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Z is for Zagreb: The Animafest Zagreb Exhbition 1972-2022

Running through August 28, the special exhibit, taking on entire floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, celebrates the festival’s 50th anniversary with collections of memorabilia and animation art.

As part of Animafest Zagreb’s 50th anniversary celebration, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb is hosting an exhibition honoring the festival’s rich half-century history. One entire floor of the museum is devoted to a collection of festival memorabilia and special exhibitions.

Entering the exhibition, the first thing that you see is a row of monitors with headphones; each monitor is playing a film from the Golden Age of the Zagreb School of Animation, which ran from 1958 to 1980. The studio for animated films was founded in 1956 as part of Zagreb Film.  It was dubbed the Zagreb School by noted French film historian Georges Sadoul and film critic Andre Martin after a legendary screening of seven of the studio’s films at the Cannes Film Festival in 1959.

The Zagreb School of Animation is characterized by films that present modern, everyday life situations, often with stylized, minimalistic line drawing and little or no background art. The original Zagreb animation festivals were organized by Zagreb Film.

Along with the films from the Zagreb school the exhibition the exhibition featured a selection of international classic animation, festival Grand Prix winners, and a selection of Croatian animation. 

It would be very easy to get hung up watching all the films but you don’t want to miss the rest of the exhibition. It is organized in chronological order beginning with the first festival logo, the iconic red, white, and blue Z, which was designed by the renowned animator Borivoj Dovnikjovic -- better known as Bordo. The first festival poster, designed by Zlatko Bourek, is on display along with several other posters created through the years.

Many of the posters feature Mendlek, the man in the bowler hat, who is the festival mascot. Mendlek was designed by Zvonimir Lonimir. There is even a place where you can turn yourself into Mendlek by “donning” the black bowler hat and mustache.

The first festival award, quite large and made of wood, is on display along with original artwork from many of the Zagreb School films. One section of the exhibition features original drawings by festival guests honoring special festival anniversaries and thanking the festival for its wonderful hospitality. One area of the exhibition is devoted to photographs of animators at play at the annual Zagreb picnic. The artwork and photographs brought back so many happy memories of my 20 years of visits to the festival.

In the past few years, exhibitions have become an important part of Animafest. Festival. This year, instead of mounting each one in a separate gallery within the city center, they were incorporated into the Contemporary Art Museum exhibition.

Nedeljko Dragic: The Line Tamer showcases the work of the 2022 Animafest Life Time Achievement Award winner. Nedeljko is one of the most prominent members of the Zagreb School of Animation. As well as an animator, he is an illustrator, comic book author, cartoonist, and graphic designer. His work focuses on everyday life using a wide variety of styles from minimalism to meticulously drawn ambiances to abstract backgrounds.

In a career spanning several decades, his first film was Elegija (Elegy) in 1965. In 1967 he was awarded the Annecy Grand Prix for Krotitelj divljih konja (Tamer of Wild Horses). The 1974 Animafest Grand Prix was awarded to Dragic for Dnevnik (The Diary). His most famous film, Tup, was nominated for an Oscar in 1972.

In his area of the exhibition, we enter his world via storyboards, drawings, cels, awards, and other memorabilia garnered over his long career.

Finnish photographer Timo Viljakainen has created a beautiful book titled Behind the Eyes the World. The book is a collection of photographs of animators with their eyes shut.

Explaining why he believes that when you close your eyes you will see clearer with your mind’s eye, Timo says, “When a person closes their eyes, he breaks the connection with the viewer. He retreats into himself: with his eyes closed, it is easier for him to think, dream, or reminisce. Seeing a photograph of such a person, you wonder what he is thinking about, and you look for the answer in the background. By so doing you turn the picture, which was a portrait, into a story. Eyes closed, but the mind open.”

The pictures in the book are beautiful, but when you see the actual photographs up close, they are even more gorgeous and textured. One gallery at the museum featured many of the original photographs from the book. The photographs below speak louder than anything I can say about Timo’s artistic ability to capture the personality of a person.

In another area of the exhibition, Paul Driessen’s The Origin of Sound film storyboards were mounted. Paul’s 2018 short film is comprised of 22 very short segments. Each one was created by a different animator. The film is made up of a main storyline and a series of short animations. The premise of the film, which Paul wrote and directed, is that the world is created in six days but then the creator realizes that sound is missing. Luckily, he has a large collection of cartoons that contain all sorts of sounds but, of course, most of them are a bit off-color which is not to the liking of the animals he has created and given the sounds to. The 13-minute film is very funny and the storyboards are a real treat to see.

Four years ago, Paola Orlic, Animafest producer and curator, instituted the group exhibition Behind the Scenes. Animators whose films have been selected for the International and Student Competitions are invited to submit up to 5 pieces of artwork from their films. From its inception in 2019 at a small gallery, to this year, it has grown to 47 animators from the Grand Competition and 45 pieces from the Student Competition. This year it was presented as part of the Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition.

The  idea behind the Behind the Scenes exhibition was first conceived by Festival Artistic Director Daniel Suljic to give the general public an idea of how animated films are created and to showcase animated art in a gallery or museum.The wide range of works include paintings, sketches, drawings, prints, and cut-outs as well as set designs, models, studies, and storyboards. Installations and multimedia are also included.

Speaking about her role in the exhibition and Behind the Scenes, which she conceived, Paola Orlic wrote me, “For its special anniversary edition, I had the honor to curate the most elaborate, largest (5 exhibitions!) and the most luxurious exhibition set-up which is presented for the first time in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb as part of the festival’s side events. Guided by the idea of promoting a broader presentational platform of animation that would offer the audience an insight into the background of the artistic process and reveal some of the most interesting ‘making of’ moments in terms of work-in-progress stages that proceeded the completion of the film, the concept of this exhibition project has over the past four festival editions significantly expanded and improved. With this, fourth in a row, Animafest’s group exhibitions of most diverse works of art, expressions, and techniques, we have quite certainly established a continuity of regular animation exhibiting in galleries, with a wish that in the upcoming festival editions we present, analyze, and re-examine animation and its authors, both as legitimate participants in cinema film programs and in the light of contemporary curatorial practices in a truly specific space of a long desired and dreamt Museum of Animation, something that Zagreb – as a city of animation – truly deserves.”

It is Paolo’s and the festival’s hope that a permanent museum dedicated to the art of animation in all of its forms will be established in Zagreb. I for one would love for animators to have a place where their work could be properly displayed and appreciated by the public instead of ending up in the trash bin as so often happens.

Although there are a few museums dedicated to the art of animation, it is a shame that more fine art museums do not recognize animation art as a gallery-worthy art form. Bravo to the Contemporary Art Museum – Zagreb for presenting this extensive exhibition. It would be wonderful if the Animafest Zagreb World Festival of Animated Film could go on tour to other museums around the world. It is a lovely tribute not only to the influential Zagreb School of animation but to the entire world of animation.

Along with Paola Orlic, the other two organizers of the exhibition are Margit Antauer Buba, President of the Animafest Council and Vesna Mestric, Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art – Zagreb. The exhibition was slated to close on the 12th of June but it has proven to be so popular that it has been extended to the 28th of August, so you still have time to visit it.

You can find out more about the museum and the exhibition on their website:

Zagreb is a lovely city with several interesting museums, an extremely large flea market, and lots of delicious restaurants so it is an ideal holiday destination. After you see the animation exhibition you should go to the coast and enjoy a swim in the beautifully clear water.