Animafest is always a special treat because I enjoy the programming and Zagreb is one of my favorite cities.
Animafest is always a special treat because I enjoy the programming and Zagreb is one of my favorite cities. This year it was a double pleasure because it was the first festival I had attended in a year.
The festival was chocked full of viewing opportunities as the over three hundred fifty-page catalogue attested to. The theme for this year’s festival was love, in all of its forms. The eight programs began with When We Met to The Fire of Love and then The Heartbreak of Love. Lust and Passion also had their own programs. Three screenings were devoted to couples that animate together.
Many of my all-time favorite films were in the couples’ programs such as Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbes’ beautiful and bittersweet When the Day Breaks (1999) The story of Ruby, the pig, whose life takes an unexpected turn after she witnesses the accidental death of a stranger. It moves me no matter how many times I watch it.
I also always appreciate Czech-born British animator Vera Newbauer’s films. Her 2019 The Mummy’s Curse is no exception. Known as a feminist activist, her films pull no punches. The Mummy’s Curse is an exploration of the myths our culture is based on and an examination of power in personal relationships that meld into wider political powers that dominate us all. Vera’s partner, the well-known animator Phil Mulloy, created the sound and music for this film. From Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker’s 1933 classic pinscreen film Night on Bald Mountain down to the present, all 44 films in these programs were gems.
Each year the festival presents a lifetime achievement award. This year’s recipient was the American director and producer Ralph Bakshi. He and the nine feature films that he has made during a career that has spanned over seventy years is the true spirit of independent adult animation. His films such as Fritz the Cat, Coonskin, and Lord of the Rings have become classics and pioneered an adult alternative to mainstream animation. If Bakshi put a princess in his films she would be a hard-drinking, cigar-smoking woman.
In giving the award to Ralph, the festival said “Just like the world-renowned and influential Zagreb School of Animation authors, Bakshi was conditioned by modest budgets and had to resort to experimentation and reduced animation. Success came. Artistic freedom was not conditional. This is a lifetime achievement award that Zagreb understands”.
Unfortunately, Ralph was not able to be with us in person but he did join us on the big screen from the United States. Three of his feature films were also screened as part of the Masters of Animation section of the festival, Fritz the Cat (1972), Heavy Traffic (1973) and The Lord of the Rings (1978). Fritz the Cat, the subversive anti-establishment film. It was Ralph’s directorial debut, was the first animated film to be given an X rating because of its political content, sexual imagery, and depiction of drug use.
Heavy Traffic is an adult animated comedy-drama and The Lord of the Rings is based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book of the same name. It was a rare opportunity to be able to see all three of these films on the big screen.
The Zagreb School of Animation in the 1970s was loaded with talent. This year the festival presented a program of films created in 1973 curated by the renowned animator and member of the Zagreb School Borivoj Dovnikovic, or Bordo, as he is better known.
I knew Zlatko Grgic as the creator of Professor Balthazer. The series for children features the beloved genius Balthazar who uses his brain to solve problems for people with the aid of his magical machine which would produce an invention to fix the situation. The series was produced from 1973 to 1975 and many of the great names of the Zagreb School worked on it.
I was not familiar with Zlatko’s award-winning Maxi Cat films. The series of twenty-four one-minute films feature a goofy-looking cat with a very big nose who encounters all sorts of dilemmas and deals with them in very creative ways. As part of Croatian Animation 1973, five episodes of Maxi Cat were screened.
The most interesting film in the Zagreb program was Man: The Polluter (1973). The fifty-three-minute film, made by a team of fifteen Canadian and Yugoslav animation artists was produced by the National Film Board of Canada and Zagreb Film. It delivers its strong ecological messages with in-your-face humor and satire. The animated segments ask the question “How much longer can humans foul their own nest and ignore the consequences?” It answers by showing us in many different ways. In between the individual segments Dr. Fred H. Knelman, Professor of Science and Human Affairs at Montreal’s Concordia University, comments on the importance of what is being shown on the screen and what lies in store for the planet if more responsibility is not taken on a global scale to conserve what is left of our vital resources.
