This year we will celebrate the 30th recipient of the McLaren Award for Best British Animation, a programming strand established in 1990 that I have presided over as EIFF’s Animation Programmer for 10 out of 30 McLaren Awards.
During my tenure at EIFF, I was the Artistic Director of McLaren 2014, which celebrated the centenary of pioneering Stirling-born animator Norman McLaren, after whom our award is named. In addition to touring McLaren’s groundbreaking films around the UK, we hosted a special screening of his recently restored stereoscopic works with guests from the National Film Board of Canada. McLaren helped establish the reputation of this unique state-funded production studio with his multi-award-winning films. Norman has certainly been a major influence on my own artistic practice, and it’s been an honour to programme in his name.
Presiding over the selections for the McLaren programme has been a rewarding experience, which has introduced me, and EIFF audiences, to a whole new generation of British animation talent. I’ve made many new friends and, as a filmmaker myself, collaborators through the process.
The invitations to programmer panels and juries have been a perk of the position. This is where suitability for curation is scrutinised and process is explored. On reflection, I feel that the role of an animation programmer is twofold. First, you must have a good eye for innovative and risk-taking work, which either advances accepted techniques or challenges conventional narratives. Second, you need (to varying degrees) knowledge of animation history spanning a century. It’s important to recognise the difference between genuine innovation and unintentional homage.
During my time, I’ve established the tradition of the animators’ walk over Arthur’s Seat in Holyrood Park. For directors and producers, film festivals are more than an opportunity to see your film on the big screen with an audience. They also provide opportunities to meet peers and foster new connections. Our trek has become as memorable for our guests as the Festival’s spectacular ceilidhs. I hope it will become an entrenched part of Edinburgh’s Festival experience – akin to Annecy’s annual pedalo race!
Another important aspect of the job, as I see it, is cataloguing the development and context of British animation as funding initiatives come and go, the fortunes of the major animation courses rise and fall, and social conditions affect the psyches of our pioneering filmmakers. EIFF’s archive of previous screenings takes the pulse of British animation throughout the years. It’s been a thrill to be in constant contact with industry and educational institutions, and to ensure that our pre-selection reach goes beyond the hundreds of submissions we receive every year.
Having reached my 10th edition, it is only fitting that I pass on the baton to another knowledgeable, experienced and enthusiastic curator, who can ensure that the 30th anniversary of the McLaren Award sees the programme rebooted with a fresh lease of life! I wish my successor as much joy and success in the role as I have experienced with the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
More about the films screening in the Animation strand here.