KROK — My Favorite Annual Event

Renee Dunlop looks into how Movas Contour Reality Capture System changes how we look at CG characters.

German animator Alexander Isert is happy to be at KROK. All images courtesy of Nancy Denney-Phelps.

The KROK International Festival of Animation is my favorite annual event. Each year it is a seagoing experience in which 200 animators from around the world spend 14 days steaming down rivers while watching animation and having the opportunity to make truly lasting friendships. It alternates between being held in Russia and Ukraine. This year participants gathered in Moscow on Aug. 7 at the Dom Kino, home of the Russian Filmmakers Union, for the overnight bus ride to Nizhniy Novgorod. There they boarded the river cruiser Marshall Zhukov to watch animation, eat, drink, to dance under the stars until sunrise, and to have far too much fun!

For several years now professional animators have shown their work in the years the event is held in Ukraine and student films and first professional films compete when the festival is held in Russia. In Ukrainian years the boat is teeming with old friends, filmmakers who are glad to spend time together. This year, unlike some past student years, I met many students who were open and unafraid to approach masters like Yuri Norstein and Edward Nazarov. They were eager to absorb the knowledge that the renowned animators are happy to impart.

Despite my best efforts to arrive on time, I did not join the boat until Aug. 11 in Perm. I missed seeing the first five competition screenings. Luckily, I had the opportunity to watch all of the screenings when I returned to my new home in Gent, Belgium, thanks to a set of DVDs of the competition programs that my friend Ivan Maximov, who was on the selection committee, made for me. I also did not get to see the special program 50 Years of Zagreb Film Studio of Animated Films, or the retrospective of Natalya Lukhinyh, a friend who was on this years selection committee. Since I had been at Annecy this year, I didnt mind missing the special screening of the 2006 Annecy prizewinning films. My greatest regret was missing the retrospective and master class with Canadas Jacques Drouin. He was chairman of the international jury and he is the present master of the pinscreen technique invented by Alexander Alexeieff.

It was a privilege to see the tribute to Russias Soyuzmultfilm studio honoring its 70th birthday. Russias oldest animation studio has been home to many of the great names in animation and the main training ground for many of todays leading Russian animators. The program, curated by Natalia Lukinykh, a KROK Festival programmer, film critic and documentary film maker, spanned the history of the studios lustrous career from the One Crime Story (1962) by Fedor Khitrunk and Yri Norstein to Arkadiy Tyurins beautiful 25th Day First To and Natalia Lukinykhs The Old Walls (2003). The Old Walls is from the documentary series Soyuzmultifilm, Tales and Realities that covers the history of Russian animation and the masters of the studio through the memories of famous Russian animators.

Among the highlights of the competition was Drawing the Line, by Hyekung Jung from Germany. She was a student of Paul Driessen and this well-executed work is about a man obsessed with drawing lines. He bisects everything that he sees with his pencil and then cuts along the lines. Eventually the only thing left to bisect is himself. Another fine graduation film is Smile by Noam Abta and Yoav Abramovich from Israel. They created a tale of horror using live actors whose faces become animated horrors.

Another of my favorite films at the festival was Doors are Open, a tale of the day in the life of a subway. The cars are made of zippers and the passengers are made of buttons. The last scene is a map of the Russian subway system (which is a wonderful map in reality) laid out in buttons. Anastasia Zhuravleva dedicated her delightful five-minute film to all of the buttons lost in the Moscow subway.

Australian animator Nick Kallincos and Nancy Denney-Phelps relax of the ships deck.

Theodore Ushev, a Bulgarian born animator who now lives in Canada, won the grand prize in the First Professional Film Category for Tower Bawher, a whirlwind tour of the work of Russian constructivist architect/artist Vladimir Tatlin. The films title refers to Vladimir Tatlins tower, conceived in homage to the glory of the proletariat. The movement of this beautiful film draws us continually up towards a utopian summit, but, in the end, all the grandiose, futuristic forms that point to a glowing future winds up crashing under the weight of ideology.

I think that the jury this year did an excellent job. No one ever agrees totally with the selections, but I was very pleased to see the Grand Prize awarded to Overtime. It was not screened at Annecy or Zagreb and so it was my first opportunity to see this impressive work. This graduation film by French animators Oury Atlan, Thibaut Berland and Damien Ferrie brings to life small fabric puppets who find their creator dead at his workbench. They dont understand what is wrong or what to do. The film combines pathos with humor in a situation that everyone will have to confront at some time in their life.

