The older couple was muttering. 'This isn't funny!' the husband said, shifting in his seat as animator Patrick Smith's Puppet - about a masochist, handcuffed by self-punishing sock puppets - played out on the tiny theatre's screen. What the couple expected was Looney Tunes. What they got was something else.

'Animation Lollapalooza' was veteran animator Bill Plympton's contribution to the recent Martha's Vineyard Film Festival (Mvff). It comprised a small survey of what is happening on the outskirts of Cartoon World: Arthur Metcalf's Fantaisie In Bubblewrap portrayed the woes of plastic packing material being casually popped; Signe Baumane's Teat Beat Of Sex featured the Romanian-born film-maker's frantically narrated, sex-themed mini-memoirs; and Plympton's own Hot Dog, about a hapless firehouse mutt, was rudely hilarious.

And given the market's thirst for escapist entertainment, one would have presumed Plympton's work - and that of his Mvff cohorts - would fit neatly into today's desperately audience-friendly atmosphere.

'Tell the distributors,' says Plympton, now working the festival circuit with his latest feature-length opus, Idiots And Angels (the official pitch is: 'This asshole wakes up one morning with wings and he doesn't like it! Because the wings make him do good deeds. It's man vs wings!').

'It's been a tough sell,' adds Plympton, whose vast filmography of long and short animation includes the Oscar-nominated Your Face, the near-legendary 25 Ways To Quit Smoking and the feature The Tune.

The market for short animation has been enhanced by the likes of Atom Film and HBO. Features are another issue, but Plympton, whose work is still hand drawn, plugs away.

'Bill had been at the festival for the last several years,' says Mvff co-director Nevette Previd, 'and suggested he assemble some of his international animator friends and do a programme of short animation. He's such an interesting character. You look at his stuff and think, 'How in the world did he get there'''

The theme of the festival is always 'other places', Previd says, which includes 'inside these interesting animators' brains'. Increasingly, however, Mvff and similar festivals are providing the only places to play such challenging work, and maybe give it a boost into the for-profit sphere.

'With all the challenges of distribution, this has become a marketing tool of sorts,' Previd says. 'We have the movers and shakers here, the media types, the industry people.' And theatres screening animation that does not feature kwazy wabbits, puddy cats or families named Simpson.