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A Festival of Flipbooks

By Leah Sandals

To many, the recent phenom of downloading flicks to a video iPod seems groundbreaking. It is, after all, a movie in the palm of one’s hand, tens of thousands of still images shrunk from the size of a wall to that of a deck of cards, available for viewing anytime, anyplace.

On the surface, it does appear pretty impressive. But folks familiar with printed matter know better. Since the late 1860s, flipbooks, the first forms of handheld cinema, have delighted users with their portability, economy, and thwacka-thwacka-thwacka no-batteries required charm.

Now this oft-overlooked cinematic genre, originally dubbed the kineograph, has its very own Cannes: the world-wandering International Flipbook Festival. In June, the fest wrapped up its first edition at Vancouver’s Western Front Gallery following showings in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and England. The fest, originally devised by Philly artist Andrew J. Wright and supported by curators in exhibiting venues, contained over 100 flipbooks from across Europe and North America.

Candice Hopkins, the Western Front exhibitions director who brought the IFF to Canada, says it’s been one of the gallery’s most popular shows. “Flipbooks are kind of nostalgic, and they’re also really participatory,” Hopkins says, “A lot of people who don’t normally come to Western Front came for this show–people in their 50s, little kids. Sometimes people would spend up to an hour in the show, which is quite rare. They want to go through all [100] of them.”

And it’s not just viewers (or, perhaps more accurately, thumbers) who love flipbooks. The people who make them can also get a little obsessed with the specialty. Stan Krzyzanowski, a Toronto artist, submitted over 10 books to the show, and a single visit to the exhibition prompted the Vancouver Film School to put a flipbook-making class on its roster. Exhibition design was even provided by local printed matter aficianados The Regional Assembly of Text.

Widespread flipbookian fervor was reflected in the books’ thematic range. Documentary works depicted everything from tragic 9/11 reruns to mundane dinner prep. Hopkins’ fave was an abstract, animated spiral made out of simple circles cut into coloured construction paper. More experimental takes included a flipbook of handmade felt and another that contained so many pages it weighed five pounds. “That one takes a while to get through,” Hopkins notes. “And it’s actually just the first in a series.”

The International Flipbook Festival ran at Western Front, Vancouver, from April 28 to June 2, 2007. If you want to submit to or assist with the next International Flipbook Festival, check for submission announcements at or contact Andrew J. Wright through its site links.

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