For many, the words “woman” and “animation” lead to one uniform image: The Disney Princess. Maybe Betty Boop if you’re into icons, maybe “Let It Go” played on infinite loop if we’re taking into account aural associations and you have a child under age 10.
The Womanimation! Film Festival, now in its ninth year, returns to Providence on July 8 at AS220 to challenge that definition. Because often, when the two words are blended together, women are thought of as characters, rather than creators. “In the world of animation, women’s accomplishments are often overlooked,” says Toni Pennacchia, the creative director of MergingArts Productions and the festival’s co-founder. “Unlike in Europe, it’s rare for American audiences to get exposed to such work, which sort of get lost in the noise.”
This year, the festival’s 12 shorts come from 10 different countries across Europe and Asia, ranging in production technique from 2D to stop-motion to painting. For nine of the shorts, Womanimation! will be their US premiere.
While acknowledging the “often tense global environment,” the festival isn’t curated to be overtly political or radical. “It’s more of a celebration of the storytelling power of animation, especially in the short form,” Pennacchia says. Although, inherently, she adds that the festival is about finding a balance between entertaining and challenging an audience.
That’s where shorts like G-spot (possibly poised to be a mirror to last year’s Womanimation! audience favorite Le clitoris, although we can merely speculate) come in. Directed by Agnieszka Oleksiuk, the one-minute Polish short uses 2D computer animation to tell the story of a woman who, according to the festival’s website, knows how to enjoy the “simple pleasures.”
Other 2D shorts include Catherine, directed by Britt Raes, a tragically comedic origin story for the crazy cat lady. The Czech Republic short Domov (Home) by Aliona Baranova also tackles the theme of forging connections by placing its protagonist in the time-tested setting of “A man walks into a bar…” And then.
Each year, Pennacchia commissions previous festival participants to create awards for winners of the current year’s festival. (Voting is held after the screenings to determine an audience favorite.) For women, it’s a further acknowledgment of achievement, particularly in a history lacking in high-profile representation. For context: It wasn’t until Brenda Chapman directed The Prince of Egypt in 1998 that a major studio even had a woman direct an animated feature. In 2012, Chapman would go on to become the first female to win an Oscar for Best Animated Film (for Pixar’s Brave), but it was an award she’d share with co-director Mark Andrews, after being demoted from director to co-director following creative disputes. Jennifer Lee would also win in 2013 for Frozen, but also as co-director. No woman has ever won, nor been nominated, standing alone.
The Audience Favorite is one of two awards typically given at Womanimation!. Past years have also included the Visual Vanguard, for innovation in storytelling. We’re not calling Vegas, but if we had to wager guesses for this year’s Visual Vanguard, it would be between Dandelion by Elisa Talentino or The Hunchback and the Swan, directed by Dotty Kultys. Dandelion, a three-minute Italian short, uses watercolor and gouache on paper while depicting a courting ritual between two lovers, with an ethereal, original score. Kultys’ 10-minute short is told through 2D digital, cut-out and pixilation, and views like a storybook come to life. The “tale within a tale” tells the story of an outcast shunned by the village who surrounds himself with the friendship of woodland creatures.
If you geek at stop-motion, visual standouts Hungary’s WireLess, depicting humanoids made of infinite twists and coils of steel wire, or Russia’s Welcome, about the conflict between a rector and a nun, could take the day.
The festival screens at 4pm, 6pm, and 8pm and runs 83 minutes. AS220 will host a small reception after the final screening.