The Magical Junk-Filled World of Jiří Barta
Watching Jiří Barta’s stop-motion masterpiece, Toys in the Attic, makes you realize that no amount of movie making budget can substitute for the power of a talented visionary with a clever story, a dedicated crew, a camera and an attic full of dusty old rubbish. Barta’s film boasts neither sophisticated armatures nor 3D color printers, but rather, brilliant designs, rich characters and sets built from the oddest and most enchanting collection of household junk you’ve ever seen. Sometimes silly, sometimes creepy, but always interesting to watch, Toys in the Attic is a welcome reminder of the inherent visual storytelling power of stop-motion animation.
Originally completed in 2009, the film was licensed by Paris-based Eurocine Films in 2010. The English adaptation, written, casted and directed by Vivian Schilling, boasts a voice cast including Forest Whitaker, Joan Cusack and Cary Elwes. Toys in the Attic marks Barta’s first U.S. theatrical release and the reviews have been extremely positive. The director recently talked with us about the inherent challenges of making animated films with lavish design and meager budget in the post-Soviet Czech Republic.
Dan Sarto: What was life like as an animator in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia?
Jiří Barta: Although our country was under Soviet influence and pressure for 40 years, the amount of Czechoslovakian animated film production was quite huge, about 250 projects every year. A large portion of that production was children’s programming distributed for TV, while a smaller share of production was focused on individual projects such as animated shorts, which were shown in cinemas before a feature film or at film festivals.
Along with my colleagues, who were also directors, designers and animators, I primarily made short films when presented with an opportunity to produce my own stories. The censorship of Czechoslovakian film production was stronger with live action feature films than with animation, so my colleagues and I had a better chance to put our ideas into an art style that embraced our metaphors, symbols and hidden meanings. I know many of my colleagues elsewhere in Eastern Europe followed the same path into the field of animation. We took a big chance, and faced big challenges, finding a small amount of creative freedom within the big labyrinth of the government regime.
DS: What was the genesis of Toys in the Attic? What drew you to this story? Why choose this story over any others you may have been developing?
JB: I always have a few topics or scripts in my drawer which are waiting for a good and rich producer. Toys in the Attic originally was called Whose Birthday is it Today? It was one of my sleeping projects which I wrote many years ago with my colleague, screenwriter Edgar Dutka. I remember we were tired and frustrated from never-ending problems with my unfinished Golem so we decided to do something new, something light and joyful which would be more acceptable for producers and a children’s audience.