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Copyright Featured Image and Page Header Image: Joost Swarte/Holland Animation Film Festival.

Genesis and Growth of the Holland Animation Film Festival: A Concise Survey of Critical Conditions


What are the critical conditions for animation film festivals to be able to function as a key factor in the circulation of films and influencing the construction of reputations? Gizycki (2012) answers this question in a case study of Animator International Festival of Animated Films (Pzonan, Poland). Kinoshita (2012) gives a personal review on the origins and development of the Hiroshima International Animation Festival and Rüling (2009) discusses the history of the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and Market.

These reflections are supplemented here with a historical institutional research of another specific case study: the genesis and growth of the Holland Animation Film Festival (HAFF) between 1985 and 2017. This event functioned for several decades successfully in the Dutch film culture and also gained early recognition in the international film festival circuit. Analysis of internal sources and external reviews connected to this trajectory of twenty editions reveals the existence of several curatorial choices and dilemmas for the festival staff, especially how to safeguard the artistic identity and simultaneously adapt their event to altering circumstances.

Institutional Research; Curating Animation Film Festivals; Safeguarding artistic identity; Construction of reputation; Accountability; Critical success factors; Holland Animation Film Festival.
  1. Introduction
  2. The arena of animation film festivals
  3. The development of Holland Animation Film Festival (HAFF)
  4. The curatorial policy of HAFF in a glance
  5. To conclude
  1. Introduction

Animation film has dazzling many faces. It could be indicated as an autonomous domain of visual arts, but also as a peculiar niche in the cinema industry and a distinctive part of film art. The distinctive essence is that each animation film actual starts from scratch, because every frame is patiently filled with constructed images, digitally or manually. Other filmmakers have to deal with recordings of reality, animators have to face the intimidation of an empty canvas. Animation film has also become a dynamic concept in transition, see among others Wells & Hardstaff (2008). To start a film festival dedicated to precisely this small niche of miscellaneous film production is easily justified, but difficult to realize. To give such an initiative a stable continuity is an even more difficult task.

A pogramme of research

Media historians have an alluring general research topic, when they explore diachronic developments in the network of international animation film festivals. Their research would start with assembling documentation about the details of these events and their environment, and in the ideal case would lead to postulate a plausible explanation of all the various decisions, reactions, evaluations, and impact connected to them. Following this line of thought, there are many research questions to be posed:

  • What were the specific characteristics of festival visitingand audience experience through the years, within the conditions of social, cultural, political, economical and spatial contexts?
  • Which different forms of presenting films at film festivals existed and how did these curatorial practices function?
  • What kind of changes, innovations or recurrent issues could be observed?
  • Why is it that a festival become more famous, or have more social impact than others?

There are a lot more questions to pose, but for the sake of brevity I limit myself here to the exploration of the critical success factors of curatorial policies of film festivals. In the growing corpus of publications in the field of Film Festival Studies this specific research challenge got already firm international attention. The focus on animation film festivals started a long time ago with incidental inventories such as Edera (1997) and got more volume in recent years. Therefore, I first investigate the existing literature about institutional research of animation film festivals. Thereafter I explore the case study of curating the Holland Animation Film Festival (HAFF).

  1. The arena of animation film festivals

In his contribution to Ruoff (2012), artistic director Marcin Gizycki of Animator International Festival of Animated Films (Pzonan, Poland) discusses the current state of affairs in the arena of animation festivals. He advocates a curatorship aimed at lining up an open minded and artistically daring festivalprogram.  As a starting point of his argument he gives a brief and personal review of the history of animation festivals.

The year 1960 is marked by him as the beginning, evidenced by the first edition of the Annecy International Animated Film Festival whichwas initially a program section of the Cannes Film Festival. More than fifty years later Annecy is still a big player in this field in his view, along with the Hiroshima International Animation Festival (Japan), Anima Mundi (Brazil) and Cinanima (Espinho, Portugal). Gizycki also identifies the emerging new animation film festivals on the Internet, which have formed their own circuit.

