Heather Kenyon offers a preview of Zagreb 2002, a year which marks not only the festival's thirtieth anniversary but also it seems a remarkable comeback.
This year's festival poster was designed by Croatia's Kresimir Zimonic.
"Come, let's watch the films together, and we'll drink a toast in honor of our festival's 30th anniversary analogously and not digitally!"
Josko Marusic President of the Festival Council
From June 18 23, 2002 Zagreb will hold its 15th World Festival of Animated Films and is expecting a grand turn out for its 30 year anniversary. The festival is going to begin with a celebration in Zagreb's "Flowers Square," which will serve as a reunion for the people that have attended and supported the festival throughout the past thirty years. While the last few years have been difficult for Zagreb due to the war and Annecy's decision to go annual, this year it appears that Zagreb is back in full force and offering a number of exciting opportunities for festival attendees. "The festival is hot this year," says leading U.S. independent Bill Plympton, "It has a great buzz around it."
Jury member and first time Zagreb participant, Linda Simensky, Cartoon Network's vice president of original animation, agrees, "A surprise has been the number of Americans attending. With Zagreb happening so close to Annecy, most people had to make a decision about which festival to attend."
In addition to a rich, varied competitive program of films, Zagreb has a number of rare retrospectives and special screenings, new awards, a Flash animation workshop and even a chance for everyone to contribute a birthday card to the festival.
978 submitted entries were weeded through by Rada Sesic, a Croatian filmmaker and film critic, Witold Nowak, director of Sweden's Eksjo's Animation School and David Ehrlich, an American independent filmmaker and educator. (David Ehrlich has written an essay on selection, which is currently posted on http://asifa.net. There you can also read interviews with the festival's program and managing directors.) Due to the large number of entries over five thousand and three hundred minutes of programming the screening time for the official competition grew from 480 minutes to 540, out of the goodness of beloved festival director's Margit Antauer's heart.
As a result, the jury will have their hands full deciding the winners. The official competition jury is: Oksana Cherkasova (Russia), Joanna Quinn (Great Britain), Linda Simensky (USA), Georges Lacroix (France) and Edo Lukman (Croatia). Simensky says, "It seems that the festival has pulled together a selection that truly represents international animation. Plus, the jury looks to be as diverse as the film selection, and that will make the discussions challenging. Everyone always expects me (as an American) to have typical American taste, which I guess in this case, would be defined as liking funny films. Perhaps they'll be surprised. I am also curious to see if there are many political films in this festival. Over the last few years, I have noticed fewer political films out there, but the ones that were political often came from Croatia."
Of the films selected the largest number come from the United States with fourteen films in official competition; however Russia with six films, Canada with eight entries and the U.K with nine are other strong nations. Of the 85 films in competition, though, a wide range of countries are represented including Iran, Mexico, Slovenia and -- with three films in competition -- home town favorite, Croatia. Fifty-three films are in the student competition and here France is clearly the leader with an amazing 12 entries. Great Britain is next with eight. Now the numbers get more engaging with four student entries each for Bulgaria, India and Korea. The selection committee awarded the Marble Z Trophy for the best selection of student films submitted to the festival to the Seoul Animation Center in South Korea. The diversity of the student screenings should make for some unusual viewing. The jury for the student competition is: Gyorgy Elekes (Hungary), Nevenka Fiser (Croatia), Barbel Neubauer (Germany) and Monique Renault (Netherlands).
Beyond the Competitions
However, the screenings are only the beginning of the events that are going to be held at Zagreb. Giannalberto Bendazzi, the renowned animation historian, writer and teacher is being awarded the newly created Zagreb Festival Award for outstanding achievement in the field of animation studies. Giannalberto travels extensively promoting the art of animation and interviewing animation legends, preserving our history. His book, Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Animation Cinema, is a keystone of animation literature. "While I am very, very flattered, I want to emphasize that I did not get this award, we got this award. This is the first time that documenting animation and its history is being recognized and that's what is most important," explains Mr. Bendazzi humbly. Over the coming years more historians like John Canemaker, Pierre Lambert, Bruno Edera, William Moritz, Michael Barrier and others might be in the running. "This will encourage a new generation, which is very important to me," continues Bendazzi.
Screenings of Japanese animation throughout its history, Norwegian animation, and animation from Bosnia and Herzegovina will all be featured. Chris Robinson will be taking a new twist on Canadian animation and screen, "Canadian Films Beyond the Board." As Robinson explains, "'Beyond The Board' turns the spotlight on the many talented independent animators (Stephen Woloshen, Rick Raxlen, Gail Noonan) and commercial studios (Spumco, Nelvana, Cuppa Coffee) in Canada that are producing a variety of innovative and provocative work that shows that Canadian animation is much more than the NFB." Piotr Dumala and Victor Bergdahl will be treated to retrospectives as will Paul Driessen.
In fact, Paul Driessen will be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for Zagreb 2002. Following a premiere of a new documentary Paul Driessen Inside Out and a new book entitled, Paul Driessen: Images and Reflections, at Annecy, the prolific and renowned director is certainly getting his long due recognition. Paul Driessen: Images and Reflections was published by the International Animated Film Centre and the Holland Animation Film Festival. With more awareness sure to be garnered at Zagreb, it is nice to see a number of animation festivals working together to promote an animation master and his work. With so many festivals these days, such cross-over promotions not only ensure that more people are exposed to an artist and his/her work, but also affords multiple-festival goers the chance to gain a greater depth of awareness.
Zagreb is also hosting a workshop on Flash animation as the culmination of a much larger Flash project. Grouping together an international team from Canada, Scotland, Germany, France, the U.S., Russia, Australia and Denmark, the group met over the Internet to create animated interactive stories, games and cartoons inspired by Croatian fairy tales drawn from a book by Ivana Brlic Mazuranic. In Zagreb the eight artists will meet for the first time to present their work and host the workshop.
Celebrating its 30th anniversary the festival is also inviting artists to send in "birthday cards." The illustrated cartoons will be published in the daily festival news. "Cards" can be mailed or emailed (email@example.com). We have included here three of the cards already received.
While we will all wait to see which films are selected as tops, the week's true winner may be the festival and its atmosphere. Promising an intimate atmosphere where filmmakers and guests are treated with great hospitality, Zagreb offers a place where people can mingle, relax, watch films and discuss. "I have found that I seem to enjoy the smaller European festivals, such as Holland or Fantoche, so I am eager to find out where Zagreb falls in the festival continuum. Some people have told me that Zagreb is fairly representative of what the European animation festivals were like back in the '60s and '70s," Linda Simensky says. While bridging the gap over tumultuous times, Zagreb has moved forward but also managed to keep its unique spirit. "The audiences are great and the festival has a definite Eastern European flavor about it," Bill Plympton recalls. Like everyone heading for Zagreb, I too am looking forward to experiencing the festival, especially on such a special year.
Heather Kenyon is editor in chief of Animation World Network.