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Review: 18th KROK International Festival of Animation

In Ukrainian, KROK means “step”, but to animators, KROK means watching animation, making music, dancing and meeting friends, both old and new. For me KROK is summer camp for animators and the best ten days of my life every year.

By Nancy Phelps

In Ukrainian, KROK means “step”, but to animators, KROK means watching animation, making music, dancing and meeting friends, both old and new.  For me KROK is summer camp for animators and the best ten days of my life every year.

Mr KROK enjoying the morning sunMr KROK enjoying the morning sun And Nancy is there to cheer him on with her morning teaAnd Nancy is there to cheer him on with her morning tea

The festival is unique.  Each year an international group of animators boards a multi-decked river cruiser and spends 10 days sailing together.  Every other year, the festival location alternates between the Ukraine, which programs professional films (third film and later), and Russia where the films are student works. This year we sailed down the Dnepr River and across the Black Sea on the ship Princesa Dnepr from Kiev to Odessa in the Ukraine.

Setting sail to music by Mikhail Tumelya and NikSetting sail to music by Mikhail Tumelya and Nik

With 12 competition programs, workshops, retrospectives, and daily chats with the directors, there is plenty of film activity.  It is an opportunity to watch films from countries that are not represented at most other festivals.  This year films from Uzbekistan, Belarus, and Equatorial Guinea were among the 37 countries represented along with a wide selection of Ukrainian and Russian animation.

The festival got off to a great start with the opening ceremony and screening of the first competition program at Dom Kino in Kiev.  The Kino has a beautiful theatre and is also where the Ukrainian arm of KROK has its offices.  The ceremony and screening was followed by a delicious celebration dinner on the boat.

The Films

One of my favorite films at the festival was Papercutting by Belarus animator Mikhail Tumelya.  Based on a traditional fairy tale about a young man looking for a wife, the film was created using beautiful three dimensional paper cut designs created by the famous Belarus paper artist Vyacheslav Dubinka.  Mikhail combined his animation with Vyacheslav’s intricate vytsinankas.  Vytsinanka is the Western Belarus, Ukrainian and Polish word for both the process of cutting  paper lace art and the handmade patterns themselves.   In Eastern Belarus the word is vyrazanka.

The film opens with footage of Dubinka in the 1970’s when he first began “cutting stories” as he called his art.  These scenes are especially touching because he passed away last August right after the completion of the film.

Mikhail Tumelya with papercuttingMikhail Tumelya with papercutting

The Black Dog’s Progress is a very disturbing but powerful film.  British animator Stephen Irwin uses a series of small mosaic pictures, much like a flipbook, to tell the very sad story of a dog that is tossed out of his home onto the street by his owner.  As I watched the beautifully constructed film I couldn’t help thinking about the thousands of dogs worldwide who suffer the same fate.

The jury must have been equally moved because they awarded the film a diploma in the “films up to 5 minutes” category.  The Black Dog’s Progress was commissioned for BBC Channel 4’s Animate TV series in conjunction with Arts Council England.

The film that made the deepest impression on me was Keha Malu (Body Memory).  Estonian director Ulo Pikkov describes his film by saying “Our body remembers more than we can expect to imagine, our body remembers also the pain of the predecessors.  But how far back is it possible for your body to remember?”

Ulo used very few elements to build a strong, touching, and intelligent story. Puppets made of string represent unraveling persistent memories and our attempt to forget them.  Shot with a stark tonal palette, the animation makes a very strong visual impression.  Body Memory was produced by Tallinn based Nukufilm, renowned for their puppet animation.

Each morning “Coffee Break with the Directors” offered an opportunity to hear the animators talk about their films and ask them questions ourselves.  I always find these sessions  interesting because they give behind the scenes insights into a film and the directors motivation.

The Jury

This year’s International Competition Jury was a very impressive group.  French animator and director Henri Heidsieck founded the PHAR 3 workshop in Reims and is currently animating at La Fabrique in St. Laurent le Minier.

Andrey Kurkov is a Ukrainian writer and scriptwriter who can claim among his many achievements serving as a member of the jury for the International Booker Prize.  He is also a member of the European Film Academy where he is a frequent juror for the European Film Academy Award, the Felix.

