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10th International Festival of Puppet Theatre and Animated Films for Adults 12 through 20 October Warsaw, Poland

A PUPPET IS A HUMAN TOO - When most people think of puppets they think of films and performances for children, but the International Festival of Puppet Theatre and Animated Films is different.


When most people think of puppets they think of films and performances for children, but the International Festival of Puppet Theatre and Animated Films is different.  When Malgorzata Sady, Artistic Director of the film section invited me to be on the jury of the animated film section I was fascinated as the theme for this year’s event was A Puppet is a Human Too.  Live puppet performances have been the mainstay of the festival for the past 10 years and while prior to this year a few animation programs have been screened, this was the first year there were competition programs with cash awards.

Malgorzata Sady, L, with juriors Alicija Jodko, Nancy and Itamar Daube

With my fellow jurors Alicja Jodko from Poland and Itamar Daube of Israel we watched three competition programs by young film makers.  I was enthralled seeing The Vast Landscape – Porcelain Stories (11 minutes) by Lea Vidakovic from Croatia.  The puppets and sets were beautifully crafted down to the smallest detail.  I really cared about the six characters that live under the same roof but are separated by their personal losses, sadness, and self-destruction and was anxious to find out what would happen to them.

I also liked the story and puppet designs of Russian animator Katia Vedernikova’s Ships of the Past.  The 15’ 40” film chronicles a ship’s captain’s final voyage.  The puppets and sets were beautifully done, but there was a great deal of unnecessary old live action footage.  It was interesting on its own but it interrupted the flow of the captain’s story and was unnecessary.

Social Animals (4’ 30’’) was created by six students from the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest under the supervision of Professor Jozsof Filip.  Over the past few years Jozsof’s students have turned out several well-made, quirky animations and Social Animals certainly falls into that category.  The film addresses the all too prevalent overuse of social media at the most inappropriate times.  The twist of using animals that go about their everyday lives while their minds are focused on their iPads and phones gives a humorous twist to a very serious problem.

Along with the competition programs there were special screenings each evening.   A highlight was the four film program by multitalented South African artist and film maker William Kentridge. The program began with Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City After Paris which is a battle between Soho Eckstein, property developer extraordinaire, and Felix Teitlebaum both of whom wage battles for the hearts and minds of Johannesburg in striking black and white drawings.  Stereoscope’s split screen represents Soho’s divided self with scenes of civil chaos and internal conflict.

My particular favorite was Other Faces which finds Soho Eckstein back in Johannesburg.  Amid Eckstein’s collusions of circumstances and memories references to the street corner civil wars of daily life and the xenophobic violence of recent years in Johannesburg shows the deep conflicts that the city is going through. The evening ended with a documentary about Kentridge’s work, methods of creation, and his philosophy in an interview with Christian Lund.

On another evening award winning films from ANIMATOR 2015 were shown.  ANIMATOR is a renowned international animation festival held yearly in Poznan, Poland.  Along with the competition screenings ANIMATOR presents retrospectives, screenings with live music, workshops, and concerts.  I have had the privilege of being on both the short film and feature juries so I can attest that it is a very exciting festival.

Fellow juror Itamar Daube, head of the Illustration and Animation program in the Department of Visual Communication at Shenkar Collage of Art, Design, and Engineering in Israel gave a Digital Sculpting in 2D Master Class.  Along with insights into how he creates his own work, Itamar showed the audience how designing computerized animated characters influences the techniques he uses to draw editorial caricatures for magazines and newspapers along with other tips for animators who want to try their hand at digital sculpting.

Itamar Daube at his masterclass

I presented a program focusing on the relationship between animation and music.  Beginning with I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles (1929) from Fleischer Studio and ending the hour and a half screening with German animator Andreas Hykade’s brilliant Love and Theft (2012)  which is one of the most perfect pairings of animation and music that I have ever seen.  I also told anecdotes and historical facts about the ten films I screened.

One evening film maker and multimedia artist Grzyegorz Rogala presented an interactive installation in the theatre lobby before the screening.  Marionette gave the audience the opportunity to turn into marionettes by entering an area where a special camera designed by Rogala was located.  People could interact with each other as our silhouettes appeared on a screen which made us appear to have strings attached and our movements controlled by an invisible puppeteer.  We also changed colors and our images could ever appear multiple times on the screen.

Grzegorz Rogula demonstrating his marionette installation

The animation screenings were held in the Kino KC which is the former private screening room where censors watched and mutilated films during the Soviet era.  The building and the screening room were very posh indeed.

I also had the opportunity to see a few of the live puppet performances.  Husan Abed, a solo puppeteer from Palestine, used everyday objects such as empty tin cans and yarn to create puppets that reenact stories from his family life in the Palestine refugee camp where he was raised.  As he told his story he occasionally stirred a pot of food that was cooking on the stove in the room.  At the conclusion of his The Smooth Life performance, each of us in the audience which was limited to 10 members was served a dish of the delicious traditional food he had prepared.

Husan, who splits his time between Amman and Prague, is founder of the Dafa Puppet Theatre in Jordon.  He performs and conducts puppetry and storytelling projects for children in many countries, especially refugee camps and under privileged areas in Jordon.  Husan is also a singer and songwriter and he gave me a CD of his music which is just as haunting as his puppet performance.

Live puppet performances were held in various venues around the city.  Husan’s performance was at the Dom Kultury KADR, a community space which holds performances and workshops for all ages.  They range from children’s theatre, women’s groups, language classes, to live music performances of all types.

Cecylia Jakubczak, Malgorzata Sady’s daughter, is one of the main people responsible for turning the large abandoned building into a multiuse space.  She gave me a tour of the ADA Puławska, which includes a bicycle repair area and rooms for guest performers to stay.  She has every reason to be proud of what she has worked so hard to create.  Cecylia also coordinated the animation screenings at the festival.

