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Beyond the Boundaries of Animation: Anifilm - 7 – 12 May 2024 Liberec, Czech Republic

Visiting Anifilm for the first time since the festival moved from Trebon to Liberec, changes were immediately apparent!

I have not visited Anifilm since the festival moved from Trebon to Liberec and when I attended this year, changes were immediately apparent. Trebon is a small spa town with limited screening rooms while Liberec is the fifth largest city in the Czech Republic. Once home to a thriving textile industry, it earned the nickname “the Manchester of Bohemia”. This year, Anifilm was spread out with four cinemas and screenings at the Liberec Exhibition and Trade Center.

Puppetry and puppet animation are key pillars of Czech cultural heritage; this year the festival devoted a great deal of screen time to manipulated puppets and films with marionettes controlled by puppeteers. There were two short film programs, eight feature films, and a special program put together by DIAF (German Institute of Animated Films) of films by the DEAF Atelier in Dresden.

The first known example of Czech puppet animation was a 1930 commercial for cast iron enameled bathtubs. In the five-minute film, distributed to theatres, Spejbl forces his son, Hurvinek, to take a bath every Saturday in a wooden trough. His son protests, saying that the trough is unfit for bathing and he might even get a splinter in his body. He also reminds his father that he promised to buy a new bathtub. Spejbl relents and Hurvinek soon bathes in a new modern cast iron bath tub. Spejbl’s Case was part of the first Manipulated Puppets program.

Also in the screening was Brazilian director Guilherme Marcondes’ 2006 puppet animation based on William Blake’s poem The Tyger. In the film, a gigantic tiger (a gigantic articulated wooden puppet) mysteriously wanders into a city, revealing hidden secrets of the townspeople in his nocturnal wanderings.

The Tyger The Tyger

The last film in the program, Don Juan, was Jan Svankmajer’s 1969 interpretation of the Don Juan legend. This amazing film is about a man who kills his father, his fiancé’s father, and his own brother before meeting his demise. For this thirty-minute masterpiece, he used life-sized puppets wearing full-sized clothes.

Don Juan

I found the second program of short manipulated puppet films even more interesting than the first one. It opened with Emil Radok’s 1958 film Johanes Doctor Faust. This retelling of the Faust story was the first film that Jan Svankmajer, newly graduated from the puppet department at The Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, worked on. Radok had a big influence on Svankmajer and his later work.

To commemorate Svankmajer’s 90th birthday, his 1966 film Punch and Judy was included in the program. I especially liked the prologue to the ten-minute film where a band of automaton monkeys introduces the opening titles preceding the action. Starting slowly, we see Mister Punch taking care of his pet guinea pig. His neighbor Joey covets the guinea pig and wants to buy it. Mister Punch refuses to sell it and the violence begins hot and heavy as the two men take turns stuffing each other into a coffin. The film ends with both men dead and the guinea pig strolling away through a hole in the scenery.

Svankmajer's Punch and Judy

In an interesting contrast, Czech Republic director Martin Maj’s 2013 film Punch and Judy was also shown in this program. You can’t have a Punch and Judy show without an argument and here the anger is directed toward the puppeteer who forces the puppets to act violently.

Martin Maj - Punch and Judy 

The second Manipulated Puppets program sent me out of the theatre with a smile on my face after watching an episode of Sylvia and Gary Anderson’s 1964 classic Stingray – S1E1 Stingray. The British series about the crew of an ultra-sophisticated submarine, based off the coast somewhere in the Americas that is never specified, encounters all sorts of undersea enemies.

If Stingray -S1E1 whetted your appetite for more, there was also a special tribute program to Sylvia and Gerry Anderson. During the 1960s into the 1970s, the husband-and-wife duo were a wildly popular force on British television and in the film industry. They devised a process called “supermarionation” involving the construction of marionette puppets with rigid fiberglass heads with a solenoid-based system, allowing the figures to move their mouths in time to a pre-recorded dialogue track.  For the tribute screening, the 28-minute pilot episode of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was shown along with the hour-long Thunderbirds: Trapped in the Sky. Their work may look a bit outdated and campy now but it is still pure fun.

A highlight of the festival for me I had never seen before was Little Man, a 2015 Czech Republic film by Radek Beran, based on the Magnesia Litera Award-nominated children’s book The Great Journey of the Little Man by Lenka Uhlirova and Jiri Stach. The Magnesia Litera Award is an annual book award held in The Czech Republic.

