This year, the Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film (ITFS), one of the most important international animation film festivals in the world, will be held from 25th to 30th April.

In this article, you can read the highlights of ITFS 2023 from Andrea Bauer, the head of programmes of the film festival. We hope that this article could help you prepare to get the best out of ITFS 2023.

Andrea Bauer

Interview with Andrea Bauer

Hideki Nagaishi (HN): ITFS has been growing its presence in the world since 1982 and is one of the leading international animation film festivals in Europe now, along with the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and Animafest Zagreb. What do you think about the position or role and characteristics of ITFS among them?

Andrea Bauer: As one of the world’s largest and most important festivals for animated films, ITFS offers, in various competition programmes, a selection of outstanding animated short and feature-length films, which reflect current animated filmmaking in its diversity, its trends and its developments and which have been selected under aspects of artistic, but also thematic and socio-political relevance.

ITFS gives the filmmakers of the competition films the possiblity to present their films in a short interview to the audience at the screening and to discuss them in daily organized filmmaker talks. ITFS has a special focus on the promotion of young talents. In addition to attractively endowed competitions such as the Lotte Reiniger Promotion Award, the Festival offers them a great variety of educational opportunities that are practical in nature and address the diversity of topics and content as well as the rapid developments in the film, TV and media industry and the professional opportunities that modern animation offers. For professionals, ITFS features an inspiring mix of presentations, lectures, master classes, workshop discussions and work-in-progress sessions from renowned players, as well as up-and-coming talents.

In addition to the programme in the cinemas, a varied programme of short and feature-length films awaits the audience in the open-air cinema in the middle of the city on Stuttgart’s main square from the early afternoon. The filmmakers present are invited to introduce their film on the open-air stage.

Another special feature is the unique combination of the Animation Festival, Animation Production Days and FMX – Film & Media Exchange. Through their interaction, the three events make a significant contribution to consolidating the Stuttgart region and the state of Baden-Württemberg as a top location for animation and visual effects internationally and to promoting the growth of the industry.

HN: ITFS 2023 is a big animation film festival with many, diverse programmes. Could you please let us know the highlights of ITFS 2023, from your viewpoint?

Andrea Bauer: ITFS 2023 directs its country focus to South Africa and thus to a country where animated films is increasingly becoming an important sector of diversification for the local film industry. And animation is meanwhile one of the five economically strongest industries in the country. The scene these days is as diverse as the guests who will be coming to Stuttgart. In addition to internationally renowned studios like Triggerfish Animation, a pioneer of animation in South Africa, or the award-winning Cabblow Studios, ITFS is looking forward to welcome the following generation, for example Kearatwa “KK” Sedidi from Dipopaai Studios or Lesego Vorster and Ross Lelliot from Hidden Hands Studio, who are successfully breaking new ground in animation in their country, and in their workshop talk with case studies, they will discuss “The Establishing of Authentic African Aesthetics on an International Stage”.

With Disney we are celebrating their 100th anniversary. As a highlight, legendary Disney animator Andreas Deja is coming to Stuttgart to give an illustrated overview of his 30-year career at Disney as one of the company’s most famous animators. But Andreas Deja is not only taking a look back, he is also bringing along his short film Mushka, which is celebrating its European premiere at ITFS 2023. After the screening, the audience will be able to take a look behind the scenes of the making of the film.

Warner Bros. Discovery will be at ITFS 2023 with the premiere of a new Adult Swim series episodes and will also host a Film Talk to introduce the “HBO Max X WBD Access Animated Shorts Programme”, which provides underrepresented artists who have not previously had the opportunity to create an original work for a network or streaming provider with access to production budget, mentoring and support to create their own animated short film.

In memory and in homage, ITFS dedicates a Tribute to Gil Alkabetz, an extraordinary artist and person who accompanied and enriched ITFS for more than two decades with his humour, creativity, unique animations and warm personality.

