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The Golden Kuker International Animation celebrated its 13th edition with workshops and a bevy of films.

     The Golden Kuker International Animation celebrated its 13th edition with workshops and a bevy of films. This year’s special guest was noted Argentinian animator, Juan Pablo Zaramella. His 2007 short film Lapsus is one of my all-time favorite films. Luminaris (2011), which uses pixilation to blend live actors with animated objects, has won 324 international awards including the Audience Award and Fipresci Film Critics Award at Annecy. The film holds the Guinness World Record as the most awarded short film in history.

The Jury (left to right) Juan Pablo Zaramella, Nancy, and Dalibor Rajininger

  I had the honor to be on the jury with Juan Pablo and Sofia animator Dalibor Rajninger. After watching all of the films we awarded the Grand Prix to German director Thomas Stellmach for his film The Sausage Run.

Thomas Stellmach with a zoetrope strip from The Sausage Run

  This very clever film tells the tragic story of a little lamb with the help of multiple zoetropes. It is loosely based on the well-known Grimm’s fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood. Stellmach has reversed the roles of humans and animals in Red’s family. Her mother is a sheep, her grandfather is a ram, and Little Red Riding Hood is a lamb. The forester and his wife are dogs who love sausage and the wolf has become the butcher who has a serious problem. He has run out of meat. The film is extremely humorous in one way but the underlying theme is the consumption of meat and the treatment of animals.

The Sausage Run

  Stellmach has come up with a novel way to tell his story. The entire 10-minute film takes place in zoetropes. The 19th-century invention, a forerunner of film technology, displays sequences of drawn images in motion. The images are magically brought to life as they are shown performing simple, repetitive movements of one second each.

The Sausage Run zoetrope strips

  About developing the idea of telling a story with a zoetrope Thomas said “Since my Spinning Animation Workshops I’m fascinated by the hypnotic impact of zoetropes. I developed a performance, which presents the workshop results in an audio-visual live show on 8 zoetrope-like optical devices, which I call The Spinning Animation Show”.

Sausage Run Zoetropes

  In 2016 Stellmach, along with his former teacher, the renowned Dutch animator, director, and writer Paul Driessen, developed a story that could be told using zoetropes. Adapting Little Red Riding Hood seemed perfect because Thomas and Paul could play with various animation cycles, like walking through the woods, looking out a window, saying goodbye, etc.

  Talking about the story, the director said “Doing things, again and again, defines the storyline in The Sausage Run, which poises the critical question, how much of our unconscious habits and common expectations determine our life”.

  In awarding the Grand Prix the jury said “The Sausage Run absolutely deserves the award (and many more!). It was a very easy decision for all the members of the jury, we love the film. It’s fresh, smart, and connects with the soul of the origin of animation art”. You can visit:>portfolio_page to see the zoetropes in action.

Golden Kuker Awards

  The other top award at the festival is the Proiko Proikov. It is named for the famous Bulgarian artist, animator and director of such films as the 1984 Sing Cowboys. In the eight-minute film, Proikov turns the classic Western television show on its head as a boy watching television enters the screen and becomes part of the action. The film features the song The Devil Went Down to Georgia by Charlie Daniels.

  As an educator, Proiko is credited with introducing a multitude of young artists to the art of animation. To pay homage to and remember this great Bulgarian animator, The Golden Kuker Festival awards the Proiko Proikov Award for the best Bulgarian film.

  This year the honor went to Svilen Dimitrov for Shell in Love. It is the story of a timid snail scarred by a childhood trauma who spends his time hiding away in his shell, where he has created an imaginary version of the outside world. After a chance encounter with love, he is forced to face his fears and discover the wonders of the real world. The sixteen-minute film combines 2D and 3D animation with a lovely score by Petko  Manchev.

Shell in Love

  The festival places an emphasis on workshops for children and university students. Juan Pablo Zaramella presented a Masterclass at the New Bulgarian University. This was not a one-hour lecture but an entire afternoon of hands-on workshop.

Juan Pablo working with students Students at work

  After a brief introduction by Juan Pablo, the students divided up into groups of 4 or 5. They then devised their very short stop motion script, split up the duties, and selected props from the large array of items available. The room was a beehive of activity.

Juan Pablo Zaramella shooting his film

  While the students were hard at work, Juan Pablo made his own very clever film involving shoes. Juan Pablo is a master at creating films from very simple, everyday materials. His latest short stop motion film, Pasajero (Passenger) was created using puppets and a set made from paper. It is a film about how people relate to each other in public spaces. In the case of the film, it is people on a tram. He is currently at work on his first feature film, I Am Nina, which won the Ciclic Award at Annecy Mifa in 2020. The award is a one-month residency at Verdome in France.

Juan Pablo's workshop film

  The afternoon ended with a screening of all of the films. Obviously, the students listened to what Juan Pablo had to say because there were some excellent pieces of work.

  For the children, Sophia animator and book illustrator Bogomila Todorova taught the art of bringing characters from the Bulgarian children’s book Molivia to life. First, she showed the class how to make characters from the book in plasticine and/or cuts outs. Then they animated their characters and at the end of the workshop, they made their characters talk. Throughout the workshop, Vanaya Taya, author of Molivia, read from the book with and to the children.

