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ANIFILM INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ANIMATED FILMS 2018 – 1 to 6 May 2018, Trebon, Czech Republic

For a festival noted for puppet and 2D animation, the emphasis on 3D this year was a big departure.   Anifilm program director Pavel Horacek explained “Animators sometimes unjustly view 3D computer animation as a bad, cold, commercial technique, usually associated with mainstream entertainment.

Anifilm Dives Into a 3D World

This year Anifilm International Festival of Animation in Trebon, Czech Republic focused on 3D computer animation with such illustrious big named innovators in the field as Oscar-winning director Chris Landreth, new media artist Faiyaz Jafri, and former Pixar  Art Director and Painter Robin Cooper among its jury members.  For a festival noted for puppet and 2D animation, the emphasis on 3D was a big departure. 

Short film jury members Brigitta Ivanyi-Bitter and Libor Piya with Chris Landreth

Anifilm program director Pavel Horacek explained “Animators sometimes unjustly view 3D computer animation as a bad, cold, commercial technique, usually associated with mainstream entertainment.  Our program is trying to show it in a more favorable light and introduce its critics to works they may not know”.

The Milestones program traced the history of 3D animation.  Beginning with Matt Elson’s 1984 The Little Death and John Lasseter’s classic Luxo Jr. in 1986, down to The External World by David O’Reilly made in 2011 the selection focused on strong originality and unique creativity.  All 10 films were very popular on the festival circuit when they were made and as a group won numerous awards.  Among the honors,  Luxor Jr. and Grant Orchard’s Morning Stroll (2011) received Oscar nominations, and two films won the Oscar - Geri’s Game (Jan Pinkava, 1997) and Logorama (Francois Alaux, Herve de Crecy, and Ludovic Houplain, 2009).

A special program was devoted to the noted Dutch 3D studio Job, Joris, & Marieke Studio.  The screening led off with Where It All Began.  The 3-minute film was made by the trio in 2017 to celebrate their 10th anniversary as a company.  Noted for their short films, music videos and commissioned work, Where It All Began took the audience through the history of the studio and the development of their very recognizable style.  14 other pieces of their award-winning shorts were also screened including A Single Life which was nominated for a best short animation Oscar in 2015.

The program 2D versus 3D focused on the ingenious ways animators combine 2D and 3D in their films.  Games and Other Influences highlighted the influence that animators have drawn from the aesthetics and narration of computer games. Separate screenings featuring lighting, movement, and textures in 3D animation honed in on the use of the special techniques used in 3D films.

The Game and VR Zone ​ 

The Game Zone

For the first time this year, the festival created a Game and VR Zone along with the traditional weekend Game Days which offered the best of the contemporary Czech and international game scene.  Also new this year was Animarket, a job market and presentation for studios and schools focusing on animation, VFX, and VR/AR.  The primary focus of Animarket was on Central and Eastern European countries with an aim of providing long-term assistance to students and graduates in finding career opportunities in creative animation industries.

Never too young for the virtual world

My surprise discovery at the festival was the feature film I’ll Just Live in Bando.  South Korean director Yongsun Lee’s feature film debut was literally a one-man show.  He not only directed the film, he wrote the screenplay, designed the 2D computer and painted on paper animation and was also the producer.

  The 85-minute film tells the story of Junkoo Oh, a middle-aged actor waiting for his big break.  Meanwhile, he is a part-time university acting teacher.  With a wife and 2 children, his household expenses are very high and his wife is also insisting that the family move to a fancier, more upscale neighborhood so the children can go to a better school.

Junkoo’s big acting break finally comes, but at the same time he is offered a full time teaching position at the university which comes with a big salary.  He cannot accept both jobs.  Junkoo Oh is faced with the moral dilemma of choosing between what he has waited for his entire life or what is best for his family.  What keeps this from being an ordinary movie are the many absurd situations that arise while our hero struggles with his own indecisiveness and the moral issues that arise.  I’ll Just Live in Bando is a low budget film made for only $42,000 with a script full of humor.   The film’s absurd atmosphere is added to by the exaggerated facial expressions Yongsun Lee gives to his characters.

