Brian Neil Hoff’s idea took root in his own backyard.
In 2008, the Palm Springs resident held the first Backyard Film Festival behind his house complete with pop-up screen and projector. “When I launched [the Backyard Film Festival] in November 2008, I initially received 10 submissions, most of which were from animation directors I had kept in contact with over the years,” says Hoff. “They had additional shorts they wanted to submit, and after some intense work gaining Hollywood’s trust, we started to see the entries pour in.”
“It was a wonderful experience,” Hoff adds. “I wanted to do something larger the next time.”
• See related story: 10 Best Animated Films to Watch at Palm Springs Fest
Hoff began to organize his thoughts over the next nine years. He created a method of logging entries and established communication with filmmakers. He developed relationships with animation magazines and blogs. Finally, he pitched the idea to Dimitri Halkidis, Boo2Bullying’s president and founder who was a recent recipient of the Palm Springs Human Rights Commission Community Service Award.
Halkidis expressed immediate interest. “This project aligns well with Boo2Bullying’s mission of outreach,” he explains. “We heal by conversing, connecting, opening up. We believe in starting a conversation. Storytelling does that.”
Brian Neil Hoff (left) has partnered with Dimitri Halkidis and his Boo2Bullying organization.
Animation, they agreed, has the power to bridge age, gender, and race to communicate inclusivity and belonging. Initial ideation metamorphosed into the Palm Springs International Animation Festival (PSIAF) when Boo2Bullying provided the financial and energetic springboard from its nonprofit status.
PSIAF received 2,700 entries overall for its inaugural run, representing 103 countries. Of those, the festival selected 273 animated shorts and six full-length animated films. Themes range from fun-loving and simplistic to esoteric. There are films celebrating movement (Virtual Actors in a Chinese Opera), exploring cultural mores (Tehran Taboo), and some that are just meant to make you laugh (Sheep & Wolves).
“At its heart, the festival is a family reunion for animation lovers,” says Hoff, adding, “Art is in everything.”
That feeling of artistic community is central to Boo2Bullying’s art therapy program, which leads children to a sense of belonging that is critical to development and well-being. “Kids need mentoring and to be a part of a community,” Halkidis says. “There’s power in numbers, and the more people realize that they’re not alone in feeling bullied or inadequate, the less shame they hold onto and the less pain they have to endure.”
After the Nov. 10 screening of Bilal, an after party will be held at the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Rock Garden.
To further embrace their message of inclusion, Hoff and Halkidis selected a broad range of genres and categorized showings by both animation style and theme. Animation methods include oil painting, watercolors, sand, and paper, using 2-D, 3-D and stop-motion to draw in the viewer.
For example, Bilal: A New Breed of Hero, is a full-length animated action film from Dubai making its U.S. premiere at the festival. With bright, brilliant 3-D computer-animated graphics, Bilal chronicles a millennium-old story of a young boy as he follows his dream of becoming a warrior. Based on real events, Bilal garnered a nomination for the Asia Pacific Screen and won Animation Day at Cannes this year.
Of special note at the inaugural festival is Rocket Man, a short featuring Elton John’s iconic song of the same title, which premiered at 2017’s Cannes Film Festival. The animation follows the real-life experiences of Majin Adid, who fled his native Iran and was eventually granted asylum in the United Kingdom. Along the way, we see Adid travel across Europe and spend time in the infamous Calais Jungle, a refugee camp near Calais, France.
Beyond film, the festival provides a platform for a variety of other happenings. There’s a panel featuring Chance Raspberry, lead animator of The Simpsons. In addition to imparting wisdom, he will create a cartoon of Palm Springs Mayor, Rob Moon, and include Donna MacMillan and her Galen Family Foundation as Showcase Producers.
In a Heartbeat chronicles two men in love.
There are also lively after-parties — Nov. 9 after the screening of Tehran Taboo at Eight4Nine Restaurant & Lounge in Palm Springs, and another Nov. 10 after Bilal, at the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Rock Garden. A special screening of Weeds will take place at the Tolerance Education Center in Rancho Mirage and again at the Annenberg Theater in Palm Springs. Art receptions will be held throughout the weekend at the Richards Center for the Arts in Palm Springs; these soirees will honor the students and professionals who submitted artwork for the festival’s poster competition. The lucky winner, whose poster will grace PSIAF’s program cover, will be announced Oct. 26.
Palm Springs International Animation Festival, Nov. 9–11. 760-285-8051; psiaf.org
PSIAF will show films and host special panels, events, and celebrations at the following venues:
• Annenberg Theater at Palm Springs Art Musuem, 101 N. Museum Drive, Palm Springs.
• Richards Center for the Arts at Palm Springs High School, 2248 Ramon Road, Palm Springs.
• Tolerance Education Center, 35147 Landy Lane, Rancho Mirage.