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J. Shane Mercer, Published March 05 2009

Stories strong in this year's animated films

For the first time since they started giving the award, an animated flick took best picture at the Fargo Film Festival.

Along with that distinction, Don Hertzfeld’s 22-minute animated film, “I Am So Proud of You,” snatched up best screenplay honors as well.

It’s a tribute to the strength of the animation category at this year’s festival. In fact, Executive Director Margie Bailly believes it’s the strongest field of animation in the festival’s nine-year history.

Hertzfeld is just one of three Academy Award-nominated filmmakers in this year’s animated category, as work by Oscar nominees Josh Raskin and Bill Plympton will also be screened.

When asked what makes a strong piece of animation, Richard Vaudrin, a member of the festival’s animation committee, says the story is “always No. 1 for me.” And he says this year’s crop of animated films have both strong stories and strong craftsmanship.

Both Vaudrin and festival co-chairman Greg Carlson noted the breadth of animation techniques screening at the festival.

Carlson says these films represent “practically every approach to animation that filmmakers can utilize.”

That includes stop-motion, Flash, 2-D and 3-D computer work, cut-out and hand-drawn animation.

Festival programmer Emily Beck credited the committee, which includes Carlson and Vaudrin, with the category’s quality this year. She says they “made contacts with award-winning filmmakers throughout the country.”

Among the intriguing offerings is English animator Run Wrake’s “Rabbit,” which he created from “a collection of 1950s educational stickers that I found in a junk shop.”

In an e-mail interview, Wrake described the thematically eerie and visually striking film as “a simple morality tale on the nature of greed and the inherent danger in rampant exploitation of nature for profit.”

Also among the noteworthy animated films is Nina Paley’s “Sita Sings the Blues,” a full-length film blending an ancient Sanskrit tale with 1920s jazz.

And, if you like to save your animation for Saturday mornings, you’re in luck. The festival offers six such flicks beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734