The feature film jury gave I’ll Just Live in Bando the Best Animated Feature Film For Grown-Ups award.  Jury members Elie Chapuis (Switzerland), Robin Cooper (United States), and Ben Adler (France) said in their jury statement “using bold animation, stark design, and frenetic pacing, this film takes the viewer through a man’s free fall.  It is a very human study of not living up to expectations.  Its well-constructed plot intimately connects the audience to each of Junkoo Oh’s new setbacks and trials”.  Their statement sums up the movie perfectly.

Youngsun Lee with Nancy

Along with the feature film, 5 other Korean shorts were screened at the festival.  The Korean delegation also hosted a reception where I had a chance to meet the Korean animators.  I also had the opportunity to talk to Yongsun Lee about his film I’ll Just Live in Bando.

Each jury member presented a program.  Faiyaz Jafri, a member of the Abstract and Non-Narrative Animation jury, presented 8 of his films.  I have seen some of his films individually at festivals but it was fascinating to see a group of them together.

Faiyaz Jafri presenting his program

Faiyaz was born in the Netherlands of Pakistani descent and now lives in New York City.  He is a self-taught animation artist and music composer.  As a new media artist, he says that his work “explores Jungian archetypes in the modern world, distilling the pop references of mass media and global popular culture into a visual shorthand of neo-archetypes.”  Hello Bambi portrays Snow White’s last dream that she had in the ambulance on her way to the emergency room, a truly surrealistic dream swarming with altered and deformed Disney characters.

This Ain’t Disneyland is the animator’s personal statement on the 9/11 attack, putting his favorite Bambi fawns into the context of this tragedy.  Somehow watching Bambi after Bambi jump from the smoking Twin Towers had an unsettling effect, much like the real tragedy had.  He explained the film by saying “This film is not about the big conspiracies, terrorism, fundamentalism, hate or love.  This film is about how close good and bad, wrong and right, and innocence and perversion can be.  This is my film about my Twin Towers and how I miss them”.

In Natural Plastic, a face slowly becoming overgrown with plants is a metaphor for the delicate balance between nature and man.  Faiyaz’s films are disturbing and thought-provoking.  Seeing them as a body of work makes them much stronger statements than seeing a single film as part of a competition program.

Libuse Ciharova accepting her Lifetime Achievement award

This year’s Anifilm Life Time Achievement Award was bestowed on Libuse Ciharova.  Many people outside of Central and Eastern Europe may not be familiar with her name, but her contribution to Czech animation as an illustrious animator, screenwriter, director, and teacher is immense.  She began her career in 1951 at Bratri v triku studio as an assistant animator where she honed her skills under the tutelage of such Czech animation greats as Zdenek Miler, Vaclav Bedrich, and Jiri Brdecka.  She soon became a very sought after animator in her own right.  Known for her ability to work in various artistic styles, Libuse directed numerous children’s films as well as episodes of Nils and the Wild Geese, an animated series about a boy who is traveling with a flock of wild geese.  Along the way he learns to understand nature, people and himself.  The 9-minute episodes are based on The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Holgersson by the Swedish author Selma Lagerlof.

 Libuse Ciharova’s desire to pass her vast knowledge on to the next generation led her to teach at the Film and Television School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague from2001 until just recently.

 A program of 5 of her short films ranging from the 1963 Incorrectly Drawn Hen to the 1988 About Malenka was screened along with 7 episodes of Nils and the Wild Geese which was shown in a separate program.  Her influence on her students was clearly demonstrated in a program of her student’s work which Ms. Ciharova curated herself.

As opposed to Libuse Ciharova’s body of work, Forgotten Czech Female Directors showcased films by 11 Czech women who only made 1 or 2 films in the 1960’s ‘70’s, and ‘80’s.  Most were made at the Kratky Film Studio in Prague.  The reasons for abandoning their careers in animation varied widely, from going into book publishing to, in one instance, a career as ambassador to Spain after the studio was dissolved following the Velvet Revolution.

