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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

NEK Animation Fest To Showcase Creativity And Social Justice Issues

Lyndon State College
The first annual NEK Animation Fest hopes to draw attention to the importance of the art form as a medium to discuss weighty issues such as social justice.

The term “animation” might conjure up images of The Simpsons or video games or Disney and Pixar films or even Japanese anime — and while it is all these things, a professor at Lyndon State College wants to show that animation can be more than just entertainment.

That’s why Professor Robby Gilbert is helping to start the first annual NEK Animation Festival with the theme “Animation as a Visual Language for Social Justice.”

Gilbert says the medium can sometimes tell a stronger story than using “real” images, video and voices by pulling at the power of our imaginations.

“There's a vast body of work being done globally by independent animators that explores issues around human rights and social justice and I really wanted to get that out to the public and to our students here at the college,” says Robby Gilbert, an animation professor at Lyndon State College and organizer of the festival.

The two-day festival held at Lyndon State College and Catamount Arts will feature short animations based on themes around economic equity, LGBT issues, the environment, women's rights and racism.

“And it's really great opportunity because animations are an art form, [they] use color and sound and music as a way of expressing thoughts that may be verbal dialogue doesn’t always do as well. And so there's an opportunity for a kind of a global or universal language of animation that can reach a wide variety of audiences.”

It’s not just for kids

Gilbery says animation as an art form is very deep, rich and poetic.

“There are animators around the world that are using it as much more of a fine art medium or a way of expressing ideas of the human condition.”

Without putting a value on it, he says in the United States the industry tends to have animation serve particular markets for entertainment.

“But in the global arena of animation there is a rich tradition of using animation as a medium to express deep ideas,” says Gilbert.

Animations to watch

Gilbert says the organizers are still deciding which student works will be played as part of the festival, and the lineup also includes some classics. For one, the festival will screen Norman McLaren’s 1952 Neighbors, which won an Oscar in its day.  

“It addresses issues of space and living together in a community very well,” he says.

“I think there are quite a number of films that explore these ideas that don't get commercial play because they touch on subjects that might be harder to digest.”

A perfect fit with Vermont's tradition of creativity

Gilbert says that as a recent transplant to Vermont he sees the opportunity for the Northeast Kingdom to grow itself into a hub for creative and experimental animation.

“There's a great tradition of artistry and creativity here, and the opportunity for animation and cartooning is really rich,” says Gilbert. He hopes the festival will center some attention on Vermont as a hub for animation.  

Organizers are hoping to make the NEK Animation Fest an annual event.

The NEK Animation Festival is free and open to the public, and is taking place over two nights: first at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury on Thursday, Oct. 29 and then Friday, Oct. 30 at Lyndon State College

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Kathleen Masterson as VPR's New England News Collaborative reporter. She covered energy, environment, infrastructure and labor issues for VPR and the collaborative. Kathleen came to Vermont having worked as a producer for NPR’s science desk and as a beat reporter covering agriculture and the environment.
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