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Animated films make the grade

After 10 years and 5,000 pen-and-ink drawings, Steve Gentile's "Never Live Above a Psychic" will find a prestigious venue next weekend.

The animated film, which recounts the mischief imposed on a person who lives upstairs from a psychic and her apprenticing children, is based on a true-life experience when Gentile lived in North Cambridge in 1992 above a noisy psychic.

It will be one of about 15 animated films, including five premieres, presented next Sunday at the Institute of Contemporary Art at 100 Northern Ave.

The offerings feature regional artists who have been pouring their vivid imaginations into animated renderings and spending an inordinate amount of time on their work.

"The fact that there are five animators ready with premieres at the same time is so unusual and exciting," Gentile said. "Usually premieres are scattered."

Though not a premiere, one standout will be Max Coniglio's "The Day Planner," which features a couch potato who turns into a professional powerhouse after his wife gives him a book for list-making.

Coniglio died of cancer in February at age 33, soon after completing the project. Gentile, who was a neighbor of Coniglio when they lived at Fort Point Channel in Boston and worked closely with the artist, said the animated film took eight years to complete and was shown in New York, London, and Spain before Coniglio died.

"He knew it was going to be a part of the ICA showings," said Gentile, "and he was absolutely thrilled about it."

While the ICA event does not have the panache of a heavily promoted festival, the museum venue puts the films "in an art context," said Joel Frenzer, animation professor at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and creator of two films being shown Sunday.

The industry's four big animation festivals are held in Ottawa; Hiroshima, Japan; Annecy, France; and Zagreb, Croatia, said Gentile.

The ICA's foray demonstrates a recognition of regional talent, said Branka Bogdanov, the ICA's director of film and video.

"One of the ICA's responsibilities is to provide a venue where New England artists can show their new works," she said.

Next weekend's program took a year of scouting for quality projects, she said, noting that the region's animation scene is a vibrant one for independent and experimental filmmakers, who move among each other in a circle of social and professional connections.

One such animator is Norah Solorzano, a teaching assistant at Harvard University's Department of Visual and Environmental Studies. Solorzano was at the ICA this month viewing short works by Japanese animators.

"One of the things that attracts me to animation is that you can bring in so many different techniques," she said. The Somerville resident said she is working on a stop-motion piece using armature puppets.

Unlike Japanese anime, which has zoomed from geeky obscurity to mainstream media among the middle school set, these artists' animated projects may never appeal to a mass market, but many use humor to reel in their audience.

Gentile, who combines his documentary filmmaking with his job as an assistant professor of animation at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, says this event complements the ICA's exhibits of national and international artists.

"I'm really hoping that the ICA does more screenings like this, and realizes there's good art right here locally," he said.

Joyce Pellino Crane can be reached at

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