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ANIMATING MY DREAMS IN TALLINN, ESTONIA - 11TH Animated Dreams Animation Festival, November 18 through 22, 2009

Although they are only 500 miles apart, the Fredrikstad Animation Festival in Norway and Animated Dreams a week later (November 18 through 22) in Tallinn, Estonia are worlds apart.  Both are wonderful, warm, welcoming festivals, but Fredrikstad is family oriented while Animated Dreams is definitely for adults.
Opening night began with the premier of four new Estonian animations.  As a great fan of Olga and Priit Parn’s multi award winning Life Without Gabriella Ferri I was anxious to see their latest film Divers in the Rain; I was not disappointed.  The story, about a deep-sea diver who works daytime and his lover, a nighttime dentist, is patently humorous and also a bit sad since their kisses are always goodbye kisses, never helloes.  The 2D drawn film uses black and white to full advantage with the barest splashes of vivid color to punctuate this tale of ill-fated lovers.  As usual with a Parn film, one viewing is never enough to capture the full effect of what you are seeing on the screen so I look forward to seeing Divers in the Rain several more times during the 2010 festival season.

Priit and Olga Parn at the Nukafilm Party

There were two other films on the program that I had not seen before - In the Air by Martinus Daane Klemet and Oranus from the team of Mari-Liis Bassovskaja and Jelena Girlin who gave us the multi award winning The Dress in 2004.  Both are complex in typical Estonian fashion and need another viewing especially Oranus which has a very mixed media style.  Also on the program was Crocodile, Kasper Jancis’ brilliant tale of love found and lost and of course, a crocodile.  I had seen it the previous week at the Fredrikstad Animation Festival where it won the Grand Prix.

The screening was followed by a party at the EAST Creative Space in conjunction with their opening of Graphic Dreams, an exhibition of comics art.  Since Kasper had not been present in Fredrikstad to receive his Grand Prix award, I carried his Golden Gunnar to Tallinn.  Unfortunately the multi-talented Kasper missed the opening ceremony that night because he was performing with his band, so I finally got to present his statue to him during the party.

Nancy, Priit Tender and Tatia Rosenthal at the Opening Night Party

On Thursday the first two of the four competition programs screened. I had seen many of the films already, but there were some unique surprises.  One such was Lucia, which the jury awarded the Grand Prix.  Three young Chilean collaborators, Cristobal Leon, Niles Atallah, and Joaquin Cocina, used dirt, flowers, found objects, cardboard, and charcoal to carry us into Lucia’s memory as she recalls the summer when she fell in love with Luis.  Shot in stop-motion with a digital camera, this disturbing film blurs the lines between memory and reality.  You can view scenes and sets from the film at the trio’s on line exhibition space Diluvio Gallery at

Whenever I see a new film by Theodore Ushev I generally find it disturbing but thought provoking and Drux Flux is no exception.  The film, inspired by philosopher Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man, is a battle between the individual and totalitarian ideology where man serves industry and critical thought is swept away.  Part figurative, part abstract drawings set to the tense, menacing industrial music of Russian composer Alexander Mossolov that heightened the discomfort that I felt as I watched the film.

Two highlights of Animated Dreams for me were a retrospective of Yuri Norstein’s work and a program of animated Soviet propaganda films.  I have seen Yuri’s beautiful films many times, but I like seeing them again whenever there is an opportunity to view them on a big screen, especially the beautiful Tale of Tales which has been called the greatest animated film of all times.  I do regret that the program was on a DVD and not film.

The Soviet propaganda films shown deserve an entire article of their own.  Spanning five decades from 1924 to 1977 the cinematic styles ranged from Modernist Avant-Garde and Socialist Realism to echoes of Disney and The Yellow Submarine The influence of Mr. Magoo and the UPA style were evident in Mr. Twister Based on Samuel Marshak’s poem, Mr. Twister is the tale of a racist American millionaire who rejects a hotel room in St. Petersburg, Russia because a black guest is staying there.  The film extols the absence of bigotry in Soviet society.  I am no fan of capitalist millionaires but by the end of the 15-minute film I actually felt sorry for Mr. Twister and his family as they were turned away from hotel after hotel.

Yefim  Gamburg’s Wolves(1970) is a frightening, symbolic tale of the West encouraging the raising of feral wolves that are actually children who are turned into wolves due to their upbringing.   This represents symbolically the threat of Neo-Nazism.  If you have never seen any Soviet era animated propaganda you should make it a point to watch a DVD of this fascinating piece of history.

