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5th Edition of the Anibar International Festival of Animation 5 - 10 August, 2014 in Peja, Kosovo

Anibar Animation Festival is truly unique.  No one involved with the running of the festival is over 26 years old, they have a strong ecological bent, and the festival is primarily organized for the 60,000 residents of Peja rather than for foreign guests.  The quality of the programing is good and included something to please everyone. I always find their Balkan Competition to be interesting, with many films that I don’t get to see at other festivals.

Rabbitland, winner of the Balkan Competition

Anibar International Festival of Animation is truly unique.  No one involved with the running of the festival is over 26 years old, they have a strong ecological bent, and the festival is primarily organized for the 60,000 residents of Peja rather than for foreign guests.  The quality of the programing is good and included something to please everyone.

This was my 3rd visit to Anibar and I always find their Balkan Competition to be interesting, with many films that I don’t get to see at other festivals.  Along with films from Balkan countries such as Croatia, which are well known for their excellence, I had a chance to watch films from Serbia, Turkmenistan, and Turkey.

Plisi a 10 minute film from Pristina was the only film from Kosovo, a country without an animation school or industry since the Serbian-Kosovo conflict.  Directed by native Kosovo animator Gjon Marku the films deals with immigration and integration and is the story of an elderly grandfather living with two generations of his family in New York City.  He never takes off his plisi, the traditional white hat of Albania, and his grandsons can’t understand why he won’t adapt to his life in American.  He even insists upon wearing the hat when he is sleeping, something the grandsons consider silly.  Grandfather then tells the history of his life, why the hat is so important to him and why he never takes it off.

Gjon and I became friends when we were on the jury at Anibar together three years ago.  Although he lived in Kosovo, he now lives in Canada.  He returns to Pristina, Kosovo to visit his family and the film was produced in Kosovo.  I am very glad the Gjon has made a film based on local customs and history rather than trying to tell a “Hollywood story” as so many countries seem to do when they are first entering the animation arena.  I would have preferred it if the film had used traditional music instead of a rather non-descript sound track that I don’t remember.

Rabbitland from Serbia was the highlight of the Balkan competition for me.  Ana Nedeljkovic and Nikola Majdak, Jr. created brainless rabbits that live in a “perfect” world modelled on war zones, ghettos, and slums.  The bright pink rabbits have large holes in their heads where their brains should be and they live in blissful ignorance.  Rabbitland is a very ordered democracy where the rabbits vote every day in meaningless elections.  This parody of modern civilization won the Best Balkan Film Award.  It has also won awards at several other festivals including a Crystal Bear at the 2013 Berlinale.  A complete list of all of the winning films is at the end of the article.

This year, out of a particularly large number of excellent student films The Bigger Picture stands out head and shoulders above the rest.  I have seen the film three times and still find it hard to believe that it is a student film.  Daisy Jacobs has used black humor, warmth, and exceptional maturity to tackle the question “What do siblings do with an aging parent, especially if they don’t see eye to eye on anything?” 

The technical aspects of this live action/animation film are equally amazing.  The main characters are lifesized, the two painted brothers are 6 foot 4. The massive sets are a mixture of painted objects, 3D paper mache objects, and real furniture. The Bigger Picture is Daisy’s graduation film from the NFTS (National Film and Television School) in the UK.  The film was awarded the Best Studen Film prize at Anibar and it was shown at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.  After creating such an outstanding graduation film I look forward to seeing Daisy’s first professional project.

2014 marks the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of WWI and festivals throughout Europe have presented special programs to mark the occasion.  At Anibar Igor Prassel, director of Animateka International Animated Film Festival in Slovenia and a member of the festival jury, focused on the Balkan War in a program titled War and Peace.  It was subtitled “How the Idea of European Pacifism Ended with War in the Balkans.”   The war in the ex-Yugoslavia started with ethnic conflicts provoked by the Serbs.   It soon escalated into Europe’s deadliest conflict since WW II killing untold numbers in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.  The 8 films in the program, made by animators from throughout Europe, examines the principle of “He who is not with us is against us and will be punished” and the terrible consequences that result.

Finish animator Katarina Lillquist based The Maiden and the Soldier on the Bertolt Brecht poem The Legend of the Dead Soldier.  The message of the film is that war is as destructive to the people who are not fighting as it is to those actually on the battle field.  In the film a young woman sets off to find her missing fiancé in the middle of a war.

Daniel Suljic’s The Cake demonstrates how easily a war can start over nothing.  It begins with a group of people sitting down to celebrate with a cake.  The cake is served but not all of the pieces are the same size and so a conflict begins that ends in disaster.

