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Anibar International Animation Festival: 13 – 19 August 2018 in Peja, Kosovo - The Festival That Changed A City

Against all odds, teenagers Rron Bajri, Vullnet Sanaja, and Fiona Beqiri had a vision to create something that would contribute to their community.  They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Anibar approaches its 10th anniversary next year, and I look at what the festival has grown into and marvel at it.  I have had the privilege of watching Anibar grow from a very small festival with a very big dream into a major Balkan event.  Against all odds, the then-teenagers Rron Bajri, Vullnet Sanaja, and Fiona Beqiri had a vision to create something that would contribute to their community.  They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.  Not only have they reopened the city’s long dead cinema to show films year round but they now have classes year-round on everything from various types of animation to writing.

The restored cinema Jusuf Gërvella

Kosovo does not have a history of animation production and to remedy this the festival is trying to change that.  They have opened an Animation Academy in the capital of Kosovo, Pristina, an hour’s drive from Peja. Currently, with eight students, the project has been launched in conjunction with the Municipality of Pristina.

Anibar street art

For the 9th edition of the festival over 1,000 films were submitted to the selection committee from all over the world.  This year’s theme, 50/50, didn’t just call for more women in the industry to the exclusion of men but for an equal balance of opportunity and pay for both sexes.

Kendra Haaland, Los Angeles based producer of such films as How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Little Mermaid 3 represented Women in Animation (WIA).  Her presentation stressed the WIA goal of helping the industry achieve 50/50 representation in the industry by 2025.  On the road to achieving this goal the organization offers scholarships, talent development, educational and mentorship resources as well as partnering with independent and major studios to advocate for diversity.  Kendra was also a member of the Professional Jury.

Kendra Haaland representing WIA

Panel discussions on topics ranging from Challenging Gender Equality Serotypes through Animation to Smash the Patriarchy. The festival did much more than just talk about 50/50, Artistic Director Petrit Gora consciously created an equal ratio between male and female directors whose films were selected for the competition programs, panorama, and the special programs.

Luce Grosjean, associated with Miyu Distribution in Paris which specializes in the distribution of films to festivals and international sales presented a program titled The Vision of Women about Sex in Animation.  Luce noted that the cinema, internet, and the media in general covers the male vision of sex.  Her 1-hour screening focused on films by female directors who have explored sex from the female point of view.

No program about female sexuality would be complete without Signe Baumane’s 2-minute series Teet Beat of Sex which she created for Italian television.  Luce showed 5 of Signe’s delightful female takes on sex covering such topics as Envy where a man and a woman both learn to appreciate what the other one has down below the belt and Score where a woman puts a guy who is bragging about his conquests in his place.

Luce also participated in the Working toward Equality in the Film Industry panel discussion.  This panel also included local producers who analyzed the existing gaps in gender equality in Kosovo’s movie industry.  The panel examined the main obstacles facing women in the film industry and tried to determine the reasons for this limited visibility in the industry despite their professional potential.

Karine Miralles at her workshop

French animator Karine Miralles is known both for her excellent films and for her workshops with children and adults worldwide.  At Anibar her intensive 6-day workshop was on animated filmmaking and storyboarding.  Students learned animation techniques based on cut out animation.  They also created short films centered on the festival’s theme of 50/50 and gender disparity which were screened at the closing ceremony.

Karine's workshop participants at work

There also was a puppet animation workshop conducted by Ivana Bosnjak Volda and Thomas Johnson Volda.  In their workshop the students learned how to make simple wire armature puppets, working with latex to create skin for the hands and faces.  They were also taught basic techniques of stop-motion animation to create short animated videos which were shown at the closing ceremony.

Anibar founder Rron Bajri presenting his film 'The Red Line'

One very important program was A Kosovo Tale:  From Paper and Pen to VR and AR.  It showcased films and comics created by young Kosovo artists using very diverse mediums.  I was particularly impressed by former Anibar founder Rron Bajri’s film The Red Line.  Rron made the film through a very delicate process of pressure printing.  The documentary is a look into the life of a very independent elderly woman who lives in a remote village.  She has had to constantly battle against men who think that a single old lady should not possess so much land.

On the same program Fisnik Ismail shared the story of The Pimpsons which reflects the political reality in Kosovo today in comics.  Agnesa Belegu is currently attempting to build a gaming industry in Kosovo.  She explained the challenges a game designer faces to enhance real world experiences and the use of technology to better enhance our reality.

Along with the numerous workshops and presentations, there were competition screenings of international animation, student films, a Balkan competition and a music video competition.  There were also 3 feature films for the professional jury to consider:  Chris the Swiss, The Man Who Knew 75 Languages, and This Magnificent Cake!

The jury was comprised of Anita Killi from Norway, Holger Lang from Austria, Polish director Joanna Rytel, Hollywood Producer Kendra Haaland, and Danish Producer Lana Tankosa Nikolic.  They selected Chris the Swiss for the Best Feature Film Award.