Moreover, ITFS 2023 brings established filmmakers together with emerging talents: In work shows, the festival will present a film programme by Izabela Plucińska (Germany, Poland) and Sander Joon (Estonia), who was awarded with the Young Animation Prize at ITFS 2019 for Sounds Good. The Honorary Trickstar goes to Signe Baumane who is making animations from a female point of view, in her later development, also often from a personal autobiographic, painfully honest and provocating point of view and whos says “In animation you can just walk into a person’s mind and you can show everything going on in there. In animation you’re free to do anything you want”.

HN: What do you think of the current trends of the global animation industry? And how does the programs of ITFS 2023 react or reflect to that?

Andrea Bauer: ITFS celebrates its 30th edition this year. On this occasion, it takes a look back at its success story and the wonderful filmmakers and their amazing works that have contributed to this success. But above all, ITFS also looks at the present and into the future of animation, a genre that is constantly evolving, that has no limits, that gives creatives room for surprising and innovative ideas, and that can be used in so many different ways. Digital technologies of the future such as virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence offer new fields of business but also new challenges for animation and its creators and therefore play just as important a role at ITFS as classic animation formats.

Thus, ITFS dedicates two film programmes to the topic of artificial intelligence in animated films and, in a panel discussion, addresses what AI means for us humans and for the people in animation – both artistically and in relation to the working process. Nikita Diakur takes a humorous look at the subject in his film “Backflip”, in which he takes an amusing approach to letting a self-learning avatar work on a sports exercise for him.

BreakThru Films, on the other hand, in a lecture related to the success of “Loving Vincent”, asks the question “Does hand-painted oil animation have a place in the palette of modern film techniques?” The makers of BreakThru believe it does, and have three new animated films with oil paintings in the pipeline. VFX and animation producer Monila Folkierska-Zukowska will present these projects and talk about how BreakThru’s painting animation techniques have evolved since Loving Vincent.

HN: Could you please let us know your impression and opinion on the films submitted to ITFS for this year’s competitions?

Andrea Bauer: At this point I would like to quote the thoughts and observations of our pre-selection jurors:

  • In terms of themes, stories of personal loss and memories predominated and also the search for one’s own identity was strongly represented as a theme. There were also many female themes and even the films made by men often had a female component and point of view.
  • There were an unusually large number of animated documentaries this year, more than in previous years. These films often dealt with strong social or political aspects.
  • There were already some films made with AI this year. But these films were not convincing in their dramaturgy and technical realisation.

Regarding the final selection of films, I would like to express that a very diverse programme has been created, both artistically and thematically, that showcases important and. current topics. such as the exploration of migration and trauma, sexuality and gender, environment, social anxiety and loneliness, as well as human abysses.

HN: Do you have any messages for animation students and professionals who will attend ITFS 2023, such as the kind of benefits they receive in attending this festival?

Andrea Bauer: “Animation connects!” – this is the motto for six days and nights in spring when Stuttgart and the region will become the centre of animated films.

Students and professionals can look forward to a varied, high quality programme of films, presentations, lectures, master classes and film talks, some of the highlights of which I have already mentioned in the course of this interview. The many filmmakers and animation professionals who will be present for the films and the other programmes will make ITFS a lively place of encounter and exchange, and invite to engage in discussions with them beyond the cinema hall.

Access to the individual screenings and events is simple and uncomplicated for accredited persons; the badge opens all doors, so to speak.

Meeting points are our festival café, which is open to all, including the general public, and our industry meeting space, which is reserved for accredited guests and is ideal for networking, relaxing and working on whatever is on the agenda. By the way, when the weather is nice, I recommend to relax on the green lawn of the open-air cinema facing Stuttgart’s baroque palace.

Networking and chatting are of course also possible at special networking events or at the weekend parties on Friday and Saturday. And for those who haven’t left yet, an excursion to the Stuttgart vineyards or a lazy Sunday lunch is something to look forward to.

A motivated and professional team is looking forward to welcoming students and animation professionals from all over the world and making them feel at home.

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