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The theme for the 9th edition of the Golden Kuker International Animation Festival was Time Machine, taking us into the future to look at the animation of tomorrow.

The theme for the 9th edition of the Golden Kuker International Animation Festival was Time Machine, taking us into the future to look at the animation of tomorrow.  The festival always features many programs for young people, but this year it was dedicated to children and students focusing on the achievements of animation students.

Given the theme, it was fitting that a graduation film won the Golden Kuker Grand Prix.  Oh Mother!  by Polish animator Paulina Ziolkowska is a story about the relationship between an overprotective mother and her son.  The mother and son are constantly changing places.  Sometimes the mother is an adult and then at other times the son nurtures and takes care of his suddenly childish mother.  The 12’ 15” film uses sharp black and white contrasts to playfully explore the constantly changing dynamics of social and family roles, ages, and sizes.  Oh  Mother! probes the question of who is truly an adult and what does that mean.

Oh Mother

Two Trams is a sweet story about friendship and loyalty.  Russian director Svetlana Andrianova used cutouts to bring the older and younger trams to life.  Each day the two trams set out on their rounds to take the local citizens to their destinations.  The young tram has a lot to learn while the older tram is a very patient teacher.  One day the old tram doesn’t show up at his usual time.  Now the young tram must search the entire city for his teacher on his own and help him get back to the station.  Two Trams is a lovely film for children but can be as easily appreciated by adults not only for its story but for the beautiful animation, especially the background art.  The jury awarded Two Trams the prize in the 1’ to 10’ film category.

Bulgarian animator Radostina Neykova was on hand to receive her award for Ugly Fairy Tale in the shorts 10’ to 45’ category.  The jury was intrigued with her creative and unusual use of embroidery which gives the film a unique look.  The film itself is about a man and woman who spend all day every day engaged in pointless arguments until one day their little house gets fed up with listening to them and runs away. 

Radostina Neykova and Nancy

The festival gives a separate award to the Best Bulgarian Film and it was good to see a strong showing in this category.  The film that stood out was Roza Kolchagova’s poignant 6-minute film Grandmother.  Roza used paper cutouts most effectively to tell the story of a grandmother who lives in the old family home in the country.  She looks forward to visits from her family, which are becoming less and less frequent.  The only member of the family really happy to see her is her grandchild; the parents don’t appreciate her homemade gifts and can hardly wait to return to the city.  The film, which mirrors what is all too true in life today, is about the joys of simple things, what we lose in our busy daily lives, and questions whether it is really better to live in the city.

Georgian animator Elena Sebiskveradze was a guest at the festival so she could receive her award for the best film in the 0’ to 1’ category for A Little Beetle.  The film tells the story of a little beetle that puts all of its efforts into escaping from an endless space but trouble arises when a pool of water complicates his life.  Although the film is very short it tells a complete story and the intricate detailing on the beetle is lovely.

Nancy with Elene Sebiskveradze

Hochschule Luzern in Switzerland is known as an animation school whose students create high quality, quirky films.  Living Like Heta is no exception.  Bianca Caderas, Isabella Luu, and Kerstin Zemp have created a hand-drawn film that expresses Heta’s unusual personality perfectly.  She lives in a peculiar house full of endless corridors and curious rooms with her pet seal.  Her entire life is carefully planned and carried out, but when Heta’s routine gets totally disrupted her world begins to crumble.  The jury selected Living Like Heta for the best Student Film Award.

Being a cat lover I always like a good cat film so I really enjoyed Sergei Ryabov’s 6:1. The Russian animator’s stop motion puppet film is about a girl and her best friend, a cat.  To while away the time on a long train trip the pair play checkers.  The cat can’t seem to win a game until the train goes into a tunnel where surprising things happen to change the cat’s luck.  The title 6:1 refers to the number of games each player has won.  The film will delight young audiences while leaving their parents with a good laugh also.

Zurab Diasamidze and Nancy with Boby and Kelly


Both the opening and closing night ceremonies were held at the newly renovated Boby and Kelly Theme Park, Bulgaria's only children’s amusement park.  After the awards were presented at the closing night ceremony Nik entertained the crowd by playing several songs before we all went to the Boby and Kelly Restaurant for a party.

Train ride at Boby and Kelly amusement park

The screenings of children’s film were presented on Boby and Kelly’s screen.  Other films were screened at the beautiful City Mark Art Center.  Workshops were held in the special events room at Boby and Kelly.  Bulgarian animation director Bogomila Todorova taught her young pupils how to create their own cartoon character from the much loved Bulgarian children’s book Molivia out of plasticine and cutouts.  The young animators were also taught how to use basic after effects and layout.  Finally, they learned how to add sound so that their character could talk as well as move.  Vanaya Taya, the author of Molivia, was present at the workshop and she and her young fans read from her book together.

Begomila Todorova and a young animator at her workshop

Animator and illustrator Maya Bocheva conducted a workshop that gave tips on how to create a script for an animated film.  The young participants were then taught how to create a storyboard for their scripts.

The jury hard at work. L-R - Nik, Nancy, Nadia Slavova, Nadezhda Marinchevska, Alexander Donev and Zurab Diasamidze

It was a great pleasure and honor to be invited to be on the jury.  My fellow jury members were Bulgarian film critic, animation researcher and old friend Nadezhda Marinchevska, Bulgarian producer and film critic Alexander Donev, musician and composer Nik Phelps, and Zurab Diasamidze, from Tbilisi, Georgia.  Zurab is director of the Tofuzi Animation Festival in Batumi, Georgia.