Many international animation festivals limit their selection to a safe choice of traditional author movies. In this way they ignore the new developments in the field of experimental non-narrative films. According to Gizycki, these estabished festivals lose sight of an innovative sector that stretches the definition of animation. As positive exceptions to this general trend he mentions the Melbourne International Animation Festival and Holland Animation Film Festival (HAFF). I take this as a confirmation of my choice for HAFF as a worthwhile case study of best practice of reputed curatorship.

A recurring essential issue is the identification of what would be the critical success factors to surface in the turmoil of the arena of animation film festivals?

An answer to this fundamental question is given by festival director and producer Sayoko Kinoshita in her contribution to Ruoff (2012), offering a review on the origins and development of the biennial Hiroshima International Animation Festival that already for a long time has been widely recognized as an event with a great international reputation. She and her husband Renzo Kinoshita started as idealistic filmmakers in the Seventies, gaining success with among others their animated documentary Pica Don(1978) about the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Together they initiated the Hiroshima International Animation Festival in 1985. In her personal story, she gives an indication of what she considers to be criticial success factors for an animated film festival. First, you need international recognition, formalized by a festival list of ASIFA (Association Internationale du Film d’Animation, founded in 1960). The first edition of the Hiroshima festival was the fifth international animation festival that was recognized by this institution. The other four were the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, the Zagreb World Festival of Animated Film in former Yugoslavia, the Varna World Festival of Animated Film in Bulgaria and the Ottawa International Animation Festival in Canada. Kinoshita assesses the success of an animated film festival further to qualitative indicators such as the status of the international jury, the status of the winners of the various competitions, and indicative key figures such as the number of films submitted and the number of visitors.

Another approach of identifying critical success factors is effectuated by Rüling (2009), observing film festivals from an organisation theory perspective. This means he uses a mixture of concepts from management studies and sociology. He considers the major film festivals as ‘field-configuring events’ and discusses the critical success factors of Annecy International Animated Film Festival and Market from this point of view. His focus is on considering film festivals as arena of film professionals, to be considered as a dynamic force that respond to external impulses, but also influence the film industry agenda. The development of the Annecy festival is summarized as follows: ‘From its initial role of contributing to the instutionalisation and recognition of artistically oriented animation, it has subsequently opend up to actors and contributions from other geographic regions [-]. It has welcomed new forms of distribution [-] and new technologies and business models [-]. Rüling (2009, 50).

He expands this general characterization by implementing a temporal segmentation, distinguishing three main development phases. In this way a concise institutional history of the Annecy festival is sketched: ‘The Annecy festival has moved from a community focus to a showcase event and from there to an industry actor. Development and brokerage of network ties and knowledge play an increasingly important role as the animation industry faces rapid aesthetic, technological and economic change and attracts large numbers of new actors.’ (Rüling 2009, 64)

Framing film festivals

For several decades film festivals have been successful in helping people find films and guiding audiences in acquiring refined tastes, for example in world cinema, experimental films or restored items from the archives. At film festivals one can immerse oneself in cinephile peer communities and take advantage of all the expert selections, discussions and film reviews. Festivals, in other words, not only make a variety of films available, they also frame the films in a rich discursive context.’ (De Valck 2008, 19).

Film festivals can indeed be regarded as a key factor in the circulation of films and can also influence the construction of reputations of film directors and their films in a significant manner. Reflection on critical conditions of the genesis and growth of film festivals is therefore essential to map the mechnisms of power in film culture. But how could we do this?

In my view, the concept of ‘art worlds’ is a useful tool in the analysis of these lines of power relations. There is not a full-grown institutional film theory developed yet, therefore it is still difficult to frame the different possibilities for research of the circulation of films in a systematical way. The American film theorist Noel Carroll published an inspiring article in 1979. He chose the institutional esthetics of George Dickie as a starting point (Carroll, 1996). American sociologist Howard Becker combined the approach of philosopher George Dickie and art critic Arthur C. Danto to build the theoretical foundation for his now classic book Art Worlds (1982). Becker (1982) argues that behind each work of art there is a layer of underlying stories about necessary conditions of assistance, support, collaboration and cooperation. This could be supplemented by identifying also a range of stories about conflicts, constraints, rivalry and competition. Creating art involves a more or less coherent connection between many interacting parties and forces. Becker (1982) calls this complex configuration an ‘art world’.

