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A Closer Look: Zagreb's Studio gets into Distribution

For the first time, Zagreb studio's library was offered for international

distribution at NATPE a year ago. The library offered all of Zagreb's

award-winning short films, including the works of such masters as Zlatko

Grgic ("Devil's Work") and Dusan Vukotic (his short "Ersatz" was the first

non-U.S. animated film to receive an Academy Award). Since then, Rembrandt

Films and Image Entertainment have released on video five hours of

animation from Zagreb Film. This is just another distribution deal, and

yet, it is also a historical event.

In four decades Zagreb Film produced 600 animated films that won more than

400 international awards. The studio quickly became famous for a unique

animation style that became known as the Zagreb school. One of the studio's

pioneering distinctions was that its filmmakers wrote, designed and

directed their own films, resulting in boldly entertaining cartoons unified

in design, tone and message. They were also known by their new, reduced

style of animation and, in a time of Disney domination, that was accepted

as a revolutionary step. The Communist era represented a golden era in

animation. Animation provided a rare creative outlet for hundreds of

artists. The government subsidized them and they could produce what they

liked -- just as long as it didn't get political. The transformation to

capitalism was painful. Suddenly these vast studios were left to fend for

themselves in the international marketplace. They were free of government

censorship, but also of government subsidy. Where once they could be

content on producing art and children's films for government-owned

television stations, now these same stations were being privatized and

turning to slick Western animated fare for high ratings.

One way these studios have tried to generate revenue is by licensing their

massive archives, much of which have never been exploited outside the

Eastern Block. These efforts have met with varying degrees of success. One

problem is the investment it takes to catalog and make quality video

transfers of all the films. Rights clearances are also a challenge, since

during the Communist era some films were licensed to long term contracts.

Zagreb studio has had greater success than others in getting their library

films distributed. Another successful studio in this regard has been

Moscow's Soyuzmultfilm, which in 1992 licensed much of its 1200-film

library to the California-based company, Films by Jove. Jove has

subsequently spent more than US$3 million to restore the prints digitally.

Films by Jove has also footed the large legal bills required to defend the

library successfully from the piracy of Sovexportfilm, which in

pre-Perestroika times exercised the state's monopoly on foreign trade.

These distribution deals with Eastern European studios allowed the world to

see rare and wonderful cartoons, while revealing a hidden chapter of their

history to us.

Read more about Zagreb Film and other European Animation Studios in the

December 1999 issue of Animation World Magazine. In

"Legendary

Eastern European Animation Studios Struggle to Survive," Adam Snyder reports on the

survival techniques of these studios shifting from a communist to

capitalist market system.

In our October 1998 issue, Rada Sesic explains why, in the shadow of

Zagreb, animation in Bosnia and Herzegovina never truly developed until

soon before the war...only to be abruptly halted:

"Animation

in Bosnia And Herzegovina: A Start and an Abrupt Stop."

The

Best Of Zagreb Film collection is now available for sale in the

Animation World Store, with five one-hour volumes in a 5-tape collection.

Films

By Jove's collection of Russia's most important animated short films

is also available for sale in the Animation World Store, with seven

individual tapes, or in 3- or 7-tape packages.

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