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Zagreb 2002: Simply Amazing

Celebrating thirty years, Zagreb 2002 not only excelled as a milestone event, but in its own right as an outstanding animation affair. Includes photo scrapbooks!

What a festival! If I heard it once, I heard it every time I spoke to someone at Zagreb 2002, the 15th World Festival of Animated Films. Having never been to the Zagreb Festival and only hearing about Croatia on the nightly news, I had no idea what to expect upon my arrival. But I have to say...what a surprise, what a delightful surprise. For many reasons, Zagreb is how an animation festival should be, and has leapt to the top of my list. What is most excellent about Zagreb is the camaraderie that it cultivates. From the staff's hospitality, to the attendees to the projection and screening schedule, all roads lead to creating a wonderful experience for all.

While this year's Zagreb was especially hot with the mercury over 100°F each day, that didn't dampen any spirits. Beloved festival director Margit "Buba" Antauer made sure that all of the preparations were made so that each and every attendee had a great time. Throughout the festival she was a streak, dashing here and there, taking care of each and every detail, along with a large staff of young, enthusiastic volunteers.

Serious students, professionals, professors and academics travel to Zagreb to see and discuss the films in competition and the art of animation. While the Zagreb festival is large and prestigious enough to attract a number of leaders, its attendance isn't unwieldy, and so there is an opportunity to sit down with people and speak about ideas and collaboration. The people there are the "real deal" and it shows. The saying was never more true than quality over quantity.

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The theater and audience. © Sheila Sofian/David Fain.

Screenings and Events

The screenings, held in the lovely National Theater, are full but there are still a few empty seats so that everyone gets in and is comfortable. The audience is interested and enthusiastic, while the projection staff is very, very attentive and precise, apologizing for the slightest mistakes. I think that these two aspects are very important and not to be underrated when it comes to judging a festival. Too often at festivals, sessions are viewed as "normal" screening experiences, but with competitive screenings this is not the case. This isn't going down to your local cinema and hooting at the screen. At festivals the audience is invited as guests of the jury. The films are being screened for them and we just get to go along for the ride. Needless to say, the projection is very important so that each film is projected as well as the next so that they can be judged fairly. While of course no one wants an audience that is catatonic and unresponsive, Zagreb's audience is respectful. One gets the feeling that this is a special event and they are there to relish it! Sure, they react. They laugh, they clap...but they don't boo. They don't hiss. They don't make so much noise that one can't enjoy the film or perhaps miss critical moments. (Although I must say in Bookashkies by Mikhail Aldashin it was pretty loud because there was so much laughter. Bookashkies went on to share the audience prize with the superbly executed Hasta Los Huesos/Down To The Bone by Mexico's René Castillo, which seemed very exotic in Zagreb.)

Another excellent programming choice is the break half way through each evening's short film competition. The break gives everyone the chance to get a drink or snack, make notes, stretch and guarantees there is no sleeping in the crowd! The key to the lack of sleeping, however, was the film selection. While the by now tried and true Father and Daughter won the grand prix, the short film competition screenings were a delight. The selection was diverse and contained not only those festival favorites of the past two years, like Abi Feijó's Clandestino and Paul Driessen's The Boy Who Saw The Iceberg, but new films that haven't been widely seen before. For instance, it was a treat to see Paul & Sandra Fierlinger's Still Life with Animated Dogs again, even though it was a video copy. Paul's life is so unique and to see the transformation from his rebellious youth to calm maturity reflected through his relationships with dogs and nature is very meaningful. The charming tale of a little pig marveling at his world makes It's My Life by Russia's Natalija Berezovaja great fun, and the whole audience got a chuckle out of the little pig's enthusiasm (and naivete). The audience was also taken with Narayan Shi's short film Freedom Song. Here a rich, powerful man learns that he cannot control and possess everything, namely a bird that will only sing its beautiful song when free. Depicted in bright colors and a "typical" Indian design, the film was a great addition. And finally, The Young Girl and the Clouds, Georges Schwizgebel's retelling of the classic Cinderella story, was absolutely beautiful. Overall an engaging, strong, varied selection and that is all one could ask for!

kenyonzagreb04.jpg (left to right) Joanna Quinn, Gunnar Strom, Bob Godfrey and John R. Dilworth in the festival bar. © Zagreb Festival. kenyonzagreb05.jpg Both food and fun were not in short supply at the picnic. © Zagreb Festival.

