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Drawn to Savannah
The Savannah International Animation Festival showcases talent from around the world
Smile for the camera: A still from the short film "Cheez," one of the films included in this year's festival

Hal and Nancy Miles describe their dedication to the Savannah International Animation Festival as “passionately crazy.”

It’s probably also the reason the young festival, which begins its second year this weekend, has gained international notoriety in such a short time.

“The format of the festival is virtually identical in scheduling as it was last year, but the thing that’s majorly changed is the international support we’ve gotten for the festival,” says Hal Miles, who teaches animation at SCAD in addition to running his own studio and planning the SIAF.

The “international” in the name isn’t just a tool to make the event seem artificially worldly – it’s earned the moniker – and this year’s entrants include submissions imported from South Korea, England, Greece, Spain, Israel, South Africa and numerous others, in addition to work by domestic animators.

Even though many countries don’t have the benefit of institutions teaching animation, Hal explains that many young filmmakers have begun learning their craft via the internet.

“With e–learning students from around the world can learn these things and almost master them over the internet,” Miles explains. “What that’s done is allow the international impact to be so much broader in style and quality.”

The festival takes place on Feb. 4–5, at the Coastal Georgia Center, blending screenings with talks from filmmakers and workshops.

Although the breadth of nationalities represented is impressive, it would be meaningless if the quality of work wasn’t also top notch.

“It’s all about the quality of films we’re showing this year, and it’s wonderful,” says Nancy Miles, an animation collector and former antiques dealer.

Through their unique submission process, the films are all screened anonymously for judges, who then score them based on a variety of criteria. The anonymity means that films are judged for their quality rather than any names attached to them.

“Last year we found out we had two Academy Award winners with films in the festival,” says Nancy.

While the festival attracts top quality talents, many of the films aren’t made by professionals, but look like they could be.
“We couldn’t show all the submissions because of time constraints, but there were just so many good films, it was hard,” Nancy says.

The films that make it into the festival compete in one of several categories, including stop motion, traditional animation, computer animation, and experimental, among others. There’s also a student category (which, surprisingly, will feature no SCAD students this year), an audience choice award and a “best in show” designation.

The subject matter of the films crosses the spectrum of possibilities – including their first animated documentary submission – but the Miles haven’t forgotten that most people’s love of animation is traced back to the long lost Saturday mornings of childhood.

To honor that tradition, the festival has an hour–long block on Saturday morning that features classic cartoons and cookies compliments of the Byrd Cookie company. That portion of the festival is free for the young or the young at heart.

Many of the films featured in the SIAF put the ‘art’ in the middle of cartoon. One of the major initiatives the Miles are undertaking to increase the stature of their event is their application to become a sanctioned event with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, the organization responsible for the Oscars.

If the SIAF’s application is approved by the Academy, it means that each year, the winner of the Best in Show award will automatically become a contender for the Best Animated Short Oscar.

“The festival has to be around for five years and there are certain conditions stipulated in the agreement that you have to abide by,” Hal explains. “We’ve got three more years to go.”

That’s not the only set of plans the Miles have for the festival or Savannah either. On Friday evening, they are planning a major announcement about an upcoming project that could have a significant impact on Savannah.

Although we’ve been sworn to secrecy, we can tell you it’s an impressive undertaking with exciting possibilities.

While the future is full of promise for the SIAF, the Miles have to focus on the present. The 2011 festival is days away, and they, with the help of a few volunteers, still have this year’s event to host.

“We have about a dozen of the filmmakers who are coming to visit this year,” says Hal. “What’s happening in animation circles is that the word is spreading. That’s exciting for us because it means we did something right last year.”

The Savannah International Animation Festival

When: Feb. 4–5

Where: Coastal Georgia Center, 305 N. Fahm St.


Cost: $15–20/day, $30/weekend pass

Cartoons and Cookies at the SIAF

When: Feb. 5, 9–10 a.m.

Cost: Free