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Celebrating 30 years of KROK: KROK INTERNATIONAL ANIMATED FILM FESTIVAL - 22 – 30 September 2019: Saint Petersburg to Moscow

There is nothing that KROK likes better than a good party, except for good film of course.

     KROK is always a special event for me, and the 2019 edition was even more special than usual as we celebrated its 30 year.  But wait you say, wasn’t last year the 25th Anniversary of KROK?  True, but for the first few years the festival was held every other year so although last year was the 25th edition celebration, this year was the 30th anniversary of the founding of the festival.  Besides, there is nothing that KROK likes better than a good party, except for good film of course.

Our boat this year, as usual, was the Konstantin Simonov, named for the famous Soviet author, poet, playwright, and war correspondent.  The voyage was particularly lovely, sailing from Saint Petersburg to Moscow.

 The opening ceremony took place in Saint Petersburg at the Lendok Open Film Studio.  The studio, which is housed in a grand old former mansion, is a cinema as well as a working film studio specializing in documentary films.  The program opened with prominent members of our KROK family waltzing on the stage while photos of 30 years of festival memories were projected onto the movie screen.

Waltzing on opening night

The audience was then welcomed by Yuriy Norsteyn, Honorary President of the festival, followed by an introduction of the International Jury.  This year it was comprised of Russian Director Svetlana Andrianova; Estonian director and film scholar Ulo Pikkov; Nina Paley, American animation wizard and quilter; director Isabel Favez; and Daniel Suljic, Croatian animator, musician, and head of the Zagreb Animation Festival.  The final entertainment on the program was songs performed by members of a local young choral group.

The jury (left to right) Svetlana Andrianova, Daniel Suljic. Ulo Pikkov, Isabel Favez, and Nina Paley

Before the screening of the first competition program at the opening ceremony, the audience was treated to a big surprise.  Several months earlier renowned Russian animator Ivan Maximov invited a group of friends of KROK to be part of an animation jam collaboration to celebrate the festival’s 30th anniversary.  The one qualification was that you were asked to create something that the audience would recognize as you, a 4-second long video self-portrait.

Since Nik and I are not animators, our friends Hasan Pastaci and Emma Emily helped us create our 4 seconds.  The 3 minutes 29-second film is a lovely tribute to 30 years of fun, film, and friends at KROK.  You can watch the video self-portraits at:

The ceremony concluded with Competition Program # 1.  It was the first opportunity I had to see Polish animator Izabela Plucinska’s latest film, Portrait of Suzanne.  It is based on a novel by French writer Roland Topor titled Head to Toe Portrait of Suzanne.  The 15-minute film is the story of a very obese man who is plagued by loneliness.  One day he watches as his left foot turns into a woman who he realizes is Suzanne, his lost love.  Izabela’s films are often infused with black humor, irony, and wit.  Topor’s story was made for Claymation, showing what the medium can do in the hands of someone who excels with it like Izabela.  In awarding Portrait of Suzanne a diploma at KROK the jury said that it was for “Bringing a nightmare to life”.

Outside the vodka museum with Ninja Nina Paley 18th century architecture in Mandrogi

      The next day we left Saint Petersburg and headed Northwest with a stop in Mandrogi, a reproduction of a traditional 18th-century Russian settlement.  It was built in the mid-1990s on the site of a village that was destroyed during WW II.  A bit like a Russian Disneyland without rides, unless you count the horse-drawn carriage rides as one.  It does have something you will never find at Disneyland – the Vodka Museum.  It has over 2,650 varieties of vodka and of course, you can sample them.  We were treated to a lovely lunch in a rustic outdoor dining hall complete with a performance by local musicians.  The Mandrogi Folk Music Orchestra Singing and dancing in Mandrogi Israeli/German animator Gil Alkabetz and I

     After lunch, our boat headed due North across Lake Onega to the island of Kizhi.  It is a National Open-Air Museum with more than 80 historical wooden structures dating from the 17th century.  The Kizhi Pogost is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It includes 2 large wooden churches, the 9 domed Intercession of the Virgin Church and the amazing 22 domed Transfiguration Church as well as a separate bell tower.  All 3 wooden structures were built without using any nails.

 The Church of the Transfiguration

     One more stop on the lake at Petrozavodsk, home to an excellent Fine Arts Museum featuring medieval icons and folk art. Then it was time to turn South on our way to Moscow.  The scenery along the river banks was spectacular with the birch trees just beginning to turn golden.  KROK is an animation festival so we were watching animation on the boat while we travelled also.  This year there were 123 films in competition from 33 countries in the 9 competition programs.   