Basically, for a festival staff it is all about to keep their stakeholders happy. How can their efforts be evaluated, both in the past and the present? And which scenarios are plausible?

Recent academic research increasingly investigates the historical and contemporary institutional context of film festivals. The institutional context includes the various options and constraints within the areas of production, distribution and exhibition. This subject could be approached looking back, look around or look ahead. You can translate these options into three different types of research questions:

  • Past: Which historical developments could be distinguished?
  • Present: What effect has these developments on the film culture of today?
  • Future: Which perspectives are there to be discerned in times to come?

In this article I focus on the specific question what would be justified criteria to assess the curatorial policy of animation film festivals, specifically the Holland Animation Film Festival (HAFF), taken through the years?


It is difficult to measure the intrinsic value of an animation film festival. A wide spread practice is to count the yearly attendance of public, peers and press. The most common assumption is that a steady growth for each successive edition equals success. The objectives in this view are set on luring more visitors, more guests, and more media coverage in the printed press, broadcasts, blogs and social media. However, the use of rigorous quantitave criteria can give a distorted image, because each film festival has its limits to growth. In my view, growth does not automatically imply progress.

Lets first assessing the evaluation of the number of visitors. An animation film festival is a specialised, highly profiled event screening a relatively large percentage of short films, appealing to a specific target audience. Therefore, to assess the impact of the intrinsic value of animation film festivals one needs a more detailed and balanced approach of accountability than just numerate some bare key figures.

A practical starting point regarding a more qualitative inventory of the audience outreach would be to make a clear difference between the amount of sold tickets (visits) and the number of visitors. There is a distinction to be made between for example the attendees of educational screenings, who typically will visit the festival only once, and the devoted fan who attend five or six screenings each day. The average number of tickets per visitor is an indication how the festival crowd could be segmented. On this basis one could formulate intensions about precise and specific targets in the area of audience outreach.

Another way of determining the audience success of a film festival is to calculate the degree of occupancy of each screening room that is used. In other words, to compare the number of sold tickets with the number of available seats. Naturally, the number of empty seats should be limited to a minimum and the average visits per screening should be as high as possible. This is a sound ambition seen both from a business point of view as from a more idealistic perspective. Every film should get the best possible accomodation. Sometimes a small intimate screening room of just a few dozens of seats is the best option, in other cases a large auditorium facilitating big crowds is more suitable.

But the tricky thing is that fluctuations in these indicators of capacity can have many reasons. There is still a lot of research to be done before we are able to obtain some clarity in potential correlations and possible causality in this case. Statistical theory might be a useful tool here. To prevent bias, it is necessary to map the ways in which variables may be related. The challenge is to indicate clearly the independent and dependent variables and their relationship with eventual third variables. The third variable could be an intervening part of the causal chain (a mediator), or could be associated with both other variables and obscures the effects of them (a confounder), or could modify the other variables or interact with them (a moderator). A complicating factor is the different degree of variability. The number of seats for instance will be mostly rather fixed. You may have the choice between your small and big screening room or decide to organise a pop-up event, but that is it. In contrast, the variable of for example the willingness to travel of the potential audience fluctuates in a rather unpredictable manner. This means it is difficult to prove causality in a conclusive way. The outcome of the evidence will always be subject to change. Therefore, the reasoning behind the calculations will be more interesting than the exact results.

Concerning the outreach to the press, the same argument of considering the situation with more qualitative gradations is applicable. Clearly enough, just making a quantitative inventory of output of press clippings and media items gives a very limited assessement of the situation. But to give a more balanced review remains difficult. The value of press reception could be calculated in money terms, counting the investments that were made (the costs of press screenings, press accreditations, specified working hours of festival staff) set against the return on investment (calculating the equivalent of all free publicity in current advertising rates). This is an interesting excercise, but also a timeconsuming task.