  Elena Shagay and her two young daughters Masha and Dasha, from the Ukraine, gave a delightful delicious workshop. Young people decorated various shaped gingerbread cookies and then used them as characters in the stop motion films that they made. Of course, after finishing shooting, many of the delicious gingerbread film stars were eaten.

Elena Shagay(rear left) with her daughters Dasha and Marsha and festival director Nadezhda Slavova

  On a more technical note, Ventsislav Lukanov, founder of VRtual Space Company, gave the audience a look at the innovative work his company is doing in the creation of spatial visualization technology.

Ventsislav Lukanov of VRtual Space Company

  The company is introducing holograms into everyday life, crafting digital products and solutions with augmented reality. They create augmented and virtual reality solutions for digital and print marketing campaigns and develop web-based content management systems which are deliverable as software systems. The service is available via subscription worldwide. The Belgian chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI) named Ventsislav Lukanov Young Project Professional of the Year. You can learn more about VRtual Space Company at:

  The festival screenings along with opening and closing nights were held at the National Academy of Theatre and Film Arts. At the opening night party, I was pleased to meet Iva Tokmakchieva. In 2020 Iva won the ASIFA ‘Association Internationale du Film d’Animation° competition for the Best Student Film for her film Lets Meet Yesterday. It was her graduation film from The New Bulgarian University. Iva is working on a new film, Balconada, which was selected for the CEE Animation Workshop which helped her prepare for the 2021 MIFA Pitches. The film is being produced by Vessela Dantcheva at the Compote Collective. Part of the ASIFA prize money was used for her trip to Annecy.

Iva Tokmakchieva and Nancy

An exhibit of works by members of the Bulgarian Association of Independent Artists which organizes the Golden Kuker Animation Festival in conjunction with ANIMART Ltd. Animation studio was on display in the theatre lobby. The Bulgarian Association of Independent Animation Artists was organized by animator, director, and screenwriter Nadezhda Slavova. She also originated the festival and is the director. The 2022 edition of the festival screened 120 films from 98 countries.

Bulgarian Association of Independent Artists exhibition

  The festival takes its name from Koukeri dancers, one of the symbols of Bulgaria. The ritual dates back to the pagan past. Koukeri dancers were believed to chase away evil spirits and bring health and wealth.

  The ritual varies from one part of Bulgaria to another, but one thing never changes, only young single men participate. The one exception is the leader of the group. He is a married man. Usually, he is the wealthiest man in the village or the father of twins.

  The dancers dress in furry coats and belts with bells hanging from them. They wear masks or paint their faces. The Koukeri dance on New Year’s Eve. It is interesting to note that Italy and Spain have similar traditions.

  As well as being an excellent artist, animator and festival director, Nadezhda Slavova is a wonderful hostess. She even found time during her busy festival schedule to cook a delicious dinner for Juan Pablo, Bulgarian animator/producer Vessela Dantcheva, her animator and iphone photographer husband Ivan Bogdanov, Nik and me.

  I can’t thank Nadezhda enough for inviting me to be part of the 2022 Golden Kuker Festival jury and extending your superb hospitality to all of us. A big thank you also goes to Vessela and Ivan for taking Ivan, Nik, and me out for a lovely night in beautiful Sofia. They also invited the three of us to a delicious homecooked meal at their home.

  Sofia is a lovely city. The people are lovely and gracious and if you take a trip to the coast, the Black Sea is a wonderful place to relax.

  The 2023 edition of the Golden Kuker Animation Festival will take place from 25 to 29 May. You can learn more about the festival and how your film can be part of it at:



Grand Prix “Golden Kuker” for Best animated film – 

THE SAUSAGE RUN, Director:  Thomas Stellmach, Germany

Special award for the best Bulgarian film in the name of "Proiko Proikov” – 

SHELL IN LOVE, Director:  Svilen Dimitrov, Bulgaria

Best Super short animated film award (about 1 min) – 
SYMBOLS, Director: Ke Ren, United Kingdom

Best Short animated film award (up to 10 min) – 
OH, NO! Director: Ivan Maximov,  Russia

Best Short animated film award (from 10 to 45 min) – 
SEVEN DEADLY SINS, Director: Dimitar Dimitrov, Milko Lazarov, Bulgaria

Best Feature animated film award (over 45 min) – 
DOZENS OF NORTHSDirector: Koji Yamamura, Japan

Best Student animated film award – 
RIM, Director: Hagar Faibish, Germany

Best Short film made for kids award – 
COLOURFUL FEATHERS, Director: Maribel Suárez, Mexico

Best Episode from TV series – 
GRIZZY AND THE LEMMINGS WORLD TOUR (SEASON 3), Director: Cédric Lachenaud, France

Best Animated eco film – 
STURGEONS OF THE DANUBE, Director: Neda Ivanova, Bulgaria

Best Music video award  -
NO LULLABY, Director: Ezequiel Torres, Argentina

Special Mention Certificate– 
MONDO DOMINO, Director: Suki, France

Prize of Festival Director -  
Films of the students from the animation class of Robert Popov - Robbie,