The female Russian duo Here and There used a simple set and puppets to bring Silver Hoof, a story by the great Ural writer Bazhov to life.  The story is told by two pilgrims (the puppeteers) who “descend from the Ural Mountains.”  The duo arrived in the theatre on snow shoes. The told the story of Kokovanya who takes in an abandoned baby who becomes his own personal miracle.  

Each year the audience votes for their favorite presentation and the winner is automatically invited to return next year to do any performance that they want.  That honor went to Silver Hoof this year. 

Silver Hoof puppeteers with their set and puppets

The most complex performance that I saw was by the Santo Aleixo Puppeters from Evora, Portugal.  The stage was a typical retábulos constructed with a wood frame with the sets painted on cardboard.  The puppets were made of cork and wood ranging from 20 to 40 centimeters and manipulated from above the stage by strings.   Following the performance the audience was invited backstage to meet the puppets and puppeteers.  I was amazed to see that the stage set was illuminated by old fashioned oil lamps placed behind the set.

Along with her duties as Artistic Director, Malgorzata was also the perfect hostess.  Each day she planned special visits for the jury to museums, a puppet gallery, and the old town.  Our trip to the POLIN Museum of History of Polish Jews left such an impression on me that I am still thinking about it.  The beautiful new museum building designed by the Finnish architects Lahdelma and Mahlamaki doesn’t give a hint about the contents of the museum. Once you enter, the eight galleries take you through 1000 years of the history of Polish Jews from their first arrival to becoming one of the largest Jewish communities in the world with 3.3 million Jews in Poland before the Holocaust.

At the puppet gallery

Exterior of the POLIN Museum

The Medieval Gallery tells the first 600 years of history.  The next room tells the story of daily home life in a small town of the 1600’s to the late 1700’s with a one room family home and a beautifully painted synagogue ceiling.  Following WWI Yiddish culture flourished.  The museum honors this period with a multimedia street where you enter 13 Tiomackie Street in Warsaw which was the headquarters of the Association of Jewish Writers and Journalists.

The platform for the reader's desk and the painted walls and ceiling in the Jewish Townroom

After enjoying the music and culture of the street you suddenly turn a corner and the roar of airplanes and bombs fills the air as the story of the Holocaust begins.  As you walk through a maze of corridors and rooms you experience daily life in the Warsaw ghetto, the mass deportation of Jews, and the death camps.

The final area is devoted to the post war years and the renewal of Jewish culture in Poland.  Any visitor to Warsaw should definitely visit the POLIN Museum.  Be sure to allow a lot of time though.  We were there for over three hours and I felt like I needed more time to absorb everything.  You can learn more about the museum and take a virtual tour at:  www.POLIN.PL

I also had the opportunity to visit the renowned Serafinski Studio where I met Marek Serafinski and his partner Malgorzata Bosek.  Established in 2004 the studio has produced numerous children’s animations as well as works by such well known Polish animators as Marcin Gizycki and and Piotr Dumala.  They also worked with the Quay Brothers on their 2009 film Inventorium of Traces which was shot in Poland at Lancut Castle, the stately home of the Patocki family.

Along with running a production studio Marek is also a noted animator.  His 1989 film Race won the Grand Prix at the Lipsk Festival and a Special Award at Annecy.  I was shown a number of films produced by the studio along with a DVD of Malgorzata Bosek’s animations.  Malgorzata was also a member of the selection committee for the animation at the puppet festival.

It was a very fun packed visit to Warsaw full of animation, puppet performances, and getting to know the beautiful, historic city of Warsaw.  I can’t thank Malgorzata Sady enough for inviting me to be part of this wonderful event.  A big thank you also to Cecylia Jakubczak for being so organized.   She made my duty as a juror easy and enjoyable.  You can learn more about the 10th International Festival of Puppet Theatre and Animated Films for Adults at:

After a short stop back at home I was off to Leipzig, Germany for the Dok Leipzig Festival which I will write about next.

International Jury:

Alicja Jodko – Poland

Itamar Daube – Israel

Nancy Denney-Phelps – Belgium – Jury Foreman


DIPLOMA – Common Room, The Common Room Animation Team, United Kingdom –The jury appreciated the skill    with which 13 animators each took on a segment of the poem Common Room, working on their own sections with complete creative freedom and yet made a film that works as a whole piece rather than 13 separate parts.

DIPLOMA – The Sky Above Me, Agnieszka Waszczeniuk, Poland – The jury wants to give a diploma to this film for beautiful graphic expression of unnamed tensions and longings perfectly animated in sand.

DIPLOMA - The Waldgeist and Me, Joe Bichard, United Kingdom –The jury awarded this film a diploma for its achievements in creating a strange relationship between unique characters while displaying artistic animation skills.


DIPLOMA AND 300 Euros – The Vast Landscape – Porclain Stories, Lea Vidakoviv, CroatiaThe jury elected to give a prize to this film for its portrayal of a situation that not only happened in the past but touches many lives today.  We also appreciated the beautiful puppet animation and the detailed set design.

DIPLOMA AND 300 Euros – Tale – Attila Bertoti, Hungary – The jury awarded this prize to a film that manages, in a very entertaining manner, to put together a clever, humorous story in a fun looking artistic style and slapstick high paced animation

GRAND PRIX AND 600 Euros – Social Animals – Flora Buda, Panni Gyulai, Zoltan Koska, Anna Timar, Barbara Takacs, and Szasz, Hungary – The jury awards the Grand Prix to Social Animals for showing by acerbic characters how far humanity has come from being social using technological media.

AUDIENCE AWARD – Tale, Attila Bertoti, Hungary