The Grand Jury - Holger Lang, Joanna Rytel and Anita Killi announcing their awards

Swiss animator Anja Kofmel used archival footage, live interviews, and animation to create her animated documentary about her cousin Christian Wurtenberg.  On 7 January 1992 in Croatia during the middle of the war, the body of Chris the Swiss, as Christian was known, was discovered dressed in a PIV uniform of an international mercenary group.  Anja traveled back to Croatia to find out how and why her cousin was killed.  Chris, a journalist, had always looked for excitement and thrived on being in the center of conflicts.  A decade before going to Croatia, at the age of 17 he had briefly joined a South African militia in Namibia.  The only things that Chris left behind when he was murdered were his private notebook and public radio reports which gave Anja her first clues as to where to begin unraveling the mystery of her cousin’s death.  I found the film thoroughly captivating and for anyone who likes political thrillers, this is a film for you.

Anita showing artwork from 'Angry Man'

Jury member Anita Killi is well-known for her strong stories and beautiful cut-out animation.  Hedge of Thorns (2001) is the story of two young children whose friendship is torn apart by war.  Anita’s 2009 Angry Man about domestic violence was screened at over 100 festivals and won more than 40 major awards, making her the most awarded filmmaker of 2010.

Anita Killi's multiplane camera

At her presentation, Anita showed Hedge of Thorns and Angry Man.  She talked about her studio in Norway and how she makes films in the old multiplane technique.  She also showed a short clip from the feature film which she is currently working on.  From the clip I saw, the artwork looks as beautiful as her other films.  The film’s story is about two children who are left by their mother at Christmastime at the home of a relative that they have never met.  It is as touching as her other films.

Artwork from Anita's new feature film

The five members of the Student Jury were all students from Kosovo.  Basque animators Pedro Rivero served as their mentor and met with them every morning to discuss the films they had watched the previous day.  Pedro is a producer, director, and screenwriter for such popular films as Psiconautas, The Forgotten Children which won the Best Animated Feature Film at the Goya Awards in 2016.  Another of his projects, Birdboy, garnered a Goya in 2012 in the Best Animated Short Film category.  Along with his mentoring sessions, Pedro gave a talk entitles The Tools of Screen Writing and Cinematic Story Telling for Animation.

Director Amy Winfrey and Assistant Director Peter Merryman gave a presentation about their experiences on the production of Netflix’s Bojack Horseman.  Following the screening of their season 4 episode Ruthie, they described the process that they use to create an episode of the Bojack Horseman series from the first visualization of a script to creating the storyboards, designs, and animation.

Peter Merryman and Amy Winfrey at their storyboard masterclass

At their Storyboard Masterclass Winfred and Merryman took their audience through a discussion and demonstration of the process they use to create a storyboard and animatic for the show.  From script, to thumbnails, to final clean boards, the pair detailed every step using clips and images from the show.

I was invited to the festival to give a talk on The Forgotten Women in Animation.  I began by briefly introducing 10 women who were unsung heroes in the history of animation.  I then focused the body of my talk on the career of British animator Joy Batchelor who was half of the team of the British animation studio Halas and Batchelor.

Along with screenings in the newly renovated Jusuf Gervalla Cinema, films were screened at The Cube Cinema, a specially constructed screening area in Park Karagaq.  The park, situated on a hilltop has a lake in the center of it, and each year the festival erects a large screen on one side of the lake and puts chairs on the other side of it.  This is my favorite screening venue because you can get into rubber boats and paddle around while watching the films, a perfect way to watch films on a hot night.

The outdoor cinema

Of course the festival was not just about watching films and listening to presentations.  Each morning there were Coffee and Talks.  Hosted by Petrit, different animators at the festival talked about their films.  These sessions always ended with a glass of Rakia, a fruit brandy that is popular in the Balkans.  The alcohol content is usually 40% but homemade Rakia can be even stronger.​

The Austrian, Norwegian, and United States Embassies located in Pristina each hosted a reception in Peja in honor of their foreign guests at the festival with delicious food and drink.  On nights when it wasn’t raining, the festival had lovely buffets for us at the lake cinema before the screenings, and every evening after the last screening Anibar threw an after party until 2 AM on the basketball court in the park with a different live band for dancing.  To celebrate Pedro Rivera’s birthday, the festival threw a pizza party in his honor.

A big thank you goes to festival Executive Director Vullnet Sanaja and Artistic Director Petrit Gora for inviting me to be part of the festival this year and making my visit so memorable.  I also much thank the numerous hard-working volunteers who were so friendly and always on hand to help.

Festival director Vullnet Sanaja

If you are ever invited to be part of Anibar, do accept their invitation because it will be a wonderful experience that you will never forget.

The Jury Decisions

International Competition:

     Winning Film:  Carlotta’s Face, Valentine Riedi and Frederic Schuld, Germany

     Special Mention:  Intimity, Mikhal Bak, Switzerland

Student Competition:

     Winning Film:  Flower Found, Suraya Raja, The Netherlands

     Special Mention: Augenblicke – A Blink of an Eye, Kiana Naghshineh, Germany

     Special Mention: Enough, Anna Mantzaris, United Kingdom

Balkan Competition:

     Winning Film:  Untravel, Ana Nedeljkovic, Serbia

     Special Mention:  The Monk, Zharko Ivanov, Macedonia

Animated Music Video:

     Winning Film:  Happy, Alice Saey, France

     Special Mention:  Finkel, Sanni Lahtinen, Finland

     Special Mention:  Engine of Progress, Sasha Svirsky and Aleksandra, Russian Federation

Feature Film: Winning Film:  Chris the Swiss, Anja Kofmel, Switzerland

Audience Award: Winning Film:  Irony, Radheya Jegatheva, Australia