In the 1960s, international animation festivals around the world were scarce. The most important one, Annecy, founded in 1960, was growing steadily. But many smaller festivals appeared around the same time and disappeared most immediately.
In that context, the World Retrospective of Animated Cinema, which took place in Montreal from August 13th to 18th in 1967, is particularly interesting because of the ambition of the organizers. Initiated by the Cinémathèque canadienne (the future Cinémathèque québécoise) and the Montreal International Film Festival, in collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada, the World Retrospective is the result of hard work led by two animation enthusiasts: the French critic André Martin and the founder of the Cinémathèque, Guy L. Coté.
The highlights of the event were an exhibition on animation at the Sir George Williams University (known today as Concordia), lectures and screenings about animation history and contemporary production, and an important gathering of animation-related personalities.
The latter event still strikes us nearly 50 years later. Never had Montreal, or any city for that matter, received such a legendary array of prestigious guests working in animation from around the world (and it has never happened since). For one remarkable moment in time, the pioneers who had developed the art of hand-drawn animation mingled with a new group of artists who were developing computer animation.
In attendance at the Montreal event:
American animation pioneers (John Randolph Bray, Otto Messmer, Dave Fleischer, Ub Iwerks, Paul Terry, Walter Lantz)
Directors and animators working for the successful Hollywood industry (Shamus Culhane, Bill Littlejohn, Mike Lah, Art Babbitt, Abe Levitow, Bill Hurtz, Pete Burness)
Experimental and avant-garde filmmakers (Peter Foldes, Robert Breer, Len Lye, Carmen D’Avino)
Computer animation pioneers (John Whitney, Kenneth Knowlton, Stan VanDerBeek)
Cartoon masters (Chuck Jones, Ward Kimball, Grim Natwick, Bill Tytla, Bob Clampett)
Women artists and filmmakers (Edith Vernick, Tissa David, Millie Goldsholl, Merle Welton)
Voice actors (June Foray, Paul Frees, Grace Stafford Lantz)
Famous artists from Western Europe (John Halas, Jean Image, Bruno Bozzetto, Manuel Otero)
Famous artists from Eastern Europe (Břetislav Pojar, Fyodor Khitruk, Karel Zeman, Ivan Ivanov-Vano, Gyula Macskássy, Dušan Vukotić, Todor Dinov)
Not to mention all the Canadians (the President of honor Norman McLaren, organizing committee members Robert Verrall, Pierre Hébert and René Jodoin; Al Sens, Ron Tunis, Grant Munro, Gerald Potterton, etc.).
The photo of the chalkboard on which the organizers put the guests’ names and hotels gives us a precise idea of the international and prestigious range of this animation reunion.
Thanks to the Cinémathèque québécoise archives, we know today that running the event was a real challenge. 1967 was the year of the Montreal World Fair (known as Expo ’67). The hotels were crowded. Reading the correspondence—letters and telegrams—from around the world is dizzying. Jan Švankmajer was supposed to come but his trip was cancelled; others declined then changed their mind (Chuck Jones); some others were sorry that they couldn’t come (Jiří Trnka, Tex Avery, Bill Hanna).
Assisted by the Executive Secretary Françoise Jaubert, the Organizing Committee accomplished an amazing task in the preparation of the event. According to the testimonies of those who attended, the efforts bore fruits.
The World Retrospective—and other cultural events of that time—were covered by the free-lance photographer Bruno Massenet, whose negatives of his coverage of film events are now part of the Cinémathèque québécoise’s collections. Among those negatives are immortalized moments from the cocktail gathering at the 1967 animation event, which took place at the Montreal Windsor Hotel (since closed).
What do we see in them? Conviviality. And they teach us that if only for one day, people from different areas of the animation world, even if they were in economic, artistic, or ideological opposition, got together in the same place and fraternized.
It is common nowadays to serve wine at cocktails. We can see in the photos though that in 1967, at least in North America, guests attending the cocktail affair were drinking something else. What was it? Mostly gin and tonics. They were excellent, apparently.
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