I was honored to give a master class on the History of Animation Through Music. This program, which my husband Nik and I first presented at the Museum of Film, Television and Animation in Bradford, England, begins with the timeless Hoppin and Gross film, Joie De Vive (1934), and ends with Nina Paleys brilliant Fetch! The presentation is designed for younger animators who have not had the opportunity to appreciate many of the older, classic animated films. I was very gratified that even though the hour was late, 11:00 pm, following a long day of retrospectives by jury members, I had a very good audience. Even at that late hour there was a 45-minute Q&A session after my presentation, and two students asked for a private session the next day to show me their work. Two other young animators arranged to get together with me in Moscow, so that I could view their work and discuss it with them.

Russian animators Ivan Maxamov and Vera Myakisheva after Carnival playing great music for guests to dance till dawn.

This year the festival spent the first three and a half days sailing up river to Perm, where I joined it. The boat docked there for a day and a half and an official event was held at the beautiful Soldatov Culture Center Theatre. The fete was a formal opening of the festival even though it was its fifth day. Officials of the city welcomed us and talked about Perms contribution to the arts. Each year the KROK staff makes a short three- or four-minute film about the previous years festival so it was shown followed by a screening of films in competition. That was followed by an official opening dinner, which was a very fancy affair with lots of caviar and other Russian delicacies and capacious-amounts of wine and vodka.

The lovely city of Perm is a cultural center, with a world-class symphony, chamber orchestra, a ballet company and a university that is devoted in large part to the arts. The citys art museum houses a massive collection of French and Russian paintings and was presenting a special exhibit of Fabergé eggs. Another section of the museum honors arts and crafts from Perm and the surrounding area. It includes several unique wood sculptures; unlike any I had ever seen. Unfortunately I could find no information about them except they are quite old.

Instead of going on the two organized tours of the area, I opted to visit the museum and the home of Serge Diagelov, the renowned impresario of the Ballet Russe. He was born in Perm, and being a great ballet lover and having a son who is a ballet dancer in Munich, I enjoyed a visit to Diagelovs family home, which is now a museum. I really enjoyed the city a lot and wish that we could have had another day there. (I would have visited a small village near Perm where Tchaikovsky was born.)

Next, we docked in Kazan for eight hours, a city well worth exploring. It is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan (part of the Russian Federation). The majority of the citizens are Tartars and you notice immediately the distinct cultural differences in architecture and dress. After a group tour of the beautiful citadel (Kremlin in Russian) that was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000 by the UN, three of us spent the afternoon exploring the streets taking in the sights, sounds, and food (along with the best local beer that Ive found in the former Soviet Union).

The beginning and ending port for the festival was Nizhniy Novgorod. It is a lovely city that offers many insights into the heart of Russia culture. Its beautiful Kremlin, located on top of a large hill overlooking the river, was once the central part of the old town, but now, Pokrovka Street is the heart of the city. It is a pedestrian mall filled with both locals and visitors and is a lovely place where you can explore the shops and sights or just sit at a street side café watching the world go by.

Yuri Norstein (left) was a juror at Carnival while Edward Nazarov dances with Kazan dancers.

Of course, KROK is not all about screenings and sightseeing tours. Although friendships can be formed at the many animation festivals, KROK is a very special social experience. Since everyone is together for 24 hours a day on a ship, a unique bond is forged that goes much deeper than a love of animation. Sitting on the deck in the sunshine, sharing a drink, walking around off shore while the boat is docked, or dancing all night to the fabulous music that the master Russian animator Ivan Maximov spins for us are memories that live forever. Sunrise on the top deck, the music jam sessions, singing Oh Susanna to a balika accompaniment, and, of course, the vodka that flows like the river we are cruising down, make for memories that will bring a smile to our faces forever. KROK is the one festival where I dont need a camera to recall the vivid images our 14-day adventure.