The film that had the strongest impact on me was Border.  Austrian Eni Brandner’s 2009 film was made on the border of a territory that was never recognized by International Law.  The former Republic of Srbska Krajina was a hot spot in the war with Croatia in 1991-95.  Years after the end of that conflict, traces of the war are still present.  The dilapidated, destroyed homes next to mine fields or in the middle of towns are sitting waiting for owners who will never return. 

This year, for the first time, the festival showed two feature films.  In Persistence of Vision Kevin Schreck tells of legendary animator Richard Williams’ attempt to make the best animated film of all time and how it all went terribly wrong.  Richard Williams did not participate in the making of the film himself.   Schreck used archival footage of Williams and his team working on The Thief and the Cobbler in their London studio as well as interviews with people who were there.

The second feature was Ari Folman’s The Congress , the opening night screening.  Ari’s live action/animation science fiction film features Robin Wright as a once promising young actress who is now middle aged.  Wright receives an offer from Miramont Studios to scan her entire body into the studio’s computers for millions of dollars, giving the studio total ownership of her image.  They would then be allowed to make any films that they wished with the 3D Robin and the studio promises to keep the 3D Robin forever young.  I wonder if this is sci-fi or the way of the future for film studios and actors.

Workshops and daily chats with the filmmakers have become an important part of Anibar.  Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter, the dynamic duo behind Tiny Inventions Studio in Baltimore, Maryland conducted a 2 day workshop for 15 participants.  The goal of the workshop was for the participants to develop trailer ideas for the next edition of the festival.  When I dropped in at the workshop the group had split into groups of 3 and 4 young people were all furiously sketching away.  At the end of the second day each group made a presentation to the festival organizers.  Max and Ru told me that the festival directors were very pleased with the presentations so hopefully we will see one of the projects on the big screen next year.  The festival paid 100% of the travel costs, food, and lodging for the young people who were selected from the large number of applicants.

Max Porter with a student at his workshop

At their Meet the Film Makers Chat, Ru and Max gave one of most interesting and concisely professional presentations I have seen in some time.  They told the audience about how they work in their studio as well as showing us some of their intricately detailed figures and sets that they create for their films and commercial work.  They also showed us their new 14 minute film Between Times.  The pair began the project in 2011 while they were artists in residence at the Netherlands Institute for Animation Film (NIAF).

Ru Kawahata and Max Porter in the monastary garden

Between Times is a study of how a day can drag on or fly by depending upon how a person feels.  Set in a small European bakery, a cuckoo clock on the wall records an unusual day in a shop when bread is sliced to a second thick by the baker, after what seems like a long wait for a young lady  he has never met, a young man sits in the bakery drinking coffee, the man and woman finally meet and fall in love, and time doesn’t flow at an even rate for anyone.  The film combines traditional stop-motion techniques with new innovations in computer graphics.   It took the pair three years of research and development to perfect their technique.

 The sets for the village and bakery are amazingly detailed and reflect the time the duo spent in the Netherlands.  Ru told me that she loves pastry so the best part of making the film for her was visiting the Dutch bakeries to buy the pastries which she used as models for her tiny replicas.  Of course she couldn’t let her models go to waste so she got to eat them all.  Yum, yum!

OTTOmani Workshop from Italy worked with a group of younger children to create a stop-motion film.  The group worked several hours a day for 4 days to make their film that demonstrates how to make speca, a special dolma native to Kosovo which uses yellow peppers instead of grape leaves for the outer casing.  There was a screening for parents, friends, and festival guests.  If you watch the workshop’s clever film on YouTube you can learn how to make delicious speca in your own kitchen.

I had never met Greek stop motion director, animator, and claymation master Joan Zhonga and his delightful wife Vilma.  It was a pleasure to get to know them. 

Joan Zhonga and his wife

Joan gave a hands-on claymation workshop for youngsters during the festival.  At his filmmaker’s presentation Joan screened works that he has created for Greek National Television. 

Joan Zhunga at his workshop

Italian composer and sound designer Andrea Martignoni also conducted a workshop and screened a program of films that he has done sound tracks for at his chat.

Anibar, in conjunction with Culture for All, organized a conference on co-production and fund raising for animation in Kosovo.  Culture for All is an EU funded project which aims to strength and develop artistic cultural diversity and inter cultural dialogue with international artists.  This is very important in Kosovo since there are no animation schools or industry in the country which was devastated by war until 1999.  The aim of the conference was to bring together animators and film makers in the country to exchange knowledge and ideas about fund raising and co-production opportunities with international artists and producers.

My favorite screening venue at Anibar is the Lake Cinema where the evening screenings took place.  It was located at a lake in the city park up a hill from the city center.  Along with the lakeside chairs there were rubber boats so that the audience could watch the films while paddling around on the lake.

The festival staff and volunteers build the lake side screen and at the end of the festival they take everything down, leaving the area even cleaner than they found it with no evidence of the evening crowds.  Unfortunately there were heavy rains for the first few days so the competition screenings had to be moved to the downtown cinema but that only made the Lake Cinema even more special when we finally got to enjoy being there.

