In Person: Local Artist Robert Liu-Trujillo

This year’s BAICFF poster was designed by Oakland native Robert Liu-Trujillo, and it brings to life this year’s theme, The Power of Kids, and is a visual celebration of the festival’s international diversity.

Betty Soskin by Robert Liu-TrujilloLiu-Trujillo’s  gorgeous illustrations will be on display during the festival in Chabot’s Astronomy Hall, and he will be on hand for part of the weekend to answer any questions you have about his work, so be sure to take the time to visit this special exhibit while at the festival.

He’s a co-founder of Trust Your Struggle, a bi-coastal collective, based in California and New York, of visual artists, educators, and cultural workers dedicated to social justice, environmental sustainability, and community activism through art. He also contributes to the Bull Horn Blog, a publication by writers and illustrators dedicated to incorporating activism and social action into children’s literature. Liu-Trujillo exemplifies many of the qualities that make the Bay Area art scene so unique and wonderful, and he’s very connected to the region’s specific history and politics.

Marlon Riggs by Robert Liu-Trujillo

Liu-Trujillo has illustrated numerous children’s books, but he is also the author-illustrator for his own original work, Furqan’s First Flat Top, a delightful, beautifully-illustrated story about a young boy’s anxiety at getting his first cool hairstyle. He funded the publication of this book through a successful Kickstarter campaign, and it’s been embraced by devoted and enthusiastic readers.

The watercolor illustrations featured in this article are from a new series he created about Black history. Shown here are lovingly-rendered images of National Park Ranger Betty Soskin (who at 98 years old is the oldest working Park Ranger in the US, and who serves at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Richmond, California), and filmmaker Marlon Riggs (also a poet, gay right activist, and educator, who lived in Oakland).

See his website for more of his excellent art and an overview of his ongoing projects. Liu-Trujillo’s impressive accomplishments are just the beginning of a long and promising career!

Our Rewarding Workshops Cultivate Creativity!

Our beloved workshops are back again this year, with some special additions — and a few have already sold out!

Berkeley City College Animation Workshop
Make animated shorts with
students from Berkeley City College

Berkeley City College again offers their fun, fantastic animation workshops, which give kids a compact and hands-on animation experience. There are several kids of animation available:

Clay Puppet Animation will demonstrate how to bring clay figures to life through animation.

Family Fun Stop-Motion will show you how to animate toys and objects to create your own stories.

Pixilation & Foley uses kids as life-sized animation models, and also shows you how to make your own sound effects to spice up the on-screen action.

At the end of each festival day, these workshop films are projected in one of our theaters as part of the regular festival program!

This year we’re also honored to have the Walt Disney Family Museum present two special events.

The first is a workshop on Character Design, a tutorial on how to bring your character creations to life.

Walt Disney Family Museum Artist's Career
Artist’s Career: one-on-one advice

The second, The Artist’s Career, is a one-on-one consultation with an industry professional, who will offer participants their expert advice on the best pathways for students considering a career in visual art or animation.

All of these events are designed to encourage or enlighten young people with an interest in filmmaking, storytelling, and creative endeavors so that they have stronger tools for tackling the challenges of making their projects. Gaining understanding and insight into the creative process is essential for everybody no matter their interests or goals.

Sign up now for the few spots we have left!

“Baitullah” Spotlights Child Labor

It’s a sad fact that millions of children must work in order to survive. Baitullah is about once such laborer, a young boy in Mumbai who delivers tea for a street-side chai wallah. The boy’s name gives the film its title, but the term also means “house of God,” which is also used to refer to any mosque.

"Baitullah" still image
The young protagonist of Baitullah meets the law

The work is a very cinematic experience, as in addition to the lovely cinematography, the film is mostly wordless until the very end. Through the boy’s eyes we see the vibrant streets of Mumbai, packed with a wide variety of people living their lives. It’s notable that the film illustrates the fusion of Muslim and Hindu culture present within the busy metropolis, and the audio track begins with a muzzein’s call to prayer.

Director Jitendra Rai has worked with theatre community in Mumbai for many years, and gives theatre workshops for children. He has also worked extensively with NGOs that focus on children’s issues. Given this background, it makes perfect sense that Rai would make a film that calls attention to child labor.

The film hints at a million stories beyond the brief slice of life that we see, and gives you an inside look into the daily rhythms of an Indian city. Its documentary feel marks it as the modern offspring of Indian cinema’s long history of social realism, which started in the the silent era, and was epitomized by filmmakers of the Indian Parallel Cinema movement, which emerged as an alternative to mainstream Bollywood films. This fruitful era, from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s and part of the “Golden Age” of Indian cinema, gave us the work of world-class directors like Satyajit Ray and Bimal Roy, and was a precursor to the Indian New Wave of the 1960s.