Surprisingly, several of the films the ladies created dealt with gender stereotypes, which was very unusual for Czech animation at that time.  Hippo Mummy is a Daddy by Sarlota Zahradkova looks like a cute film about the children’s game of playing mummy and daddy but it hides a clever satire on stereotyping gender roles and the division of work in many traditional families in the ‘80’s.

Lenka Naibauerova’s How the Bloke Got All the Work Wrong, done in a visual folklore style, is a music video for a folk song about a man who decides one day to show everyone that he can do any job as well as his wife, who he thinks doesn’t work nearly as hard as he does.   On the surface it is a humorous folktale, but once again it is a commentary on gender equality.

In one very interesting film, Versus, director Miroslava Humplikova collaborated with the well-known Czech graphic artist Kaja  Saudek who imprinted his unique comic book style on the film.  The original narrative deals with gender stereotypes and explores possible life choices for men and women in a modern and humorous way, which was not new in the western world but was quite unique for Eastern Europe in the early ‘90’s.

At the Forgotten Czech Female Directors screening

Many of the women were present at the screening and when they took to the stage to talk about their films and their lives, they said that they had not seen their films in many years and thought that they looked very dated compared to present day animation.  Sadly they seemed to feel that their contributions to animation were of little importance and they did not think of themselves as inspirations to young female animators today.  The theatre was full and the audience expressed their appreciation for the ladies’ work, asking excellent questions and giving them a standing ovation at the end of the program.

South Korean director Youngsun Lee with Program Director Pavel Horacek at the directors' chat

A new addition to Anifilm this year was the large festival tent in the Castle’s Zamecky Park.  The tent was used for the director’s chats, music events at night, and book chats.  With a bar and shady trees, it was also an excellent place for people to gather for relaxed, informal discussions.

Zdenka and Gene Dietch

Gene Deitch originally wrote For the Love of Prague in 1997 in English; a book that is part history and part love story.  For 30 years during the Stalinist rule of the former Czechoslovakia, Gene was the only American citizen living in Prague who was completely free of control by the regime, so he has a lot of history to tell.  He fell in love with the city but even more important he fell in love with Zdenka Najmanova.  The book tells of his first 4 decades with his beloved wife Zdenka.  They have now been married more than 50 years.  To celebrate the first publication of For the Love of Prague in the Czech language, Gene and Zdenka held a book signing in the tent.

Another book event honored a recently published Czech translation of Estonian animator and theoretician Ulo Pikkov’s Animasophy:  Theoretical Writings on the Animated Film.  I consider this book to be one of the essential books of contemporary animation theory.  The book also contains a DVD of the films Ulo discusses and the DVD is worth the price of the book alone.

Running concurrently to Anifilm Festival on 1-3 May was the 6th edition of the Visegrad Animation Forum.  The Forum is a major pitching event for animated films in Central and Eastern Europe.  This year feature film pitching was added for the first time to the already existing short film and series/television specials sessions.  Unfortunately, my train was very late getting in, so I missed the short film pitching session, but I did get to attend the feature film competition.  Following the success of The Breadwinner, it seems the trend in feature films is big-eyed young girls going on quests to save their families, followed in a close second by heroic dogs.

Puppet from Unwanted Things and People

The feature film project that stood out to me was Of Unwanted Things and People.  The puppet animation film is made up of 4 short stories for children by 4 different directors from 4 countries: the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Poland.  Based on a book by Czech author Arnost Goldflam, the stories, which he wrote for his own children, speak about such things as loss and loneliness in very touching ways.  The project is already in production with a projected completion date of 2021.  The clip of the film and the puppet that was shown at the forum was quite lovely and I look forward to seeing the finished film.  Of Unwanted Things and People was selected by the jury as the winning feature film project which means that it will advance directly to the prestigious Cartoon Movie, the largest pitching forum in Europe.  The project also won the Nespresso Audience Award, a Nespresso coffee maker, which the directors said would move from studio to studio to keep the teams awake during the long hours of work on the film.