A new addition this year was the Cinema Cubes at the other end of the park where there were special programs of films out of competition each evening.  The park is also home to the camping area for guests who come from out of town.  There was a campfire every dry evening where people who brought musical instruments could play or sit on logs around the fire and chat.  If you felt like a livelier party there were live bands and DJ’s every evening for dancing on the paved open air party area following the screening.

Anibar knows how to treat their guests.  One evening we were all treated to a lovely open air sit down dinner at the new restaurant in the park.  Another day we were taken to the Monastery of Patriarchate of Pec on the outskirts of the town.  Pec is the Serbian name for Peja. 

Greeting the festival guests to the monastary

Founded in the 13th century the complex of churches is the spiritual seat and mausoleum of the Serbian archbishops and patriarchs and was designated a Monument of Culture of Exceptional Importance in 1947.  In 2006 the monastery was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.  The interior of the church is covered with beautiful frescos and the peaceful garden is beautiful and very conducive to meditation.  The nuns who live in the cloister are especially proud of the massive 800 year old mulberry tree in their garden which was loaded with fruit when we were there and the fountain of spring water that flows nearby.

Festival guests in the monastary garden

On another afternoon all went to the beauiful mountains, a short drive outside of town.  The steep rock walls afford excellent opportunities for rock climbers in the summer.  The mountains are also popular with hikers and in the winter the skiing is excellent.  Our destination was a lovely waterfall that was a short walk down a path dotted with wild flowers and ferns.  The mountains have numerous camping areas and guest chalets. On the way back down the mountain we stopped at one of the chalets which has a restaurant as well as rooms for rent that is built in the traditional log style.  Seated outside under a log canopy with breath taking views we were served a delicious array of local specialities.

Peja is known for the local beer brewed there using the clear spring water from the mountain springs that flow through the center of town.  The food is also excellent.  On my first visit to Peja I discovered Qebaptore Te Gega, a café that specializes in grilled meat which they serve in massive proportions along with grilled yellow peppers and perfectly cooked beans.  I had lunch there every day and sitting on the vine covered back patio next to the river with a very cold beer was the perfect place to escape the intense noon heat.

Nancy with Qebaptore Te Gega's Artil Bardhi

Anibar has made great strides in its first 5 years, expanding their programming and workshops, adding 2 feature films to the line-up and having over 70 high school aged volunteers.  This year the festival has taken another big step forward by taking over the city’s old cinema.  Peja has not had a working movie theatre since the equipment broke in the 1960’s and the nearest cinema is in Pristina which is an hour’s drive away.  The festival has a big job ahead of it to cultivate the cinema habit in the local population who is used to watching movies on their television screens.  The plan is to show first run films that up to now people could see advertised but had to wait until they appeared on TV to actually watch them.  It’s a big undertaking but they have already begun the renovations, and the projection and sound system was very good during the festival screenings in the cinema.

The Festival Cinema House

The festival office has also moved upstairs at the theatre.  This is quite an achievement for a festival begun by two guys who were 17 and 18 years old at the time.  The festival staff are all still in their early 20’s but they have proven that even if you are young and don’t have a much money you can achieve a lot if you have a dream and work hard to achieve it.

Festival Artistic Director Rron Bajri and Executive Director Vullnet Sanaja

I cannot thank festival Executive Director Vullnet Sanaja and Artistic Director Rron Bajri enough for the warm hospitality they extended to me.  A big thank you goes to Fiona Beqiri and Era Kuraja, Guest Service Co-ordinators, who went way beyond the call of duty to make my visit so enjoyable.  I hope that I will be invited back again to continue to watch Anibar’s progress and participate in this very special festival. 


Visit the web site to see more photos and read more about the festival:

                                                             AWARD WINNING FILMS

The International Jury:

Eva Pavlovicova – Slovak Republic

Igor Prassel – Slovenia

Izabela Plucinska –Poland

Ridvan Cevok – Turkey

Visar Arifaj – Kosovo


   Baths –Tomek – Poland


    Papa – Kerdi Dengo – Estonia

    Marilyn Myller – Mikey Please – United Kingdom


    Rabbitland – Ana Nedeljkovic  and Nikola Majdak, Jr. – Serbia


    Hunger – Petra Zionoga – Croatia

Simulacra – Ivana Bosnjal and Thomas Johnson – Croatia


     The Bigger Picture – Daisy Jacobs – United Kingdom


    Holding Brother’s Hand or How the Jelly Explodes – Kiana Naghshineh – Germany

    But Milk Is Important – Anna Mantzaris and Eirik Gronma Bjorsen – Norway


     Don’t Fear Death – Louis Hudson – United Kingdom