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ANIMAFEST ZAGREB - 4-9 June 2018 - Zagreb, Croatia


Taking horror to the streets - the festival information kiosk. ​​​

I always look forward to Animafest because of the high quality of the programming.  This year was especially exciting for me since the theme of the festival was “horror in animation” in honor of the 200th birthday of the publication of Mary Shelly’s classic Frankenstein. 

It isn’t often that the festival trailer becomes one of my favorite things at the festival.  Usually, by the fourth or fifth screening, I am so tired of watching it over and over again, but this year’s Animafest trailer was a joy to watch and I would love to have it projected on a wall in my home.

Based on the work of Croatian artist Stipan Tadić and animated by Luka Hrgović, Petra Balekić, and Stipan, the trailer was so detailed that you had to watch it again and again to see every little gory detail.  Tadić’s artwork not only graced the festival catalogue but appears throughout the thick catalogue.  There was also an exhibition of his artwork at a local café. 

With 7 screenings of short films devoted to horror and 4 truly horrifically scary features, there was something to make everyone feel squeamish.  The first program, Memento Mori, opened with Walt Disney’s 1929 first Silly Symphonies film The Skeleton Dance.  At midnight skeletons from a graveyard perform a macabre, often humorous, dance before scurrying back to their graves when the cock crows the approach of dawn.

This program of classic films also included Raoul Servais’ Harpya, Death and the Mother by Ruth Lingford, and Chris Landreth’s 1998 Bingo.  Chris’ film left me feeling unsettled the first time that I saw it years ago and it still has the same effect on me now.  Based on the stage play Disregard This Play, it is the story of an ordinary man who is surrounded by people who keep insisting that he is someone called Bingo the Clown, even though he isn’t.  Eventually, the man is worn down by the constant insistence and comes to believe that he really is Bingo the Clown.  Chris once told me that he made this film in an attempt to get over his lifelong fear of clowns, but it didn’t work.

Dread in Your Head and Blood featured films made in the last 15 years such as Australian Peter Cornwall’s 2003 Ward 13 about a hospital you don’t ever want to be in.  The film’s two-headed dog gives me the creeps every time I watch the film. 

I Know What You Drew Last Summer took a look at some of the more unsettling films on the current festival circuit including Less Than Human.  Danish animator Steffen Lindholm has set his film in the aftermath of a zombie attack when the zombies have been “cured” and exiled to a secluded block of apartments.  When a television reporter decides to interview a pair of the zombies in their apartment to prove that they are not fit to be reintegrated into mainstream life the reporter is in for a big surprise.

Croatian Bestiary is exactly what it sounds like, a collection of Croatian horror.  Made in 1966 when Croatia was still part of the former Yugoslavia, Aleksander Marks and Vladimir Jutrisa’s Muha the Fly is a different take on the classic man versus fly film when a man becomes aggravated with a fly that won’t stop bothering him.  He swats and swats at it but as it grows to human size the man finds out what it is like to be bothered when the tables are turned and the fly becomes a giant monster.    

   Three Nights of Total Horror was screened at the Animafest Out-Door Art Park.  It was only fitting that Anim’est Festival in Bucharest, Romania be invited to program the first night of horror since Romania is the legionary home of Count Dracula. On the second night, Lee Hardcastle from the United Kingdom curated a program of his Claymation horror films that were definitely not for children.

 The three Art Park screenings concluded with City of Rott by Frank J. Sudol from the United States.  Inspired by the classic zombie films, Sudol’s 2006 feature film is the tale of a grumpy old man and his talking walker who set out alone, unarmed, and losing his mind to buy a new pair of shoes in the city of Rott.  The city is infected with hordes of flesh-eating zombies and the crazy old man only has his walker to battle the living dead.  Will he fall victim to the Rott Worms that inhabit the zombies decaying brains?  The film was entirely created, written, and directed by Sudol who is currently in production on a sequel to City of Rott called City of Rott: Other Worlds.  A short trailer for the new film was shown following the feature.