Prior to giving their pitches short film and series/television specials teams received group and individual coaching sessions with experienced tutors who offered guidance and analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of their presentations.

In addition to the main pitching competitions, the Visegrad Animation Forum offered a number of networking sessions, presentations, and screenings.  The New Talent screening focused on 11 young up and coming Central and Eastern European animators.

Serbian director Rastko Ciric displays the project that he pitched at Visegrad Animation Forum Setting for the forum barbecue

 One evening the Forum took guests out to a lovely traditional outdoor barbeque by a lake.  This was the perfect place for casual networking.

Guarding Trebon

You can learn more about the Visegrad Animation Forum at:  visegradanimation.com

Trebon is a charming small 12th-century town located in South Bohemia.  Along with a castle and a massive central square, Trebon has several excellent spas and a local brewery that produces very tasty beer.  This year the Aurora Spa cinema became a festival screening hall, with films being shown all day.  The town also has a fish hatchery that is the largest inland producer of carp in Europe, and the adjacent Svet Lake is quite lovely.  The festival treated guests to a boat ride on the large lake, which is surrounded by a forest.

On the boat trip with Program Director Pavel Horacek

The 6-day festival was so packed full of screenings, workshops, and animation events that it was impossible to see and do everything as the over 250-page catalogue attests to.  I want to thank Program Director Pavel Horacek for inviting me to be a guest at the festival.  Also a big thank you goes out to the staff and volunteers who did everything possible to make my visit so pleasant. 

The 2019 edition of the festival will be from 7 to 12 May and you can learn more about the festival at:  www.anifilm.cz

FESTIVAL WINNERS
INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION OF ANIMATED FEATURE FILMS FOR GROWN-UPS
Jury members: Elie Chapuis, Robin Cooper, Ben Adler

I'll Just Live in Bando
dir. Yongsun Lee
South Korea, 2017

Jury statement: Using bold animation, stark design and frenetic pacing this film expertly takes the viewer through a man’s free fall. It is a very human study of not living up to expectations. Its well constructed plot intimately connects the audience to each of Jun Koo Oh’s new set backs and trials.

Special Mention of Jury
Tehran Taboo
dir. Ali Soozandeh
Germany, Austria, 2017 

Jury statement: The special mention goes to a first feature that inventively interweaves the stories of three women struggling with their conservative and hypocritical environment. A film that uses animation out of political necessity, and draws fantastic performances from its entire cast. A brave, provocative, and narratively audacious film: Tehran Taboo.

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION OF ANIMATED FEATURE FILMS FOR CHILDREN
Jury members: Elie Chapuis, Robin Cooper, Ben Adler

The Breadwinner
dir. Nora Twomey
Canada, Ireland, Luxembourg, 2017

Jury statement: This film is an obvious choice for the jury and stands out for all its impressive merits. From the voice directing to the music, from the design to the animation, the movie reaches level rarely achieved in 2D animation. All of these qualities serve a profound subject and make The Breadwinner an important film that tells simply and with great subtlety a very complex and serious story. Avoiding all exaggerations and simplifications, it completely transported us into Parvana’s powerful and moving journey.

Special Mention of Jury
Big Bad Fox and Other Tales
dir. Benjamin Renner, Patrick Imbert
France, Belgium, 2017

Jury statement: This film was delightful from start to finish. The character design, fun story and bold animation make this film more than just the sum of its three tales. This animation needed no translation and we are happy to award it with the Jury Special Mention.
 
INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION OF SHORT FILMS
Jury members: Chris Landreth, Brigitta Iványi-Bitter, Libor Pixa

Manivald
dir: Chintis Lundgen
Estonia, 2017

Jury statement: This outstanding short builds upon a very personal and never before seen universe, created for Manivald, a troubled mama’s boy.  The special universe of Manivald has been building up slowly in the past years, to which the animation world has reacted with absolute enthusiasm.  We adore the thoroughly elaborated characters, the deep understanding of relationships and the description of universal human motivations, like lazyness and the craving for love. 

