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