Carnival is a grand tradition at KROK, and since this was the 13th festival, it was appropriately held on the 13th of August. Even seasoned KROKers never know what to expect, so it is always a treat to see what ingenuity the new shipmates have in creating original costumes and skits. My group, two Israelis, a Russian, a Ukrainian and a Belarussian, reenacted the trials and tribulations of my train trip to KROK as an old time silent movie with title cards in Russian. We were honored to receive one of the coveted KROK prizes awarded by a panel of judges made up of such luminaries as Yuri Norstein, Edward Nazarov, David Cherkassky (veteran director and Ukrainian Festival president), and Margit Antauer (md of the fabulous Zagreb Festival and Buba to everyone who knows her).

On the evening before our ride back to Moscow, the closing ceremony took place at the Nizhniy Novgorod Puppet Theatre. The International Jury presented their awards and that was followed by a bittersweet dinner. We knew KROK would soon be over and we would scatter to the four corners of the planet. Many congratulations were heaped upon winners and some of us gathered around the piano to sing Beatles songs. That night there was a much more subdued party on the deck as we sang, drank and just didnt seem to want to go to bed.

Regina Pessoa, winner of the Crystal at Annecy and KROK juror, and Marina Pogrebnyuk of the KROK staff practice their dance steps at the Flamenco class given on board the ship.

Iryna Kaplichnaya, the tireless festival director, and her amazing staff seem to do the impossible by running a 14-day festival on a boat for 200 animators from around the world. Not only do they plan fabulous programs for us, but they also arrange to have all of us met and driven to festivals headquarters upon arrival, plan departure rides, assist with hotel bookings for those that decide to stay a few days longer, and deal with the hundreds of individual problems that arise when you have so many languages spoken in one group. They deserve much praise for their efforts.

Any animator who is lucky enough to have a film accepted at KROK should not miss the opportunity of a lifetime to attend this most memorable of all animation festivals. Next years festival will take place in the Ukraine and will screen works by professional animators.

MEMBERS OF THE INTERNATIONAL JURY:

  • Jacques Drouin (Canada) Jury Foreman

  • Konstantin Bronzit (Russia)

  • Tiziana Loschi (France)

  • Regina Pessoa (Portugal)

  • Eugene Syvokin (Ukraine)

JURY AWARDS:

STUDENT FILMS MADE IN TRAINING:

Diploma For Professionalism The Building Marco Nguyen, Pierre Perifel, Xavier Ramonede, Olivier Staphylas and Remi Zaarour France

Cash Prize and Diploma The Scene From The Life of Antelopes Edita Kravsova Czech Republic

Belarus animator Mikail Tumelya plays Balalaika on the top deck.

GRADUATION WORKS AWARDS:

Diploma For Merging Animation With Live Action Smile Naom Abta, Yoav Abramovich Israel

Diploma For an Original Idea Doors Are Opening Anastasia Zhuravleva Russia

Diploma For Original Dramatization of Classical Material Jam Session Izabela Plucinska Germany/Poland

Diploma For Humor and Absurdity Kheloms Customs Irina Litmanovich Russia

Diploma For an Indulgent Rememberance of a Tough Childhood About Me Maria Sosnina Russia

Cash Prize and Diploma Birdcalls Malcolm Sutherland Canada

FIRST PROFESSIONAL FILM MADE AFTER GRADUATION:

Diploma For An Unexpected View of a Delicate Subject The Flesh and Bones Amy Lee Republic of Korea

Diploma For Charm and Spontaneity Sarahs Tale Svetlana Filippova Russia

Diploma For Tenderness and Sensuality Sparrows are Children of Pigeons Nina Bisyarina Russia

Cash Prize and Diploma Tower Bawher Theodore Ushev Canada

AUDIENCE AWARD:

Doors are Opening Anastasia Zhuravleva Russia

SPECIAL JURY PRIZES:

The Best Program Presented By a Film School SHAR studio-school Russia

For Mature Direction in the Young Cinema Bus Ride and Flowers in Her Hair Asaf Agranat Great Britian/Scotland

GRAND PRIZE:

Overtime Oury Atlan, Thibaut Berland, Damien Ferrie France

Nancy Denney-Phelps has produced music for animation for the past 15 years. She has written about animation and animation festivals for such publications as Animatoons, Film/Tape World, Reel World and the ASIFA /San Francisco news magazine and is a member of the ASIFA International Board. In April, Nancy, her composer/musician husband Nik Phelps and their two dogs moved from San Francisco to Gent, Belgium, where they now have their home.

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