By Nancy Phelps
I had never visited Belgrade before and Rastko was the perfect tour guide showing me the sights as we ran the last minute festival errands. I had time for leisurely walks and, of course, Rastko took me to charming restaurants for delicious meals.
Belgrade is a beautiful, historic city and The Main Powder Magazine of the historic Belgrade Fortress was a perfect site for the premier edition of The Festival of European Student Animation 2012 (AESA ’12). Located atop a hill overlooking the juncture of the Sava and Danube rivers, the fortress was built as a defensive structure between the 2nd and 18th Centuries, and is now the Belgrade History Museum. The main powder magazine where the festival was held was built between 1718 and 1721 during the large reconstruction of the fortress undertaken by the Austrians who occupied the territory at that time. The building was a huge technical achievement consisting of two halls with nine pillars each cut into the rock and an entrance passage with massive exterior walls. Although the temperature outside was very hot we were advised to bring a sweater because the interior of the fortress was extremely chilly.
Devoted solely to student work, the festival is the brainchild of well known animator, illustrator, and renaissance man Rastko Ćirić in conjunction with Vuk Maksimovic, master wood carver and furniture maker, who is the representative of the Fortress for this project. It also received support from the Serbian Ministry of Culture.
The festival theme was Ritual, which was in keeping with the current exhibit at the Powder Magazine of sarcophagi from the Roman period and votive monuments dedicated to Roman deities that were unearthed in the city center.
The festival logo, designed by Rastko, was a little red man reminiscent of folk carpet designs, which reflected the theme of ritual in motion. Instead of one precisely designed graphic image, the logo had eight variations of one shape representing the eight phases of a stylized figure producing the illusion of movement.
The 32 films from 7 European countries in the Student Competition represented a wide array of stories and styles. The selection committee was comprised of Serbian animation director Stevica Zivkov, Vuk Maksimovic, and Rastko Ćirić.
My favorite film, Bear Me by German animator Kasia Wilk uses bold black outlines on a brown wash background to tell the story of a girl who finds a bear one day… or did it find her? The bear stays and becomes her constant companion. The film is beautifully designed and tells a good story full of humor. Bear Me was awarded the first prize for the best student film.
Brumlik & Animuk was selected for the Best Children’s Film Award. Czech student Jan Bohuslav’s delightful hand drawn film follows the adventures of Brumlik the polar bear and his best friend Animuk, an Inuit girl. Set in Greenland, the white snow and blues of the ocean and sky are perfect backgrounds for the story of the two friends who help a lost seal get back to the water.
I have seen Last Lunch several times and I still enjoy this quirky tale of a hungry gentleman who orders a meal in a fancy restaurant. Slovenian student Miha Subic’s 3-minute film has a humorously ominous surprise ending that I don’t want to give away.
This year the biannual Danube Festival is celebrating the 300th anniversary of the first immigrants who sailed down the Danube to settle in Romania, Southern Hungary, and Serbia. In keeping with the theme of the festival, the awards jury reflected the Danube River celebration with professionals selected from 3 of the 4 countries whose capitols are located on the river.
The jury was comprised of Jozsef Fulop, professor and Head of the Animation Department at the Moholy Nagy Institute for Art and Design (MOME) in Budapest, Karoline Riha, assistant Professor at the Vienna School of Fine Art, and Rastko Ćirić who is Professor of Illustration and Animation at the Faculty of Applied Arts and the University of Arts in Belgrade.
Professor Fulop introduced us to the animation program at Moholy Nagy University. He also screened 17 films made by past and present students which demonstrated why they win numerous awards at festivals world wide. I had already seen most of the films before, but I was happy to watch such lovely work as Orsolya and I am Simon. Bella Szederkenyi’s tale of Orsolya who wakes up one morning to discover a strange change in her body which literally turns her world up side down reminds us that our lives can be completely changed overnight.
The script of Tunde Molnar’s I Am Simon touches me when I watch it. This tale of life through Simon the Dog’s eyes is not the most inspiring animation but I always get lost in a story that will leave every dog lover a bit teary eyed.
It was a great pleasure to get to know Caroline Riha and Peter Musek (known as Muzak) from the Fine Art School in Vienna. The pair presented their Children’s Avant-Garde Animation in Austria and screened films made by the young participants.The workshop is part of an on going program that Caroline, Muzak, and Professor Thomas Renoldner conduct for children of all ages in cooperation with a variety of international fine artists, filmmakers, and contemporary musicians.
The films ranged from avant-garde to experimental and narrative. Bearing in mind that the films were all made in one day by very young first time animators, it was an interesting collection of work. I was particularly impressed when Muzak told me that the participating professionals, including the musicians who create the sound tracks, are all paid for their work.