Robert Morgan at his exhibition.

In keeping with this year’s theme the British puppet animator, live-action filmmaker, and artist Robert Morgan mounted an exhibition at the Ulupuh Gallery entitled Morgan’s Organs.  Along with Morgan’s paintings, the exhibition included some disturbingly fascinating sculptures made from the remains of puppets from some of his animations such as The Cat with Hands, Bobby Yeah, D is for Deloused, and Belial’s Dream.  In his artist’s statement, Robert said “When I finish making a film I destroy my puppets.  This is because I need to recycle the expensive armatures for the next film . . . I like the idea of my puppets only existing in their films.  This is probably a bit sadistic”.  Sadistic or not I would love to own one of Robert Morgan’s amazing sculptures.

The Cat With Hands.

Robert Morgan sculpture.  

  Robert also gave a Master Class called Making Films and More where he showed clips from his films and talked about the processes that he used to create them.

Of course, Animafest was not just an animation horror festival.  The competition screenings were full of some of the best of the current animated films.  I had been looking forward to seeing Augur, the new film by David Doutel and Vasco Sa.  The Portuguese duo who brought us the award-winning Fuligem (Soot) in 2014 definitely did not disappoint me with their latest film. 

Nancy with David Doutel and Vasco Sa.

The story of Thaddeus, who owns a prize-winning bull, and his dim-witted cousin Emilio, is very Portuguese in the setting and characters, but it is also very universal.  The prized stud bull provides income for the cousins.  On an extremely cold, icy night tensions between Thaddeus and Emilio come to a head.  Ultimately Thaddeus must choose between saving the life of his cousin, whom he despises, or his prize bull from drowning in the icy river.  The film is beautifully painted on glass, a style that fits the dark, slow-paced story perfectly.

Another dynamic animation duo are the twin brothers Veljko and Milivoj Popovic from Croatia.  Their latest film, Cyclists, is as humorous as it is colorful, capturing the spirit of a small Mediterranean town perfectly.  The cycling season is nearing its grand finale.  During the final race, the 2 men in the lead are competing for more than the Grand Trophy.  They are fighting for the affection of a lady and the fulfillment of their erotic fantasies.  Meanwhile, the small port town prepares for the arrival of a large ocean liner and its dashing captain.  The 7minute 20-second film may be silent but the audience certainly was not.  I’ve seldom heard such loud laughter from an animation audience.  Cyclists won the Best Croatian Film Award.

Veljko Popović with a certain notorious lady.

At 44 minutes This Magnificent Cake is not a short film (the definition of a short film is 40 minutes or less) and it isn’t a feature-length film either, but whatever it is, the new film by Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roels is magnificent.  The pair, whose Oh Willy won over 80 International awards in 2012, once again use felt for the puppets and sets of their anthology film set in the Colonial African times of the 1800’s Belgian Empire.  The film takes us from a palace to the African jungle, telling the story of 5 different reoccurring characters:  a troubled king, a middle-aged Pygmy working in a luxury hotel, a failed businessman on an expedition with many cases of Belgian beer, a lost porter, and a young army deserter.

This Magnificent Cake.

The title of the film is taken the from Belgium’s King Leopold’s expressed wish to have a piece of “this magnificent cake” in the African Congo.  It is a film not to miss when it comes to a festival near you.  Although the film gives programmers headaches, at Animafest it was screened in the feature film category.  The 44-minute length seemed to be no problem for the jury who awarded De Swaef and Roels the Best Feature Film Award.

Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roels with their Best Feature Film award.

