This Friday the museum presents the first-ever Cultural Animation Film Festival (CAFF). The event features a collection of 37 culturally-based animated shorts from around the world—most of which are Hawai‘i premieres—and includes virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) demonstrations. The festival was conceived by animation industry veteran Michael Q. Ceballos, and cultural animator George Siosi.

Ceballos worked on animation projects for Nickelodeon and Comedy Central before moving to Hawai‘i, where he founded an animation and multimedia company called Twiddle Productions, the company behind Maisa: The Chamoru Girl who Saves Guåhan, which the museum screened in February 2016. We asked Ceballos via e-mail about the upcoming festival, its importance, and what audiences can expect.

Michael Q. Ceballos

Michael Q. Ceballos

 What is the Cultural Animation Film Festival?
[CAFF] is a celebration, a gathering of animated films based on culture and language from around the world. Each film is very different from each other as they tell stories through a specific cultural lens, and each film is created using different animation techniques—such as traditional 2D, CGI, stop-motion, and even paint stop-motion. It’s pretty inspiring how different each of the films are from each other, but yet they all have the common focus and goal of telling cultural stories.

Still from 'Maisa the Chamoru Girl who Saves Guåhan'

Still from ‘Maisa the Chamoru Girl who Saves Guåhan’

Why is this festival so important?
It is the only festival really focusing on animation in Hawai‘i. While there are many amazing film festivals here, there has always been a focus on live action over animation. Also, cultural-based animation is very niche. Cultural animators are few and far between, and most animators create out of a passion to tell their stories in new ways, using their pocket money for production. This festival gives filmmakers the opportunity to show their work for the first time in other countries, and in some cases for the first ever.

Still from 'Dia de Los Muertos'

Still from ‘Dia de Los Muertos’

What inspired the creation of the festival?
It all started with the question, “What if?” Through my company I have seen firsthand the impact bringing to life cultural stories has on the communities and the people whom the stories represent. This initially led me to the question, “What if there was a way to seek out other culturally based films and somehow share them with people?” I also started to become acquainted with other cultural animators from all over the world, and in particular a gentleman named George Siosi Samuels who runs a cultural animation blog and a Facebook group called the Cultural Animators Network. Again, we asked, “What if we had a festival that was strictly geared towards culture and animation?”

Still from 'Ola Nā Iwi: Hāloa'

Still from ‘Ola Nā Iwi: Hāloa’

Can you describe the selection process? How did you pull together animated films from so many different parts of the world?
George and I put the question, “What if?” to group members from the Cultural Animators Network, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Animators from all over the world submitted films, forming a solid foundation for the festival to start with. That led us to scheduling a four-day program at the Doris Duke Theatre with help from Dr. Mary Hattori from the Center for Pacific Islands Studies and [HoMA theater director] Taylour Chang,

From that point it was really about doing a deep search to find cultural animated films from all over to fill out the four days we had programmed. Through this search we also realized the importance of cultural work in the VR and AR fields so we opened the doors to demo screenings and discovered some pretty amazing projects. Everyone in this first festival was invited to participate, but we are hoping that in a year or two we will start receiving submissions from cultural animators.

The film Moana inspired a lot of conversation about cultural representation in animation. How does the first annual Cultural Animation Film Festival address representation in animation?
Moana is a pretty amazing and entertaining film and it’s obviously done very well for itself and for Disney, but it’s important to note that Moana is an effect of cultural animation and not the catalyst for it. The cultural animation movement has been happening for years. I would say many, if not all, of the cultural animators are doing it for the love of their culture and language. Many of the films that you’re going to see at the festival were produced on little to no budget, which to me, makes them the most precious of all because those are the people who are doing it out of pure love.

In regards to representation it’s important to note that the majority of filmmakers behind each of the films at this festival are telling their own story, their family stories, the stories of their ancestors, and they are telling them through their own cultural perspective and language for the sake of perpetuation and preservation. We also have films from filmmakers who work with cultural advisors, writers, directors, and animators from different cultures, which gives their films a solid foundation.

Still from 'Orisha's Journey'

Still from ‘Orisha’s Journey’

What can audiences look forward to?
This is an easy one to answer. Audiences can look forward to seeing 37 films, 4 of which are VR and AR demos, and 31 Hawai‘i premieres. We will also have panel discussions with industry professionals and experts on community engagement and education in cultural films and animation, intellectual property and culture in films and animation, and preserving endangered languages and culture in films and animation. On May 21, which is Bank of Hawaii Family Sunday, we will have three cultural art and media presentations. Scheduled to participate are Chris Caravalho of Mana Comics, Bess Press publishing, and a demo of the virtual reality game Kilo Hoku.

The cultures and languages behind the animated films represented in this festival are Hawaiian, Náhuatl, Tuvaluan, Coast Salish, Chamoru, Mexican, Māori, Nigerian, Zapoteco, Aboriginal, Pan African, Celtic, Chiapas, Brazilian, and Lithuanian. There may be a few surprises in store as well.

Still from 'Harmless'

Still from ‘Harmless’