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7th EDITION OF THE CEE ANIMATION FORUM: 6 – 8 May 2019 Trebon, Czech Republic - In Search of the Perfect Pitch

CEE Animation Forum (formally Visegrad Animation Forum) is a leading pitching event for animated films in Central and Eastern Europe.

     CEE Animation Forum (formally Visegrad Animation Forum) is a leading pitching event for animated films in Central and Eastern Europe.  Pitching events are an important way for young professionals to help finance their projects, secure craft services that they need, or network to find a producer or other key member of their team.  This year thirty-two projects were selected from eleven different Central and Eastern European countries to be presented at CEE Animation.

     At the Forum, categories included short films, series/television specials, and feature films.  Most of the projects were presented by teams made up of the director and producer.  To help the presenters prepare for their presentation to the jury and audience there were tutorial sessions with professionals.

     For the short films pitching, participants from each of the thirteen teams received an in-depth forty-five-minute session.  The tutors focused on story concept, project development, financial plan, and market or festival strategy.  The director and producer could also discuss co-production opportunities.  These sessions are invaluable in helping participants structure their presentations.  Since these are one on one personal sessions they are not open to the public.

     The three tutors for short films were Zouzsanna Kreif, a freelance animation director and illustrator based in Budapest; American screenwriter Philip LaZebnik; and British screenwriter and creative producer Phil Parker.

     One of my favorite short film projects was The Family Portrait directed by Lea Vidakovic and produced by Marko Djeska from Croatia.  The project was described as a “poetic, dark, and somewhat humorous social observation, in which family ties and relationships are broken down and dissected into pieces”. 

     The story, set just before WW II, revolves around Andras and his daughter Zsofia.  The aristocratic family is spending a quiet Sunday afternoon at home.  That is until they are surprised by a visit from Zolton, Andras’ brother, and twelve members of his family.

Lea Vidakovic and Marko Djeska pitching The Family Portrait

     Anyone who is familiar with Lea’s previous multi-award-winning stop motion film The Vast Landscape –Porcelain Stories know her attention to the tiniest details is flawless.  From the pictures that she showed from The Family Portrait, her new film will have the same attention to the smallest fixture in the family home.  Although her films are very slow-paced, to me they are like reading a book where the story unfolds page by page. The film is now in production with an estimated budget of 150,000 euros.

     The Family Portrait team was awarded the Animation Sans Frontieres Scholarship Award, a lecture/workshop based training program designed to give young European animation and film production professionals an insight into the European and international industry and markets.  Each participant in the program travels to four different schools for two-week sessions where different parts of the industry are explored.

Sabine Andersone and Zane Oborenko pitching Kafka in Love

     The film that won the short film pitching competition was Kafka In Love, introduced by director Zane Oborenko and producer Sabine Andersone, both from Latvia.  Oborenko said that while she was reading Franz Kafka’s Letters to Milena she thought that the book would work well as an animated film. 

     The letters form a little known part of Kafka’s personal life.  They were written to Milena Jesenska, a Czech translator and journalist, who was married and living in Vienna.  The letters began as business correspondence but soon developed into a passionate but doomed epistolary love affair.  In his correspondence to Milena he revealed his most intimate self.

     The film, aimed at an adult audience, will be executed in sand animation and from what the audience was shown of the work in progress this looks like the perfect medium to express Kafka’s emotions and feelings.  As the winning short film project, Oborenko and Andersone received 1,000 Euros.

     The seven-member short film jury was composed of:  independent producer and animation consultant Olivier Catherin from France; French festival programmer and director Laurent Crouzeix; Los Angeles and Amsterdam based Jamie Kezlarian Bolio who is a creative consultant and global film representative; German animator Jakob Schuh; Damian Megherbi, co-founder of the French production company Les Valseurs; NFB producer Jelena Popovic; and Enrico Vannucci, short film adviser for the Venice Film Festival and film programmer.

