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Manchester Animation Festival 2020: Virtually Perfect

This year's Manchester Animation Festival inevitably switched to an online event, like so many before it. But in doing so, the UK's biggest annual animation festival managed to assemble a line-up- featuring programs of short films, workshops, Q&A sessions, exclusive premieres and previews and more- that arguably rivals any in a more traditional year. 2020 has seen events around the world take a variety of approaches to mounting a virtual event. But for MAF at least, this transition would seem to have been a roaring success.

Accessing the online festival was a breeze. Using the Eventive platform, online festival attendees could purchase a pass or tickets to individual events. Some, like the short film programs, were unlockable straight away, but others were released throughout the festival. Talks and masterclasses and the like were streamed live, but for the vast majority of events, they were then also available subsequently available on-demand throughout the festival. 

Once unlocked, you have 5 days to view the video, and once you hit play, you have 24 hours to finish. If you've ever rented a film online, you know how it works. An online festival can never be quite the same experience as the real thing, but MAF made it a very user-friendly and straightforward experience, almost as easy as watching on any regular streaming service.

The downside with a virtual festival is that it's all reliant on the technology cooperating, and there's always a danger technical gremlins (at either end) could spoil the party. Luckily, I found everything went smoothly, with the exception of missing one event that wouldn't stop buffering (and I subsequently lost access to after the 24 hour period expired). Which was a shame, as it was one of the festival's biggest draws, the work in progress session of stop-motion feature The Inventor, with writer/director Jim Capobianco (Ratatouille, The Lion King).


The selection of feature films available was small but perfectly formed. Calamity, the new highly anticipated feature from Remi Chaye (Long Way North) received its UK premiere, as did independent feature Josep, from cartoonist Aurelien Froment. A later addition to the schedule was Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart's feature Wolfwalkers. Each film was also accompanied by a filmmaker Q&A session, and Tomm Moore also did a session for his short for Greenpeace, There's A Monster In My Kitchen.

But the real heart of the festival is in the animated short selection. These were divided into several individual programs- Short Films 1 & 2, Panorama, Shorts For Kids, Student Films, Student Panorama and Commissioned Films.

There were films from all over the world, with every style of animation represented. Almost every theme and genre you could think of was covered, and there was something for every taste. From abstract art pieces to comedy, drama, horror, sci-fi and romance.


There were certainly a number of standouts for me.  From Ireland's Boulder Media (Danger Mouse) came Brother Ezekiel, a beautifully animated and emotionally affecting drama featuring a meeting between an African American man and a young white girl in America's segregated deep south in the 1960s. Despite its period setting,  Leon Elliott's short could scarcely be more timely, coming in a year when the Black Lives Matter movement has put racial injustice back in the spotlight.

Light-hearted Icelandic comedy Yes-People could hardly be more different. Presenting a slice-of-life in a normal Icelandic town, it's full of colourful characters and plenty of laughs. Dutch/Belgian short The Passerby uses a really original storytelling style and some stunning animation to tell a story of an everyday tragedy. 


Laura-Beth Crowley's short The Gift is an excellent feminist horror-tinged film that asks what if the monthly "curse" of menstruation is actually a gift, as one woman learns to unleash her hidden powers. 

Elsewhere, Kapaemahu retells a story from the mythology of Pacific islander culture, entirely narrated in a native Hawaiian dialect. Using a gorgeous art style that evokes the style of ancient and contemporary Oceanic art and culture, it's a fascinating window into a culture that is rarely seen on screen.

This year's Fellowship Award recipients were Alison Snowden and David Fine, founders of Snowden Fine Animation, and directors of the Oscar-winning Bob's Birthday. The festival also featured a retrospective of their work and a Q&A session where the duo discussed their career in animation.

Although the festival remains open until November 30, the traditional climax of MAF took place with the announcement of the winners of the competition in an event streamed on Thursday, November 26.



Manchester Animation Festival 2020 Prize Winners

Short Film


Director: Catherine LePage. 

The Jury Said: "Chosen for being a strong, funny, moving but profoundly human and poignant film. Its combination of dialogue and creative use of imagery juxtaposing with each other beautifully illustrates the anxiety that comes with the quest for perfection and the pursuit of happiness and the ideal light that society expects."  



Student Film


Director: Margrethe Danielsen. The Jury Said: “Chosen for its overall engaging, great characterisation, simple yet profound design and performance it is relatable and comedic and well observed. The sound is perfectly matched to the environments and showcases the art form of animation with all its glory. A simple set up with huge satisfactory pay off” 

Special Mention: 


Director: Olga Klyszewicz

The Jury Said: “The jury would like to give a special mention in this category to a film that beautifully executes its story between the characters in an emotional connection and performance. They are placed in a new environment not by their own doing and we see their relationship play out regardless of what is thrown at them. The soundscape is exquisite and the design is perfectly balanced to draw in the audience to empathise”

Commissioned Film


Director: TINE KLUTH

The Jury Said: “Chosen for being fun, well animated, intrinsically in tune and balanced with the music it has all the qualities of vision and sound in perfect synchronicity. Inventive, playful, entertaining and well crafted, it makes great use of the medium of animation all round.”

Special Mention:


Director: Natalie LaBarre 
The Jury Said:“The jury would like to give a special mention in this category to a film that gives a wonderful visual representation to a subject matter that can affect lives and how design and voice are integral to making it accessible to mention and manage”  

The Audience Award


Director: Julien Bisaro  
Selected by the MAF Audience with over 2700 ballots cast for the eligible films screening at MAF in total.


Manchester Animation Festival believes animation is for all and that all animation is deserving of celebration, and the Industry Excellence Awards celebrate the talent who work hard on the day job scripting, storyboarding, designing and animating some of our favourite television programmes and commercial work.


  • Phillip Warner for Hey Duggee
  • Catherine Salkeld for Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed!
  • Mick Harrison for Daisy & Ollie
  • Giulia Caruso & Francesco Cipolla for Rescue Bots Academy: Power Up and Energize
  • WINNER: Estrela Lourenco for My Little Pony: Pony Life




Produced by Blue Zoo

  • Alex Collier for Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed!: Pranksy
  • Evgenia Golubeva & Myles McLeod for Kit’n’Kate: The Tallest Tower
  • Sophie Dutton for Hey Duggee: The Puzzle Badge
  • Sam Morrison for Hey Duggee: The Tooth Brushing Badge
  • WINNER: Adam Redfern, Jon Foster and James Lamont for Paddington Christmas Special: The Lost Letter


Character Design

  • Golden Wolf for KFC: Good Luck on the 25th
  • Evgenia Golubeva for Mia’s Magic Playground
  • Neev Brennan for Pins and Nettie
  • Jardine Sage for Dog Loves Books
  • WINNER: Ross Phillips for Hey Duggee


Character Animation

  • Federico Bernasconi for Dennis & Gnasher: Unleashed!
  • Golden Wolf for Overwatch League Grand Finals
  • Delwyn Jude Remedios for Save Our Species
  • Arianna Gheller for Every Time I Run
  • WINNER: Quentin Haberham for The Clangers

We all hope that MAF will be able to return home to Home next year, but the organisers have done a fantastic job to adapt to the new realities of 2020. Only time will tell if regular festivals will be able to return in the near future, but at least we know that should it be needed, MAF will be able to continue its mission of celebrating the best in animation whatever happens. The festival is confirmed for November 2021 either way and the call for entries for short films and industry excellence awards will open in the spring.

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners at this year's festival!