Filipino animation festival celebrates its 15th year

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Animahenasyon continues to serve as a springboard for emerging talents and a space for Filipino animation in all its forms to be loved and appreciated. In photo: a still from Carl Papa's "Love Bites," which won in the Professional Category of Animahenasyon 12. Screenshot from QCINEMA/YOUTUBE

It seems that in the last decade, Filipino animation has experienced a boom in production and attention. “Barangay 143” and “Hayop Ka!” were released on Netflix. “Hayop Ka!” was even nominated for several awards including best picture at the 2021 Gawad Urian Awards. Beloved comic universes “Ella Arcangel” and “Zsazsa Zaturnnah vs. The Amazonistas of Planet X” are now being turned into animated films, and original Filipino animated shows are now being greenlit such as iWant TFC’s “Jet and the Pet Rangers.” And though “Trese” wasn't made in the Philippines, it shone a spotlight on the potential of Philippine animation.

This is not entirely unexpected. In fact, it’s about time. The Philippines has been one of the largest invisible contributors to the international animation industry for years: with many Filipinos serving as outsourced workers for Disney, Marvel, Cartoon Network, and even the Japanese animation studio Feel, among others. The technological shifts and opening of new distribution channels via streaming platforms have primed the film and television markets for Filipino animators and the distinct sensibility they embody in their stories.

Even prior to this, there have been spaces within the Philippines that have not only celebrated but also cultivated Filipino animation in all its forms. One of the largest of these is Animahenasyon — the flagship project of the Animation Council of the Philippines.

Animahenasyon is an annual animated film festival that not only showcases Filipino talents and works, but also creates a space for animators from all around the world and animation-enthusiasts to meet and learn from one another through a series of conferences, seminars, and panel discussions. In recent years, the festival has awarded notable works such as Mervin Malonzo’s “Ella Arcangel,” Patrick Apura’s “Jet and the Pet Rangers,” Carl Papa’s “Love Bites,” and trio Cy Vendivil, Karla Circe Consolacion and Mookie Tamara’s “Billy & Bonnie in All Shapes & Sizes,”as well as feature-length films like Antonio Cadiz’s “Kapitan Torpe.”

On its 15th year anniversary, Animahenasyon, though online for the second time, is celebrating with four programs: a two-part competitive section, a non-competitive exhibition for local films called “Persistence of Vision,” and a non-competitive exhibition that highlights unconventional narratives, most of which are from the international scene, called “Field of Expanded Narratives.”

We speak to festival director Ricky Orellana about the Filipino animation industry, the festival’s beginnings, and how it has evolved into a platform for creative collaboration and artistic inspiration.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What drew you into animation — both as an audience member and as a practitioner?

When I was a child, there was a fascination: animation was magic or a magic trick. That’s what attracted me. There’s a curiosity in… paano gumagalaw yung mga drawing? As a child, that was my initial question. Is there a device inside the television set that manipulates it? It filled my curiosity and my fascination in my formative years and I discovered that it’s the process of creating an illusion, a series of images, an illusion of movement.

The second aspect was that, at an early age, I was exposed to TV cartoons; funny cartoony types of animations. What we like during our childhood seeps into our system until we mature. There is this voice inside us that we look for that kind of thing. But when I see animation right now, what I look for is particular: stories, characters, design, technique. Mas alam mo na. I think a lot of young people right now are exposed to the process of animation because of the internet. They can go to YouTube and look for how animations are made, so it’s easier. Not like before where you’d have to go to the library, read books, and imagine kung paano ba ginagawa, and you’d see pictures. Iba yung nakikita mo yung actual. I think the fascination is there for people who are curious to learn because they are drawn to fantastic images that come to life.

Ang tagal na rin kasi kasi! More than 100 years na rin yung history of animation around the world. The evolution itself, not only through technology but also the concept, the use of animation is so broad now. We’re just talking about entertainment right now, but there are so many other uses. Ang lawak talaga! Animation has evolved through the years. Right now, you’re exposed to the internet at an early age and you know the machinations of animation, nandoon yung curiosity. Besides the fact that story is an important factor, I’m sure there are a lot of reasons why people are hooked and attracted to animation.

For those who are unfamiliar with Animahenasyon, how did it start?

In 1995, we had a small group very close knit of independent animators. Most of us are products of the Mowelfund workshop. We had a dream of showcasing our work to the public and the only reason to do that is to have a festival. My model for that festival was actually the Hiroshima International Animation Festival. When I had a chance to attend that festival, it sparked this idea: Why not have a Filipino animation festival in our country?

I curated a program of entirely Filipino films in Hiroshima in 1994. After I came back from Japan, I called up that close knit of friends and told them we should band together and create a festival. We had a festival called “Animagination” in 1995. The venue was CCP Tanghalang Manuel Conde. We just had an exhibition of short works that we collected because most of the films that we’ve shown are short films coming from not only Mowelfund but also [universities such as] UP, Ateneo, De La Salle, and some independent animators [who] were generous enough to lend their copies of their films to be shown in our festival.

That was also the time that I started reaching out to other animators outside of the circle. That’s the time when I met Nelson Caliguia Sr. of Living Room Animation Studios, who we invited to one of our forums. So it was really a very important event. Small scale, but very important for us because we had the likes of Roxlee, Nonoy Marcelo, Larry Alcala, and Nelson Caliguia Sr., who were there and part of the panel. So that was very memorable and we had a modest sized audience during that forum and that started it all. After two years, in 1997, we had a second edition of Animagination, held at UP Film Center.