Here I explore the question of critical success factors of curating animation film festivals by sketching the outlines of a qualitative, historical institutional research of a specific case study: the genesis and growth of the Holland Animation Film Festival (HAFF) in Utrecht. From the start this event functioned successfully in the Dutch film culture and it also gained early recognition in the international film festival circuit. Between 1985 and 2017 twenty editions of the HAFF were held. Analysis of internal sources and external reviews connected to this trajectory reveals the existence of several choices and dilemmas for the festival staff, especially how to safeguard the artistic identity: how to justify their choices and convictions, and simultaneously respond appropiately to altering circumstances. Firstly, the basic historical facts of this trajectory needs be sketched in more detail.

  1. The development of Holland Animation Film Festival (HAFF)

In order to get a grip on the history of HAFF, the festival time line can be divided into three periods. This temporal bracketing is roughly characterized by a phase of starting up (1985-1992), growth (1994-2008) and the challenge to sustain continuity (2009 until 2017). I give a brief digression about the particular details of this segmentation, before I turn to the discussion of the curatorial policy of HAFF.

The first period (1985-1992) can be called the pioneering years of HAFF. Almost every film festival starts as a small event that comes into existence thanks to the efforts of many volunteers and a few hardworking, dedicated and often underpaid festival staff members. Usually, after approximately three editions a critical point is reached, because fundraising cannot depend on starting grants forever and staff members should be rewarded fairly. The question is whether it is possible and feasible to turn the festival into a professional enterprise, and also whether the enthusiasm and the momentum of the start can be maintained. As we will see, for HAFF the answer on this question is positive. HAFF was initially a small event, held every two years in the Fall. It was an initiative that was started and carried by among others animator Gerrit van Dijk and a young student, Gerben Schermer, who entered as a trainee and turned into being the festival director until today. From the beginning many animation filmmakers and artists participated in the production of festival leaders and festival posters, Dutch graphic designer and cartoonist Joost Swarte most prominent among them. There was also a close and friendly cooperation between HAFF and the Dutch professional network organisationVereniging Holland Animation (Holland Animation Association). HAFF employees were involved in the management of this association and vice versa.

In the pioneering years four festival editions were organised, in 1985, 1987, 1989 and, with a delay of one year, 1992. During the very first years, the festival was restricted to take place in the two screening rooms (49 + 80 seats) of a small non-commercial cultural centre, ‘t Hoogt, located in a 17thcentury building in the centre of Utrecht. A third auditorium was initially used as a theatre stage, but was in 1991 transformed in a cinema of 126 seats. In later years, HAFF used also additional screening rooms in a nearby commercial cinema.

For the first edition of 1985 the festival budget consisted of 25,000 guilders (11,344 euro). Circa 200 films in total were screened, including a program of Chinese animation and a selection of nineteen new animation films from the Netherlands and Belgium. In the following years these figures increased steadily. In 1992, at the fourth edition, the counter stood at more than 400 entries and 300 selected films. In that year, a contribution of the Prince Bernhard Fund made it possible to produce a professional festival catalogue. The pioneering years ended in 1992, because in 1993 HAFF became an independent foundation.

The turn to continuity

Almost from the beginning HAFF was connected to CARTOON, the support programme of the European Union for the promotion of animation films. One of the results was the establishing in 1991 of the Cartoon d’Or, the European Film Award for animated short films. HAFF also strategicly collaborated with other European festivals, for instance in 1992 with the animation festival of Stuttgart to present a survey program of animated films from the Soviet Union. From the early Nineties onwards, there was also a good cooperation with the Utrecht School of the Arts (HKU) and the Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies at University Utrecht, with lectures on animation and many trainees of this discipline. Peters (1995) describes the pioneer phase and the turn to gaining a solid continuity of HAFF in more detail.