Special Mention of Jury
The Burden
dir. Niki Lindroth von Bahr
Sweden, 2018

Jury statement: THE BURDEN shows us a part of our humanity we may be uncomfortable with:  those of us who dwell in permanent night, in isolation, on the edge of freeway rest stop.  With a surprising sense of humour and immaculate technique, this film shows that even these dark corners have a place for faith and empathy.
 

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION OF STUDENT FILMS
Jury members: Chris Landreth, Brigitta Iványi-Bitter, Libor Pixa

Enough
dir. Anna Mantzaris
UK, 2017 

Jury statement: We awarded this film because it has outstanding qualities in character design, storytelling and sound design. This is a savage take on reacting to constant rush and overwhelming stress. There was only one problem with the film, it was not ENOUGH watching it for 2 minutes, we could have watched for an even longer time, how people get on each other’s nerves as a chain reaction.

Special Mention of Jury
Pumped Up 
dir. Marion Ichard
France, 2017
Jury statement: With a daring combination of irony and unsettling character design, PUMPED UP presents a world that blurs the line between utopia and dystopia.  We appreciated the film's absurd humour--that it both embraces and mocks this world that strangely resembles our own.

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION OF ABSTRACT AND NON-NARRATIVE ANIMATION
Jury members: Boris Labbé, Faiyaz Jafri, Kamila Boháčková

Division Articulations
dir. Max Hattler
Hongkong, 2017 
Jury statement: This work rooted in modernism evolves through random procedural animation creating a geometric, organic flow. A piece of art that uses contemporary technology progressively to create digital poetry.

Special Mention of Jury
Dreamland
dir. Mizue Mirai
France, 2017

Jury statement: This Pop machine-like relentless extravaganza of delightful, energetic patterns resurrects to create a colorful retelling of building a structure that exponentially loses control. Imploding and exploding repeatedly.

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION OF MUSICVIDEOS
Jury members: Boris Labbé, Faiyaz Jafri, Kamila Boháčková

The Shanghai Restoration Project: I Don’t Like the Comics You Drew
dir: Lei Lei
China, USA, 2017

Jury statement: A simple, whimsical and dark tale of self-deprecation. The punk-rock aesthetic adds to the energy of the piece that has the best title in the competition.

 
Special Mention of Jury

Antoine Debarge: Dolly.Zero
dir: Ugo Bienvenu
France, 2017
Jury statement: This cinematic rendition in the style of the French Bande Dessinée tells a dystopian story reminiscent of Lynch, complimented with a melancholic score.

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION OF INDEPENDENT COMPUTER GAMES
Jury members: 

Best Artwork 
GNOG
Samuel Boucher - Ko-op Mode, USA, 2017
Jury statement: GNOG almost flies off the screen at you. The luminescent colour palette, the quirky characters, and the surreal design of the machines create a unique dreamlike experience. The richness of the visuals is key to the whole game. It encourages you to keep playing, knowing your reward is not only progress through the game but the promise of more wonderful art.

Best game for kids
Chuchel
Jaromír Plachý – Amanita Design, Czech Republic, Slovakia, 2018
Jury statement: It's not just that Chuchel is very very funny - it's a game made entirely to make people laugh. The game moves to the rhythm of the jokes. Each scene lasts for the right length of time to enjoy the humour of the situations. You laugh at the characters' misfortune, then feel sorry for them, then a new scene begins and you laugh at them all over again. The puzzles are as challenging as they need to be to keep things interesting, pulling people of all ages - even very young children - along with it. You are all laughing the whole time.

CZECH HORIZON - NATIONAL COMPETITION
Short film
Walking and Running 
dir. Vít Pancíř
Czech Republic, 2018

Student film
WOO-HOO!
dir: Dávid Štumpf
Czech Republic, 2018 

TV / On-line Films and Series
Bluebery Hunt
dir: Kateřina Karhánková, Alexandra Májová
Czech Republic, 2017

Commissioned Work
Jupi Hot Drink
dir: Michal Žabka
Czech Republic, 2017

Music Videos
Barbora Poláková: Krosna
dir: Kousuke Sugimoto
Czech Republic, 2017

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