This is a very good year for feature animation.  I have previously written about the amazing Isle of Dogs and the delightful Big Bad Fox and Other Tales which were screened at the festival.  In Zagreb, I finally got to see the recently completed Captain Morten and the Spider Queen.  Estonia is celebrating its hundredth year of independence and Nukafilm its 50th anniversary as the premier puppet animation studio so it is fitting that Captain Morton premiered this year.   The 75-minute puppet film is quite a departure from Estonian director Kaspar Jancis’ usual style of surreal adult films drawn in a simple style and full of quirky characters.  Captain Morton is a stop-motion puppet film but it is still full of quirky characters.

Señor Cucaracha arriving in Zagreb.

The story revolves around 10-year-old Morton Viks.  Morton has no mother and his father, a sea captain, is always away sailing his own ship, Salamander.  Morton is being raised by his aunt, none too happy to have Morton living with her, who owns a café overlooking the harbor.

In this coming of age story, Morton gets magically shrunken down to the size of an insect after a chance meeting with an inept magician, Senor Cucaracha.  After a water pipe bursts in his aunt’s café, Morton is trapped aboard his own toy ship. With a crew of insects as his ship is set afloat in the flooded café.  As Morton deals with his shipboard problems and his strange crew he learns to accept and understand the adults around him. 

Captain Morton and the Spider Queen is a joint Estonian, Irish, Belgian, and Welsh co-production.  It is the first stop-motion animation puppet-animated feature ever produced in Ireland.  The film had a 10 million Euro budget and was 6 years in the making.  The film is an adaptation of the original children’s story that Kaspar wrote with the intention originally to turn it into a play. 

Producer Andres Mand, Kaspar Jancis and  Señor Cucaracha handing out jelly doughnuts after the premiere of Captain Morton and the Spider Queen.

The Man-Woman Case is a feature film at the other end of the film spectrum from Captain Morton.  It is based on the true story of Eugene/Eugenia Falleni, an Italian born transgender man convicted of the murder of his Italian wife in 1917.  Eugene constantly changes his identity, weds a second time and lives a “”normal” life until the law finally catches up with him/her.  The trial that ensued turned into a three-ring circus.  The film uses rotoscoping along with 2D animation to tell the story and the black and white palette with touches of color emphasizes the dramatic mood of this tragically haunting story.

Isle of Dogs isn’t the only dog feature film making the festival rounds this year.  Chang Yi, a member of the 1980’s “New Taiwanese Cinema” group has made an anthology film of 4 touching stories revolving around dogs.  The first story Lost and Found is about a puppy alone and roaming the streets of a big city looking for someone to show him a bit of kindness.  The second story is about One Eye Tiger, a big stray dog who is picked up from the highway by an animal lover.  In Old Lady, an elderly, sick dog who was loved by his dead owner is left at the mercy of her husband who never liked the dog.  In the final story, A Change of Heart, a dog and his loving owner adopt a stray dog with disastrous consequences.

Each segment of the film utilizes a different animation style to present four different attitudes toward dogs – indifference, naïve love, neglect, and jealousy – all of which usually lead to terrible outcomes for the dogs.  This is a film that any dog lover will appreciate, but be sure to take along a few handkerchiefs.

Each year, at the discretion of the Animafest Council, an award for the Outstanding Contribution to Animation Studies and a separate Life Time Achievement Award are given.  This year’s recipient of the Outstand Contribution Award was British writer/historian Paul Wells who is one of the leading voices in contemporary animation studies.  In selecting Paul for this honor the council said “Writing synthetic overviews, introductory textbooks, and innovative analysis . . . Wells has shown a diverse and inspiring taste for good animation, unique and deep insight into inner workings of the medium, nuanced appreciation of the art of animation, and a genuine talent for knowledge dissemination”.  His books such as The Animated Bestiary:  Animals, Cartoons, and Culture and Re-Imagining Animation are classic texts on animation and Paul’s text Scriptwriting forms the basis for workshops that he has conducted worldwide, and he is a worthy person to be honored indeed.

Paul Fierlinger and Paul Wells with their awards.