Russian born Svyatoslav (Slava) Ushakov is a multi talented director, artist, scriptwriter and cartoonist.  He won the Jim Henson Prize at the 4th InternationAnimation Celebration, Los Angeles for his work as principal artist/animator on The Hunter.  He worked on Mike, Ly, & Olga which is running on Cartoon Network and is currently at Klasky Csupo Animation Studio in Los Angeles.

Joana Toste needs no introduction to animation fans because she is one of Portugal’s leading animators.  Her films Sailor Dogs and Chicken Stew are two of my favorite films.  They both show Joana’s keen wit which overlays a very serious undercurrent.

The 5th member of the Jury, Argentinean animator Juan Pablo Zaramella, won both the audience and Fipresco Awards at Annecy 2011 for Luminaris.  The film is currently touring with the Best of Annecy 2011 program.  His very humorous film Lapsus also won numerous awards worldwide.

The jury starred in a very funny video filmed by Juan Pablo which explains, according to them, “the complex process of the jury coming to a final decision”.  The film was screened on closing night and you can watch it at

If you have ever wondered how a jury makes it decisions or sat on a jury you’re in for a hearty laugh.  When they weren’t hard at work on their video, jury members presented a retrospective of their work.


Three retrospectives were devoted to Ukrainian and Russian animators and studios.  I am sorry to say that I was not familiar with Ukrainian director Iryna Gurvich.  It was a real treat for me to see five of her films in a program titled An Iron Lady of Ukrainian Animation in celebration of her 100th Anniversary.  Gurvich’s 1972 film How Wives Were Selling Their Husbands, based on humorous Ukrainian folk tales, became a trademark of Ukrainian animation.

The 75th anniversary of the renowned Soviet Animation Studio Sojuzmultfilm was celebrated with a screening of their most beloved films.  Sojuzmultifilm was home to such important names in animation as Yuri Norstein and Edward Nazarov.  Both Norstein’s Hedgehog in the Fog and There Once Was a Dog by Nazarov were among the 11 films shown in the A Rendezvous with the Famous Characters tribute.

I was particularly pleased to watch a program devoted to the Soviet director/animator Roman Kachanova.  Unfortunately his name is unknown to many in the West but in the former Eastern bloc his work is revered.  My friend Natalia Lukinykh, noted Russian documentary maker and film critic, showed his film The Mitten several years ago as part of a program of her favorite childhood films.  I was immediately captivated by the lovely puppet animation and it is also a favorite film of mine also.

The Mitten tells the story of a little girl who wants a dog but her mother won’t allow her to have one.  Her mitten magically comes to life as a puppy in this charming film.  Kachanova made The Mitten in 1967 and it is just as fresh and delightful as when it first charmed Soviet audiences.   He also made many popular animations about Cheburashka and Gena the Crocodile which became symbols of Sojuzmultifilm and Soviet Animation.

Masterclass with MAX HOWARD

Producer Max Howard presented a two part master class on “Creating an Effective Story and How to Pitch It” which was full of good common sense information and handy tips.  Max certainly knows what he is talking about since he created and/or ran studios for Disney in London, Paris, Orlando, and Los Angeles.  He worked on some of Disney’s most memorable films including Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.  He has also served as president of Warner Brothers Feature Animation and is currently producing a series of animated features for Exodus Film Group.

The Social Scene

Despite all of the film we watched there was still plenty of time on board The Princess Dnepr for singing, dancing, making music, and of course drinking.  Nik and Belarus balalaika player Mikhail Tumelya have played together for many years at KROK calling themselves The International Brotherhood of Riverside Ramblers.  A good many talented animators also play an instrument and are always welcome to join the Ramblers on deck late at night to play traditional Russian songs and such perennial American favorites as Oh, Susannah.  If it is cold you can always count on finding the musicians in the bar or in the lounges at the rear of the ship.

Yuri Norstein being entranced by the magical music of The Riverside Ramblers (L-R Igor Volchek, Mikhail Tumelya and Nik Phelps)

Yuri Norstein being entranced by the magical music of The Riverside Ramblers (L-R Igor Volchek, Mikhail Tumelya and Nik Phelps)

This year we were fortunate enough to have five lovely ladies who perform under the name of Zvuchi Dochi (Daughters of Sound) sailing with us. Based in Kiev they sing Eastern European folk songs dressed in colorful traditional outfits. (The Bay Area group Kitka is one of their big influences.)  Their melodic voices added a great deal to our evenings of entertainment.  At one of our stops at the city of Zaporozhye they performed on shore  accompanied by Nik at the House of Culture where children participate in after school arts and music extra curricular activities.

