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There was no better way to ring out the 2022 animation festival season than with a trip to beautiful Bilbao in the Basque Country of Spain for AnimaKom.


  There was no better way to ring out the 2022 animation festival season than with a trip to beautiful Bilbao in the Basque Country of Spain for AnimaKom. The festival emphasizes Basque Country animation and also honors women animators with a special yearly achievement award.

  Very little Basque Country animation is shown at other festivals and when I asked director, writer, and AnimaKom Director Pedro Rivero why Basque short animation, especially by young Basque animators, is not seen more often at international festivals, he told me that “Experimental or art animation in the Basque Country has remained linked to collective works or at the university level, while most veteran professionals have emigrated or are working on feature film projects. Meanwhile, for the youngest, there is hardly an art-oriented academic field, as they are more focused on their inclusion in the industry. Despite the fact that there are several lines of public funding for animated short film projects, it is usual to end in the hands of directors from outside of the Basque Country who work with Basque production companies.”

  Two programs were devoted to women whose films were shown at Zinebi, Bilbao’s International Festival of Documentary, Animation, and Short Film, which is an annual event begun in 1959. Among the films shown at the festival was Israeli animator Tal Kantor’s multi-award winning Letter To A Pig.  In the film, a holocaust survivor writes a letter to a pig that saved his life during World War II. After he reads his letter in a classroom to a group of students, one of them has dreams of a tragic version of the man’s story. The film also deals with collective trauma, vengeance, and compassion.

  The Slovenian/French co-production Granny’s Sexual Life was also part of the Zinebi program at AnimaKom. The film gives a vivid picture of the life of Slovenian women in the first half of the 20th century. Four older women reflect on their memories of when they were young and how different relationships between men and women were then. Their voices merge into the voice of Grandmother Vera, who tells the story of her marriage in intimate detail. This poignant film has won numerous awards including the European Film Award for Best Short Film.

  The Basque Competition, Laboral Kutxa Saria, is an important showcase for Basque Country animation. Txotxongiloa (Not to Forget) by stop motion animator Sonia Estevez features a female puppet who appears to be lying prostrate on the floor of a locked room. Each string attached to her body is related to an aspect of women’s social problems, such as the body, equality, or sexual harassment.

  Sonia is a founding partner of Tik Tak Film Studio, which specializes in stop-motion animation. She is also trained in forestry and environmental chemistry. Knowledge in these two fields has led her to be interested in the Green Film Movement.

  Loop by Basque/Argentina animator Pablo Polledri was also part of the Basque Country competition. The eight-minute film is set in a world where everyone repeats the same action over and over.  When a woman tries to break the repetitive cycle by giving a hitchhiker a ride in her car, she and the man are chased by the police a-la in a Keystone Cops movie. Will the pair be able to break the loop or will they be endlessly chased throughout eternity?

  Polledri received a Goya Award in February 2023 when Loop was selected as the Best Animated Film. The Goya Awards are Spain’s main national film awards, commonly referred to as the Spanish Academy Awards.

Black Is Beltza ll: Ainhoa

  The festival screened Basque Country director Fermin Muguruza’s 86-minute feature film Black Is Beltza ll: Ainhoa. In the sequel to his 2018 adult feature film, Black Is Beltza, a spy film set in the 1960s, Black Is Beltza ll: Ainhoa takes place at the end of the Cold War.

  Ainhoa, the daughter of the original film’s main character, investigates an international conspiracy. She grew up in Cuba but in 1988 she travels to the Basque Country to discover the land of her father. There she meets Josune, a journalist, and her group of friends. After one of them dies from a heroin overdose, Ainhoa and Josune set out to delve into the dark world of drug trafficking networks and their close links to political plots during the final years of the Cold War.

Jone Unanua, Fermin Muguruza, and Kempa de Orbe

  Black Is Beltza and Black Is Beltza ll: Ainhoa are based on graphic novels of the same name by Fermin Muguruza, Harkaitz Cano, and Jorge Alderet. The action is set to a mixture of traditional Basque Country music and 60’s rock. The film was nominated for the 2023 Goya Awards in the Best Animated Film category. Prior to the screening of the film, director and scriptwriter Fermin, producer Jone Unanua, and storyboard designer Kepa de Orbe gave a Masterclass where they showed the making of the film.