The second period (1994-2008) is characterized by a growing recognition of HAFF by professionals. In this time span eight biennial editions were organised in the fall of 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008. Looking back on the fifth edition in 1994, festival director Gerben Schermer stated: ‘The festival is a four-day-long party for animation fans, but for me, the party is only a success if it starts something rolling and has a concrete significance for animation film’ (Den Draak 1995, 47).

In this way he made it clear that he firmly remained faithful to his initial aim of advocacy of animation in the broadest sense, both commercial and artistic. By organizing the festival he continues to give animation filmmakers the opportunity to heighten their skills, meet fellow filmmakers and enhance their network. In addition, the festival is meant to provide animation films with an audience and to enable visitors to immerse themselves in a concentrated overview of outstanding animation films. This intention was succesfully realised. In response to the sixth edition in 1996, film critic and curator Edwin Carels endorsed the festival staff in positive terms: ‘After six editions, the HAFF has now clearly proven that an agreeable and successful animation filmfestival does not necessarily have to present its selection in pre-digested, interpretative categories. It can be primarily a purely informative event, where interested parties meet one another around a series of keywords which are grouped together in a consistent way.’ (Carels 1997/1998, 23)

The recognition of HAFF is also evident from the prestige of the members of the jury, who also were willing to present and discuss their own work. Animator Piet Kroon expressed an early appreciation for this aspect of the festival: ‘Schermer has a keen eye for the strategic importance of selecting a jury. International names add prestige to the competition and the festival. Much needed support because although the structural grant issued by the Ministery of Culture covers a large part of the budget, at least an equal part has to be brought together by sponsors.’ (Kroon 1991,18)

An important indicator of recognition of the festival by cultural policymakers is the fact that HAFF is included in the four-yearly grant scheme of the Dutch national government. As a consequence, HAFF has been regularly assessed by the Raad voor Cultuur, the independent advisory board of the Dutch Ministery of Education, Culture and Science (OC&W). The reports of this advisory board contained in successive years repeated critical comments on the small number of visitors, but the support was continued in a structural way nevertheless. HAFF received also subsidy of the city of Utrecht. The municipal cultural advisory board also recommended growth in attendance. As I argued earlier, in my view this criticism is to be regarded as a potential fallacy and certainly as a reductive criterion.

The festival budget remained very limited throughout the formative years. The festival staff remained therefore small. The lack of a business director was increasingly felt, but this job vacancy could not be fulfilled for a long time.

Adjustments and changes

The third period (from 2009 to 2017) can be characterized as the period of new challenges and necessary adaptations to changes around the festival.

Digitization of film production, distribution and exhibition altered the procedures and the power relations in the film industry. In an early stage, the staff of HAFF considered the possibilities of animation on the Internet as an opportunity. A new competition was launched for web animation, featured on its own channel on YouTube (‘HAFF Tube’). In 2009 and 2010 HAFF presented a main programme called The Cutting Edge, exploring the interplay between film, visual arts, games and digital motion graphics and other forms of entertainment on the Internet. In both years, also a selection of the best of Stash DVD Magazine was presentedand a review of the annual computer graphics conference SIGGRAPH Asia was given.

On an organisational level many changes were felt necessary and were implemented. Behind the scenes a sizeable and costly professionalization took place. Since 2004 it is possible to submit films digitally and in 2010 a new database and a new website went into operation.Other examples of adjustments include the decision in 2008 to embark henceforth on an annual frequency and to present the complete catalogue as a free bilingual magazine, offering a handy overview during the festival and transforming into a collectors-item afterwards.

In 2011, the festival staff decided to shift from october to spring, motivated by the feeling that HAFF thus would fit better into the international film festival calendar. The festival moved also to a 4-screen arthouse in the centre of Utrecht, the Louis Hartlooper Complex. In 2011, the long-term cooperation with Utrecht University got a new dimension with the appointment of the British researcher Paul Ward as the first Centre for the Humanities-HAFF Festival Fellow.