Festival jury member Regina Pessoa from Portugal introduced a program of contemporary Portuguese animation from the renowned Cinanima Animated Film Festival.  Although I had seen all of the films before it was a pleasure to view such quality work as Jose Miguel Ribeiro’s latest puppet animation Sunday Drive and Chicken Stew, Joana Toste’s witty tale of what a mess a harmless chicken stew can create between two neighbors.
Juror Tatia Rosenthal introduced her award winning feature film $9.99.  Three other features, Mary & Max, Fear(s) of the Dark, and Metropia that I had seen a few days before in Fredrikstad, were also shown out of competition.

A program of New Estonian Student Animation and Music Videos gave me a look at the next generation of the countries up and coming animators.  Judging from what I saw Estonian animation has a bright future.

For the first time Animated Dreams screened one program aimed at a young audience in conjunction with Tallinn Films children’s program Toddlers Chest of Cartoons.  The five films in the Saturday and Sunday morning program included When Apples Roll directed by Reinis Kalnaellis of Latvia’s Riga Films.  I have seen this delightful story several times, of Cat and his devoted friend Mouse who find a strange egg while they are out picking apples, and I always enjoy it.


Keyframes, a lecture series examining the relationship between animation and other creative fields presented a two-day symposium in conjunction with Animated Dreams.  Jurgen Hagler, Austrian computer animator, screened the 2009 Ars Electronica award winning films including Jeremy Clapin’s ingenious Skhizein, Chris Landreth’s The Spine, and the extremely witty French Roast.  The Prix Ars Electronica is one of the most important awards for creativity and pioneering spirit in the field of digital media.  Jurgen was on the 2009 Ars Electronica jury and curated last year’s Ars Electronica Festival.

London based-German born animator Sebastian Buerkner presented a selection of films from the UK’s Animate Project’s archives.  The project, funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and Channel 4 Television, commissions artists to create works that explore the relationship between contemporary art and animation for broadcast, gallery, cinema, and digital exhibitions.  Sebastian’s program included a fantastic journey from a real life NASA laboratory at UC Berkeley (Magnetic Movie, 2007), a tragic love story played out by porcelain figurines (Damaged Goods, 2008), and a life story told via a one-take live action shot of a giant zoetrope containing the film The Life Sized Zoetrope (2007) There were also some films already familiar to me such as Run Wrake’s Rabbit.  You can view over 100 Animate Project films at

Painter and animator Buerkner also presented the concept of his recent work as part of Keyframes.  He uses Flash Technology to make his animated film where the images can range from recognizable forms to arrangements of abstract and geometric shapes that are sometimes simple, sometimes almost dizzying in their complexity and movements.  Several of his innovative films commissioned by Animate Projects can be seen on their website.

The last Keyframes participant, Austrian animator Virgil Widrich, is well known for his films Copy Shop and Fast FilmCopy Shop, the story of a man who copies himself until he fills up the entire world, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2001.  Fast Film is a tour de force through film history, from its silent beginnings up to present times.  Widrich used a very original technique for Fast Film selecting 65,000 frames from 300 different movies, printing them on paper, folded into objects and then reanimated for the film camera to form a complex tableau.

Sebastian Buerkner, Regina Pessoa and Jurgen Hagier

Even though there were plenty of films to watch there was still time for parties every evening.  Thursday evening Film Estonia Animation Studio hosted a reception in the festival café with generous amounts of snacks and drink.

The highlight of the festival parties for me happened the next evening when Nukafilm hosted their cabbage soup and vodka evening at their fantastic studio.  I have wonderful memories of their party two years ago and once again they outdid themselves with long tables with large pots of aromatic cabbage soup, hearty slices of brown bread, platters of pork and beef, and of course many bottles of vodka.  Even better than the delicious food and drink was the chance to talk to old friends and get a firsthand look at the new projects at the renowned puppet animation studio.

I have long been a fan of Mati Kutt’s films so it was a special treat to have him take me on a tour of his very busy workroom where his latest project is in full swing.  The room was packed full of drawings and puppets constructed out of all sorts of things from clay figures to a dog fashioned out of a folding knife.From the looks of the detailed storyboard on the wall to the figures that Mati showed me it looks like his next film with be another hit.