Zvuchi Dochi and Nik at the school program with director Mikhail Aldashin helping lead the programZvuchi Dochi and Nik at the school program with director Mikhail Aldashin helping lead the program

photo by Irina Sergeeva

Re-Animation evenings (there were several this year) gave everyone a chance to show off their talents in storytelling, song or dance but the Big Kahuna event every year is Carnival night, where everyone performs at their very best.  For days before the Big Event groups of people are can be found all over the ship busy writing scripts, rehearsing their songs and making props.  Every time we docked groups of people went running off to scour the open air market for things that could be turned into costumes or props.  Bed spreads and sheets took on a whole new life.

Festival co-president David Cherkassky and Yuri Norstein reenacting Hedgehog in the FogFestival co-president David Cherkassky and Yuri Norstein reenacting Hedgehog in the Fog

photo by Irina Sergeeva

On the big night there is an august panel of judges who scrutinize each performance with an eagle eye before retiring to deliberate and then award the fabulous prizes.  This year they were precious prizes indeed.  Talented artist and designer Marina Kurchevskaya created beautiful handmade dolls which she pinned to a lovely handmade robe.  Each winning team was allowed to select a doll when they were called to the stage.  I am very proud to say that one of the lovely dolls was awarded to Nik for his performances (he not only sang a song but played music with several groups).  His special treasure has a place of pride in our home.

The lovely Carnival PrizesThe lovely Carnival Prizes

The biggest thrill of the whole trip was when I was invited to accompany the jurors and some of the children up to the top deck to the captain’s domain.  Not only did I get an opportunity to “pilot” the boat the the captain explained the navigation charts and radar that get us safely down the river.  I saw the river from the best vantage point there is.  With my love of boats and water it was a thrill that I will never forget and I cannot thank the KTOK staff enough for giving me this special opportunity.

Nancy commanding the shipNancy commanding the ship

photo by Irina Sergeeva

Whenever we docked there was always the opportunity to explore the town.  Historic Sebastopol is a favorite city or Nik’s and mine.  It is the Ukraine’s second largest port and former home of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet.  During that time the city was closed even to Russian citizens.  Now it is home to a Ukrainian Navel Base as well as a popular holiday destination.

At the Western End of the city are well preserved remains of the ancient Greek port city of Khersones which was founded in the fifth century and is now a National Preserve.   The name means “peninsula” in Greek.  Nik and I always take a bus out to visit the fascinating ruins on the bluff above the Black Sea.  Below the ruins is a rocky beach where we always take a dip in the Sea.


This year the closing night ceremony was held at the Cinema Moscow in Sebastopol.  We were greeted on the theatre steps by a group of local folk musicians and vocalists as we waited enter the theatre.   The evening began with a performance from Zvuchi Dochi.  Next there was a screening of the very funny films  made on board ship by our young animators.  Traditionally director Igor Kozijanchik documents our entire cruise and his film was also screened.  The jury’s decisions were revealed and the trophies -treasured KROK bells were awarded to the winners.  The jury results are all listed at the end of this article.   After the ceremony we returned to our ship for another sumptuous banquet.  That evening, after two lovely days in Sebastopol , we set sail across the Black Sea to Odessa.

A table full of KROK awardsA table full of KROK awards

I always have mixed feeling when we sail into Odessa harbor and are greeted by the majestic Odessa Steps made famous by Eisenstein in Battle Ship Potemkin.  The sad part about reaching Odessa is that it means the end of another KROK adventure.  The good part is Odessa.It is a beautiful city that reminds me of New Orleans with its wrought iron balconies dripping with bougainvillea.  It has one of the biggest and best public markets where I always find rare treasures such as hand spun and knitted wool socks.  Stall after stall of shoes are enough to gladden any woman’s heart and I never fail to bring home a pair.  The city is home to an excellent Mexican restaurant with tasty chips and salsa, burritos, and goat enchiladas.  The sad part about reaching Odessa is that it means the end of another KROK adventure.

