Nebraska-produced ‘Anna’ collects top animation prize at festival

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Nebraska-produced ‘Anna’ collects top animation prize at festival

Ann Williams, an enslaved woman, jumped from a third-story window in an attempt to escape from being sold in the interstate slave trade. Williams' story is being told in the animated short film, 'Anna,' which was produced by a team of scholars from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
A still from the film, "Anna."

The first major festival screening of “Anna” also garnered the film’s first award.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln-produced film about one enslaved woman’s struggle earned the Best Animation award at the New Media Film Festival in Los Angeles June 17.

Nebraska’s Michael Burton, Kwakiutl Dreher and William Thomas created the animated short, which took three years to complete.

Burton, an animator and assistant professor of practice in textiles, merchandising and fashion design, and Dreher, associate professor of English and ethnic studies, accepted the award for the team.

Michael Burton and Kwakiutl Dreher attended the screening of their film, "Anna" at the New Media Film Festival. The film earned Best Animation at the festival.

During the festival screening, Burton said he felt the film making an impression on the audience.

“‘Anna’ was very well received,” Burton said. “The crowd was fixated with positive assurances and a loud cheer at the end. There was a lot a chatter about the film after the screening.”

Dreher, the screenwriter for “Anna,” heard from audience members, too.

“Post-screening, some attendees expressed how moved they were by the story and the animation,” she said. “Others were intrigued by Francis Scott Key’s involvement, which, I believe is an important historical index.”

The film is based on the story of Ann Williams. Williams was known only as “Anna” in abolitionist writings after she jumped from the third-story window of Miller’s Tavern in Washington, D.C. in 1815. Williams was attempting to escape the fate of being sold to another slave owner and separated from her husband and family.

Historians have slowly filled in Ann’s story. Thomas’ research into court records from Prince George’s County in Maryland shed further light on her life.

The film has created positive buzz since its January release online. Prior to the festival, Thomas traveled to the Washington D.C. area to show the film to several audiences including the Prince George’s County Historic Preservation Annual Awards Recognition Gala in Bladensburg, where Ann was from.

“When Anna says she’s from Bladensburg, there was an audible murmur in the theater,” Thomas, professor of history, said. “A ripple of excitement and interest in the story and in the connection to real families and real communities today.”

“Anna” will show at more film festivals over the next year, and it is part of a planned animated series set in early Washington D.C., exploring the moral problem of slavery. Dreher and Burton pitched the series at the festival. Burton said the pitch was successful and that the series got the attention of a notable animation producer. Burton, Dreher and Thomas also are forming a production company in order to start development.

“We are honored by the award from the New Media Film Festival and are excited to take the next step together and begin working on a series,” Thomas said.

“Anna” was featured on Atlantic Selects, screened during the Hampton University Film Festival and has been selected for the 2018 Hip Hop Film Festival in New York City, August 2-5, 2018.

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