Budapest is a beautiful city at any time of the year, but during the Christmas season it becomes a fairyland and the perfect setting for a world class animation festival.
Now that spring is here and I am confined to my home and garden for the foreseeable future, so I am reflecting on my travels last year. I had so many high points and the Anilogue International Animation Festival certainly was one of them.
Budapest is a beautiful city at any time of the year, but during the Christmas season, it becomes a fairyland and the perfect setting for a world-class animation festival. To add to the magic the main screening venue of the festival is the magnificent Urania National Theatre. Built in the mid 1980s, the Venetian Gothic and Eastern Moorish architecture makes you feel that you are in a true movie palace.
I am a big Shaun the Sheep fan so the opening night selection, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon was a lovely treat for me. The 87-minute film features all of the loveable characters from Foggy Bottom Farm in what the movie poster proclaims is “Close Encounters of the Furred Kind”.
What begins as an ordinary day for Shaun, Bitzer the dog, and the rest of the farm residents, suddenly turns into a laugh-packed adventure when an alien, endowed with amazing powers, crash lands in one of the farm’s fields. Shaun, accompanied by a reluctant Bitzer, goes on a mission to get the intergalactic visitor home. Of course, there is much more going on in the film. The farmer has decided to open an alien-based theme park on his land called “Farmagedden”. Of course, there are also sinister enemy agents trying to kidnap Lu-La, the alien.
The film, the directorial debut for Will Becher and Richard Phelan, contains all of the usual wacky Aardman humor and charm of Nick Park’s original characters. There is no dialogue so the film can be enjoyed by all ages internationally. Shaun the Sheep Movie; Farmageddon was nominated for a BAFTA (the British Academy Award). Netflix has picked up the movie for home viewing in Canada, Latin America, and the United States and Prime Video – Amazon carries it in the United Kingdom. Right now, with all of us quarantined to our homes we can use a lot of good laughs so I wholeheartedly recommend spending time at Foggy Bottom Farm with Shaun and friends.
I have enjoyed the two previous Lotte films, so I was very happy to have an opportunity to see her latest feature-length adventure, Lotte and the Lost Dragons. Lotte first appeared on television in 2000 when Estonian animators Heiki Ernits and Janno Poldma created the adventurous puppy girl for a series called Lotte Goes South. In 2006 Ernits and Poldma made the first feature-length film, Lotte From Gadgetville, which was followed by the second feature Lotte and the Moonstone Secret in 2011.
In the new film, Lotte gets a little sister, the adorable Roosi, and Karl the Raccoon and Viktor the fish come to Gadgetville, Lotte and Roosi’s home town. Karl and Viktor are taking part in a big folk song competition. Whoever succeeds in recording the folk song of the world’s oldest living animal, believed to be a fire breathing dragon, will win the grand prize. Lotte, with Roosi in tow, decides to help Karl and Viktor search for the dragon.
Along the way, the puppy girls have many adventures such as when Roosi falls down a mole hole into the midst of afternoon tea that two elderly moles are having in their cosy home. The film is full of Estonian folk songs and authentic folk costumes.
Lotte is such a popular character in the Baltic States that there is a real Lotte Village located in Tahkuranna, Estonia. The village, open to visitors in the summer and during the winter holiday season, recreates the charming houses with live actors representing the colorful, warm-hearted, eccentric rabbits, dogs, cats, and weasel inventors who inhabit Lotte’s world and personify the town’s motto “Goodness Makes Everything Better”.
Janno Poldma was on the short film jury. He told me that Lotte and the Lost Dragons was made as part of Estonia’s 100th birthday celebration. He also said that this is the last Lotte feature film.
There were eleven feature films shown at the festival, five of which were in the Feature Film Competition. They included Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, directed by Salvador Simo, about the making of Luis Bunuel’s 1933 documentary Las Hurdes (Land Without Bread). The film, a fascinating look into Bunuel’s character, is brutal at times, combines actual live footage from the making of the film on location in a remote Spanish village with animation. It is gripping to watch.
The Swallows of Kabul by Zabou Breitman and Elea Gobbe-Mevellec is another strong film well worth watching. Set in the summer of 1998 Kabul where the Taliban is in control, it is a love story set amid the daily violence and misery of a city under the rule of a repressive regime.
I had already seen many of the films in the three International Competition programs, but the New Hungarian Animation program offered some wonderful surprises for me. I particularly enjoyed Luca Toth’s Mr Mare. Luca’s work first came to my attention in 2013 when her film The Age of Curious won a Jury Distinction Award at Annecy. Her 2016 Superbia had its world premiere at the official competition of Cannes La Semaine de la Critique.