  Along with the Basque Country competition, there were Student, International, and Music Video competitions. One of my favorite films in the International Competition was Pig by the Dutch animator Jorn Leeuwerink. In the 8-minute film, a group of animals hooks up a power grid to the socket-shaped snout of an extremely large sleeping pig. At first, the animals use the pig’s energy for simple things, but soon they become dependent on a city where everything, the useful and the useless, is automated and the other animals are completely dependent on the pig. Pig begins as a sweet, innocent fable but turns into a dark, black humor tragicomic fable of the absurd while retaining its playful style that is reminiscent of children’s books.

Zagreb Festival Director Daniel Suljic and Dutch animator Jorn Leeuwerink

  Jorn likes to use absurd humor to point out the fatal consequences of human actions. In his 2017 Graduation Film, Flower Found, a beautiful red flower grows in the middle of the forest. It is lovingly cared for by Mouse. When it suddenly disappears, Mouse is sad. Bird takes Mouse around the forest to search for the flower and other animals join in the hunt along the way. As is often the case, the best intentions only lead to unforeseen consequences as a case of mistaken identity has a most unsettling outcome. If you have not seen Flower Found I recommend that you watch this excellent film about mob rule.

Joanna Quinn receiving her AnimaKom award

  A highlight of AnimaKom 2022 was the Masterclass given by husband and wife team Joanna Quinn and Les Mills. They not only create marvelous films; they are a lovely couple. In The Animated Secrets of Joanna Quinn and Les Mills animator/director Joanna and producer/scriptwriter Les gave an illustrated talk about their life in the animation world and how they work together to shape ideas into films.

Les Mills and Joanna Quinn

  Each year the festival honors a woman who has made a significant contribution to the world of animation. I had the honor of presenting the award this year to a worthy winner, Joanna Quinn. Joanna has been nominated for an Oscar twice, won a Prime Time Emmy, has been nominated four times for a BAFTA and won once. She has garnered numerous awards at animation festivals for her wonderful films that people can identify with.

Joanna gives generously of her time and talent to present masterclasses as well as finding time to visit animation schools to work with students. She is one of the wittiest people I know and also one of the nicest people in the animation community.

Nancy and Joanna Quinn flex their muscles

  Following the presentation of the Award there was a retrospective screening of 7 of Joanna and Les’ films. The program began with Girl’s Night Out (1986) where we first meet the iconic character, Beryl. The program ended with Beryl’s latest adventure, Affairs of the Art (2020), where she decides to have a career as a painter. We have met some of the members of her family in previous Beryl films but in this film we really get to know them. Affairs of the Art received an Academy Award nomination in 2021.

  Although I love all of her films, my particular favorite of Joanna’s films is Britannia (1993). The 5-minute film is a satirical swipe at the British character showing how, in the pursuit of wealth and power, they robbed other nations of their pride and national wealth. It is a biting and savage indictment of the development and demise of British Imperialism as told from the viewpoint of a British bulldog. He begins to play with a small ball that is the world. Then he discovers tea in India, then gold in Africa. Gradually innocence gives way to more and more greed, and he finds that the world is more complex than he expected.


   Joanna’s retrospective was followed by the AnimaKom Awards Ceremony and closing night party. Filmmakers and guests had an opportunity to show another side of their talents and sing at  Animakaraoke, a feature attraction of the closing party.

Festival Director Pedro Rivero sings at Animakaraoke

  The festival takes place at Bilborock. The building was originally a church built in the 17th Century and named the Church of the Merced.  It is now home to concerts, cinema, theatrical events, and a host of other artistic events such as AnimaKom. Along with its multipurpose main room with a stage, there are 6 rehearsal spaces and a podcast room on the upper floors.