I didn't begin attending festivals until the early to mid-1990s, therefore it was perfect for me to have the opportunity to see rare animations from long ago or faraway places, but also, all those festival favorites that everyone speaks about that I missed! With retrospectives from Paul Driessen and Piotr Dumala to "The Best of the Best," the non-competition programming was just as exciting as the competition programs.

In Zagreb there is no class system. Everyone is invited everywhere and that atmosphere helps create a festival that truly meets the criteria for what a festival should be. The exchanging of ideas and collaboration are everywhere. Because of the festival's friendly atmosphere and smaller size it leads to people introducing themselves, joining in conversations and meeting folks never met before. At Zagreb student filmmakers felt perfectly comfortable approaching the likes of such masters as Jerzy Kucia and getting advice. The festival bar was a short walk away at the Hotel Esplanade and was a great place to meet after the final screening. Once again, the festival had made special arrangements with the hotel, encouraging them to open the downstairs bar, providing a selection of drinks at minimal prices for festival participants.

Another highlight was the picnic. Due to the heat, I understand the picnic was not how it usually is. It was held indoors at a large, very nice pub in the country outside of the city. Everyone enjoyed taking a walk around the quiet neighborhood before the meal and afterwards retiring to the garden. I think the biggest challenge of the week for Buba was getting us all back on the buses. No one wanted to leave...

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Zagreb, The City

Zagreb itself, as you will see in the following photo galleries, is an old, grand city modeled in Central Europe's regal style. I was continually amazed at how safe it was. (The editor's note I must add to myself here is that I am a native of Los Angeles.) The staff must have thought I was paranoid (or lazy) as one night after using the press room until around 12:30 am, I asked if it was okay to walk back to my hotel, past the central train station and through a closed, sub-terranian shopping mall. The festival's untiring newsletter staff (they sleep at the Theater for the duration of the event!) said, "Of course it is safe. We can drive you if you want, but it is safe to walk." They looked at me a little puzzled though, wondering if they were really answering or understanding my question: "Why wouldn't it be okay to walk?" Little do they know I guess what downtown L.A. is like or the neighborhood around our central train station.

As frequently the city was too hot to explore on foot during the day, bands of us would leave the Hotel Esplanade at 1 or 2 in the morning after the festival bar closed to explore the city by night. Well kept parks, large squares, old churches, gardens and large boulevards and small quaint streets led one on and on and on and we frequently didn't return until it was beginning to get light. One night there was an impromptu all night affair by the fountain in front of the Esplanade. While at first street names like Mihanoviceva, Kumiciceva and Kuseviceva look pretty intimidating, within a few days the city is easy to navigate. Plus, all the locals speak Croatian, German and English and are glad to help.

kenyonzagreb07.jpg One night's walk (left to right): masters Yuri Norstein and Eduard Nazarov, filmmaker Kunyi Chen (Subida), the NFB's Martine Chartrand (Black Soul), Mikhail Aldashin (Bookashkies) and jury member Oxana Cherkassova. © AWN, Inc.

Because of its crossroads geography, thirty years ago Zagreb held a special place in the animation world. During the Cold War years, it provided a meeting ground for animation artists and enthusiasts on both sides of the fence. Now, after overcoming the difficult years of Croatia's war for independence, Zagreb is coming into its own again, once again becoming a very special place in the animation world. A place where artists and enthusiasts can meet in a fascinating locale for fascinating discussion.

If you don't believe me you could ask: David Ehrlich, Pat Raine Webb, Joan Gratz, Caroline Leaf, John R. Dilworth, Bob Godfrey, Joanna Quinn, Giannalberto Bendazzi, and the list goes on and on of satisfied festival attendees.

Join us now for a scrapbook of the festival and a tour of the city with festival goers David Fain and Sheila M. Sofian, whose film A Conversation with Haris was in competition and involves a conversation with a little boy, a recent Bosnian immigrant to the U.S., who discusses the war.

Heather Kenyon is editor in chief of Animation World Network. After graduating magna cum laude with a BFA from the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television, Heather began her career in animation at Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, where she became manager of the Production Communications department. She has contributed a chapter to the book, Animation in Asia published by John Libbey & Company, Ltd. Heather is also vice president of Women In Animation International and on the Board of Trustees of Trees for Life.

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