If we take a snapshot in 2016, saluting the 19thedition of the festival, we can see that HAFF has acquired a stable position in the 21st century. There is a continuous recognition by leading film critics and prominent media platforms alike. Also, a steady growing number of visitors is noted, nearly a doubling of attendance in roughly a decade: 10,000 in 2002 to 18,224 in 2015.

This is certainly an accomplishment, but two remarks should be made. First, the quantitative focus on number of visitors is not the best and definitly not the final way to assess the quality of the festival. Second, there are constraining developments to observe in 2017. The position of HAFF is still threatened by budget cuts arising from the severe national and local cultural policy of the Dutch government. Therefore, ambitions for increasing the number of visitors (and amount of ticket revenues) are high: the target is set to reach a total of 28.000 visits. However, it will be difficult to realize this ambition. One of the main reasons is the growing competition of other platforms for animation film.

The loss of monopoly

HAFF was initially the main platform for the Dutch premieres of major international animated feature films, such as The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (Dave Brothwick, 1993), The Nightmare Before Christmas (Tim Burton & Henry Selick, 1993), Faust (Jan Svankmajer, 1993), or Institute Benjamenta (Brothers Quay, 1996). This pattern changed in the 21th century. The Dutch international premieres of animated feature films are increasingly split between several different film festivals; partly depending on the release date, partly based on considerations of where the highest degree of impact can be realized.

Animated feature films are increasingly screened at non-specialized film festivals. This is an international phenomenon. Rüling (2009) observes that the same challenge exists for the Annecy festival:‘With its historic image as an artistically oriented festival, its emphasis on short films and its idea of catering primarily to the animation field, Annecy has repeatedly encountered problems in attracting a high-quality selection of international feature films into competition.’ (Rüling 2009, 59).

Short animation films are made available online by generous directors and producers or by enthousiastic fans, using streaming video channels like Vimeo or YouTube. These channels function as a vast expanding archive of older work, but also as a presentation platform of recent productions. The question rises if an animation film festival as event of film presentation loses urgency, because of this alternative availability. A famous short animation film like Father and Daughter (Michael Dudok de Wit, 2000) is available online, both in several crappy files and pristine versions. Is it still necessary to incorporate this film in a festival programme? My answer would be affirmative. These films were made for the big screen, so it is necessary to present them on the big screen. But an additional motivation would be needed, to convince the general public.

HAFF remained an important actor in the Dutch film festival circuit, but it has no exclusive monopoly to present animated films anymore for many years already.

  • Sometimes you win, as for instance with the international festival hit Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008) that was first shown as opening film of HAFF in 2008, before its Dutch release and a presentation at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA).
  • Sometimes you loose, as for instance with the Dutch premiere of another festival hit, Persepolis(Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud, 2007), that was prominently presented at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR)in february 2008 and was released in the same month. In october 2008 the film was shown at HAFF as a revival.
  • Some other examples: the major 3D animation film blockbuster Up(2009) premiered on the international film festival Film by the Seain Vlissingen, september 2009. The Dutch premiere of Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009) took place in 2010 at the short-lived International Film Festival Breda, followed a month later by a screening at the Imagine Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival.

Furthermore, HAFF was now no longer the only animation film festival in The Netherlands. The monopoly in this niche was broken by the arrival of other events:

  • KLIK! Amsterdam Animation Festival, which in 2007 moved from Ghent to Amsterdam (firstly to the Kriterion cinema, later to Eye Filmmuseum).
  • In 2007 started the Zwols Animated Film Festival, a one-day festival that lasted seven editions until 2013.
  • In addition, there is since 2009 Go Short, an international short film festival located in Nijmegen, where many animated short films are screened.
  • Outside the film festival circuit, there are increasingly events in the field of creative industries to be signaled, where animation is part of various cross media presentations. For example: Playgrounds Audiovisual Arts Festival in Tilburg, that exists since 2006.
  1. The curatorial policy of HAFF in a glance

From the beginning HAFF outlined a clear and specific strategy of curated content along the lines of three dichotomies. The festival staff of HAFF highlighted an international curatorial perspective together with a strong national selection, and combined a contemporary focus with historical awareness. A third distinctive feature of HAFF was the equal treatment of artistic and commercial animation films.

