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The Golden Kuker Festival combines the best of Bulgarian animation with films from throughout the world.

The Golden Kuker Festival combines the best of Bulgarian animation with films from throughout the world. This year festival-goers were treated to 140 films from 97 countries. For the first time, the festival was also available online throughout the entire country.

I was honored to be invited to be a member of the jury along with producer, film critic, and screenwriter Alexander Donev and copywriter, screenwriter and journalist Blagoy D. Ivanov. We watched films in 10 categories to select the winning films along with the Proiko Proikov Award which is given to the best Bulgarian film. The award is named after the famous Bulgarian artist, animator, and director who was also a beloved teacher of a multitude of young animators.


This year’s Proiko Proikov Award went to the noted animator Radostina Neykova for Marmalade. Radostina created her film using the ancient art of hand embroidery. The 6-minute film was designed for children from 4 years of age and up. Embroidery fits the story perfectly. In the film, two children are eating bread and marmalade when a bird snatches the girl’s snack. The boy tries to get the slice of bread back but the bird flies away with the bread in its beak. The boy runs after the bird and ends up flying up in the sky with the bird. The lesson that the film has for young viewers is that if you want to become a hero sometimes you just have to spread your wings and soar above your problem.

One of my favorite films at the festival was The Owl and the Pussycat by well-known British animator Mole Hill. He often draws on Edward Leer’s poems as subjects for his paintings and drawings. 2021 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Owl and the Pussycat which gave Hill the impetus to create his 4-minute film. He used a waximation technique where the film is etched into a layer of wax one frame at a time which gives the film a beautiful luminous quality.

The Owl and the Pussycat

The Owl and the Pussycat won the Best Animated Short Animation at the 2021 BAFTA awards. The lovely film also received the Golden Kuker Award in the Films Up to 10 Minutes category. In presenting the award the jury said that “. . . the director managed to bring a classic poem to life adding some new, quirky twists and turns without losing the spirit of the original story”.

The festival has an Eco Film category where the outstanding film was the Dutch animator Arjan Brentjes’ Sad Beauty.

 The film is particularly topical during this time when everyone is conscious of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as climate change and pollution. In the film, a young artist mourns the disappearance of animal species in a heavily polluted world. When she falls ill from a bacterial infection that is attacking humans, nature sends her a message through her delirious hallucinations that mankind is causing its own demise as plants and animals are the only things left to take over the planet.

Sad Beauty

Brentjes started his professional life as a painter before switching to film in 2008. He often uses visual styles from the past to look at our present and the future. In Sad Beauty, he uses Art Nouveau stylization to comment on our technological society and the haughtiness and selfishness of mankind today.

One of the best films I have seen this year is Shooom’s Odyssey by Julien Bisaro and Claire Paoletti. The film, about an orphaned baby owl and her unhatched sibling caught up in a Louisiana bayou hurricane, is a real road trip movie. Aimed at 4- to 7-year-olds this enchanting film is not “cute” as so many films for small children are. Even though Shooom faces many dangers as she rolls the egg along in search of her mother, or any mother, the film is not scary and the lovely music by David Reyes sets just the right tone. This is a film that anyone of any age can appreciate and multiple viewing only made me appreciate it more.

 Shooom’s Odyssey

The French/Belgian/ Swiss/Germany co-production was originally planned to be a 26-minute television special, the first part of a trilogy. To date, it has won more than 25 festival prizes including Best Children’s Film at the Golden Kuker. Shooom’s Odyssey was also nominated for a Cesar in 2021.

Along with the competition and retrospective screenings, the festival conducts workshops, masterclasses, and presentations by renowned professionals from around the world for children, students, and adults.

The festival is just part of the year around activities that festival director Nadezhda Slavova plans especially for children and students. The children’s morning movie club, Animation is Magic, is held every Saturday and Sunday morning through June.

 Nadezhda Slavova

The festival also organizes an annual traveling festival which visits different Bulgarian cities. To date, they have held screenings and workshops for children and adults in 35 different cities. This year they visited Veliko Tarnovo located in North-Central Bulgaria. At the workshops, children and older students learned how to draw favorite cartoon characters. They also make short stop motion and classic drawn animated films using their tablets or phones. Students who show interest and talent in animation and/or drawing are given the opportunity to continue their training throughout the year via zoom classes. Mrs. Slavova, head of Animart Ltd. Animation studio, also offers opportunities for art school and university students to intern at her studio in Sofia.

 Children with their artwork

Nadezhda loves making films for children as well as teaching them to draw and animate. Each year she organizes Children’s Day in Sofia where youngsters compete at drawing their favorite cartoon characters and creating their own short animated films. Together with Vitosha Nature Park, the festival has created a cinema on Vitosha Mountain outside of Sofia where disadvantaged children can learn about animation.

Along with the State Agency for Road Safety, the festival organized a competition for a one-minute animated film on the theme of Road Safety for Children. A book about safety, Rules of the Game, was also created in conjunction with UNICEF. Even if all of the young people who participate in these activities don’t become animators, they are our future audience.

Young artists

The Golden Kuker festival is organized by the Bulgarian Association of Independent Cartoon Animation Artists and is under the patronage of the Ministry of Education and Science.

The 13th edition of the festival will be held from 25 – 29 May 2022. Film submissions are open until 28 February 2022. You can find out how to enter your film at:



Grand Prix “Golden Kuker” for Best animated film - SHOOOM'S ODYSSEYdirector Julien Bisaro, France, Belgium, Germany, Swiss

Special award for the best Bulgarian film in the name of "Proiko Proikov” – MARMALADE,  director Radostina Neykova, Bulgaria

Best Super short animated film award (about 1 min) – BANNED, director Benoit Bargeton, France

Best Short animated film award (up to 10 min) - THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCATdirector Mole Hill, United Kingdom

Best Short animated film award (from 10 to 45 min) - DRY SEA, director Bart Bossaert, Yves Bex, Belgium

Best Feature animated film award (over 45 min) - NO AWARD GIVEN 

Best Student animated film award – LES CHAUSSURES DE LOUIS (LOUIS’ SHOES) directors  Marion Philippe, Kaye Leung, Theo Jasmin, and Jean Geraud Blanc / France

Best Short film made for kids award - URSA – THE SONG OF THE NORTHERN LIGHTSdirector Natalia Malykhina, Norway

 Best Episode from TV series – PATCHWORK TIGERdirector Angela Steffen, Germany

Best Animated eco film - SAD BEAUTYdirector Arjan Brentjes, Netherlands

Best Music video award – NUNCA HUBIERAdirector Daniel Moreno, Spain

Best Animated аdvertisement film -  BASIC SELF-DISTURBANCESdirector Julian Nazario Vargas, Norway

Special Mention Certificate for animated short film ( up to 10 min.) – CRADLEdirector Paul Muresan, Romania

Special Mention Certificate for Student animated film – PSYCHOPHONICdirector Aline Romero, Spain

Prize of Festival Director -  QUARANTINEdirector Dimitar Dimitrov, Bulgaria

Prize of Festival Director -  MISHOUdirector Milen Vitanov, Bulgaria

Prize of Festival Director -  PYGMALION INFECTIONdirector M.E. Fard – Arash, Bulgaria