This year’s Life Time Achievement Award was presented at the opening ceremony to Paul Fierlinger.  In a career that spans more than 40 years, Paul has amassed an impressive body of work and garnered numerous honors and awards.  His film It’s So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House received an Academy Award nomination.  Paul is known to many people as the creator of Sesame Street’s Teeny Little Super Guy.  His PBS animated specials, Still Life With Animated Dogs and A Room Nearby have each won the prestigious Peabody Award.

Working with his wife Sandra, Fierlinger has often focused on documentary and/or very personal stories with occasional touches of political commentary which has led his films to receive great success at documentary as well as animation festivals.

A retrospective screening of Paul’s work was presented at the festival.  There was an additional screening of My Dog Tulip.  The film is a touchingly true account of a middle age man who adopts an Alsatian dog that he names Tulip.  It is a beautiful piece of animation about a love affair between a man and a dog.  The film brings a smile to my face and a tear in my eye every time I watch it.

The Student Film Selection Committee, at their discretion, can give an award to the animation school that they feel submitted the most outstanding student films that year to the festival.  This year the award went to the California Institute of the Arts at the opening night ceremony.  Cal Arts, established in 1961, has long been known as a school that promotes creative approaches to animation by its students.  This year the school submitted 9 films of which 2 were selected for the Student Competition and 1 placed in the Panorama program. That is very impressive because Animafest receives hundreds of student films for the selection process which is very competitive.

Happy Birthday, Professor Balthazar.

This year marked the 50th anniversary of the creation of Professor Balthazar, a kindly old scientist who solves his neighbor’s problems with his hurly-burlytron machine that drips ideas from professor’s imagination.  The famous animated television series was one of the most successful projects of the Zagreb Studio.  Broadcast from 1968 to 1978 the four series of 59 episodes ran 7 minutes each and was shown throughout Europe.  The bright colors and simple science lessons presented with a humorous plot made the series an instant hit.  Created in the familiar Zagreb School style of simple lines and humorous characters, Professor Balthazar continues to be a big hit with young audiences because the shows do not look or sound dated and the Professor has found an entirely new generation of children who are his avid fans.

Festival director Daniel Suljic and producer Paolo Orlic with Professor Balthazar.

A special screening of episodes from the series was shown at the festival.  A birthday celebration was held at the Museum of Arts and Crafts with the renowned animator Borivoj Dovnikoviv, better known as Bordo, present.  Bordo was one of the many great Croatian animators who worked on the beloved series.  A lovely reception was held in the museum garden following the speeches.  Professor Balthazar himself attended the party and was around the festival to greet his young fans.

Each year the festival invites a different animation school to mount an exhibition of their student’s work at the Gallery Sira.  This year the Academy of Art of the University of Banja Luka in Bosnia and Herzegovina presented 5 graduation films by its 4th-year students, their first graduating class. The works were in a diverse range of styles: puppet animation, classic hand-drawn, 3D computer animation and painting on glass.  Puppets, interactive projects, and storyboards were also on display.

Interactive project at the school exhibition.

It was quite an impressive exhibition considering that the school has only been in existence for 4 years.  Even though Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have a long animation tradition or a developed animation industry, we will be hearing more from these students judging from the work I saw at the exhibit.

Icelandic born animator and author Einar Baldvin, who lives in Los Angeles, presented an exhibition of original artwork from his new fantasy/horror book The Crawling King.  Einar dirtied, damaged, tore and/or burnt each picture, with a little assistance from his dog he told me, before photographing them on black velvet to give the drawings the look of an ancient manuscript.  The lavishly illustrated 200-page book has interlocking stories that are handwritten, set in the lost Kingdom of Gyldenbrae.  The stories unlock the mystery of the horror that consumed the once resplendent Kingdom.  

Einar Baldvin at work on The Crawling King.