 The festival aims at encouraging the exchange of creative experiences and supporting the integration of Georgian animation into the cinema world.  There is also a strong emphasis on animation for young people.  Along with competition screenings the festival offers a program of films created by children as well as a screening of films created in the festival workshops.  The 10th edition of  Tofuzi Animation Festival will be held 1-6 October 2018.  You can learn more about the festival at:

Our jury was charged with awarding films in ten different categories that ranged from three categories of short films, and three feature films to animated eco films and animated advertisements.  In total, we watched 276 films so we were kept very busy.

The Golden Kuker and the Proiko Proikov awards

The festival Grand Prix is named the Golden Kuker.  The name of the festival, as well as the award, is taken from the Koukeri Dancers who are a symbol of Bulgaria.  The ritual dancers date back to the country’s pagan past.  The dancers chased away evil spirits and brought health and wealth.  Although the ritual varies from one part of the country to another, only young unmarried men are allowed to participate. 

Festival director Nadezhda Slavova

The Golden Kuker Festival was founded by animator/director Nadezhda Slavova and organized by Nadia and her staff at her studio ANIMART Ltd. (  Nadia is a wonderful hostess and even with a studio and festival to run she still found time to take Nik and me on a visit to Nu Boyana Film Studio. 

Na Boyona film studio Na Boyona film studio

The studio opened in 1962 and was state-owned until 2005 when it was bought by the Hollywood independent companies Nu Image and Millennium Films.  The studio is located 8 kilometers south of the center of Sofia on 75 acres with 10 sound stages.  As we drove through Nu Boyana Studio we were on a Middle Eastern street at one moment and next, we were in the center of London.  Most impressive of all was the massive ancient Roman set complete with a Coliseum.  The studio also has its own film school.  Nu Boyana is not open to the public so our opportunity to visit was a rare treat provided by Nadia who used to work there.

On another day Nadia took her guests to visit the beautifully tranquil Bulgarian Orthodox Dragalevtsi Monastery located in the Vitosha Mountains which rise above Sofia.  The Monastery was founded by Tsar Ivan Alexander (1331 – 1371).  It is believed to be part of a group of monasteries which were built in the 14th and 15th centuries around Sofia.   Dragalevtsi Monastery was abandoned during the Ottoman conquest of Sofia in the early 15th Century and was rebuilt in 1476 when it became an important literary center.  The old church and some of its frescos date from this period.  It was also one of the active centers in the Bulgarian struggle for liberation and took part in the secret revolutionary activities against Turkish rule in the 19th century.  Along with its beautiful gardens, the monastery is noted for its clear mountain drinking water and people come from miles around to fill their bottles with the delicious water.

Sampling the spring water at Dragalevtsi Monastery

Sister Seraphima, Abbot of the Monastery, is an old friend of Nadia’s.  She graduated from the Faculty of Theology and the Music Conservatory and is also an animator.  Sister Seraphima creates films about the Dragalevtsi Monastery which appear on their website (  We had the privilege of being invited into the main house to have tea with Sister Seraphima.

Sister Seraphima showing some of her work

On several evenings Nadia invited us to her beautiful home for her delicious home-cooked meals.  There is no way that I can adequately express my gratitude to her for inviting me to be part of the Golden Kuker Festival and the many kindnesses she has shown me on my visits to Sofia.

Zurab Diasamidze and Nik playing in Nadia's garden

Next year will be a special 10th Anniversary edition of the festival.  I urge animators to send your films to the 2019 edition of the festival which will be held on 7 to 12 May.  You can read more about this year’s festival and find information about submitting your film to the 2019 edition at:

My next article will be about my visit to ANIMAFEST in Zagreb.


  • Grand Prix “Golden Kuker” for Best animated film to Paulina Ziolkowska for the film “OH, MOTHER!”, Poland, 2017
  • Special award “Proyko Proykov” to Roza Kolchagova for the film “GRANDMOTHER”, Bulgaria, 2017

     Special mention to Anna Haralampieva for the film “THE SIBYLS’ BRAWL”, Bulgaria, 2016

  • Best Super short animated film award (about 1 min) to Amin Haghshenas for the film „ОВС NUMBER 05”, Iran, 2017

      Special mention to Elene Sebiskveradze for the film “A LITTLE BEETLE ”, Georgia, 2017

  • Best Short animated film award (up to 10 min) to Svetlana Andrianova for the film “TWO TRAMS”, Russia, 2016

      Special mention to Natia Nikolashvili for the film “LI.LE”, Georgia, 2017

  • Best Short animated film award (from 10 to 45 min) to Radostina Neykova for the film “UGLY FAIRY TALE”, Bulgaria, 2017

      Special mention to Sofía Carrillo for the film “CERULIA”, Mexico, 2017

  • Best Feature animated film award (over 45 min) – n/a
  • Best Student animated film award to Bianca Caderas, Isabella Luu and Kerstin Zemp for the film “LIVING LIKE HETA”, Switzerland, 2017

       Special mention to Manon Goyon, Rebecca Essler, Baptiste Devant for the film “32 ANODONTIA STREET”, France, 2017