Tracing how humans have destroyed our planet, the film goes straight back to the discarded apple from the Tree of Knowledge to Dr. Knelman predicting that we will go to work in gas masks. Given the pandemic and the fact that we are all wearing masks now, this hit close to home.
Man: The Polluter was very forward-thinking for all of its wacky, zany humor in 1973. It is even more relevant today then when it was made. It should be shown more often and not just at animation festivals where it is primarily preaching to the converted.
CEE Animation brings together regional activities for the promotion and development of animation and animators in more than twenty countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Through the CEE Animation Forum, the largest industry and pitching platform for animated projects in the CEE region, the forum helps to increase professional expertise, showcase the abilities of filmmakers and producers and improves the content and visual side of projects. CEE organizes masterclasses and conducts the yearlong CEE Animation Workshop, an advanced training program for animated film producers.
CEE has put together three programs that will be presented at festivals such as Animafest Zagreb that are members of the CEE Animation Network. The first of the two programs that I saw, CEE Animation Talents, presented films made by the most talented young animators from Central and Eastern Europe.
The six films in the screening included the multi-award-winning I’m Here by Julia Orlik from Poland. In this very touching film, an elderly man is trying to take care of his paralyzed wife at home. Their daughter, who is busy at work and at home, tries to help but she has totally different ideas about how to care for her mother. As the woman lies in the bed, her life slipping away, she is unable to move, but she can still hear the arguments that go on around her.
People often have different ideas of how to care for the seriously ill. Anyone who has lost a beloved relative will understand the feeling of helplessness this film invokes. I’m Here is a sensitive and touching film. The second program was devoted to films for children from Central and Eastern Europe.
I had already seen most of the films in competition several times but there was one interesting new surprise, a film from Pakistan. Swipe, a fourteen-minute film by Arafat Mazhar and Puffball Studio, is a direct confrontation of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, extrajudicial violence, and decreasing space for differences and self-expression.
The film is set in Pakistan’s technologically advanced dystopian future where political oppression is the norm. Jugnu, a ten-year-old boy, is addicted to iFatwa, an app that crowdsources religious death sentences. He spends all day every day swiping on the lives of strangers as he attempts to get a top spot on the Ajar Board. It’s no surprise that there are no happy endings in this film and that the boy’s addiction to the app finally results in tragedy.
Arafat launched Puffball Studio in 2019. It has now grown into an interdisciplinary team of more than twenty Pakistani artists, designers, writers, musicians, illustrators, actors, and creators; Swipe is the studio’s second hand-drawn short animation. The first film was Shehr e Tabassum, also set in futuristic Pakistan where the Supreme Leader criminalizes all facial expressions except smiles. Swipe is currently on YouTube.
For the third consecutive year in a row festival co-producer Paola Orlic curated Behind the Scenes, a group “making of” exhibition of works from the films in the Grand Competition of Short Films. Paolo believes that the artwork that goes into making a film, whether it be drawn, sculpted, or mixed media should be shown in a gallery setting just like any other work of fine art. Thirty-two filmmakers’ works on display ranged from installations of sets, filmstrips, video projects, collages, puppets, numerous drawings, and character designs. The idea behind the exhibition is to promote a broader platform to give the festival audience an insight into the creative process. It provides a glimpse of behind-the-scenes moments from various stages of works in progress of some of the films they see on the screen.
This year Behind the Scenes was expanded to include pieces from the Student Film Competition. Thirty student filmmakers were represented at a separate gallery. Each work at both exhibitions was accompanied by an artist’s statement.
Since 2015 at Animafest, stop motion animator Thomas Johnson has created a live performance animation work. Usually outrageous and always entertaining, this year Thomas created himself as a stop motion puppet. Over the course of ten hours, he animated the puppet to create a spontaneous work that included drawings of festival-goers who posed for him.