The highlight of the program from the Belgrade Animation School was Monuments by Iva Ćirić. The striking black and white film with bold red accents is an homage to Iva’s grandfather (and Rastko’s father) Professor Milos Ćirić (1931-1999). Milos was one of the foremost Yugoslav designers and heraldry experts. His woodcuts which were inspired by the texts of Serbian poets about the suffering during World War II were beautifully brought to life in Iva’s 3’45” animation.
Natasa Teofilovic’s contemporary computer installation S.H.E./Interface Character 0.5 was a stark contrast to the ancient walls of the Powder Magazine. Using 5 connected and synchronized computers, Natasa integrated white virtual space with 3D actresses who explore their own identity as they move from one monitor to another creating the perception that they also pass through the real spaces between the monitors making the virtual and real space overlap in our minds.
The 2-day event ended with the presentation of awards to the winning students. The special plaques displaying a scene from the winning film were designed by Rastko Ćirić using a process called Lenticular, which made the images seem to move when turned from side to side. A complete list of all of the winners is at the end of the article.
Of course my visit to Belgrade was not all about watching animation. Since I arrived two days before the festival started and was staying with Rastko, the perfect host, I got to see a great deal of the city, taking some long leisurely walks while Rastko finished last minute festival details. There was always time for exceptionally delicious meals and late night talks.
The rest of the festival guests stayed at a floating hotel on the Danube which had stunning views of the Fortress and Old Town on the opposite shores. We were all treated to sumptuous dinners at unique restaurants which served a selection of masses of extremely tasty roasted meats.
My favorite meal was at The ?, said to be the oldest restaurant in Belgrade. The name came about because of a dispute between the owner and the non-drinking clergy of the Orthodox Church who thought that the name Cathedral Tavern was disrespectful. The owner took so long to decide upon a new name that the sign painter got disgusted and painted a large ? on the sign and that name stuck. Inside it is an original Balkan tavern with photos of old Belgrade on the dark wood paneled walls and a tree shaded dining patio. The large platters of beef, pork, and sausages were served family style and tasted as if mother was in the kitchen cooking.
On Saturday morning before the festival began we received a tour of the university’s graphic arts and animation departments. We were also treated to a private screening of Janitor, a 30 minute animation by Nikola Vulovic. He originally made a shorter version about a school janitor whose rage at the students smoking, drinking, and loud music finally boils over with disastrous consequences as his diploma film, and later finished the ambitious project alone.
On the short walk from the school to the Powder Magazine we walked through the beautiful Kalemegden Park and we were treated to a visit to Vuk Maksimovic’s Studio located within the thick walls of the Stamboul Gate. Vuk is a master wood carver who is keeping the ancient art alive by carving stick hobbyhorses and traditional folk symbols while giving such ordinary items as chairs and lamps a truly modern twist.
Saturday evening after another feast we gathered at Rastko’s home for a party. Rastko entertained us with his guitar and sang from his vast repertoire. After plenty of wine, beer and more food the rest of us began to join in on the familiar songs. The great discovery of the evening was that Jozsef Fulop has a good singing voice and does a very high falsetto.
The first edition of The Festival of European Animation was a great success. I am sure that the festival will continue to grow and become an important connection between European animation schools, professors, and animation students.
Early Monday morning with my head full of beautiful memories and a feeling that I had gained 10 pounds in 4 days, I boarded a plane bound for Changchun, China, on my way to attend the Third Northeastern Asian Culture and Art Week where I was to deliver a paper and attend an ASIFA (Association Internationale de Film d’ Animation) International Board Meeting.
AWARD WINNING FILMS:
FIRST PRIZE (400 Euros) FOR THE BEST STUDENT FILM:
Bear Me – Kasia Wilk, Germany, Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg
SECOND PRIZE (A Professional Computer) FOR BEST ANIMATION TECHNIQUE:
Tinamv 1 – Adnan Popovic, Austria, Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna
CATEGORY A/ FILMS UP TO 5 MINUTES:
I Cyborg – Prokop Wilhelm, Czech Republic, FAMU, Prague
CATEGORY B/ FILMS from 5 TO 30 Minutes:
Zing – Kyra Byschor & Cynthia Collins, Germany, Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg,
CATEGORY C/EXPERIMENTAL FILMS:
S.H.E./INTER.FACE – Natasa Teofilovic, Serbia, University of Arts, Belgrade
CATEGORY D/ADVERTISING OR MUSICAL CLIP;
129 GALLERY – Sabine Redlich, Poland, Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts, Krakow
CATEGORY E/ FILMS FOR CHILDREN:
Brumlik & Animuk, Jan Bohusav, Czech Republic, FAMU, Prague
Nancy Phelps has produced music for animation for the past 16 years. She has written about animation and animation festivals for such publications as Animatoons, Film/Tape World, Reel World and the ASIFA/San Francisco news magazine and is a member of the ASIFA International Board. In 2006, Nancy and her composer/musician husband Nik Phelps moved from San Francisco to Gent, Belgium, where they now have their home. Check out her blog here.