The Crawling King goes on sale 14 August of this year for $45.00.  You can see more images from the book and pre-order a copy for yourself at:

I had the pleasure of conducting the Book Chat at Animafest with Einar.  The charming author explained to me that he dedicated his book, “To My Brother Who Played With The Crawling Things In The Garden”, because when they were growing up, his brother liked to keep insects in jars.  Of course, I had to ask what kind of insects are found in Iceland and was disappointed to find out that they are all about the same as everywhere else; grasshoppers and bees, etc.  After looking at The Crawling King I had expected to be told about some exotic creepy crawly things that inhabit the Icelandic continent.

Einar Baldvin illustration Fool Scream.

The Crawling King is a must read for every horror/fantasy fan.  If you are a real aficionado of fantasy/horror you can order a limited edition of the book signed by the author, and he will also create your own original drawing for you on one of the inside pages of the book, integrating it into the story for $125.00.  You can get more information about how to buy your own personalized copy of the book at:

Einar Baldvin illustration Rat Queen.

I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy of the book by Einar and Animafest and I consider it a true treasure.  It was great fun as well as a challenge to look through all of the beautiful pages and find my original piece of art.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Brazilian animation, Ana Flavia Marcheti has written Trajetoria (Trajectory), a comprehensive history of Brazilian animation.  I was delighted to meet her and conduct a Book Chat interview with her and her companion and interpreter Augusto Bicalho Rogue.  Ana told the audience that the first Brazilian animation, Oh Kaiser, by caricaturist Seth premiered in January 1917.  The book traces the history of Brazilian animation from that date to its present highly respected place in the animation world.   Not only can Brazil boast an Oscar nomination for the feature film Boy and the World it also hosts a major animation festival yearly, Anima Mundi.

Book chat with Augusto Bicalho Rogue and Ana Flavia Marcheti.

Ana is a graduate in design from Universidade Mackenzie in Sao Paulo and for her diploma project, she created Trajetoria.  The 288-page book is lavishly illustrated with color pictures.  Unfortunately, at this time the book is only available in Brazilian Portuguese, but Ana is hoping to find a publisher for an English language version.  To find out more about the book and the cost in your currency contact Ana directly at:

Running concurrent to and associated with the festival for 2 days was the 5th edition of Animafest Scanner symposium.  Scanner is designed to encourage discourse and practical discussion and to stimulate exchanges of ideas between filmmakers and scholars.  The 2-day program was divided into 4 areas of discussion: Animation and Sports, Characters in Animation, Animating Horror, and Animation at Large.

Paul Wells at Scanner.

The Symposium’s keynote address was delivered by Paul Wells.  As well as being a very knowledgeable writer, Paul is an extremely entertaining speaker.  He made his topic, Playing on the Animation Spectrum – Sport and Visualization not only interesting but full of humor.  Paul drew parallels between animation and sports using animated sports films, video games, apps, and visualizations to illustrate how animation and sports both have an integrated choreography and shared codes and conventions in the digital domain.

Even with all of the films and events, the festival offered plenty of opportunities for all of us to get together and have fun.  Every night there was a party.  One evening was Karaoke night and on another evening there was the animator’s jam which offered the opportunity for people to show off their hidden talents.

Polish director and jury member Piotr Dumala and Nancy relaxing at the picnic.

A highlight of the festival is always the picnic.  We were taken by bus up into the hills surrounding Zagreb for a traditional Croatian style barbecue with all of the trimmings accompanied by lots of beer and wine.  Along with the delicious food and beautiful surroundings, the picnic is the perfect place for relaxed chats with friends, old and new.

Group photo at the picnic.

A great new addition to the festival this year was the free Pedicab rides courtesy of Pedicab Zagreb.  With the festival more spread out than ever this year it was the perfect way to get back from places like the Arts and Crafts Museum in time for your next screening.  Thank you Pedicab Zagreb!

Vesna and Bordo Dovniković traveling to the theatre in a pedicab.