You can see this marvelous work in Shorts for 7+: Program 2, only at BAICFF 2020.

Director Valerie LaPointe Presents Pixar’s “Lamp Life”

Valerie LaPointe is a director, writer, and animator with some impressive credits. She shares original story credit on Toy Story 4, and was an artist for Inside Out and Brave. So we’re very excited to have her at the festival to participate in one of our long-running series of animation industry presentations, How Do They Do That?

"Lamp Life" still image
Bo Peep in Lamp Life

Valerie has directed several shorts, but her first directorial credit while at Pixar is the new film Lamp Life, starring Toy Story character Bo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts).

Valerie LaPointe
Director Valerie LaPointe

The short specifically covers the adventures of Bo Peep between the second and third Toy Story films, and paves the way for her growth into the woman of action she becomes in the fourth film. There’s plenty of drama, as we also meet Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks), Bo’s antagonist in Toy Story 4.

Valerie will show a special screening of this new animated short, and follows it up with a presentation with details about the short film’s creation, so this event is a must-see for Pixar fans and those interested in the process of making animation.

Be sure to catch this event on Sunday, February 23rd at 2:30pm, only at BAICFF 2020!

“Gum and Sauce Go to Skill School” Brings the Funny

Many of our films have high artistic or thematic intent, and those are fantastic reasons to make a film. But to quote Mary Poppins, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” and cartoon creators have long known that humor is an excellent tool for imparting life lessons.

"Gum and Sauce" still image
Sauce and Gum, from Gum and Sauce Go to Skill School

Gum and Sauce Go to Skill School fits right into the long tradition of humorous cartoon shorts, the kind you watched after school or on a Saturday afternoon. Main characters Gum and Sauce are a boy and girl who act exactly as promised: Gum is able to stretch into different shapes, and Sauce can act as a liquid. Yet this story’s focus isn’t their semisolid malleability, but instead aimed at the rough spots in their friendship, specifically Gum’s inability to apologize after playing a prank on Sauce.

The animation is crisp and fun, and the voice work fits the characters. It’s easy to imagine this being a series. We meet one other speaking character, Counselor Clump (who might be a hairball or a dust bunny), and her existence hints at a wider world peopled with others made of various substances.

Let’s hope this gets picked up as an ongoing show — we’re looking at you, Nickelodeon! You can watch this at BAICFF 2020 as part of Shorts All Ages: Program 2.

“Comfortable Position” is an Experimental Delight

Made by students aged 8 to 12 years old from the Tashkent International School in Uzbekistan, Comfortable Position builds on a long history of experimental animation in cinema. The weird, unsettling, and beautiful results could easily be shown right alongside work from influential Czech animator Jan Svankmajer.

"Comfortable Position" still image
Hypnotized! from Comfortable Position

It’s refreshing to see kids willing to utilize an abstract, non-linear framework to tell a story. The film’s theme concerns sleep and dreams, and its young filmmakers smartly embraced the illogic of human imagination under the spell of the dozing brain. A variety of animation styles converge to weave a phantasmic landscape of dark images, narrated by a young boy whose voice takes on the persona of a hypnotist lulling us into slumber.

Most Western animation often tends to be very plotty or funny, most often created as entertainment, while the history of animation from areas like Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is packed with wildly experimental films. The difference in styles, in part, is because of commercial versus artistic aims. Cross-pollination and tension between these two styles of filmmaking has only resulted in better films, as we’ve gotten commercial animated features that embrace experimental styles (Disney’s Fantasia, 1940), and experimental films that embrace the framework of narrative (Jan Svankmajer’s Alice, 1989).

It’s safe to say that Comfortable Position mostly ignores this highfalutin debate, and simply demonstrates the joy of young filmmakers who have unleashed their wild creativity.

Be sure to see it as part of our program Shorts By Kids: 7+.

Films That Bewitch

Magic is a topic often visited in children’s films, as its depiction lends itself to fun visuals. Two of our films this year deal with the unexpected consequences of magic use. It goes without saying that apprentices shouldn’t dabble in major magic, yet both films trade in this timeless idea.

"Kitten Witch" still image
A witch meets her would-be familiar in Kitten Witch

Kitten Witch is a live-action film featuring the animated character of a cat who seeks to become a witch’s familiar. In order to get the job, she must go on a quest to find various magical ingredients. Our plucky feline heroine’s journey provides us with many visual treats along the way, and the story’s unusual outcome is not what you expect.