Little Man lives in his house in the forest, quite content with a comfortable bed and enough pasta in the cupboard to keep him fed. One night he dreams of a little house with a sign over the door that says “You will find here what you lack”.

He wakes up feeling that his life is lacking something and so he sets off on a quest. In the course of his journey, he meets many quirky characters such as the robotic handyman, Little Master and the forest lake monster  Great Strat. On our whirlwind adventure with Little Man, we are introduced to interesting, quirky new puppets every few minutes.

The film makes no pretense of hiding the strings and rods that control the puppets but I got so involved with the oddball characters and the beautiful scenery that I didn’t notice them. The film was primarily shot outside in a forest.

Little Man with Captain Beefheart

Although the film is a children’s movie, there is a lot that will go right over their heads, such as an appearance by a Captain Beefheart puppet who plays the piano, sings, and rides a motorcycle. I saw Little Man in a theatre packed with school children and was the only adult there except for the teachers. As the credits rolled at the end of the film the kids were singing along with Little Man and Captain Beefheart. One little boy in an end seat was dancing in the aisle. I later found out that Little Man was shown on Czech television and all of the children were familiar with the film.

Radek Beran’s sequel to Little Man, Big Man, premiered at the festival. Many of the same quirky characters and settings from the first film reappear. Little Man is contentedly enjoying life in his forest village, running a shop with his wife Majolenka and playing in a band with friends. The villagers lead a peaceful life until Doctor Zetko, a cunning villain, appears, stirring up fear of the Deerfolk among the forest villagers. Once again Little Man must go on a quest, this time to save his beloved Majolenko, his friends, and his home. While children will enjoy the delightful characters and beautiful backgrounds, Big Man has a very clear message. It is about the gradual loss of freedom and the need to resist manipulation and fake news.

Big Man

Along with all of the wonderful puppet films, an exhibition Beyond the Boundaries of Animation: Manipulated Puppets in Czech Filmmaking at the North Bohemian Museum allowed me to see many puppets in person that I had only ever seen on screen before. The exhibition was not just limited to classic marionettes with strings. It also included hand puppets, glove puppets, rod puppets, and puppets on strings and rods.

The centerpiece of the exhibition was Little Man and Big Man. Along with puppets from the two films I got to see Tiny’s Laboratory, Majolenka’s shop, and the library from the films. A scene from Svankmajer’s Punch and Judy and the Czech muppets, Ju and Hele were on display. The marvelous exhibition also included set designs, graphic designs, artwork, sketches, and film posters. It was a feast for the eyes of anyone who loves puppet animation.

Five separate programs at the festival were devoted to Fine Art Animation. They explored what fine art gives to animation and how animation can enrich works of art and add an extra dimension to it. I had already seen most of the films in the Paintings Come to Life screening, but it was a pleasure to watch good prints of such films as Cyclists by Veljko Popovic (2018) and Paul Bush’s 2015 The Five Minute Museum.


There were also some delightful surprises in the program. I had never seen Czech director Martin Kukal’s 2014 homage to Vincent van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters. In the film the painter wanders through the landscape of his painting and ends up being invited into the home of the peasant family pictured on his canvas. The film is in black and white while the actual painting has a great deal of sepia and brown tones in it.

I was also pleased to see British animator Tony White’s 1978 Hokusai – An Animated Sketchbook. Nik and I have a copy of Hokusai’s woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa on our living room wall. The 1978 animated documentary is an overview of the renowned Japanese artist’s life, work and philosophy about art. The film won a BAFTA in 1979 in the Best Short Factual Film category.

The Paintings Come To Life program was my first opportunity to see Witold Giersz’s latest film Horse Portrait. The film opens with a totally black screen, then a single brush spot of color appears, then more and more fill the screen to form the outline of a galloping horse. Over the course of the six minute film, we watch horses gallop in many different techniques from realistic to abstract. Giersz has depicted horses frequently in his painterly films and has said “I love animals in general   . . . horses especially, as they were a constant part of my childhood”.

Mariam Kandelaki, Republic of Georgia animator, producer and founder of the Georgian Animation Association, was a member of the Anifilm short film jury. She presented a program of Georgian films as part of the Eastern Promises series. Debuting three years ago, the program features a group of films from countries located along Europe’s Eastern Borders.