A fourth dichotomy can be observed on the level of outreach of HAFF. The festival functioned both as a networking platform for professionals and as a promotional platform for animation film in general. The common thread in this dual approach was the legitimization of animation film as a mature art form, and fighting the prejudice that animation would be exclusively a children’s entertainment.

HAFF focused in the early years explicitly on adults. Festival director Gerben Schermer explained in 1991 his reasons: ‘Most people are biased. They think that animation is purely meant for children. You can only break through that by offering continuity in strong, interesting film programmes. That’s why I don’t show a children’s programme. It would boost the box office, but I just can’t afford throngs of children. It would only confirm the prejudice and you would risk losing the actual target group.’ (Kroon 1991, 18).

This policy to exclude children’s films was altered in later years. In 2002 HAFF introduced the fringe programme ‘Holland Animation Junior’ and four years later started a ‘Movie Squad HAFF Junior Competition’ and also developed a substantial supply of educational screenings. Still, only a very limited amount of animation films for children and young adults are screened at HAFF. This task is the domain of children’s film festival Cinekid that presents from the start in 1987 a large scale of animation films in every edition, held in october in Amsterdam.

From the beginning the HAFF program contained a competition for brand new commissioned films, both national and international. This endeavor was supported through seminars, master classes, lectures and talk shows, even including inspirational breakfast sessions. The motivation behind this distinctive positioning was the intention to make a high-quality connection with professional practice. In accordance with this, there was from the beginning a separate competition for student films from the Netherlands and Belgium. Young, emerging professional talents got the attention they need.

Each program of HAFF included an equally careful curated competition of new, independently made international animated films. These panoramas are supplemented by thematic ‘state of the art’ programmes, featuring a well-curated choice of unique individual voices and authentic cosmopolitan cinema. HAFF organized several sidebar programmes with overviews of contemporary productions, for example from China (1985), England (1987), Japan (1989, 2006, 2009), Soviet Union (1992), Germany (1994), Poland (1996), or the USA (1998).

The historical component has always been well represented at HAFF. In 1992 for example German experimental animated films from the twenties and thirties were shown. Other examples include the programme around the Soviet studio Soyuzmultfilmin 1996 and the overviews of Soviet propaganda animated films in 1992 and 2006. In 2007 HAFF cooperated with the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) presenting a large programme of animated documentaries. In 2009, a tribute was given to animation pioneers Emile Cohl and Arthur Melbourne-Cooper.

Notwithstanding the international scope of HAFF, the national cinema inevitable enjoyed special attention. In each edition, HAFF presented an overview of new Dutch animated films and offers retrospectives and memorial programmes of various Dutch filmmakers. In addition, HAFF celebrated several anniversaries of Dutch institutions along the years. This curatorial perspective provided also the opportunity to mark its own jubilees, as the 10thedition in 2004, the 30thyear of existence in 2015, and the 20thedition in 2017. In cooperation with the national film archives, several milestones of Dutch film heritage were presented in various programmes (Peters & Bosma 2011, 177-179). For more details about the line up of each festival edition, see the series of catalogues of HAFF (online available from 2010 onwards).

The festival participated in prestigious publications such as Glassman & Gloudemans (2002), a monography about the international acclaimed animation film director Paul Driessen.

In addition, HAFF organised several animation related expositions as part of the festival. Examples include the installation Intra Muras of Rose Bond in the city hall of Utrecht (2008), the installation Handelingen of Maarten Isaak de Heer (2009), and the expositions of ‘Artist in Residence’ Sun Xun in 2010. Most recently HAFF participated in the expostion ‘Move on… 100 years of animation’, held in art gallery Kunsthal KAdE (Amersfoort) in 2015 and curated by Mette Peters and Erik van Drunen.

Throughout the years, the reputation of HAFF has been steadily recognized internationally. A confirmation of this status was the presentation of a selection of the award winners of Holland Animation Film Festival 2014 in september of that same year at the Indi-AniFest 2014 (Seoul, South Korea). This selection was also screened in February 2015 at Eye Filmmuseum (Amsterdam).


