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BTGF is presented by and in collaboration with the following:

   Sunday, Oct 7 – 9:30am-10:30am   

Michele Leigh

“Children’s Animation in Russia: Female Animators and the Birthing of a Women’s Cinema”



Animation as a field has largely been ignored in discussions of feminist cinema and women directors in the Soviet and East European, despite the fact that animation has been one area in which Soviet female directors have distinguished themselves. One of the reasons that female Soviet animators have been ignored is that they often do not follow typically feminist trajectories, and more importantly because their work is associated with children’s media it is often assumed to be anything but feminist. In fact, many scholars make a distinction between animation for children and animation that is art. For instance, in her excellent book Women and Animation: A Compendium, Jane Pilling highlights some of the leading female artists in animation, but purposefully avoids animators of children’s films as they are not considered art under her rubric. One should never assume that films intended for children are innocent and therefore not art, in this paper I hope to dispel those notions and make an argument that many films directed by women during the Soviet period, while targeted to children, were not only conscious raising they were also great works of art. More importantly, by outlining the evolution of women’s animation in the Soviet Union from the 1930s to the 1990s, this paper will point to ways in which animation was a decidedly feminist mode of production in Russia, thus laying the groundwork for future work which explores the relationship between animation and women’s cinema in Russia and beyond.



Michele Leigh is an Assistant Professor of Film and Media History in the Cinema and Photography department and cross-appointed in the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Leigh is the co-chair for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies scholarly interest group Women in Screen History and is currently on the steering committee for Women in Film History International. She has published chapters in Doing Women's Film History, Women Screenwriters – An International Guide, Researching Women in Silent Cinema, Screen Culture: History and Textuality. Leigh was a 2016-2017 Fulbright Scholar in Russia and is currently researching and writing two books: one on female industrial practice in Russian cinema prior to the Revolution; and the other on women animators and the question of a women’s cinema in animation.

Xuetong Zhao

“Contemporary Chinese Female Animators Living Abroad”



In the last ten years, the contemporary Chinese female animators living abroad have been constantly active in the commercial animation field and at major animation festivals. They have grown up in the atmosphere of Chinese culture, and then entered into other countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, etc. In this way, they were influenced by at least two cultures in their upbringing. In combination with the practice and interview of the five female animation artists, this paper discusses their status in China, the reasons for their going abroad, and the effects of the geographical change on their creative work. It also discusses the current situation of female animators' survival in the animation industries of different countries. The author reveals the three aspects embodied in these contemporary Chinese female animators as follows: de-identity – they apply the creation of animation to break through the restriction of the context and environment; the collision between the eastern cultures and the western cultures as well as the influence of personal experience on animation creation; the new opportunity brought by animation and the industry of New Media for female animators.


Xuetong Zhao is an artist and animator. She currently teaches at the Digital Media Art program at Nanjing Tech University. She graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London. Her creative practice relates to fields such as psychology, philosophy and documentary animation. Her short animation film OCD was selected in many animation and film festivals both at home and abroad. Her paintings have also been exhibited in many art shows. Zoey Zhao’s work rethinks and investigates topics about the human condition. She is proficient at different painting techniques such as ink painting and pen drawings.          

Tashi Petter

“‘I am not Modern’: Anachronism and the Silhouette Animations of Lotte Reiniger”


This paper will consider the awkward historical positioning of Lotte Reiniger, a figure who has been largely forgotten in modern popular culture and marginalised within traditional film studies. Best remembered for the earliest surviving feature-length The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926), Reiniger’s pioneering technique fused traditional handicraft with moving image. Drawing on the ancient forms of shadow play and paper-cutting, and narrating the timeless stories of fairytale and myth, Reiniger’s works occupy a curious position in the context of European modernism. As collaborator Walter Ruttmann famously argued during the making of Prince Achmed, ‘What has this to do with 1923?’. Reiniger’s penchant for fantasy, her employment of a highly decorative aesthetic and her seeming reluctance to engage with contemporary politics has deemed her ‘not modern enough’ (to borrow the title of Marsha Meskimmon’s study on German women painters).

Beginning with the damaging legacy of Ruttmann’s 1923 question - a statement of Reiniger’s irrelevance that has permeated responses to her work ever since - this paper will instead consider the possibilities of positing the animator as an anachronist - one out of harmony with her own time. Responding to primary materials from the archive (thus side-stepping the interpretations of prior historians or critics), this paper will demonstrate how Reiniger located her own practice within a much broader artistic tradition (e.g. her conception of cinema as the ‘Tenth Muse’). Identifying the proto-cinematic motifs in Prince Achmed, this paper will also illuminate the ways in which Reiniger’s animations look forward, pre-empting debates around spectatorship and the male gaze, and offering proto-feminist retellings of folklore, myth and opera. As well as Reiniger’s celebrated status as a technical pioneer, lesser known is her claim to have depicted the first ‘happy’ homosexual kiss in cinema as early as 1926. Her self-taught, DIY attitude to film production can be re-interpreted as radically feminist (through reclaiming domestic space and recycling household items as filmmaking materials). Whether Reiniger’s claim ‘I am not modern’ (from a 1972 interview) is understood as a defense mechanism or as acceptance of the gendered rhetoric which devalued her filmmaking throughout her career, perhaps it can also speak for her timelessness. As the digital age presents further opportunity for rediscovery (e.g. the recent google doodle), by seeking connections between the past, present and future in Reiniger’s animation work - adopting a film archaeological method to challenge the linearity and chronology of conventional film history - can Reiniger be liberated from her position of obsolescence and obscurity?


Tashi Petter is a scholarship holder and doctoral candidate in the department of Film Studies, Queen Mary University of London. Her thesis explores the pioneering animator Lotte Reiniger with a focus on her 1930s films and writings, her engagement with folk modernism and her experiences as a German émigré in London. Tashi is a graduate of the University of Bristol and UCL, where her MA thesis on Reiniger and the ‘film ballet’ drew on extensive archival research. She will publish some of her findings in the forthcoming collection Animation and Advertising, edited by Kirsten Thompson and Malcolm Cook. Tashi is also a Teaching Associate in the Queen Mary film department and works as a curatorial research assistant at the UCL Art Museum. She has recently curated screenings of lesser-known Reiniger shorts, reconstructing film society programmes from the 1930s using 16 or 35mm prints. Her wider interests include interwar film culture and twentieth-century women artists.