Two of Mariam’s beautiful films were screened. The Youth and the Leopard tells the story of two grieving mothers. One is the mother of the son who kills the leopard and the other is the mother of the leopard who kills the boy. The two mothers end up consoling each other over their losses. The second film, Abandoned Village by Mariam, is very moving. As the morning mist slowly clears we see an abandoned village left with decayed huts, broken fences and caved-in roofs. The 14-minute film looks like an oil painting, a still life which is sometimes delicate and at other times seen with broad brushstrokes and different light depending upon the time of the day. The village is a metaphor for a human being who is ruined if left without love.

International Short and Student Film Jury L to R Andre Eckardt, Emma De Swaef, and Mariam Kandelaki

I am a fan of Petre Tomadze’s films, two of which were screened in the Georgian program. Night Session is based on a true story and deals with domestic violence with a macabre humorous twist. Goderdzi also has an unexpected twist at the end of the film when a grave digger falls in love with a grieving widow while he is digging her dead husband’s grave. Anyone not familiar with Georgian animation was in for a delightful surprise while watching this program. Georgian animation is very much alive and proving to be a strong force on the animation scene.

Polish animator Wiola Sowa was a member of the Abstract and Non-Narrative Animation, Music Video, and VR Film Jury. During her presentation, she talked about her work process and screened three of her films. They included her 2007 Refreny, the story of three generations of women, a grandmother, her daughter, and granddaughter. All three women have a similar experience.

She also showed her latest work The Tenement House, a VR piece about a tenement house where the narrator watches from her window. Along with her, the viewer wanders through the apartments which represents an interpretation of the state of mind of their occupants and the way that they communicate with the world.

Wiola Sowa, Steven Wolonshen, and Jan Brukner

Steve Woloshen, Canadian experimental filmmaker, was also on the Abstract and Non-Narrative Animation, Music Video, and VR Jury. At his screening he showed 17 of his films which he creates directly on film stock by engraving, scratching, and hand coloring. He also conducted a two-day workshop at the festival.

Belgian animator Emma de Swaef gave a masterclass giving detailed technical information on her craft as an animator creating felt puppets. One half of a team with her husband Marc James Roels, the pair have created Oh Willy, This Magnificent Cake, and the first segment of the Netflix film The House. Emma also brought Mable, her puppet from The House, clutching her tiny sister.  She began her presentation with a screening of their 16-minute film Oh Willy.

Emma told the packed theatre that she and Marc often approach their films from a documentary perspective. As an example, when she was talking about Oh Willy on the screen behind her was a photo of a happy, smiling middle-aged nudist couple relaxing in their living room. She also said that she believes that stop motion is the ideal way to make a film about nudity because along with the felt puppets, it adds a layer of softness and poetry which makes the subject matter of the film less awkward for the viewer.

Listening to Emma, the hour-long Masterclass flew by. She concluded her presentation with a screening of the 44-minute This Magnificent Cake. Emma was also a member of the Short Film Jury.

Logo designer Noemi Valentiny’s exhibition in the Liberec Chateau

This year the festival logo was designed by the young director, graphic artist, and animator Noemi Valentiny. Playing off of this year’s theme of manipulated puppets, her artwork alluded to hands controlling puppet strings but the hands also resembled spiders. An exhibition of her work in the foyer of the Liberec Chateau, the festival center, showed the first designs that she made for the logo in dry point.

I was invited to go with the jury members on an excursion to North Bohemia’s most prominent landmark, the1,012 meter high Jested Mountain. The towering peak is topped with a television tower and a hotel. Built between 1966 and 1973, it is a truly remarkable sight and the views from the top of the peak are breathtaking. The interior of the hotel, where we were served a lovely brunch, is also quite remarkable with windows all around and a 1970s futuristic style interior décor.

In 1969, its architect Karel Hubacek became the only Czech in history to receive the prestigious Auguste Perret Prize. Named after Honorary UIA President and eminent twentieth century French architect Auguste Perret, renowned for his pioneering use of reinforced concrete, the prize rewards a body of work characterized by technological excellence.

Interior of the Jested Mountain Top Hotel

Thanks to its original design the building has received numerous accolades. It was declared a National Cultural Monument and holds the title of the most important Czech building of the 20th Century. The drive to the mountain gave me an opportunity to see the beautiful surrounding country side.

There was so much to see and do at this year’s Anifilm that it was impossible to see and do everything but I packed as much into 3 ½ days as I could. I want to thank Festival Director Tomas Rychecky and Program Director Pavel Horacek for inviting me. A big thank you also goes to everyone in guest services who went well out of their way to make my visit memorable. If you ever have the good fortune to be invited to Anifilm be sure to go.

