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1979 Palme d’Or winner Raoul Servais at 80

8 mei 2008
Almost 30 years ago – in 1979 to be exact – Flanders-born animation wizard Raoul Servais won the Palme d’Or for his short, Harpya, a combination of live-action and animation.
In Raoul Servais, The Wizzard of Ostend: Commitment – Contestation – Recognition, published in honour of his 80th birthday, among other things, Servais looks back at the making of Harpya, winning in Cannes and how he became a celebrity in the US. Here’s a short excerpt from the interview in the book. I had got a bit tired of animated cartoons. Truly, my films are all very different and the themes are different and each technique had required a different graphic style, but I wanted to try out something new, something that lay between animation and live action. I had this idea for a story that would be something like a horror parody. It took me months to find a proper technique. I went to London for it, because that was where the most advanced special effects techniques could be found – they even came from Hollywood for that. They showed me a number of things, and they looked excellent – there were no computers yet – but the cost would be far too high for me. So I had to develop a technique of my own that would allow me to combine the two film techniques. After a long search I did find something that worked, but it was time-consuming and strenuous, and I was the only one who knew how to work with it. I could not rely on assistance. Completing the film, therefore, took a lot of time. When it was completed, I told myself that I would never use it again. It was too difficult and demanded far too much concentration. HarpyaAgainst my expectations the film did very well. Upon showing it to a couple of friends in Ghent first, they all remained silent. I thought: ‘Well, just as I thought... a catastrophe...’ At least, that was my impression. I felt insecure about the result and I was convinced that silence meant disaster. But then one of them came up to me and said it was the best film I had made so far. What a relief! In the long run, you become unable to judge your own work, because you spend months and months working on it, and after a while you become blind to it. When they say it is good, you believe them, and when they say it is bad, you believe them just as well. You just can’t tell any more.When the film won in Cannes, I was invited to receive the Palme d’Or, together with Francis Ford Coppola and Volker Schlöndorff, who shared the Palme d’Or that year for Apocalypse Now and The Tin Drum.There is an anecdote connected to the awards ceremony: I was about to leave, when all of a sudden, there was this group of Americans who came up to me, asking me to stay because they wanted to do the ceremony over again. They wanted to broadcast this ceremony live on satellite in the US. Coppola was there with his crew, and so was Schlöndorff. I was alone. We were taken to a hotel somewhere outside Cannes. They had recruited people to fill up the venue, and the whole thing was done all over again. When it was my turn, I walked up towards the stage to receive the Palme for the second time, and they brought in this dog, on a table, stopping straight in front of me. One of the Americans said: ‘Shake hands with the gentleman.’ The dog reached out its paw, and I was filmed shaking a dog’s paw... I could not believe my eyes. Two days later I got a call from Hollywood. It was an American filmmaker who congratulated me. For the Palme d’Or? ‘No,’ he said, ‘for shaking paws with Shorty’. I had no idea who Shorty was. He turned out to be the most famous dog in America, a TV star they had taken to Cannes especially to shake paws with one of the laureates. So I became a celebrity in the States, not because of my Palme d’Or, but because of a dog.Thanks to the Palme d’Or, the film was shown on various other occasions. At festivals – non competing, because if you win a Palme d’Or, you can’t compete at other festivals. The international association of film critics had been invited to the Annecy festival and they had to decide the best animation films in history. Harpya came out as one of the 12 best animation films of all time. In a way Harpya was awarded twice, by a jury and by the critics. Johan Swinnen and Luc Deneulin’s ‘Raoul Servais, The Wizzard of Ostend: Commitment – Contestation – Recognition’ (280pp) is published by ASP, Brussels. Price: €40 (excl. shipping). More info: From: Flanders Image magazine #11, Summer 2008