Luca’s latest offering, Mr Mare takes her style of blending fairytale otherworldliness with touches of the grotesque and surreal to another level. When a man discovers that the tumor on his chest is really the top of a plump little man’s head, he is terrified at first. Slowly, as the head emerges, we watch the dynamics of unrequited love appear as the oddly codependent couple come to terms with each other. The 19-minute film felt much shorter because I became so wrapped up in the two characters and the beautiful pallet of colors Toth uses to create this intriguing film. There is no dialogue but the sound design and occasional bits of music by Csabe Kalatsa add to the eerie effect of this film which is ultimately about self-love.
I also appreciated Jacque’s Rampage or When Do We Lose Our Self-Confidence? Mate Horesnyi’s 8-minute black and white film feels like a moving graphic novel. The little vignettes that fit seamlessly together serve to define the real substance of day to day life using hand-drawn, 2D animation to connect relationships between the scenes through the unintelligible features of the characters. Director Horesnyi is a student at the Budapest Metropolitan University and this is his debut film, which he told me was inspired by the work of Jacques Tati. The excellent sound design by Alex Riczko added a darkly humorous note to the film.
I believe that animated documentaries are an extremely important way to tell stories that it would be impossible to show in live-action. Anilogue screened four Ani Doc programs which were previously screened at the Rising of Lusitania – AnimaDoc Film Festival in Gdansk, Poland organized by Animation Across Borders. The programs included some of my favorite ani docs such as Jonas Odell’s 2005 Never Like the First Time which recounts four people’s first sexual encounter and Michelle and Uri Kranot’s chilling 2016 film How Long, Not Long, which is a visual journey about a universal belonging that doesn’t confine itself to a region or national boundary in an age when xenophobia, nationalism, and intolerance are running wild. The film makes a powerful statement.
The Diver is Red was new to me and it left a strong impact. Randall Christopher’s 2017 film is set in 1960’s Argentina. The true-crime documentary follows the story of secret agent Zvi Aharoni as he hunted down one of the highest-ranking Nazi criminals who was on the run.
The Animated Documentary programs were introduced by Animated Doc Film Festival director Piotr Kardas. He also presented a program of films shown at O!PLA Animation Across Borders Festival which he also directs.
Multi-talented composer, sound designer, and animation historian Andrea Martignoni has now added co-director to his list of credits. Alba’s Memories co-directed by Martignoni and Maria Steinmetz was in the International Competition this year. The touching memoir, told by Alba, relates how she fell in love with her brother’s friend Pierino, marrying him in early 1950’s Italy. Her lovely romantic story, related with occasional input from her husband, comes straight from the heart. I loved every minute of the beautifully animated six-minute film. It left me feeling that Alba is someone that I would like to know. When I asked Andrea how he met Alba, he told me that she is his mother.
Andrea served on the Feature Festival Competition jury. He also conducted a Master Class where he screened ten of the more than forty movies that he has created the music and sound design for. He also talked about his methods of composing music.
Self-taught Estonian animator Chintis Lundgren lives in Croatia with her partner and collaborator Drasko Ivezic. Her delightfully absurdist humor and social satire led her 2017 short film Manivald to become a festival favorite. She and Drasko were at Anilogue with her latest film Toomas Beneath the Valley of the Wild Wolves. It takes us deeper into the life of Toomas, the hot, bisexual wolf from Manivald. The 18-minute drawn on paper with pencil film has all of the charm and wit of her previous films and doesn’t let up on the social commentary as Toomas is forced to find other ways to support his wife and rapidly expanding family after he loses his job as a well-paid office worker.
Chintis told me that she would like to explore further on film the lives of the other characters from Manivald to see what happens to the title character after he joins the band and how mother is getting along now that Manivald has left home.
Chintis also gave a workshop showing the body of her work including a very short 2015 musical interlude with Manivald and the Absinthe Rabbit. After she talked about her work process she was joined on stage by Drasko to talk about their collaboration process. As well as learning a great deal, the audience was treated to a lot of humor during their presentation.
Noted Russian animator Alexey Alexiev led nine young animators, with a bit of assistance from Kaspar Jancis, in the Animated Jam Workshop. At the end of the two days, the group completed a 1-minute 40-second film.
Kaspar was at the festival as a member of the Children’s Film Competition Jury and his latest film Cosmonaut, was in the International Competition. The film about an aged cosmonaut has a lot of Kaspar’s sardonic wit, but also a very bittersweet note. He said that he made the film for his parents who have reached retirement age. Kaspar said that although he did not set out to do it, the film is being shown in senior centers throughout Estonia.
