For every Academy Award winner developing the next Pixar hit, there is someone toiling away in a basement, working on something that will probably never play in theaters before a Finding Nemo sequel. But that’s exactly the kind of film Jeanette Bonds and Sean Buckelew want for the GLAS Animation Festival.
While there are plenty of established animation-specific festivals in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere, there are only a handful in the United States, and nothing quite like GLAS. So Bonds helped start the event in 2016, creating a space specifically for independent animators, with Buckelew as lead programmer. Now in its second year, the festival hosts screenings, panels, and more at venues across Berkeley from March 2–5, with a schedule that includes an international mix of films and directors.
Both Bonds and Buckelew are graduates of CalArts’ experimental animation program. Before GLAS, Bonds worked as a programmer and screener for events like Slamdance and the Los Angeles Film Festival, while Buckelew created the animated sequences in We are Your Friends and He Named Me Malala (and is featured in Season 4 of KQED’s Film School Shorts). They’re also members of Late Night Work Club, a cohort of indie animators. (The collective has two screenings at GLAS this year, which Bonds and Buckelew highly recommend.)
But GLAS isn’t a festival designed exclusively for a cliquish audience of indie animators. “I think there are curators who are more formal, but Jeanette and I are just into movies,” Buckelew says. “I would show my parents all this stuff and hope they get excited. It’s almost pitching to that level — I like audiences to really enjoy screenings.”
The festival has also managed to snag some of the most familiar names in mainstream animation. Last year’s guest of honor was Henry Selick, director of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, while this year features Brad Bird, who made The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and even Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, all of which screen at the fest.
“[Bird] is one of the few directors who’s worked in both live action and animation,” Bonds points out. “That’s rare and important and exciting.”
While Buckelew is a Berkeley native, neither he nor Bonds live in the Bay Area. As a matter of fact, they’re both based in Los Angeles. So why not host the festival in Hollywood?
“L.A. is a 24/7 film festival, and you’re constantly competing with a Robert de Niro thing for 10 bucks somewhere, and most people aren’t even going to that,” Bond says.
Berkeley had everything Bonds wanted: multiple theaters within walking distance of each other, hotels and restaurants, and, most importantly, a community that was excited to support a brand new festival.
“A lot of other cities didn’t really have that,” Bonds says.
And in just two short years, GLAS has managed to attract an audience of animators and fans from across the country and around the world to the East Bay, while still managing to be accessible to a local crowd.
“No matter who you are, there’s one or two films you’ll go home and Google and see if they’re online so you can send them to a friend,” Buckelew says.