talking about art as consuming it.

So, a festival which turns its back on the industry! A curmudgeonly Luddite of an event which stubbornly refuses to accept change! A backward celebration of the outmoded! Join us in Norwich this year and decide for yourself.

Adam Pugh is Artistic Director of the Norwich International Animation Festival. This year’s event takes place from 18 – 21 October at venues across Norwich. For programme information, go to or call 01603 756280