Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bangkok International Animation Festival: Southeast Asian animation

Pulled out of the hammerspace of the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology just three weeks ago when the budget was approved, the inaugural Bangkok International Animation Festival is playing around 40 features and shorts alongside the bigger Bangkok International Film Festival.

Crammed into just six days, the two festivals share schedules and venues, and combine for some special events. It's all a bit much to take in, and I wish I could give it more attention.

The animation fest opened on Friday with the world premiere of Yona Yona Penguin by Japanese animator Rintaro. A Thai firm, Imagimax, had a hand in the production.

The aim of the festival, backed by MICT, the Software Industry Promotion Agency and various other organizations and agencies, is to highlight Thailand's emerging role as a hub for computer graphics and animation, and try to inspire local animators.

Every Thai animated feature is in the festival: the computer-animated Khan Kluay from 2006 and this year's Khan Kluay II, about King Naresuan's war elephant, last year's Nak, which makes the character from Thailand's beloved ghost story a kid-friendly heroine, and the 2D animated Buddha, a reverent depiction of the Lord Buddha's birth, enlightenment and nirvana.

Of course no Thai animation festival would be complete without a tribute to the father of Thai animated film -- Payut Ngaokrachang. The 80-year-old artist will have a tribute night on Tuesday, and his Sudsakorn Adventure will get a special gala screening at Paragon at 8. Released in 1979, it was the first and only Thai animated feature, until 2006 when Khan Kluay came out.

In the short-film program are several Thai entries. Among them are the runners-up for the Payut Ngaokrachang animation prize at the 13th Thai Short Film and Video Festival, What Is My Art? by Thodsapon Thiptinnakorn and the music videos Abtakon (Quiet Shout) by Thawatpong Tangsajjapoj (recently seen in Singapore) and Carabao's Pee-Bok Song by Chatchai Thammaphirome. Others are The Forest by Sirisak Koshpasharin, 2lor by Rattasat Pinnate, Grand Peeed by Rattasat Pinnate and Pandet Bootkyo, Little Wall by Asanee Tejasakulsin and Salute by Itipon Apijalernchaikul.

And there are animations from Singapore/Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Dayo, the Filipino entry, has received fair praise. A fantasy about a boy trying to rescue his grandparents from a magical realm, it's been compared to Miyazaki's Spirited Away.

The Malaysian entry, Geng: Pengembaraan Bermula (Geng: The Adventure Begins) is touted as Malaysia's first 3D animated feature. It's about boys trying to solve the mystery of missing durians in the their village.

And then there is Sing to the Dawn, a joint production by Indonesia and Singapore that was released almost a year ago. A story a of village girl who wants to break out of the traditional female role, it has generally been poorly received. Check out A Nutshell Review and MovieXclusive for the reviews.

A common theme that runs through reviews of the Southeast Asian entries is that none of them are as good as Pixar, because they don't have the manpower, the money or the time to make their movies as good as A Bug's Life, Toy Story or The Incredibles.

Anyway, makers of animated films are viewed by others in the industry in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong as quite possibly insane, not out of concern for their mental health but because animation costs more than live action, and to do animation well, it takes a lot of money.

But I also think it just presents an opportunity for local animation teams to innovate and try different approaches, rather than try to copy the Pixar way of doing things.

What's interesting is that two of the films I wish I could find time to see at this festival are stop-motion clay animation, Mary and Max from Australia and Edison and Leo from Canada. There's also Nina Paley's wonderful Sita Sings the Blues, which I'd love to see on the big screen again. Also of interest is Azur et Asmar by French director Michel Ocelot, an Arabian tale that seems to want to kick Aladdin's butt.

The schedule is rounded out by Shane Acker's intensely bleak and but awesome 9, about "stitchpunk" ragdolls who literally carry the last breaths of humanity.

China's The Magic Aster, which features voice work by basketball star Yao Ming, the 3D animated Goat Story from the Czech Republic and the anime Chocolate Underground are in the competition lineup with Mary and Max, Edison and Leo and Khan Kluay II.

Feature-film judges are Singaporean producer Mike Wiluan, French producer Regis Ghezelbash, and Thai singer-artist Petch Osathanugrah. There's a short-film jury too: Pixar animator Mark Oftedal from the US, Thai filmmaker Nonzee Nimibutr and Dennis Chau from Hong Kong.

Winners will get the newly created Inthanin Award, named after a popular flowering tree.

The festival closes on Wednesday night with Hayao Miyazaki's latest, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea.

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