For the second year in a row for obvious reasons the festival couldn’t put us all on a bus and drive us for an hour up into the mountains for the traditional picnic. Instead, we all walked a few blocks to the beautiful botanical garden where a delicious spread of food and drink were laid out for us. Music was provided by Nik and the Popovic Brothers - Milivoj and Veljko.
Running concurrent to the festival; Animafest Scanner was a two-day symposium for contemporary animation studies. Each year at the opening night ceremony, an award for an Outstanding Contribution to Animation Studies is presented and the recipient is also invited to deliver the keynote speech at Scanner. This year’s award was given to French historian, author, and critic Xavier Kawa-Topor.
The four Scanner sessions were divided into specific topics, Animation and the Living: How Animated Films Can Invite Us to Rethink Our Relationship With Biodiversity; Animation in Public Spaces; Depicting Emotions; and Scriptwriting in Animation.
My deep gratitude and thank-yous go to Artistic Director Daniel Suljic, Hospitality Coordinator Zdenka Domacinovic, and Buba for many acts of kindness. A very special thank you goes to Paola Orlic for being such a good friend.
Animafest Zagreb is the second oldest festival in the world that is dedicated solely to animation. Next year it will celebrate its 50th birthday and I am sure that the festival will be more wonderful and special than ever. I am looking to being there from 6-11 June 2022.
You can find out more about the festival at: www.animafest.hr
2021 WINNING FILMS:
Grand Competition Jury – Nadja Andrasev , Hungary; Michael Frei, Switzerland; Shoko Hara,
Germany; Drasko Ivezic, Croatia; and Sasha Svirsky, Russia
Grand Prix – Night Bus, Joe Hsieh, Taiwan
Golden Zagreb Award for Creativity and Innovative Artistic Achievement – Malbeek, Ismael
Joffroy Chandoutis, France
The Zlatko Grgic Award for the Best First Film Made Outside an Educational Institution – The Fourth Wall, Mahboobeh Kalaee, Iran
Special Mention of Michael Frei – Easter Eggs, Nicholas Keppens, Belgium
Special Mention of Nadja Andrasev – Monachopsis, Liesbet van Loon, Belgium
Special Mention of Shoko Hara – Hide, Daniel Gray, Great Britian
Special Mention of Drasko Ivezic – In My Chest of Fire There is Still Place to Temple Your Dagger,
Pablo Ballarin, Spain
Special Mention of Sasha Svirsky – Orgiastic Hyper-Plastic, Paul Bush, Great Britian
Feature Film Jury: Otto Alder, Germany; Hrvoje Stefotic, Croatia; and Karin Vandenrydt, Belgium
Feature Film Grand Prix – The Nose or the Conspircy of Mavricks ,Andrey Khrzhanovsky,
Special Mention – Kill It and Leave This Town, Mariuz Wilczynski, Poland
Student Film Competition and Croatian Film Competition Jury – Denis Alenti, Croatia; Paula Bistot,
Italy, and Petrit Gora, Kosovo
Dusan Vukotic Award for Best Student Film – I’m Here, Julia Orlik, Poland
Special Mention – Ant Hill, Marek Naprstek, Czech Republic
Croatian Film Competition winner – Can You See Them?, Bruno Razum
VR Jury: Agne Adomene, Lithuania; Mario Kalogjera, Croatia; ans Stefan Stratil, Austria
Winning VR – Otawamure, Yoriko Mizushiri, Japan
Special Mention – Replacements, Jonathan Hagard, Germany
Films For Children Jury: Flora Bokic, age 6; Tara Gladovic, 7th Grade, Ana Gladovic, 5th grade;
Luka Krizanac, age 17; and Tia Zupanic, 9 years old
Winning Children’s Film –Reflection, Juan Carlos Mostaza, Spain
Special Mention – BusLine35A, Elna Felici, Denmark
Audience Award, Mr. M for a Short Competition Film – The Stork, Lucija Mrzljak and Morten
Audience Feature Film Award: Wolfwalkers, Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, Ireland