At the Mexican cafeAt the Mexican cafe

At the entrance at the Kiev club

At the entrance at the Kiev club

KROK is about so many things:  children drawing on the top deck and creating their own animation, dogs running down the halls, film and fun but first and foremost it is about friendship.  We are all together 24 hours a day on board ship so you make friends that you will always share a special bond with.  As we take our final trip together on the KROK bus from Odessa back to Kiev I always remember that it is only 51 weeks until we sail again.

Back in Kiev on Monday night, our friend Igor Kozijanchuk arranged for Nik to play at a jazz club with Kiev jazz musicians, some  of whom are professors at the Music Academy with a few of their students.  It felt like we were back on the boat when lots of KROK friends showed up to share the evening of music with us.

One sad note was the absence this year of the venerable Russian KROK festival co-director and animator Edward Nazarov who did not sail with us due to illness.  He was very missed by all of us.  We all send him our get well wishes and hope that he will be with us again next year when the festival will be in Russia.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Be sure to watch Kiev videographer and film maker Igor Kozijanchuk’s video that records our 10 day adventure.  It was screened at the closing night ceremony and you can experience it at:

Igor’s video says it all better than I ever will be able to put KROK into words.

You can find out more about KROK and rules for submitting your film on the KROK website:  You can also watch the delightful film made by the young animators onboard which was also screened at the closing night ceremony.

Until next year, KROK ON . . .

Greetings from two happy KROK campers

Greetings from two happy KROK campers

Photo by Igor Kozijanchuk


Of the 18th International Animated Film Festival ‘KROK’

September, 29th, 2011                                                                                        Sebastopol

The International Jury Committee consisting of

Henri Heidsieck (France) – The Head of the Jury Committee

Juan Pablo Zaramella (Argentina)

Andrey Kurkov (Ukraine)

Joana Toste (Portugal)

Svyatoslav Ushakov (Russia)


In the category “Films up to 5 minutes”:

- Diploma “For treatment of animation as one’s beloved pet” to a film “The Black Dog’s Progress”, director Stephen Irwin (Great Britain);

- Prize in the category – to a film “Rubika”, directors Claire Bauean, Ludovic Habas and others (France).

In the category “Films of 5 – 10 minutes”:

- Diploma “For plastic dynamic” to a film “Love & Theft”, director Andreas Hykade (Germany);

- Prize in the category – to a film “Nullarbor”, directors Alister Lockhart, Patrick Sarell (Australia).

In the category “Films of 10 – 50 minutes”:

- Diploma “For gentle touch of a difficult topic of human fate” to a film “Sweetheart”, director Ekaterina Sokolova (Russia);

- Diploma for “High emotional strain” to a film “Angry Man”, director Anita Killi (Norway);

- Diploma “For the most serious film” to a film “Lipsett Diaries”, director Theodore Ushev (Canada);

- Prize in the category – to a film “The External World”, director David OReilly (Germany). 

In the category “Films for Children”:

- Diploma “For fantastic charms” to a film “Berry Pie”, director Elena Chernova (Russia);

- Diploma “For creation of a story with nonintrusive moral” to a film “Princess’ Painting”, directors Johannes Weiland, Klaus Morschheuser (Germany);

- Prize in the category and 5000$ - to a film “Dodu – the Cardboard Boy”, director Jose Miguel Ribeiro (Portugal). 

In the category “Applied and commissioned animation”:

- Diploma for “Effective minimalism” to films “Usha Sewing Machine” and “Save our Tiger – Game”, director Eriyat Suresh (India);

- Diploma “for the genuine sense of humour” to TV – series “LOG JAM”, director Alexey Alekseev (Hungary);

- Prize in the category – to TV series “Floyd the Android”, director Jonathan Lyons (USA).

- Special jury prize “For unsinkable sense of humour” to a film “Tides To and Fro”, director Ivan Maximov (Russia);

- Special jury prize “For graphic solution” to a film “The Crossing”, director Elise Simard (Canada);

- Special jury prize “For the First Professional Film” and 5000$ to a film “Dripped”, director Leo Verrier (France);

- Special Alexander Tatarskiy prize “The Plasticine Crow” – “Virtuoso Pilot” and 7000$ to a film “After”, director Inga Korzhneva (Russia).  

- Grand Prix and 10 000$ to a film “Divers in the Rain”, directors Priit Parn and Olga Parn (Estonia).