Animafest is a wonderful festival with a consistently high level of programming.  I must thank Artistic Director Daniel Suljic for inviting me to host the book chats for the English language speakers and both Daniel and Producer Paola Orlic for their many acts of kindness to me.  Also Dalibor Jakus, Head of Public Relations for always answering my thousands of questions with a smile.  I must not forget to thank Margareta Sarkanji in the Hospitality Office and last but far from least the many volunteers who help to make the festival run so smoothly.  I am already looking forward to the next edition of the festival which will be held 3-8 June 2019.  If you want to learn more about the festival go to:

You can also find out how to submit your film to the 2019 festival on their website.  The deadline for submissions is 1 February 2019.  

The Animafest awards.

The Award Winners:

Grand Competition – The Short Film jury, consisting of Jeanette BondsSanja BorčićPiotr Dumała, Robert Morgan and Pedro Rivero decided to give the Grand Prix - Short Film to La Chute by Boris Labbé, produced by Sacrebleu Production in France.

The same jury awarded The Golden Zagreb Award for creativity and innovative artistic achievement to Nikita Diakur for his film Fest (Germany, self-produced).

The Zlatko Grgić Award for the best first film made outside of an educational institution was awarded to German-Mexican work 32-Rbit by Victor Orozco Ramirez.

Each of the jury members also presented one special mention award.

Jeanette Bonds gave the award to the Croatian film How Steel Was Tempered (produced by Kreativni sindikat) by Igor Grubić.

Sanja Borčić was particularly impressed with the Polish film III (produced by Animoon) by Marta Pajek.

Piotr Dumała singled out the Iranian film Mr. Deer by Mojtaba Mousavi.

Robert Morgan selected the Dutch-Belgian film Finity Calling by Jasper Kuipers.

Pedro Rivero presented his special mention award to Negative Space by Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter.

By the decision of The Grand Competition - Feature Film jury consisting of Olga BobrowskaJoni Männistö and Arsen Anton Ostojić, Grand Prix – Feature Film went to This Magnificent Cake! (Belgium, France, Netherlands) by Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roels, produced by Beast Animation and Vivement Lundi.

The same jury also awarded their special mention award to the Man-Woman Case (France) by Anaïs Caura .

Student Film Competition and Croatian Film Competition jury consisting of Meghan OretskyNatko Stipaničev and Chi-Sui Wang decided to give Dušan Vukotić Award for the best student film to Facing It (UK) by Sam Gainsborough, made at NFTS.  

The same jury also decided to award special mentionto films Take Me Please (Hungary, Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design Budapest) by Olivér Hegyi and Bless You! (Poland, The Polish National Film, Television and Theatre School in Lodz) by Paulina Ziółkowska.

Best Croatian Film of this year's Animafest is Cyclistsby Veljko Popović, made by Croatian-French co-production (Lemonade 3D / Krupni kadar / 3D2D animatori), while the special mention went to Jelena Oroz for Two for Two, produced by Bonobostudio. Award for Best Croatian Film is sponsored by Croatian Film Director's Guild.

Vimeo Staff Pick Award to Rachel Gutgarts for ALove Letter to the One I Made Up (Israel, Bezalel Academy) was given by Meghan Oretsky.

Winners of the Films for Children Competition were selected by the jury consisting of Izak Cunjac, Mia Duić, Linda Lisičak, Petra Fištrić and Oskar Hušman Domes, and the award for the Best film for childrenwas awarded to the film Birdlime (Canada), by Evan DeRushie. The jury also gave special mention to the American film Two Balloons by Mark C. Smith.

Lastly, Mr. M - Short Film audience award went to Alice Guimarães and Mónica Santos for their film Between the Shadows, while the Mr. M - Feature Film audience award will travel to Patrick Imbert and Benjamin Renner in France for The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales.

The 29th World Festival of Animated Film – Animafest Zagreb will be held from 3rd to 8th June 2019.

Attached Files 
Animafest Zagreb Official Trailer8.3 MB