     In the distant past, many generations of Europeans grew up on animated series from Central and Eastern Europe.  During that era, the governments and public broadcasters fully funded the programs.  Following the Velvet  Revolution in 1989, this all changed as a free market economy was introduced.  Financing an animated series or special has become more difficult, almost an art form in and of itself.  Thanks to co-production possibilities, European Union funding, and new distribution platforms this is changing.  It is also encouraging to see the number of talented women who have taken on the challenging role of producer.

Eliza Plocieniak-Alvarez presenting The Hairy Alphabet

     The 10 projects in the series/television special segment of the pitching forum displayed a wide variety of styles and stories.  The Very Hairy Alphabet from director Eliza Plocienika and Producer Laura Messner from Germany offered a playful way to learn the English alphabet and language for preschoolers. Some of Us was aimed at the adult audience.

    Some of Us was aimed at the adult audience.  Introduced by French producer Laurent Duret, Some of Us plans to delve into the darker side of sports.  Using black and white line drawings, fifteen different episodes will tell true-life stories of famous professional athletes who have had outstanding careers despite coming face to face with discrimination due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical or mental handicap.  The project is planned for viewing on television, along with video, online, and phone versions.

     The tutors for Series/TV Specials were Agnes Bizzaro and Anna Vasova.  Agnes is a consultant for European broadcasters and producers.  She is also a content coordinator for Cartoon Springboard.  Anna is an independent scriptwriter living in the Czech Republic.  She has also established a company, 13ak, focusing on scripts, project development, and international co-productions.

     The jury for Series/Television Specials was made up of Caterina De Mata, Italian new media manager with a focus on pre-school content for YouTube; Maciej Jakubczky from Poland, head of education at New Horizons which organizes The Kids Film Festival; and producer/consultant Manuela Lumb from Germany.  They were joined by Halka Marcekova who works as a dramaturge in radio and television in Slovakia and Emmanuele Petry-Sirvin, partner at Studio Dandelooo in Paris.

     The project that they selected for their top award was The Cat Princess from director Ivan Tamas and producer Balint Gelley from Hungary.  Their twenty-eight-minute television special for children six to eight years old and their families is adapted from the popular book The Cat Princess by Zsuzsa Tamas, the director’s sister.

     The book is based on a folk tale.  It is the story of a very unhappy prince who lives in a very messy hut in a deep dark forest.  One day he is visited by a cat who immediately begins to clean up his hut.  Soon more unexpected guests arrive -  Brother Moss, a talking tree and Ragdoll Sara.  The cat immediately puts them to work cleaning the hut.  In the end, after a lot of other things happen in the middle, the hut turns into a castle, the cat turns into a princess, and the sad prince lives happily ever after with his princess.  The jury said that they especially liked the naive, retro design of the project which they thought was classic without being old fashioned.  The hand-drawn film is already in production for the first seven minutes of their proposed 28-minute film.

     Last year CEE Animation initiated a new pitching category for feature films.  The first winning project was Of Unwanted Thing and People, a four-country co-production between Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Poland.  The puppet film set in present-day is based on a book by Czech author Arnost Goldflam.  The project was recently presented at Cartoon Movie where it received the Eurimages Development Co-production Award.

Allah Is Not Obliged with Marion Boffelli and Zaven Najjar

     This year at CEE Animation, nine feature-length projects were presented.  The winning project was Allah Is Not Obliged from the French team of director Zaven Najjar and Marion Boffelli, head of development.  Based on a book by Ivory Coast writer Ahmadou Kourouma, it is the story of Birahima, a ten-year-old Guinean boy.  After the death of his mother, he is on his way to Liberia to join his aunt when he gets caught up in rebel fighting.

      He ends up with a Kalashnikov in his hand as a child soldier.  He is also given minimal food rations, a small supply of dope, and very tiny wages.  Fighting in a chaotic civil war alongside many other boys, Birahima sees death, torture, dismemberment, and madness but somehow manages to retain his sanity.  It looks like it will be a very strong film told from a young boy’s point of view.

