I’ve been to Edinburgh for the Society for Animation Studies 22nd Annual Conference. In return for my train ticket I had a small role in a panel about the legacy of Norman McLaren as a previous recipient of the McLaren Award for my film Sawney Beane. The other panellists were Karl McGee, archivist from University of Stirling, and keeper of an archive of McLaren’s letters home, busy animator Iain Gardner and Alan Mason from the animation department at ECA. We were masterfully guided through it all by Jonny Murray also from ECA. It was maybe a little bit long up there on the stage, or did it just feel that way? I think we unanimously agreed that McLaren needed to be feted in Scotland for the centenary of his birth in 2014 and that he was a true pioneer whose huge body of work engendered much gladness. Some interesting observations cropped up about whether it would belittle McLaren to bring him home or make much of his Scottish ness though Iain Gardner has plans to organise a proper celebration and his background would help find money this. Other points that we touched upon were how to introduce him to students (screen often) and how to keep his sensibilities alive at a time where there are many pressures on young animators
The question of McLaren-like innovation was also posed elegantly by Clare Kitson in her keynote presentation. Her talk contextualised Channel 4’s golden years of animation within the current economic climate. She made the observation that short films that she had seen recently on the festival circuit showed great technical proficiency, but were often indulgent and too long with a certain lack of rigour in the ideas department. She offered a possible explanation that creating animations in the bedroom denies the creators the development structure of a studio and constructive feedback from commissioners and producers. I think this applies especially in the creation of narrative works and I can see the truth in that being a bathroom animator myself. Something that cropped up quite a bit was that current students felt a great pressure to make work for the existing market and this never leads to anything unexpected, innovation is necessarily ahead of public taste. Clare was optimistic about opportunities available with the expansion of broadcasting platforms and development of technology however felt that women directors were falling away from the field, maybe due to this expansion and the emphasis on the development of CGI, games and the production of feature films where women are definitely not so visible. In her period at Channel 4, submissions and commissions had been equally weighted between the genders, so if there are less women directors, it would be a grave backward step.
Obviously Clare could offer no solution, not being culture secretary or a wealthy philanthropist but Joan Ashworth from the RCA said that she felt there was a will to protect the creative industries from the predicted cuts because they are probably our greatest export. I hope that’s the case.
In the single day between the panel and Clare Kitson was a potential of 24 papers of which it was only possible to choose 9. Each person has 20 minutes and they presented in 3’s. I expect this is routine conference structure, I’ll have to go to a second conference before I know for sure. The short presentation time is useful if the presentation is slightly impenetrable but frustrating if the material is engaging and obviously it’s often the case that two good things are on concurrently. I especially enjoyed Edwin Carel’s presentation on Chris Marker’s nine lives. Chris Marker prefers to refer to himself as a cobbler but he is known by others as an author, activist, filmmaker, photographer, critic, media artist, poet, journalist and cat lover (is that nine?). Carel’s talk gave us plenty of food for thought which needs cobbling together in the brain because I still need to make the connection between the animated cat named Guilliame, second life and the interval.
The very engaging David Williams showed a film that he had made called Going to the Dogs, I felt that he had the ability to whoop everyone up and it would have been nice to have heard more from him. Lastly I thought Irina Chiaburu was very interesting on the subject of In the World of Fables by Andrei Khrzhanovsky (1973). She described ways in which the authors of this subversive film found ways to escape censorship in the era of Brezhnev. The presentations and discussions will go on until Sunday, I’m sorry to miss the rest, I bet it will be great.