Anifilm 2025 will take place from 6 to 11 May.

You can learn more about the festival at  www.

Anifilm 2024 Winners

International Competition of Feature Films

Jury: Hugh Welchman (UK), Milorad Krstić (Slovenia) Alena Vandasová (Czech Republic)

Best Feature Film for Children

Chicken for Linda! (Linda veut du poulet!)

Directors: Chiara Malta, Sébastien Laudenbach France, Italy, 2023, 76 min Technique: 2D computer Produced by: Dolce vita films, Miyu Productions

Jury statement: While there were several very good films, there was one which was exceptional, and for this reason we are giving out one prize for Best Feature- it is in the category of Best Children’s Film, but it was also the standout film for an adult audience as well. The film managed to surprise and amaze as well as entertain all members of the jury. It’s script was exceptional, with brilliant twists, sharply drawn characters and laugh-out-loud humour. The design was original and effective.

Synopsis: Paulette realizes she has unfairly punished her daughter Linda. To make up for it, she promises to cook her chicken with peppers, even though she cannot cook at all. But that’s not the biggest problem. Paulette has to solve where to find a chicken on a strike day, when all the shops are closed. And what if the chicken is somewhat wild and causes a series of crazy situations? This zany comedy for a wide range of audiences will entertain children and, thanks to some scenes and details, adults as well. During this and last year’s festival season, it has managed to earn acclaim as it won the Best Feature Film Award at Annecy and earned nominations for the César Award and for the Best Animated Feature Film at the European Film Awards. This film by the Italian-French duo Chiara Malta and Sébastien Laudenbach is pleasantly playful, smoothly animated and, with its colour differentiation of characters and artistic shortcuts, also somewhat atypical. Despite that, it’s audience-friendly and humorously depicts the difficulties in parent-child relationships.

International Competition of Short Films

Jury: Mariam Kandelaki (Georgia), André Eckardt (Germany), Emma De Swaef (Belgium)

Best Short Film

Zima (Winter)

Director: Tomek Popakul, Kasumi Ozeki Poland, 2023, 26 min Technique: drawing on paper Produced by: Yellow Tapir Films

Jury Statement: The clash between the ice-cold archaic village life with its manly rituals and the warm personal mystery of the strong young woman Anka has lingered on with us very long after the film. It is an artistically exceptional and wild contemplation about places that you would like to leave but which already have left traces on your soul.

Synopsis: It grows as slowly as an icicle, but one day it drops and crashes. Anka loves cats. And Jesus. In a winter silence the lagoon freezes and the unspoken resurfaces like a crack on ice. Mosaic portrait of a small fisherman’s village where human to human, human to animal, animal to animal interdepend on a delicate balance of warm tender care and cold emotional cruelty. An eerie story of loneliness.

Special Mention:

Wander to Wonder

Director: Nina Gantz Netherlands, Belgium, France, 2023, 13 min 50 s Technique: stop-motion Produced by: Circe Films, Kaap Holland Film, Beast Animation

International Competition of Student Films

Jury: Mariam Kandelaki (Georgia), André Eckardt (Germany), Emma De Swaef (Belgium)

Best Student Film

Vychodni Dest (The Eastern Rain)

Director: Milly Yencken Estonia, 2023, 9 min 7 s Technique: painting on glass, drawing on paper Produced by: Estonian Academy of Arts

Jury statement: This visually stunning, breathtaking animation has enormous emotional depth. It has been drawing us in from the beginning and holding our attention throughout with every brush stroke and every chime of the bells.

Synopsis: This poetic film combines the lyrical effect of traditional animation techniques such as drawing on paper and painting on glass with the mysterious and disturbing atmosphere of the portrayed places and scenes. A carefully chosen colour palette enhances the unique visual experience from a strangely familiar yet geographically unspecified setting.

Special Mention:

(A madár gyermekei) Children of the Bird

Director: Júlia Tudisco Hungary, 2024, 11 min 30 s Technique: 2D computer Produced by: MOME

International Competition of Abstract and Non-Narrative Animation

Jury: Steven Woloshen (Canada), Wiola Sowa (Poland), Jan Brukner (Czech Republic) Best Abstract and Non-Narrative Animation


Director: Lorans Côme France, 2023, 9 min 36 s Technique: stop-motion, puppet, others, live action Produced by: ENSAD

Jury statement: Under the cover of abstract animation, we explore the dynamics of planetary evolution with a variety of artistic techniques.