     Twice Upon A Time won the Nespresso Audience Award – a Nespresso machine which will help keep the filmmakers awake during the many long lonely hours of work ahead of them.  George Clooney is not included.  The Canadian/Serbian co-production directed by Vojin Vasovic and produced by Milorad Kocic is the story of Princess Nika.  She is trying to help her father, the Poet King, to defeat his arch-enemy Warrior King.  The only problem is that these two kings are actually the same person.  Nika must help her father overcome the death of her mother, the Queen, which was what has caused the King’s split personality.  The 3D fairytale for all ages is about our own inner conflicts with ourselves.

     Twice Upon A Time also won the Anomalia Scholarship. This prize gives the winner a scholarship to Anomalia’s Character Design Lab.  Since 2008 this professional training program located in Litomysl, Czech Republic has invited professionals from such major studios as Pixar, Disney, Lucas Arts, Aardman Animation, and VALET to give young filmmakers an opportunity to enhance their artistic skills and approaches at the character design lab.

ECC participants relaxing @ the bar-b-que

     Along with the three days of extremely hard work, there were also social events every evening.  On the first evening, we were taken by bus out to a lovely barbeque location on a lake. While waiting for the sumptuous meal to be served we could roast weenies on a stick over the open fire, enjoy copious amounts of beer and wine, and enjoy relaxed conversation.  On the other two nights, CEE Animation joined with the ANIFILM for a party.

     The CEE Animation Workshop is a yearlong project development and production skills advancement program for professionals (ie. Established producers and creative teams with animated projects in any format that is in development).  It is also open to a limited number of participants without projects, representatives of industry, and public institutions.

     The workshop utilizes a comprehensive and integrated approach to teaching scriptwriting and art design development, legal matters and copyright laws, funding opportunities and production models.  It also covers new technologies and marketing.  Following the completion of the course, a long term follow-up system gives the participants the opportunity to take advantage of CEE Animation’s wide animation network as well as allowing access to different industry and market events in the European Union.

     The program consists of three workshops each lasting six days and taking place in different locations.  The next three workshops are:

29 November to 5 December in Ljubljana, Slovenia

March 2020 in Tallinn, Estonia

May 2020 in Trebon, Czech Republic (Running concurrently with the CEE Animation Forum)

     If your project is in development and falls within the CEE Animation guidelines I urge you to apply to pitch your project at the next CEE Animation Forum in Trebon.  You can learn more about pitching at CEE events, participating in workshops, and all of the other CEE activities at:

                                               www.ceeanimation.eu

I must thank the CEE Animation team for inviting me to be a guest at the pitching forum.  In particular a special thank you goes to Marta Jallageas, CEE Animation media liaison, who arranged my travel and coordinated my stay with ANIMFILM. 

My next article will be about the great time I had at the Zagreb Animation Festival.

CEE Animation Forum 2019: Complete List of This Year’s Winners

The CEE Animation Forum comes to an end today with the presentation of this year’s awards. There were 32 films in competition this year, and battled for prices in three categories: short film, series / TV Specials and feature films.

CATEGORY SHORT FILMS:
Winner: KAFKA IN LOVE (d. Zane Oborenko, p. Sabine Andersone; Latvia) – CEE Animation Workshop WILD CARD
Jury statement: The international jury is pleased to award a project supported by a powerful pitch and beautiful visuals. The choice of technique complements the source material and subject matter represented, generating high hopes.

CATEGORY SERIES / TV SPECIALS:
Special mention: GRANDMA'S POND (d. Friedrich Schäper, p. Ivan Zuber, Antoine Liétout, Friedrich Schäper; Germany)
Jury statement: The jury is unanimous on the designer’s talent and visual style and felt for this unique combination of strong but subtle inter-generational family story. We particularly appreciate the special relationship between Grandma and granddaughter, along with your delicate creation of the fantasy world.

Winner: THE CAT PRINCESS (d. Iván Tamás, p. Bálint Gelley; Hungary)
Jury statement: The jury honours the strong sense of humour of this special which is rooted in a unique way of telling fairy tales to children. We really love “the gallery of sadness”. We highlighted the beautiful naive, retro design- classic without being old fashioned.