Mati Kutt with his friend

The party was my only opportunity to talk with Olga and Priit Parn because they were off to Helsinki, Finland the next morning where Pritt was being honored with a retrospective of his work.  I hadn’t seen Rao Heidmets since KROK so this was my first chance to congratulate him on his Grand Prix win at the Ottawa International Animation Festival with his very funny Inherent Obligations.  Priit Tender told me about his latest project which is in development.  The jurors were at the party so it was a good chance to talk to my old friend Hardi Volmer who was one of the judges. The party was truly a memorable evening.

Puppets at Nukafilm

As if one good party was not enough for one night we all strolled to Old Town in true Estonian style to a party hosted by the Estonian Art Academy’s students.  The students acted as DJ’s, playing a wide array of music and held a special lottery with great prizes.  Of course there were snacks and plenty of vodka, beer and wine to add to the fun.

Tallinn is a beautiful city to explore on foot with winding cobblestone streets and storybook medieval houses.  As you wander around Old Town you will find the image of Juke the Dog cast in copper in the pavement in front of a house in Suur-Karja Street where Juke was “born.”  The Adventures of Juke the Dog was Estonia’s first experimental animated short.

Placque commemorating the first Estonian experimental animated short

All too soon it was the evening of the closing ceremony held in the festival home Cinema Soprus.  The festival awarded cash awards for the first time which added to the suspense and excitement of the ceremony.  The Grand Prix was given to Lucia created by Cristobel Leon, Niles Attallah, and Joaquin Cocina from Chile.  In addition to the Wooden Wolf Grand Prix award that is traditionally crafted by Nukafilm Studio, 1,000 Euros was awarded by A Film Studio Estonia.

The 500 Euro Estonian Academy of Art Award for best animated film was given to Red-End and the Seemingly Symbolic Society by Robin Noorda and Bethany De Forest from the Netherlands.  The jury cited the film for “outstanding visuals, excellent design, and the music.”

The closing party at the Cinema Sopra was called “Soprus in Memoriam.”  2009 was the last year that the festival will be held at the beautiful old movie palace because the owners are converting the building to other uses.  No one was quite sure what lay in store for the building, but its lovely atmosphere will be missed when the festival moves to its new home in a modern, multi screen theater.  Amid an abundance of snacks, vodka shots and dancing to an array of DJ’s the Cinema Sopra was bade a fitting farewell.

Just as it was the end of an era it was also a new beginning.  It was the first year for Margit Sade as festival director.  Although new to the job, Margit did a wonderful job paying great attention to detail.  She displayed a keen ability to program a festival with a rich and varied selection of films.  Behind her, but no less important, was her efficient staff who went out of their way to make their guests feel welcome.  Margit and her staff have their work cut out for them in 2010 to match this year’s success, but I am sure that they will rise to the challenge.  To learn more about Animated Dreams visit their web site

Festival Director Margit Sade with the Grand Prix Wooden Wolf

Animated  Dreams 2009 Festival Awards:

Grand Prix – “Wooden Wolf and 1,000 Euros awarded by A Movie Studio Estonia

Lucia – Cristobal Leon, Niles Atallah, and Joaquin Cocina – Chili

“Fresh, outstanding and innovative approach to animation medium, which extends the boundries of animation a truly unique way.”


Mask – David Alapont, Luis Briceno – France

“Brilliant song, perfect execution, which undermines and enhances the classic animated film”


Please say something/say something please ­– David O’Reilly – Germany

“Multi-layered, cleverly staged entirely original portrait of lust and abuse “


Wings and Oars – Vladimir Leschiov – Latvia

“Simple and elegant design, with a surreal sense of humor  which poetically expresses memories of the past”

Best Design

Tibi – Michaal Socha – Poland

“Strange but intriguing intimate, elegantly designed for the mobile universe”

Best Story

Job ­– Santiago Grasso – Argentina

“Charming in its sharp humor and theatrically accurate detail which leaves no viewer indifferent”

Best Estonian Animation

Crocodile – Kaspar Jancis – Estonia

“Unique, funny and rich metaphorical description of love”

Estonian Art Academy Award for Best Animated Film and 500 Euro Award

Red-End and the Seemingly Symbiotic Society – Robin Noorda and Beth De Forest – The Netherlands

“Outstanding visuals,  excellent design and the amazing music”