For five years, the "Ideas in Animation" series has presented and premiered animated shorts from all over the country, with Nik Phelps & the Sprocket Ensemble composing and performing live musical scores that challenge and delight as they more deeply anthropomorphize the dogs, balls, balloons, mutants, and squiggles that dance across the screen. I hope no one has taken this series for granted, because the "next times" might be counted on one hand. Over the last couple of years, Phelps and his producer wife, Nancy Denney Phelps, have taken to traveling abroad as ad hoc ambassadors of American animation (no kinder, more delightful, or visionary ambassadors could we have). Most recently, they were invited to participate in the Russia/Ukraine-supported KROK International Animation Festival, held on a cruise ship in the Black Sea. Besides an abundance of wonderful stories and the desire to move to another country, the Phelpses have come home with an armful of cartoons from the Ukraine, Australia, France, Estonia, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Russia, including Ivan Maximov's Slow Bistro, which strikes a chord somewhere between Maurice Sendak, Franz Kafka, and Yellow Submarine, and is worth the price of admission on its own. Nina Paley's ingenious new work Sitayana: Episode XXII, which uses the Ramayana as a backdrop for an Indian music video in which a cleavage-heavy Sita pouts through Annette Hanshaw's 1929 classic "Mean to Me," will also be shown, along with the West Coast premiere of See the Truth by American animator Jerald Howard. Original scores composed by Nik Phelps accompany every film. Go see "Ideas in Animation" before the Phelpses move to Belgium next year. This installment will be held on Thursday, Nov. 13, at the Red Vic Movie House (1727 Haight at Cole) at 7 and 9 p.m. Tickets are $10; call 668-3994 or go to www.redvicmoviehouse.com.
Ten years before Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, which is often erroneously regarded as the first feature-length animated movie, Lotte Reiniger made The Adventures of Prince Achmed, a 50-minute film adapted from The Arabian Nights. Meant for children but inspired by Reiniger's own pioneering imagination, 1926's Prince Achmed uses meticulous, and often fantastic, silhouette cutouts, interspersed with abstract scenes comprised of sliced wax and sand on backlit glass. (Reiniger's techniques later became a great influence on the visual efforts of musical archivist/alchemist Harry Smith.) To make the movie, Reiniger had to build a "multiplane" camera, with which she was able to layer foregrounds on top of backgrounds, and while such genius drew to her project the greatest experimental filmmakers Germany had to offer, the movie was 100 percent Reiniger. Graceful, playful, and enchanting, Prince Achmed and the consequent shorts Reiniger based on other fairy tales remain some of the most beautiful pieces of animation ever created. A tribute to Lotte Reiniger will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 18, featuring six short films, and on Thursday, Nov. 20, featuring The Adventures of Prince Achmed and a short documentary at the Goethe-Institut (530 Bush at Grant) at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5; call 263-8760.