Lilli Carré on Eyeworks Festival

A few weeks back, Lilli Carré dropped me a note about Eyeworks, the experimental animation festival that she’s co-directing with Alexander Stewart on this Saturday, November 6 at Chicago’s DePaul CDM Theater. As detailed at the festival’s website: “Eyeworks is a new film festival featuring abstract animation and unconventional character animation. Festival programs showcase outstanding experimental animation of all sorts: classic films, new works, overlooked masterpieces, and quirky footnotes of history.

Eyeworks Festival 2010 trailer from Lilli Carré on Vimeo.

“The Eyeworks programs showcase a range of animation techniques, including paper cutouts, stop-motion, 3D computer animation, and a wide variety of hand-drawn methods. … Eyeworks celebrates animated moving images that express unusual vision, unusual approaches, and unusual style. …Saturday, November 6, 2010/DePaul CDM Theater, 247 S. State Street, basement level/Jackson stop, Red Line/Chicago (Admission: $5 for each program, $12 for all three)” Earlier this week, Carré was kind enough to do an email interview with me about the festival.

Tim O’Shea: What motivated the development of this Eyeworks Festival? And for those of the uninitiated, can you provide some background on the nature and appeal of “abstract animation and unconventional character animation”?

Lilli Carré: What sparked our interest in starting a festival of specifically ‘experimental animation’ was having had the opportunity to view a lot of great classic experimental film and animation pieces on film at Cal Arts and Chicago Filmmakers this past summer—works by Jules Engel, Adam Beckett, Robert Breer, Sally Cruikshank, Oskar Fischinger, etc.– and we decided that we should make a reason to show some of these wonderful films on 16mm ourselves, and to create a new venue for current work in this same vein.

We don’t feel like there is a strong festival presence particularly for that kind of work, yet there are so many wonderful films of that type that are rarely shown, as well as a good amount of current experimental and unusual animation work that is being made. There are a batch of experimental film festivals, and a good number of straightforward animation festivals, but as two animators ourselves who make work that falls into the grey area in-between the two categories, we thought it would be a good and exciting challenge to try to start up a small festival for exactly the type of animation that excites us—work using abstraction and/or more unusual or surrealistic narrative to tell stories visually.

So we decided to create this new film festival just a few months ago! We’re keeping it small scale this first time around, just a one-day event, in hopes that we can expand it in future years once we see how this one goes.

O’Shea: What was the criteria for making being a piece included in the Classic Shorts?

Carré: For the Classic Shorts program, we wanted to show animated works made by more established filmmakers, and preferably on 16mm film from the Chicago Filmmakers and Canyon Cinema film collections. We chose a selection of work made between the 70’s and the 90’s that we liked and that we thought worked well together as a program, with a fair balance between abstract work and character animation.

O’Shea: How did you go about selecting the pieces included in the new shorts program, such as Dash Shaw‘s The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D? Care to divulge how many people submitted pieces for consideration?

Carré: In the spirit of trying to keep it a clean and simple process, we curated the festival rather than having a call for submissions. We contacted people whose work we liked and invited them to take part.

O’Shea: In a struggling economy like the one we are currently in, how challenging was it find festival sponsors–and how important are festival sponsors to an event like this?

Carré: The festival is completely out of our pockets, money-wise. We have several in-kind sponsorships, so we didn’t get any money for the festival, but we did get a reduced rental rate on the films from Chicago Filmmakers, DePaul School of CDM generously allowed us to schedule this in their theater, we were able to silkscreen our flyers and programs at the Spudnik Press printshop without studio fees, and we got access to several larger email lists for promotion. I don’t think we could have done it without that help. So we are keeping our costs pretty low, and are hoping to simply make back the money we’ve put into the festival through the admission we get, which we’re also keeping cheap, at $5 per screening or $12 for the whole festival. Everyone wins!

O’Shea: Despite the fact this is a new festival, you were able to garner festival guest David O’Reilly. Can you talk about the process of getting him to participate and what about his work made him an ideal fit for the festival?

Carré: My co-director of the festival Alexander Stewart is an Assistant Professor at DePaul University, and he had been planning for some time to fly David O’Reilly in from Berlin to be a visiting artist at the University. Once we knew he was coming, and once we had decided that we wanted to do a festival this fall, we realized that we would be crazy not to try and include O’Reilly. We asked him what he thought about being part of Eyeworks, and he said sure! We’re very lucky to have such a talented animator come to the US to show his work for these events. I think his work fits well with our festival through his sense of visual design and formal experimentation, as well as the darkly humorous emotional punch of his narratives. His work leans more toward the narrative character animation side of our spectrum, but he seems to be simultaneously exploring new territory in his visual style and with the emotional impact of the narratives. We’ve both been fans of his since we saw Please Say Something; he makes really strong and unclassifiable work. His character design seems to give a nod to the style of some early animation characters, and also seem to me to have a bit of Chris Ware influence, the latter especially visible in Please Say Something, which you can watch here.

We’re especially excited to show a preview screening of his new film The External World, which just won the Grand Prix prize at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. He’s only 25 or so, and is making such good work at an alarming rate.

O’Shea: What have been the biggest logistical challenges of organizing a festival of this type?

Carré: I don’t want to hex myself by saying this, but everything’s been going pretty smoothly thus far. I think that’s largely due to the fact that we’ve kept it pretty simple. We could do a lot more with more time and some money, but I think the scope of the festival as it is matches the amount of time and resources we have right now. We’ve been working hard to promote it in different ways, including some neat projects like working with Sonnenzimmer print studio to make these silkscreened Eyeworks posters that they designed and printed and that we animated and posted around town.

It’s been hard predicting what the attendance might be, so we’ve been trying to get the word out as much as possible. These are some great animations, and I hope people take advantage of the rare opportunity to see some of these works on film, as well as to see new work that otherwise might slip under their radar.

O’Shea: Can you talk about the looping program of silent works that will run throughout the festival?

Carré: There were some pieces that very short or that we thought would work well as looping pieces rather than being shown in the screening programs, so we compiled about 10 pieces that will be looping on monitors in the lobby from 12:30pm through 9pm the day of the fest. There will be everything from an animation of moss beating like a heart in stop-motion, to fast-paced abstracted security envelope interiors, to a classic hand-drawn animation of a 1930s cartoon that looks like it’s melting.

O’Shea: How have you and fellow co-director Alexander Stewart divvied up responsibilities on this project?

Carré: We’ve both been spending time being in back-and-forth contact with the different filmmakers for the programs, getting materials and their information, etc. Alexander’s handling a lot of the promotions as well as tech aspects of building up the film reels, making sure the videos are the proper formats, etc. I’ve been doing a lot of the design and the writing/printing/assembling of the programs and promotional materials. The day of the fest I’m sure we will both be equally stressed and excited and whizzing around. I can’t wait!