Synopsis: Crypto(zoïque) shows the crossing of a celestial object. It’s an immersive journey in the heart of matter, from a macroscopic to a microscopic scale. This probe is formally stylised as a disturbing sci-fi film and the selected soundtrack underscores it. With its approach to the object’s surface, the film transforms into a fantastic nature documentary.

Special Mention

Right in the Eyes of the Mirror (Les yeux fixes du miroir)

Director: Mélusine Peduzzi France, 2023, 8 min 40 s Technique: 2D computer, drawing on paper Produced by: Cellofan’

International Competition of Music Videos

Jury: Steven Woloshen (Canada), Wiola Sowa (Poland), Jan Brukner (Czech Republic)

Best Music Video

Hilgeum: Illusion

Director: Jin Woo Republic of Korea, 2023, 5 min 33 s Technique: 2D computer Produced by: Sewingbug

Jury statement: For its use of a metaphysical and surrealist fusion of graphic arts.

Synopsis: This suggestive and strongly graphic music video for Illusion was made by a young animator commuting between Korea and Poland. Jin Woo works with a limited colour pallet and mostly dark tones and creates an obscure world where it is unclear whether strange things are happening inside or outside the observer’s head.

Special Mention

Vonfelt: Je Pars

Director: Michelle Brand Germany, France, 2023, 3 min 40 s Technique: 2D computer, 3D computer, others, cel animation Produced by: STINK Films

International Competition of VR Films

Jury: Steven Woloshen (Canada), Wiola Sowa (Poland), Jan Brukner (Czech Republic)

Best VR Film

Imperator (Emperor)

Marion Burger, Ilan Cohen France, Germany, 40 min, 2023

Jury statement: For its careful balance of teaching by interaction and compelling storyline that improves our understanding and empathy of mental health issues we award the VR prize to Emperor.

Synopsis: In this interactive and virtual imaginative story, we delve into the mind of a man suffering from aphasia, a disorder impairing a person’s ability to communicate. His daughter tries to communicate with the man and looks for a way to unlock his mind again. When she tries to piece together fragments of his speech, she finds out that individual words are linked to specific memories. Memories of his whole life.

International Competition of Computer Games

Jury: Eva Marková (Czech Republic), Onat Hekimoğlu (Germany), Vojtěch Buchta (Czech Republic)

Best Visual Art


Jury statement: Choosing from the many beautiful and imaginative games was challenging, but Dordogne stands out with its watercolour visuals that give it a warm, human touch. Its soft, dreamy brushstrokes and warm colors perfectly complement the game's poignant story about memories of a childhood summer trip. The artistically rich setting feels almost life-like. We would like to point out that thanks to the interesting combination of real watercolour painting applied to 3D models, the game offers enough interactivity and space that is very pleasant to explore... The result of this approach is an artistically beautiful experience that resonates deeply and captures the essence of a forgotten childhood through every sensitively conceived detail.

Synopsis: Explore the Dordogne landscapes of a thousand summer colours within sumptuous hand-painted watercolour environments. During your adventure, recall the moments, the panoramas, the scents, the sounds and the sensations. Recount these vivid memories in your journal as a recollection of Mimi’s family past that’s unique to your experience and a nostalgic, touching reflection of your journey.

Best Game for Children


Daniel Benmergui, 2023

Jury statement: When we were choosing a game to show the kids and play with them, this game was always at the top of our list. We chose it because it offers a mechanism that appeals to all ages and encourages logical thinking through story construction. Players enjoy experimenting with different combinations and discovering how each twist affects the outcome of the storyline, making it ideal for intergenerational play. The game design is clean and straightforward, with archetypal characters providing clear and enjoyable gameplay. Its humour and animations add to its charm and show how games can be both entertaining and educational.

Synopsis: Storyteller lets you build stories using a visual language. The goal on each level is to make a story that fits the given title by placing settings and characters that react to each other, creating a narrative through their relationships. Storyteller’s comic-panel design and charming animations allow for experimentation within the framing of its many stories: just drag and drop characters to see how the story plays out! solve the extra mystery challenges along the way!

Audience Award – Liberec Region Award

I Will Die in This House

Director: Adriana Bendžalová Czech Republic, 2023, 7 min 30 s Technique: 2D computer

Produced by: Tomas Bata University in Zlín

Synopsis: The film follows Irma and her weird neighbours during the final days before the world is supposed to end. This farcical story full of black humour is highly topical and shows us that it is possible to find friendship and understanding among all sorts of people.

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