So after that, when the Animation Council was established in 2000 and when I joined the animation council in, I think in 2006, there was a plan to have some sort of similar event that focuses on Philippine animation. I was part of that planning team, so it’s a carry over. Surprisingly, when we were planning, I didn’t really suggest the name Animahenasyon. It was somebody else’s idea because, you know, I was part of Animagination, so I don’t want it to be identified with the Animation Council of the Philippines because it was a different group. But during the planning, we were actually choosing which name was appropriate for the festival. We had several names and surprisingly, Animahenasyon won the votes.

We adopted the name “Animahenasyon” because it’s a play on words: animation, imagination, nation. So if you combine all of these three, you have “Animahenasyon.” It started in 2007. First, it was held in Robinsons Galleria: there’s a movie house there dedicated to indie films called Indie Sine. During that time, I was also involved in independent filmmaking and so the Independent Filmmakers Cooperative (IFC) was the one running the cinema in Robinsons Galleria.

I noticed that in your conference this year, you have artists from DC Comics, Nickelodeon, Atomic Cartoons, Frederator Studios, TED-ed, and even independent animators who are creating brilliant work. Could you talk a bit about the process of assembling such creative talent and how were their talks designed?

When you plan something, it’s hard to choose who to invite. That’s the reason why we first thought of a theme: We wanted to tell stories. Not only obvious stories, but also the behind-the-scenes. We had a committee and each person in the committee pitched in names, sort of like a wishlist, then things narrowed down when we tried to contact them. Some are hard to reach, some are easy to reach but have commitments. We came up with ones whose availability aligned with our schedule and I’m very happy that, despite all of these things, people are still good and very generous.

For them, parang paying back something ito eh. Especially the roster of speakers we have, they’re very accommodating and they’re willing to share what they know. We tell them our theme is “Let’s tell our story” and some of them would really ask for direction. We suggested they tailor their talk to their journey like “How did you become a president of this company?” or “How did you become a story artist for this popular television animation network?” So whether you’re an artist, a producer, an executive vice president of a company, or a freelance independent animator, everything is tied up to the theme. It’s actually them who thought of the titles of their topics.

What is something about animation in the Philippines that you wish more people knew about? What is a common misconception that you’d immediately like to dispel?

I want the audience to know that we are doing our own thing. They don’t have to look outside of the country. Locally, in the Philippines, we have artists involved in animation and I want the audiences to recognize them. Some of our audiences are recognized outside and the majority of the Filipinos don’t know that. So in a way, this is our little contribution to the animation industry, Animahenasyon, because it’s the thing that we put our energies into so people are aware. Especially so that people know that we have our own animation here and we have our own stories that we can create using animation.

‘Yung gusto kong mangyari sana yung recognition for our artists: that audiences will appreciate and will support! ‘Yung medium ng animation is not cheap. It’s expensive and time-consuming. An artist puts in time, money, and effort into animation and it will only flourish if audiences support it. Let’s say kung pinalabas ang “Hayop Ka!” sa movie houses, sana panoorin ng tao. Pag nasuportahan ng mga tao at kumita, parang domino-effect na iyan. Other producers, magiging open ‘yung mind nila to producing animation. There’s a certain fear or anxiety sila when it comes to producing animation because it takes a lot of time and malaki yung budget, so pag hindi kumita yung pelikula, nadi-discourage sila; napapaso.

Yung misconception naman — and people are probably already aware of this — is that animation is not just for kids. Animation is used not only for entertainment purposes. Ang dami nang klase ng animation: sometimes it is used for scientific purposes and also educational purposes. That’s one important aspect na sana hindi mawala. Yung mga obvious misconception dahil naging kilala ang animation for kids, cartoons. One example na lang yung “Hayop Ka!” — sasabihin nila “parang pambata” pero hindi nila alam na pang-adults yun!

‘Yung mga misconceptions, siguro later on when people start to appreciate our own animation, mawawala rin ‘yun. Lalo na yung misconception na porket local, inferior. Wag sanang ganoon. ‘Yun yung ayaw kong isipin ng audience. They would prefer foreign animation. Because if they are choosing between a Pixar movie and “Hayop Ka!,” a lot of them will be watching Pixar because of popularity. Sana mawala yung ganoong mentality. Inferior quality? That’s a misconception. You can put a Filipino animation side-by-side with a foreign animation and it would hold up in terms of quality. Pero I’ve observed rin with other artforms, yung evolution natin laging parang 50 years behind tayo, lagi tayong nahuhuli. Sa film, sa music, yun yung napapansin ko. Even sa animation. ‘Yung gestation period, parang ang tagal. Sabi rin namin dati sa Animahenasyon, this is this start! Nangangalahati na kami, awareness pa rin yung concern. Sana ‘yung audience lumaki at yung support. The only way for an artform to thrive is for people to support it.

What are your wishes for Philippine animation and Filipino animators as a whole? If you were to advise someone to go look for animation outside of Animahenasyon, where should they look and who should they support?

That’s a great question. Obviously we’re living in a globalized world. We are connected. Andiyan ang lahat concerning connectivity: the internet, Youtube, Vimeo, and other platforms. And artists right now, mas malawak ang venues nila. On their own efforts, they can create their own platforms and Youtube channels. One way to support our artists, especially those under the radar, is to explore their channels and platforms and support them. If you’re looking for someone, the internet is there to look through. Sometimes, sumusulpot lang ‘yan. Sometimes, nagte-trend and you can find out if it’s worth it.

What I’m saying is: seek and support! I’ll make myself an example because I’m part of the general public. Kung hahayaan ko lang ang sarili ko na i-consume kung ano yung obvious na nakikita ko parati at yun lang ang gagawin ko, hindi ko malalaman yung other things. If I’m curious about Filipino animation, I’d probably Google it and one thing leads to another. Parang rabbit hole: It leads you to a certain spot where you will discover there is talent; that talent exists. You’ll be amazed by the talent.


Animahenasyon 2021 will be held online from November 12-14. You may check out their festival lineup and register for their passes through their website.