The British Film Institute (BFI) will hold a long-running special screening programme focusing on stop-motion, titled “STOP MOTION: CELEBRATING HAND-CRAFTED ANIMATION ON THE BIG SCREEN”. The programme is supported by Headline Partner LAIKA from 1st August to 9th October with free film screenings for children under 16.

The programme, curated by BFI Southbank Lead Programmer Justin Johnson, will screen many masterpieces of stop-motion and has special guests that include the great creators of those films. The films planning to be screened announced by BFI on 15th May are: King Kong (1933), The Tale of the Fox (1937), Mighty Joe Young (1949), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), Vincent (1982), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), James and the Giant Peach (1996), Chicken Run (2001), Corpse Bride (2005), Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), Coraline (2009), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Mary and Max (2009), Frankenweenie (2012), ParaNorman (2012), The Boxtrolls (2014), Anomalisa (2015), Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), My Life as a Courgette (2016), Isle Of Dogs (2018), Chuck Steel: The Curse of the Trampires (2018), Missing Link (2019), Marcel the Shell with Shoes On (2021), Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022), and Wendell & Wild (2022). For the list of special guests, please check BFI’s offical website.

King Kong
The Tale of the Fox
The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
The Nightmare Before Christmas
James and the Giant Peach
Chicken Run
Corpse Bride
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Kubo and the Two Strings
Isle Of Dogs
Marcel the Shell with Shoes On
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Running in parallel, a free exhibition “LAIKA: FRAME x FRAME” at BFI Southbank will showcase the art, science and innovative wizardry in five of LAIKA’s great films.

Coraline
ParaNorman
The Boxtrolls
Missing Link

We interviewed Justin Johnson, BFI Southbank Lead Programmer and the curator of the programme. This article will give the whole picture of the programme in order for you to make the most out of “STOP MOTION: CELEBRATING HAND-CRAFTED ANIMATION ON THE BIG SCREEN”.

[Event information]
Stop Motion, supported by Headline Partner LAIKA, is at BFI Southbank from 1st August to 8th October, with the free exhibition LAIKA: FRAME x FRAME at BFI Southbank from 12th August to 1st October. Tickets for the season go on sale the first week of July.

Interview with Justin Johnson

Animationweek (AW): What is the main objective of this screening programme, along with the free exhibition, for the general public and animation professionals?

Justin Johnson: Since I began programming at the BFI, I’ve tried to ensure that we raise the status and visibility of animation generally. Whether it be our year of animation in 2018, the Disney 100 last year, or our celebration of 25 years of Cartoon Saloon earlier this year, it is important to screen films and build contextualised events around them. Animation is still seen as just for children and while the family aspect is hugely important, there is so much more than that for us to say about it with some of the most creative and interesting work being made for adults. I’ve always been surprised how animation directors don’t seem to be held in the same high regard as their live action peers despite working on films that take many years to make and take a longer time to generate a return. Stop motion is a form of animation that has been around since the start of cinema and is wedded to the UK in many respects, so it seemed like the right time to curate a big two-month season in venue at BFI Southbank and we were thrilled when our friends at LAIKA, one of the current leaders in the form, agreed to be our sponsor and to create a new, bespoke exhibition to run alongside the season. There are a number of significant stop motion releases coming out this year and alongside them we will have this expanded focus on the best titles to date with some of the world’s leading directors in the form talking about their work. Ultimately, it’s a big celebration that has been designed to remind and inform people of this hugely valuable work.

AW: Both the line-up of films to be screened and the list of special guests scheduled is unprecedented. What do you think has made it possible to have such an impressive line-up of films and guests on the programme?

Justin Johnson: Over the years we have built up some great relationships with animators, directors and studios and when we approached them about the season, they all seemed really enthusiastic to take part and for their work to be rediscovered and screened on a big screen as part of the season. Most of the guests don’t just make great films but they also love the other films that came before them and around them, so they recognised what a special thing it is to have films ranging from King Kong, The Tale of the Fox, Isle of Dogs, Anomalisa and Chicken Run; each one about as different as you could imagine. I think the BFI is probably the only place where we can do something so expansive that really does it justice.

AW: What are the highlights of this special screening programme for animation professionals, from your viewpoint?

Justin Johnson: I hope that professionals will love coming along to see some of the works that came before their time, made by Trnka, Harryhausen, Zeman, et al. while at the same time having the opportunity to hear at first hand from auteur film makers such as Henry Selick, Peter Lord and The Quays. We will be screening some of the all-time great stop motion shorts in the company of the directors such as Suzie Templeton, Osbert Parker and Barry Purves. There are some more recent titles that haven’t been widely seen such as Robert Morgan’s horror title Stopmotion or the mainstream parody of 80’s action and horror flicks Chuck Steel: The Curse of the Trampires directed by Mike Mort, which might surprise people who are familiar with some of the other titles in the season. What I would say is that no matter how well you think you know Fantastic Mr Fox or The Nightmare Before Christmas and other classics, until you have sat in a cinema with people around you and enjoy being part of the collective experience, you haven’t seen these films in the right way. The cinema is always the best way to watch these incredible films and see every detail pop out, and the BFI is equipped to show them at their very best.

AW: What did you take care in the most when you were developing this programme, and why?

Justin Johnson: The biggest difficulty was whittling down a list of films from well over 100 to getting it to a more manageable number. I have great colleagues who are like film detectives and have to find out who the current rights holders are and where the best screening assets are being held. This can be a global search and they are the leaders in doing this. Guilia, who works in clearing the films, and Marcus and Harriet, who do the same for the TV shows, had their work cut out for them. Even showing an episode of one of the children’s TV shows can take hours of someone’s time as the rights can be so complicated.

AW: The programme features a wide range of great films, and these include several screenings with special guests in a venue set to include filmmakers. What would you like the general audience and animation professionals, who have not previously worked on stop-motion projects, to take away from these screenings along with those guests’ Q&A sessions?

Justin Johnson: I’d love them to really appreciate how much work and talent goes into making these films. It is important to remember that no matter how great you are at designing or animating, ultimately you must have a good story at the heart of it all, because ultimately that is where the film is going to live or die from. It’s a different skill making a 15-minute TV show than making a 90-minute feature film, not just in terms of scaling up but ensuring that the pacing and structure of the story works out. I hope that people will feel inspired to create great work in the future while being able to celebrate the incredible work that has already been made.

AW: What are the highlights of the special free exhibition “LAIKA: FRAME X FRAME” for animation professionals, from your viewpoint?

Justin Johnson: The exhibition is going to provide audience with the opportunity to come and see close-up the intricacies that go into stop motion. They will see real sets, armatures, puppets, storyboards and other examples of how LAIKA get it all so right when it comes to making a film. They are working at the highest level and what they will be displaying is going to hopefully motivate others to what can be achieved in the form. I’ve only seen plans for the show so far, but the final thing is going to be breathtaking.

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