The other magical film in our program, Dragon Recipes, also concerns witchery. A young sorceress assembles ingredients in a cauldron when following a build-your-own-dragon recipe, but her inexperience creates an unexpected result. Anybody who’s burned their dinner can certainly relate to her frustration. And as many a TV program host has noted — kids, don’t try this at home!

"Dragon Recipes" still image
A witch tries to follow the instructions in Dragon Recipes

Both of these films utilize 3D animation to very different effect; Kitten Witch aims for a certain amount of realism, while Dragon Recipes has a bright cartoonish look and feel. Yet both have their charms, magical and entertainment-wise.

Each film typifies the imagination required to create believable worlds, characters, and stories. Because as any filmmaker will tell you, filmmaking is indeed magic. Even when recipe goes a little wrong, the strangest concoctions can still weave compelling spells.

Be sure not to miss these bedazzling films at this year’s BAICFF 2020, along with many other creative visions sure to enchant you. Kitten Witch is part of Shorts for 7+: Program 2, while Dragon Recipes is featured in Shorts All Ages: Program 1.

“Creepy” Cartoon Confronts Conflict

BAICFF 2020 features quite a few films about the pain and consequences of bullying. These stories are often told from the perspective of a person being bullied, and Creepy follows this path. Its main character looks, to us, like a monster, and is certainly treated that way by other kids at its school (we never know Creepy’s gender).

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The rejected protagonist of Creepy

But as in many films before it, monstrousness is a metaphor, and has more to do with how a group perceives an individual than with how an individual perceives itself. (A perfect example of this kind of tale is found in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in which one of the only people not a monster is the disfigured Quasimodo.)

Creepy, made by a group of children from Düsseldorf, Germany, features meticulously-constructed animation created with paper cutouts. It’s a wordless, timeless tale about the agonies of being an outsider, and how one kind gesture can change people’s minds and hearts and lead them toward acceptance. The filmmaking group calls themselves “Kids ‘N Tricks,” as the term for an animated film in German is “Zeichentrickfilm,” for which a loose, literal translation would be “drawing-gimmick film.”

It’s a heartfelt story, and you can see it as part of our Short By Kids: All Ages program, showing Sunday. In addition, we also feature a specific program about bullying, The Power of Friendship, showing both days of the festival. Be sure to browse our program to discover many more such gems!

Songwriter Kat White Brings Whimsy & Harmony

Kat White, an indie folk-pop performer based in Oakland, Ca., is a special guest of this year’s BAICFF.

She teaches guitar and ukulele lessons in the Bay Area, and often makes up songs with her students. These songs were the inspiration for Kat’s debut children’s album, In the Eye of the Owl, a collection of fun, beautiful, and sincere songs about animals, which she’ll be performing live at the festival. She’s already at work on a second album.

Singer Kat White
Singer-songwriter Kat White

Kat’s work is excellent, and you definitely don’t want to miss her show. If you listen to samples of her music on her website, you’ll be instantly seduced by her catchy, joyful tunes.

She’ll be playing twice, once in the Planetarium Theater on Saturday Feb. 22nd at noon, and later that day in the Chabot rotunda.

You can buy tracks directly from her site, purchase them on iTunes, or listen to them on Spotify.

“A Story From Space” Reaches for the Stars

The history of American space exploration is filled with drama. This charming short squashes the complexities of the first journey to the moon into a bite-sized tale, exactly the kind a parent would tell a child at bedtime, as the astronaut dad in this film tells his daughter back on earth. It captures much of the drama of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, with none of the tragedy.

"A Story From Space" still image
An astronaut dad tells his earth-bound daughter a tale, in A Story From Space

Directors Joseph Childs and Iro Tsavala change animation styles during the film, switching from more detailed present-day setting to a simpler style of illustration for a storybook flashback, which adds a fairytale quality to this adventure about early space exploration. They also utilize real audio samples from NASA space missions for some technological verisimilitude.

"A Story From Space" directors
Directors Joseph Childs & Iro Tsavala

The style leverages deceptive simplicity of illustration as shorthand for deeper emotional and psychological concepts — exactly what great animation is for. By doing so they prove you don’t need a huge effects budget to generate feelings like awe and wonder.

The work is a moving celebration of the power of science to take us where where our imagination dares us to go. And the film’s post-credits ending is perfect.

Be sure to see this lovely film, which is quite appropriate for our venue, the Chabot Space & Science Center, shown as part of the BAICFF 2020 program Shorts All Ages: Program 1.