  Admission to all screenings and events at AnimaKom is free. For the first time this year, the program was partially in Basque and Spanish. It was also online during the week of the festival.

Festival guests with Jon at the Bar Plaza Nueva

Festival Guests at lunch

  As well as putting on a great festival, Pedro is a consummate host.  Bilbao is a city full of excellent food and drink and Pedro introduced his guests to many of his favorite places. I particularly enjoyed spending time at the Bar Plaza Nueva where brothers Jon and Txema served up a selection of delicious tapas and good wine and beer. Evenings there can last late into the night.

Jon pours me a drink Basque Country style

  Since it was the holiday season, the town was decked out for Christmas. One evening a men’s choral group visited several bars and cafes to perform. Their first stop was Bar Plaza Nueva. Although I couldn’t understand the words to most of the songs, I certainly felt their spirit. The group handed out sheets of paper with the song lyrics so you could sing along. The only song in English was We Shall Overcome, which is as appropriate for the Basque Country’s struggle for independence in the present as it was for the American Civil Rights Movement.

Otxote Txipli Txapla men’s singing group

  A deep thank you goes to my friend Pedro Rivero for once again inviting Nik and me to be part of AnimaKom 2022. Congratulations and well done to Pedro and his entire team for a memorable festival. A special thank you goes to the tireless Javi Ramos who somehow kept track of all the guests and let us know where and when we should be somewhere and to Isabel Molinos of Guest Hospitality.

Javi Ramos and Pedro Rivero

Señor AnimaKom

I am already looking forward to the 2023 edition of the festival which will take place from 11 to 18 December. You can learn more about the festival and how to submit your film at:

 AnimaKom Awards

Animakom FEST - Awards

Grand Prix International Competition

  • Granny’s Sexual Life
  • Directed by: Urška Djukić, Émilie Pigeard
  • Country: Slovenia, France

Jury’s Special Prize International Competition

  • Pig
  • Directed by: Jorn Leeuwerink
  • Country: The Netherlands

Jury’s Special Mention International Competition

  • Terra Incognita
  • Directed by: Pernille Kjaer, Adrian Dexter
  • Country: Denmark

Jury’s Special Mention International Competition

  • Anxious Body
  • Directed by: Yoriko Mizushiri
  • Country: France, Japan

Jury’s Special Mention International Competition

  • Remember How I Used to Ride a White Horse
  • Directed by: Ivana Bosnjak Volda, Thomas Johnson Volda
  • Country: Croatia

Grand Prix Students Competition

  • Mom, What’s Up with the Dog?
  • Directed by: Lola Lefevre
  • Country: France

Jury’s Special Prize Students Competition

  • The Seine’s Tears
  • Directed by: Yanis Belaid, Eliott Bernard, Nicolas Mayeur, Etienne Moulin, Hadrien Pinot, Lisa Vicente, Philippine Singer, Alice Letailleur
  • Country: France

Jury’s Special Mention Students Competition

  • Curiosa
  • Directed by: Tessa Moult-Milewska
  • Country: United Kingdom

Laboral Kutxa Award

  • Ur azpian lLore (Flower Under Water)
  • Directed by: Aitor Oñederra
  • Country: Basque Country

Audience Award

  • Tardes de verano
  • Directed by: Oihane Abete, Garazi Feliu, Candela Gutiérrez, Ander Lizaaraga, Iñigo Sánchez
  • Country: Basque Country

Best Animated Music Video

  • Mamour
  • Directed by: Vladimir Mavounia-Kouka
  • Country: France

Best Female Director

  • Steakhouse
  • Directed by: Spela Cadez
  • Country: Slovenia

Best Script

  • Slouch
  • Directed by: Michael Bohnenstingl
  • Country: Germany

Best Script

  • Amok
  • Directed by: Balázs Turai
  • Country: Hungary

Innovation Award

  • Kurent
  • Directed by: Miha Reja
  • Country: Slovenia

Innovation Award

  • Vadim on a Walk
  • Directed by: Sasha Svirsky
  • Country: Russian Federation