This Friday night, the big screen at Vashon Theatre will light up with the grand opening of a new animation festival, filled with works made by international filmmakers who are not only determined to display their creative chops, but also make a difference in the world.
The event, the Conscious Cartoons International Animation Festival, will continue throughout the weekend, with eight different programs of animation shown at the theater. Along the way, audience members will also have the chance to meet the artistic masterminds behind many of the films. A total of 15 filmmakers — with some coming from as far away as Norway and the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia — will attend the festival and take part in question-and-answer sessions after screenings.
The force behind this first-of-its-kind event is Bill Jarcho, a well-known local animator who has spent the past year assembling the building blocks of the festival. With a selection committee, Jarcho has chosen 65 short films from 16 countries, all fitting the festival’s stated goal of “awakening insight, justice and compassion through animation.”
Jarcho said he is excited to welcome audiences to experience films made with a vast range of styles and techniques, including stop-motion, claymation, cut-out animation, rotoscope, hand-drawn and painted work, computer-generated 3D films and mixed media.
“The audience will get to see films they never would see anywhere else,” Jarcho said, while also emphasizing the most important incentive to attend. “These films have a greater meaning.”
There will be uplifting programs of animation suitable for teens and younger children, as well as other programs with darker and more serious films, strictly for grown-ups. Subject matter will run the gamut from the horror of school gun violence in the film, “The Sunshine Boy,” to “Half a Life,” a heartbreaking account of an Egyptian gay man who fears for his life. In one of the programs for ages 8 to 13, young audience members can get a global perspective with the animated documentary “When I Hear the Birds Sing,” which tells the stories of five brave children who survived the 2010 war in the Ivory Coast. Another film for children will be “Hedgehog’s Home,” a stop-motion film from Canada that artfully sends the message that there is no place like home. “Scent of Geranium,” by Iranian filmmaker Naghmeh Farzaneh, deals with the immigrant experience, while “Wild Woman,” by U.S. filmmaker Vanessa Sweet, tackles issues including drone strikes and religious persecution in a plea for empathy.
Along with promoting greater awareness of social issues, the festival will also support filmmakers by offering an impressive array of cash prizes — more than $20,000 total — in multiple categories, including a $5,000 award for Best Children’s Film, sponsored by the Committee for Children. Prizes will be selected by two juries as well as determined by audience votes throughout the festival.
Mia Doces, who is the vice president of innovation at the Seattle nonprofit Committee for Children, said the inclusion of films for children and young people in the festival is admirable and important, and the reason that her organization — which focuses on enhancing children’s social and emotional learning — signed on as a prize sponsor.
“There is a lot of media that children consume, and not all of it is created with the intent of having a positive message,” Doces said, adding that one of her hopes for the festival is that it would “draw together people who have similar interests in promoting positive media and positive storytelling for kids.”
Many of the films in the festival — both for children and adults — have won prizes at other festivals, including the 2017 Oscar-nominated “Negative Space,” from France, and “Fruits of Clouds,” from the Czech Republic, which recently won top jury and audience prizes at the 2017 Children’s Film Festival Seattle.
A special program, scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, will celebrate the work of Academy Award-winning animation director Joan Gratz, who will appear to present a selection of her films, including her Oscar-winner, “Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase,” and talk about her 50-year career in animation.
Deb Haller, a Seattle digital media producer, writer and director who served on the festival’s selection committee, said her experience in reviewing films for the festival was eye-opening.
“There great depth and breadth in the content and topics people chose,” Haller said, adding that she was especially impressed with the student work she had seen.
The youngest filmmaker in the festival comes from Vashon. “Robbie’s Fears,” included in a program for ages 8 to 13 to be shown at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13, was made by 13-year old Enrique Delzer, who moved to the island a little more than a year ago. Delzer’s film, a 2D film made with Adobe Flash, Adobe Audition and Premiere Pro, tells the story of a 12-year-old boy who overcomes his fears and anxieties with the help of his mother.
It’s an autobiographical story, the young filmmaker said, adding that he hopes the film helps other kids overcome the challenges they face.
“A lot of kids in this generation go through fears like that,” Delzer said.
Delzer said he was excited to have his work included in the festival, which will mark the first time he’s ever seen his work on the big screen. “It’s been crazy,” he said, adding that it is “really cool” to have the chance to meet other animators in attendance at the festival. So far, he said, he’s been a self-taught animator, relying on YouTube tutorials to help him hone his craft.
And Jarcho, a long-time animator whose dream of a film festival “with a mission” will finally come true this weekend, is also ready for the lights to dim and the show to begin.
“We’ve done so much work, and I feel really good,” he said. “We’re connecting around the world with people with this festival.”
Film programs for adults and teens will be shown at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14,and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15. Programs for adults will be shown at 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, September 15. Programs for children ages 8 to 13 will be shown at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15 (this program has content that may not be suitable for the most sensitive young viewers) and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16. A “Best of the Fest” final awards program and screening will take place at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16. Tickets to this program (for teens and adults) are available on the festival’s website, and will also be sold at the box office for “pay what you can” on the night of the show, if seats are available. For complete information, visit consciouscartoons.org. All individual tickets and passes are on sale at the website and the Vashon Theatre box office.
Elizabeth Shepherd, who wrote this article, is also the longtime director of Children’s Film Festival Seattle. Months ago, she consulted briefly with Bill Jarcho about content for the Conscious Cartoons festival and will also serve on the festival’s jury for children’s films.