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Binocular Briefs - Spotlight on Animafest Zagreb

The May 2024 survey of under-the-radar animated shorts currently travelling the festival circuit or new to online viewing takes a special look at five films to keep an eye on at animation’s second oldest festival.

In this month’s special edition of Binocular Briefswe look at some highlights from this year’s main competition and other programs at animation’s second oldest festival, Animafest Zagreb,  which takes place from June 3-8 in Zagreb, Croatia.

Drizzle in Johnson, Ivan Li (Canada, 2023)

From the guy who created an epic ode to wanking (Finding Utopia, 2019), along with the bizarro Dionysian orgy for fruits and veggies (Fruit, 2020), comes another oddball wonder that’s sure to divide audiences.

I’ll be honest. I’ve no clue what’s going on in this mystifying sci-fi horror noir that feels like a messy love child of David Lynch, ROSTO, William S. Burroughs, and your mother. There’s a sort of Samuel Beckett-looking scientist/prof type guy (who has a handful of ape-like assistants) who finds some device that leads him to a club, another self, slithery creatures in a suitcase, murder, mind trips, waffles, and, naturally, penises falling from the sky (who said Canadians were boring?).

Some will want to see Drizzle in Johnson multiple times to try to decipher the craziness, while others will cower in horror in the waiting room of their therapist.

Either way, you’ll remember this unsettling work.

Butterfly, Sunčana Brkulj (Croatia, Denmark, 2024)

“Everything affects everything!” yells a guy on the street. Startled by the man’s scream, a woman is heisted from her thoughts and inadvertently walks onto the road, unaware of the speeding car approaching. The car stops and swerves out of the way just in time, but it hits a squirrel.

“See! What did I tell you!” says the man.

I shrug and continue towards my office to write this piece.

A deliciously chill single shot kaleidoscopic tale about an assortment of creatures cohabitating in a garden. They also share water from a giant fountain so that they perform their daily tasks. One day, a butterfly clogged their water fountain, disrupting life as they knew it.  The creatures initially panic. Can they adapt and find a new way to do things?

A Very Twisted Tale, Catherine Buffat, Jean-Luc Gréco (France, 2024)

The acclaimed French duo, Jean-Luc Greco and Catherine Buffat, have been making films since they first met at the Folimage studio in the 1990s. Since creating their first work, Keeping Mum (1998), they’ve made a number of original works that use cut-out and puppet animation techniques to tell an assortment of engaging and mysterious stories.

A Very Twisted Tale, their first film in eight years, features their distinctive graphic and storytelling style. Brindone and his older brother, Musclor, share a room in their aunt’s home. Every night, the thoughtless Musclor disrupts Brindone’s sleep by turning lights on, puking, and singing. Finally, Brindone decides it’s enough. With the help of his friend, Tamilclou, he’s determined to get in shape and put an end to Musclor’s nightly abuse.

Things get a bit, um, twisted from there in this odd Kafkaesque piece of nightmarish absurdity.

Žarko, You Will Spoil the Child!, Veljko & Milivoj Popović (Croatia, France, 2024)

Young Tisja lived in Split, Croatia (then Yugoslavia), with her parents and grandparents in the 1980s. Using a combination of archival photos and drawings, she unlocks a handful of memories that reveal a deep love for her grandparents. On one hand, the tales are charming and universal enough to resonate with many, but what elevates the film beyond being too easy on the emotions is the peek we get at life during Tito’s Yugoslavia.

The film is based on the book U malu je uša đava by Tisja Kljaković Braić, who co-wrote the script with Veljko Popović. “The book tells the story of a time in which Tisja grew up,” says Popović. “What people might not know is that there is only a 5-day difference between me and my twin brother, Milivoj, exiting the maternity ward and her mother giving birth to Tisja. We might have even crossed paths in that Split hospital on June 30, 1979. The 1980s were a time of shared experiences. We all had the same furniture; our father's cars were all the same, each manufactured by our countrymen. We all shared a collective childhood. Tisja captured the spirit and emotions of that time, a time that is forever lost, left on the banks of the river of progress.”

Phil Mulloy - Lifetime Achievement Award

This year, Animafest Zagreb is presenting a Lifetime Achievement award to the masterly work of Phil Mulloy. It’s a long overdue tip of the cap to one of animation’s most unappreciated masters. Mulloy’s raw, punk-inspired films are drawn with thick, bold black lines featuring stick figure characters with black skulls, white eyes and something that resembles a flaccid penis for a nose. His tales drip with cynicism and sarcasm as they explore the world’s social, political, and religious inconsistencies and their repressive and often cruel effects on human nature.

There’s never a bad time to seek out Mulloy’s cynical and sarcastic wonders, but given the state of society today, this is definitely a right time to visit his unrestrained attacks on the many hypocritical aspects of society.

You can learn more about this year’s Animafest Zagreb lineup here.

Chris Robinson's picture

A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.