The story of a film festival

Toni Pennacchia has organized a film festival of animated shorts made by women from around the world. “Womanimation!’’ will be in Gloucester this weekend. Toni Pennacchia has organized a film festival of animated shorts made by women from around the world. “Womanimation!’’ will be in Gloucester this weekend. (Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
By Linda Matchan
Globe Staff / May 7, 2010

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Toni Pennacchia and her partner, Paul Elsnau, don’t have children, per se. Instead, Pennacchia said, “we give birth to film festivals.’’ And they’re “expecting’’ another one on this Mother’s Day weekend. It’s called “Womanimation!’’ and it’s a festival of animated shorts made by women from around the world.

Pennacchia is creative director of Rhode Island-based MergingArts Productions, which manages cultural events and radio programming related to music and visual arts. On the radio side, she hosts a world music program and a film interview show for Brown University’s BSR Radio. The cultural events are film festivals with unique niches — the Short Short Story Film Festival, which highlights international films that tell a story in five minutes or less, and now the second annual festival of women’s animation. (In homage to Mother’s Day, Pennacchia refers to it as the “Mother’’ of all animation festivals.)

“Womanimation!’’ features 10 films, all with strong narratives, from the United States, Canada, and Europe, by both new and established animators. The 100-minute program will be held tomorrow and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Cape Ann Community Cinema, 21 Main St., in Gloucester. Information: 401-359-2576 or

Q. Are you a film animator yourself?

A. Think of me more as a curator. My art is being able to program.

Q. So why program animation?

A. I think people have a lot of misconceptions about animation. When they think of animation, they think of Pixar or that really weird stuff that has no point, that’s really experimental and has no story structure. I wanted to prove those misconceptions wrong. You can be experimental but actually tell an interesting story.

Q. Why a women’s animation festival?

A. There are many women’s film festivals and many animation festivals, but there are very few women who are animators, especially independently producing their own work. Women’s film festivals often focus on live action, or there may be one or two animations. This is even true at some of the major festivals like Sundance or Berlin or Cannes.

Q. What innovative styles are you seeing in animation?

A. One of our animators is using Japanese washi paper. There’s also animation on painted glass.

Q. How is women’s animation different from men’s animation?

A. It tends to be more hands-on and more of a mix of styles of animation. In terms of themes, I find more personal films from women than men. It draws more from experiences the woman has actually had.

Q. Last year’s “Womanimation!’’ festival explored some downer issues like menopause, spousal abuse, and career burnout. Should we expect something similar this year?

A. They all have a common theme of motherhood and the life cycle. For example, “Mother of Many’’ [by Emma Lazenby], which opens the festival, is autobiographical in the sense that it’s about the filmmaker’s mother, who was a midwife. It’s upbeat but shows labor and what goes on. You see the cycle of life.

Interview was condensed and edited.

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