CATEGORY FEATURE FILMS:
Special mention: PIECE (d. Alan Holly, p. Ciarán Deeney, Carla Vulipiani; Ireland)
Jury statement: We felt that the teenage audience is targeted really well in this project. It’s an interesting take on the coming of age genre – and a project that we felt take the conflicts, drama and difficulties of being a teenager seriously with an honest and humble approach. At the same time, the idea for the film is clever, with unique, varied and colourful visuals. It seems to become a dark film but not depressive and we are really looking forward to see an important film about the climate challenges that lay before us told in a way that will reach a wide audience!

Winner: ALLAH IS NOT OBLIGED (d. Zaven Najjar, p. Sébastien Onomo; France)
Jury statement: We found the project fascinating due to the use of a child’s perspective. The topic of the film is strong and told in a way that has a very clear development and structure. The characters seem well grounded in reality. The light tone of the film set by the beautiful colours and playful voice of the child – balances out nicely with the cruel and dark topic.

NESPRESSO AUDIENCE AWARD
TWICE UPON A TIME (d. Vojin Vasovic, p. Vojin Vasovic, Milorad Kocić; Serbia) – CEE Animation Workshop WILD CARD

ANIMATION SANS FRONTIERES SCHOLARSHIP AWARD
Lea Vidaković, Adriatic Animation, Croatia
Category short film: THE FAMILY PORTRAIT (d. Lea Vidaković, p. Draško Ivezić; Croatia)
Györgyi Falvai´s statement: For the exceptional and high-quality visual style and the innovative approach to explore new media to create a unique universe for a deeply emotional story.

ANOMALIA SCHOLARSHIP AWARD
TWICE UPON A TIME (d. Vojin Vasovic, p. Vojin Vasovic, Milorad Kocić; Serbia) – CEE Animation Workshop WILD CARD
David Toušek´s statement: As clearly seen in the pitch, the artists of the feature film Twice upon a Time have taken already a huge step ahead in development of character design from the original short film to current work in progress, proving solid artistic and talent potential to exploit the awarded opportunity at ANOMALIA Character Design Lab 2019. We grant the full scholarship to the artists of the film in honest hope to help them fight the split personality of their King without splitting theirs.

CEE ANIMATION WORKSHOP SCHOLARSHIP AWARD
Vessela Dantcheva, Compote Collective, Bulgaria
Category short film: WHERE TO (d. Asparuh Petrov, p. Vessela Dantcheva; Bulgaria)
Jožko Rutar´s statement: Vessela Dantcheva is a high-profile art-house producer from Bulgaria with significant track record of short animated films. We believe that with the scholarship and the participation on the CEE Animation Workshop she will empower her competences on even more ambitious projects.

EAVE MARKETING WORKSHOP SCHOLARSHIP
Ioana Lascar, deFilm, Romania
Category short film: VISKOVITZ (d. Serghei Chiviriga, p. Ioana Lascar; Romania) – CEE Animation Workshop WILD CARD
Satu Elo´s statement: A versatile producer working with animation, documentaries and fiction, she has developed a keen interest in understanding better how we can make our audiences discover European cinema, by profoundly grasping and cleverly using marketing tools that can make our stories trigger the audiences’ imagination and wish to see them. EAVE would like to offer Ioana the possibility to take one further step on this journey.

POP UP FILM RESIDENCY SCHOLARSHIP AWARD
PIECE (d. Alan Holly, p. Ciarán Deeney, Carla Vulipiani; Ireland)
Matthieu Darras´s statement: For an extremely promising project, that captures the very particular collective state of mind of today’s youth, and translates it into a stylistically dazzling, sensitive and moving narrative.

WARSAW KIDS FILM FORUM DIRECT ACCESS
THE VERY HAIRY ALPHABET (d. Eliza Plocieniak-Alvarez, p. Laura Messner; Germany)

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