The 21st HAFF edition of 2018 was cancelled. The following press release was released:The board of the Holland Animation Film Festival (HAFF) Foundation has decided to chart a new course for HAFF by means of substantive, financial and organizational reforms. This means the 2018 edition of the festival this March will not take placeGerben Schermer has decided to take a step back and give room to a new management. Schermer will remain involved in the festival until 1 June 2018. The reason for this decision is a difference of views between him and the HAFF Foundation board on the festival’s goals and policies. Gerben led and developed HAFF for more than 30 years into a prominent festival with an excellent international reputation.” (cited in Robinson, 2018)

In 2019 HAFF and KLIK! announced that the two festivals will merge and will be held in November, in Utrecht (Cinema Louis Hartlooper Complex and 4 other locations) and Amsterdam (Cinema Ketelhuis). The new name is Kaboom Animation Festival.

  1. To conclude

Each film festival is unique, with its own character and historical background. A film festival is to be characterized as a dynamic meeting where the current state of affairs temporarily crystallizes. This phenomenon needs a thorough historical institutional research, focused on mapping developments of phenomena as the circulation of films and construction of reputations. The ultimate goal would be to formulate explanations of these observations. The current state of affairs in this field of research can be monitored through Loist & De Valck (2010) and forthcoming updates of this extensive bibliography.

Inspired by Rüling (2009), Kinoshita (2012) and Gizycki (2012), I have briefly outlined the development of HAFF, and given an outline of the curatorial policy and the institutional context of this festival. For those who can read Dutch, my sketch of the trajectory of HAFF can be compared with that of the Anima Festivalin Brussels (Menten 2012).

The circuit of international animation festivals is a world in motion, with an informal hierarchy. The Annecy festival acquired in the Sixties right away a leading position and has retained this leading position throughout the years. The festivals of Ottawa and Hiroshima also have ancient prestige. If we limit ourselves to European examples, we can observe that the reputation of Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film has grown over the years, and that there are also plenty of interesting newcomers such as Anifest in the Czech Republic (established in 2002).

There is still a lot further research to do on the origins and growth of animation film festivals around the globe. The story of the twenty exitions of HAFF surely deserves a more comprehensive study, in which the line of development of the artistic direction and the resulting reactions of the press, public and professionals are described in more detail and weighed critically, within the international festival circuit and local film culture, specifically in relation with the lifecycle of KLIK! Amsterdam Animation Festival.

  • Becker, Howard. 1982. Art Worlds. Berkeley/ Los Angeles: University of California Press.
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Disclosure Statement
There is no financial interest or benefit for me arising from my research. I am freelance researcher, film programmer and lecturer. The research for this article has been my own independent initiative, in 2016. I did not receive a grant or any other payment. The staff of Holland Animation Film Festival did not interfere with the text. All responsibilities for the content are mine.
Many thanks to my network of critical and supportive readers, who generously shared their expertise with me. Anet ter Horst and Gerben Schermer of Holland Animation Film Festival deserve special mention, and also my former temporarily colleagues of Netherlands Institute for Animation Film(NIAf) who introduced me to the fascinating world of animation films: Ton Crone, Mette Peters (University Utrecht& School of the Arts Utrecht), and Erik van Drunen (St. Lucas Art Academy Brussels& Klik! Amsterdam Animation Festival). I did send a draft version to professor Jeffrey Ruoff (Dartmouth College), who was so kind to send me detailed comments which improved my text considerably.
Author bio
Peter Bosma (1960) is a freelance researcher, film programmer and lecturer. His research focuses on exploring the practice of cinema exhibition from an institutional perspective. Between 2012 and 2014 he was additional researcher for the project ‘The Dutch Animation Collection’ at the Netherlands Institute for Animation Film (NIAf, now merged with Eye Filmmuseum). His has published Film Programming: Curating for Cinemas, Festivals, Archives (Wallflower Press, 2015). Website: