Brooklyn’s Toon Fest Strikes the Big Apple Once Again.
As the last weekend of July rolls around, New York gets ready to celebrate its outer-boroughs with Animation Block Party, the only animation fest of its kind in the city, and the only block party that screens animation.
‘Everything emphasizes he block party atmosphere,’ says the man behind the fest, Casey Safron. ‘All the post-show after parties have outdoor areas and back yards. On the first night at Rooftop Films you get to experience animation under the stars. So we’re really trying to push the block party with the food and the picnic and the free beer, and bringing a lot of people together.’
The fest kicks off on Friday night, July 30th, in Williamsburg Brooklyn (aka hipster central). One $10 admission ticket will grant you entry to a spacious two-lawn arena (upgraded to fit the 1200 festival-goers and fit with two simulcast screens) with live music from an up-and-coming Brooklyn rock band, The Big Sleep. Once everyone’s comfortable on their picnic blankets and star-lit beach chairs, there’s ninety minutes of short-form animation, followed by an after party with as much beer and rum as you can drink. Saturday and Sunday are both held at BAM Cin’matek, a multi-screen theater in downtown Brooklyn, with free food and drink afterward at nearby hot spots.
‘It’s not just about experiencing Animation Block Party, but experiencing Brooklyn,’ asserts Safron. ‘A lot of people coming from different areas maybe have been to Manhattan before, but have never been to Williamsburg or downtown Brooklyn before, and the Block Party vibe really captures what Brooklyn is and can be.’
According to Safron’s calculations, more folks are flying in for the festival ‘ either form overseas or from across the continent ‘ than in the previous eight years of the fest’s history. Other aspects of this year’s fest also stand out: fewer themes about political-awareness and more about social-awareness like class equality and sexual orientation. More than ever, Safron has found the mediums of choice to be stop-motion and pixelation. Great short films like Heartstrings by Rhiannon Evans, Everything Must Go by Rusty Eveland, Bygone Behemoth by Harry Chaskin and Re-Cre-a-tion by Trisha Gum and Dan Field have jumped out at Safron and his panel as a rediscovery of stop-motion.
Those and films like Adrien Merigeau’s Old Fangs, Tiny Inventions’ Something Left, Something Taken, and Rob Kohr’s The Lift have won Safron’s attention through their storytelling and strong characters. What makes it to the winning list out of the hundreds of submissions, he says, ‘is a good story with some interesting characters.’
Hoping to remedy the challenges of a tough economic climate, Safron has lowered the festival’s submission fee. ‘I’d much rather seen a film from somebody in Oregon that I never heard of than that same filmmaker that I’ve seen a hundred times,’ he says. ‘And Animation Block Party provides voices to people who don’t have the access to Sundance or Toronto or even to Ottowa. We’re going to give the people you don’t know a voice and an opportunity to show their films to the biggest audiences in NY. We’re showing the festival winners and really high-quality stuff, but to mix that with the more underground stuff, that’s really what’s important to me. As a filmmaker myself I want people to take chances on me so I take chances on them.’
Animation Block Party already touts the most economic submission fee out of all of the film festivals in the States (between $5 and $30), and unlike the government-subsidized festivals in places like Canada, where the submissions are free, Animation Block Party overloads its winners with prizes. ‘We have $40,000 in prizes,’ says Safron. ‘All the winners get software including Toonboom and Boinx iStopMotion, and the winner in the student film category also gets the complete latest Adobe software and a production grant to make an animated Public Service Announcement that will screen at the beginning next year’s Animation Block Party. So that filmmaker is guaranteed festival time in front of New York’s largest audience.’
The categories for winners, besides Student Film, include Original Design, Music Video, Narrative Short, Audience Award (democratically chosen) and my personal fave, the Minute Movie — a category of pieces that manage to tell their story in sixty seconds or less. And Safron has had this category before there was a Youtube!
In case you have to miss the fest, never fear. Safron has made sure that each filmmaker is not only represented on the website, but that their contact info and links are available there, too. Though not a common practice among festivals in general, Safron wants to stop at nothing at giving the lesser-knowns a leg up. ‘I am a Mets fan,’ he admits, ‘so I’ve always been about the underdog.’
Jake Friedman is a New York-based animator and animation researcher. Visit him at www.jakefriedman.net