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Zagreb `98: Better Than Ever!

The artists' festival... Gunnar Str tells us about the 13th World Festival of Animated Films in Zagreb, Croatia.

Visitors gathered in the entrance hall as the festival began. Photo courtesy of the Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films.

In the 1980s, Zagreb was the definite meeting place for the animation world, alternating every second year with Annecy. The 1992 festival was held while the war was still looming. Since then, every festival has been bigger and better than the last, and with this 13th World Festival of Animated Films, the Zagreb festival is back where it belongs.

The Films of Course

As usual the film selection in Zagreb reflected the entire range of world animation with a main focus on artistic film. Films from more than 30 countries were screened in the three main programs of the festival: the official competition, the student competition and "Animania," five panorama programs partially chosen by the selection committee, with one program being chosen by the festival. The selection in Zagreb has a tradition for being more open toward experimental films than Annecy, and this year's festival was no exception. Detelina Grigorova-Kreck (Bulgaria/Germany), John R. Dilworth (U.S.) and Vedran Mihletic (Croatia) chose both a demanding, inspiring and entertaining program.

The festival directors Margit Antauer and Josko Marusic and their crew. Photo courtesy of the Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films.

The weakest part of the selection was the advertising films. The winning film Special Selections: Campbell's Soup by Aleksandra Korejwo (U.S., Poland) is an excellent commercial, but my impression of the commercials in competition was that many of the best animated commercials from the last two years had not been entered. The commercials felt a bit misplaced because they were run in the middle of the competition programs. I also find the competition programs in Zagreb a bit too long, even though the festival wisely has an intermission in the middle. Maybe the problem is that they start a bit late, at 9 p.m., and therefore, do not finish before 11:30 p.m.

A great many of the directors in competition were present in Zagreb and I was greatly impressed by the list of guests; 130 international professionals from nearly 30 countries made this year's festival a real international event. Major animation names like Andrej Krjanovsky (Russia), Giannalberto Bendazzi (Italy), Joan Gratz (USA) and Noureddin Zarrinkelk (Iran) illustrate this international scene. This year's jury was Natalia Chernyshova (Ukraine), Sayoko Kinoshita (Japan), Peter Dougherty (U.K.), Raoul Servais (Belgium) and Milan Blazekovic (Croatia).

Special Screenings and Highlights

A special focus this year was put on Italian animation. Bruno Bozzetto was awarded the very prestigious "Life Achievement Award." Other retrospectives presented the films of Renzo Kinoshita, Vadim Kurchewski and Zlatko Grgic. For the first time a retrospective of Austrian animation (1920-1970) was presented by Thomas Renolder who has done an impressive amount of research on the films. Renoldner also presented a short program of films under the title, "Cain and Abel," which showcased films that promote tolerance, acceptance and peace.

British experimental animator Clive Walley won a prize at Zagreb `96 that granted him the opportunity to present an exhibition of paintings at this year's festival. So, the Welsh multi-plane animator replaced his film camera with a still camera. The resulting images had been scanned into a computer, blown up and transferred to paper in a most effective way. On the wall, these images gave a most impressive look, and accompanied by his films on video, made a striking example of fine art made by an animator. The connections between the fine art and images from the film Divertemento No.2 were especially striking.

A lot of student films were presented in Zagreb this year. In addition to those in the main competition, the festival decided to have an extra student competition because of the high number of interesting entries in this category. The student films were awarded by a separate jury consisting of 101 young people from Zagreb chosen by the radio station 101, and were screened in the main theater in the Lisinsky Hall in a very proper and formal way. This was a very successful addition to the festival and I do hope it will be continued next time. The main prize in the student competition went to Dennis Sisterson from the Southampton Institute in Great Britain for Advice for Hamsters. Best Student Film in the main competition was One Eye by Liana Dognini from the UK's National Film and Television School. This film also got a special mention from the youth jury.

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Cheers! The Zagreb `98 International Jury, left to right: Sayoko Kinoshita (Japan), Raoul Servais (Belgium), Natalia Chernishova (Ukraine), Peter Dougherty (U.K.), and Milan Blazekovic (Croatia). Photo courtesy of the Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films.

The Standouts

As for the prizes, the big winners this year were the Russian animators. Moscow's SHAR School studio was already awarded by the Selection Committee Best Producer among those entering films for the festival. Grand Prix went to Alexander Petrov for The Mermaid and "The Zlatko Grgic Prize" for Best First Film was shared by The Major's Nose by Mikhail Lisovoj and Pink Doll by Valentin Olshvang. The first film is a new version of the Gogol short story, and the second is a striking fantasy of a little girl who gets a very expensive and threatening doll from her mother's lover.

As usual the British animators were well-represented on the prize list. Category prizes went to Flatworld by Daniel Greaves (15-30 minutes) and The Albatross by Paul Bush (6-15 minutes). Flatworld also won the Public Prize. The category prize for the shortest films went to the charming Sientje by Christa Moesker (The Netherlands). The film depicts a little girl who is really upset after a quarrel with her parents.

Personally, I thought some of the most interesting films were missing on the prize winners list. The opening film of the festival, Andrej Krjanovsky's The Long Journey, is a really fascinating documentary based on the drawings of Federico Fellini. The script is written by Fellini's scriptwriter Tonino Guerra who also performs the voice-over and acts in the film. The film resembles Krjanovsky's earlier films on the Estonian painter Soostar. The British/Swedish film Silence by Orly Yadin and Sylvie Bringas was another favorite of mine. The strong story about little Tana that survived the Holocaust but kept her story to herself for 50 years, made a very strong impression on the audience. The narration is read by Tana herself, and the film stands out as an animated film that has a strong message to tell without being didactic. I would also have liked to see Phil Mulloy's The Wind of Changes on the list of prize winners. To me, with this film Mulloy has brought more depth to his filmic universe than in his earlier films.

Another Draw: The People and Town

However the strong films in competition were not the only impressive aspects of this year's Zagreb festival. Zagreb has always been among the friendliest of the international animation events, and this year was no exception. The biannual picnic was as successful as ever. If you don't make new friends at the Zagreb picnic, you should have stayed home. The Italians sponsored the opening party, and at the excellent farewell party Nicole Salomon and Monique Renault, together with ASIFA President Michel Ocelot, said a speech and offered cake to all the festival organizers. It's a wonderful peculiarity of the Zagreb festival that the festival staff are so integrated with the guests. Not only is the staff everywhere and always willing to help, but they also become participants of the festival.

Filmmakers from all over the world enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the festival picnic. Photo courtesy of the Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films.

For those who took the time to visit Zagreb and not just watch films, it stood out as a very beautiful town. A few years ago Zagreb celebrated its 900th anniversary and a lot of money and energy were put into making the city attractive. Zagreb really is stunning, especially the old town. Plus, the city is full of life. More than 30,000 students make sure that there are a lot of people on the streets. Furthermore, the atmosphere is truly friendly. This serves as the perfect environment for the excellent Zagreb animation festival. I highly recommend this animation event, even though I hope it will not grow too much. This year's festival was a perfect size and made us all feel a part of the same happening.

Thank you very much Josco and Buba. We will be back in 2000.

Gunnar Strøm is associate professor at Volda College in Norway, where he is head of the animation department. He has published a number of books on animation and music videos. He is also president of ASIFA Norway, and a board member and former secretary general of ASIFA International.

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