International Encounters: An Interview with Kieran Argo

Kieran Argo is animation programmer for the Encounters Short Film and Animation Festival.  Now in its 22nd year, the festival presents one of the world’s leading international competitions for short film and animation, and official gateway to the world’s most prestigious awards; BAFTAs, European Film Awards and Cartoon d’Or.  We spoke to Kieran about this year’s Animated Encounters programme, whether live-action puppetry might find a place in future programming and why international forums play such an important role in the arts. 

It's Only Natural, Blue Honey, Constance JoliffIt’s Only Natural, Blue Honey, Constance Joliff


The 2016 Animated Encounters programme features a diverse collection of shorts relating to six umbrella subject-matter.  How do you decide upon the themes?

hud_DZphFor the last five years Encounters has been offering themed programmes for a couple of reasons. It was agreed that straightforward programmes with no over-arching feature to them were, well, a bit boring. Many festivals randomly collate their selected films into the given screen slots and this leads to a very diverse and eclectic mix of films. In my experience, programming that has no rhyme nor reason can sometimes lead to audience confusion. By offering a themed programme we are not necessarily preventing confusion but at least indicating some of the themes and topics covered by the films in the programme. It is good to see many other festivals also working their programmes into thematic groups. I think it makes for a more interesting offering to the audience. The great thing is that even with any given theme to a short film programme you will still discover great diversity in styles, techniques and stories.

Themes arise naturally during the end stage of the selection process. Common themes occur every year, for example, loneliness, loss, romance, nature, environment and underpin many of the narratives in the films. It’s simply a question of making notes along the way then revisiting and grouping films once the long process of short-listing has been made. The recurrence of a particular theme within the shortlisted films leads naturally to a theme for the programme.

The criteria for selection has remained constant for many years and it is with the dedicated help of Nigel Davies from Aardman and others over the years that we have maintained a high standard in the selection process. We look for good and outstanding production values in at least one or more areas of the production. At the end of the day (and this applies to narrative work only) it is the story and strength of delivery that counts. The selection process we apply ensures continuity from year to year.

Late Lounge Xxxtra, B., Kai StanickeLate Lounge Xxxtra, B., Kai Stanicke


Other international film festivals have recently featured live action puppetry works in their animation programmes (for example, The 2015 Seattle Film Festival).  Do you think that this is something that Animated Encounters would consider including?

Encounters is always looking for ways to develop and expand and we are constantly discussing ways of improving and changing the festival. This has to be done carefully with an eye to preserving our strengths whilst also developing new and exciting activities.

Live action puppetry has a lot in common with animated film as it also uses the power of a proxy character as a vehicle for the story. Live action puppetry, being in real-time, clearly differentiates from animated film as animation is defined for our purposes as a frame by frame process. I am aware of one puppet film that has played at festivals as an animated film but is clearly been filmed in real-time.

I would love to see greater expansion and inclusion of other art-forms including live action puppetry in Encounters as they would complement each other greatly especially with the many stop-frame puppet animation films that are screened each year. I hope we will be in a position to develop this in the future.

Close Encounters of a Short Kind, Planemo, Veljko PopovicClose Encounters of a Short Kind, Planemo, Veljko Popovic


Encounters is a long-established event that prides itself on being the UK’s leading international short film and animation festival.  What do you think spaces for international exchange such as Encounters bring to animated filmmaking?

Festivals such as Encounters offer a space and platform for filmmakers and audiences that no other activity can rival. It brings people together to exchange ideas, celebrate creative achievements and make new friends and collaborations. There is an amazing international network of festivals for short form and animation where both aspiring and established animators and filmmakers can build and develop their reputations. The chance to see the films where they belong, on a big screen in a great environment is also a key feature of a good festival.

Whilst there have been unprecedented changes in production and distribution over recent years that has led to a plethora of short film production this has only reinforced for me the need for quality opportunities such as Encounters to play its part in the assistance of filmmakers, animators and audiences. We strive to help filmmakers and offer them a space to exhibit, celebrate and discuss their work. It is a well deserved space and one that should be protected. Festivals play a critical role in the life of films and filmmakers especially in the short and animation world and the wider culture in general.

A Look Inside, Ticking Away, Michael Sewnarain.pngA Look Inside, Ticking Away, Michael Sewnarain

 

The recent EU referendum will bring many changes and opportunities for all organisations involved in the Arts.  What are your hopes for the future?

My hopes are that the cultural and economic role festivals play are not forgotten or sidelined or seen as some kind of cultural luxury where costs can be saved. The creative industries in the UK are a significant contributor to GDP and festivals, no matter how small, play an integrated and important role in the promotion and vibrancy of the creative product, in this case short film and animation.

I also hope that our friends and colleagues overseas continue to look to the UK for collaboration and partnerships and appreciate that the vast majority of creative led people played no part in the ridiculous referendum outcome. My twenty plus years has been underpinned by working with friends and colleagues overseas. It is through an active use of festivals internationally where filmmakers and animators in the UK become known worldwide as producers of noteworthy and high quality films. It would be tragic both culturally and economically if this was damaged in any way. I also hope that new ways of collaboration arise and opportunities with other (non-EU) countries open up, whilst we continue to preserve the excellent relations we have worked hard to build over the years with our EU friends.

 

Interview by Emma Windsor


This year, Encounters will host a big 40th birthday show-and-tell from the Co-Founders of Aardman.  The festival welcomes back the cutting edge studio Nexus to show their shorts and discuss their latest developments in augmented and virtual reality animation, and the Oscar winning Founder and Creative Director of BreakThru Films, Hugh Welchman, who will discuss the making of the highly anticipated Loving Vincent feature film from his studio in Poland. 

The 2016 festival will run from 20 -25 September at Watershed & Arnolfini, Bristol, UK.  For further information on how to book tickets and passes, see the Encounters website: http://encounters-festival.org.uk/festival-passes-now-on-sale/

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