I was invited by the festival to host the three sessions of Meet the Filmmaker chats. It is such a pleasure to get to talk to so many talented and interesting animators and find out about them and their films first hand. The talks were held at the Magveto Café, a combination bookstore and café where most of the Master Classes were also held. The Café is a lovely welcoming place that is perfect for presentations with tiered wooden seating so that the entire audience has an excellent view of the stage.
Along with the screenings for children, there was a 4 ½ free children’s workshop. Participants learned the basic skills of thaumatrope and zoetrope animation. The workshop was presented in conjunction with 51zero Moving Image and Contemporary Arts Festival. The Festival is named after the coordinates of its location, Midway, Kent, England. 51zero presents exhibitions, workshops, and performances at its home space as well as at other sites.
Following the opening night film, there was a party at the famous Szimpla Kert Ruin Bar. Budapest is famous for its ruin bars and Szimpla Kert is the oldest one. Founded in 2002, it is located in an old stove factory that had been slated for demolition. The massive two-story bar has numerous rooms and a portion of its roof missing so there is a large open space in the center where movies are shown on a big screen. Originally the bar was founded as a place for the community to gather and have a cheap drink. The drinks are still reasonably priced and Szimpla Kert still hosts many community events such as their weekly farmer’s market. It has also become a prime tourist destination also. No trip to Budapest would be complete without a visit to it and the old Jewish Quarter where it is located. It is also the perfect place for the opening night party.
Instead of a closing night party, Anilogue hosts Animated Nights. Beginning at 21h00 the program was divided into four screenings with a break to visit the bar between each one. The evening began with an hour of erotic animation, next was a switch to what was billed as a visual feast, films to enrich the mind and delight the eyes. After the drinks break, it was time for some animated horror. Animated Nights concluded in the wee hours of the morning with a program of Sci-Fi Animation. The crowd went out into the night with visions of Nathan Harborn Viaud’s What’s Behind the Door? and The Midnight Freak Train by Josep Derrick and Samuel Elfick dancing in their heads.
My sincere thanks go to Program Director Kreet Paljas and Festival Director Tamas Liszka for inviting me to be part of Anilogue. I sincerely appreciate their generous hospitality and they are both always fun to hang out with. A special note of appreciation goes to Katalin Timar, Guest Co-ordinator, who made sure that I got to see all of the films that I needed to watch before each director’s chat. Her patience and good humor as I sat and watched the films on her computer were way above the call of duty.
If you ever have the opportunity to attend Anilogue International Animation Festival I urge you to go. You will see excellent programs and have a wonderful time. Next year’s edition will take place again from 27 November to 1 December. You can find out more about the festival as well as when and how to submit your film at:
ANILOGUE AWARD-WINNING FILMS
Feature Film Jury: Kristof Jurik, Hungary; Andrea Martignoni, Italy; and Petya Zlateva
Best Feature Film: The Swallows of Kabul, Zabou Breitman and Elea Gobbe-Mevellec – France, Luxembourg,
Special Mention: The Prince’s Voyage (Le voyage du prince), Jean-Francois Laguionie and Xavier Picard -
Luxembourg and France
Best Feature Film Audience Award: Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, Salvador Simo – Spain and The
Short Film Jury: Paola Bristot, Italy; Balint Gelley, Hungary; and Janno Poldma, Estonia
Best Short Film: Daughter, Daria Kascheeva – Czech Republic
Special Mention by Balint Gelley: Kids, Michael Frei – Switzerland
Special Mention by Paola Bristot: Portrait of Suzanne, Izabela Plucinska – Poland
Special Mention by Janno Poldma: Don’t Know What, Thomas Renoldner – Austria
Best Short Film Audience Award: Under the Rib Cage, Bruno Tondeur – Belgium
Children’s Film Jury: Kaspar Jancis, Estonia; Agnes Kiss-Monok, Hungary; and Roberto Paganelli, Italy
Best Children’s Film: The Kite, Martin Smatana – Czech Republic
Student Jury Award: The Kite, Martin Smatana – Czech Republic
Special Mention by Agnes Kiss-Monok: Urban Legends: The Human Body, Kati Glaser – Hungary
Special Mention by Kaspar Jancis: Heatwave, Fokion Xenos – Greece
Special Mention by Roberto Paganelli: Castaways: Let’s Catch Fish, Peter Szeiler and Zoltan Fritz - Hungary