     This has been a very strong year for Claymation fans.  Along with Portrait of Suzanne, another excellent example of the art form is Love Me, Fear Me by Veronica Solomon.  The film asks the question “What would you be willing to do to make people love you?”  The 6-minute film employs dance to act out the roles we play and shapes we change into.  With beautiful choreography and fluidity, Veronica addresses the stages we choose, the audiences we try to impress and the price we are willing to pay to achieve our goals.  With no dialogue, the characters in the film mimic the movements of live dancers conveying the playfulness of whimsical forms and movements against a background of light and shadows.

     After receiving a degree in Fine Arts in 2003, Romanian born Veronica decided to return to school to study animation.  Love Me, Fear Me is her graduation film from Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF in Germany.  It is a very sophisticated graduation film and has won several festival awards including a Special Prize for technical achievement at KROK.

KROK Bells and the Plasticine Crow-Virtuoso Pilot Awards

     The Special Alexander Tatarskiy Prize, The Plasticine Crow – Virtuoso Pilot Award was initiated after Alexander’s untimely death in July of 2007.  He was co-founder of Pilot Studio as well as a director, animator, and producer.  His most well-known film is The Plasticine Crow.  It is a retelling of the old Aesop fable about The Fox and The Crow animated in Claymation.

     Alexander was well known for his vibrant sense of humor as well as a love of toys and funny films.  Each year The Plasticine Crow – Virtuoso Pilot Award is given to the most whimsical, delightfully playful film.  It can be from any of the 5 competition categories.  Unlike the other awards at the festival which are selected by the International Jury, this special award is chosen by joint decision of the International Jury and the festival organizing committee.  Unlike the ship’s bell that is the award for the other categories, The Tatarskiy prize is uniquely different each year, just like the man it is named for.  This year the award went to Toomas Beneath The Valley Of The Wild Wolves by Chintis Lundgren.   As part of the 30th Anniversary celebration, there was a special screening of the 12 previous films that have won the award.

     Another special program honored 4 Soyuzmultfilm Film Studio directors, Mikhail Tsekhanovsky, Valentina and Zinaida Brumberg, and Alexandra Snezhko-Blotskaya.  They were all pioneers in the field of animation.  Mikhail Tsekhanovsky was a book illustrator as well as an animator.  Evidence of his illustration work shows up strongly in the style of his films.  Prior to moving to Moscow from Leningrad to join Soyuzmultfilm Film Studio, he was one of the founding members of the Leningrad School of Animation. 

     Working with his wife, Vera Tsekhanovskaya, their first animated film in 1928-29 was The Postman based on a children’s book of the same name by Samuil Marshak.  The animation, paying tribute to the reliability of the post office, follows a letter to writer and globetrotter Boris Zitkov as 4 valiant postmen carry the letter following Zitkov on his travels from Leningrad to Berlin, on to London and Brazil. The letter follows him back to Leningrad finally reaching him when he returns home.  The Postman was one of the first Russian animations to get a musical score and a voiceover.

     In 1964 Tsekhanovsky remade The Postman using paper cutouts once again.  The KROK screening showed the 1964 version along with 3 of his other films, The Telephone (1944), The Tail of the Fisherman and the Fish (1950), and Kashtanka (1952).

     Valentina and Zinaida Brumberg are considered the Grandmothers of Russian animation.  The sisters, born just one year apart in 1899 and 1900 respectively, created over 50 films, always working together.  They were pioneers in the art of cut out animation, working primarily in the fairy tale genre.  In 1936 the sisters were among the founding employees of Soyuzmultfilm Film Studio. 

     Unfortunately, many of their films have been lost.  KROK screened 6 of their remaining delightful films starting with the 1936 The Dragonfly and The Ant and ending with their 1970 version of The Canterville Ghost which was their final film.  They left the industry in 1974.

     Alexandra Snezhko-Blotskaya began her career as a designer at Soyuzmultfilm in 1932.  In 1936 she started collaborating with noted animator Ivan Ivanov-Vano and honing her animation skills.  Her first solo film was Orange Throat (1954), based on a story by Vitaly Bianki about a young partridge, Orange Throat, and her partner, Podkovkin, who adopt 12 orphaned chickens after their father and mother are carried off by a hawk.

     Alaxandra’s films were primarily of the fantasy genre, often based on folk tales or stories by popular authors such as Pushkin and Kipling.  In the 1970’s she directed a series of 5 animated shorts based on Greek mythology.  The final film shown at the tribute program was her 20 minute Prometheus made in 1974.

Young animators at work

     Each of the jury members gave a Master Class, talking about their work process and showing their films.  There was also an area for the younger members of the animation community to create their own animated film as well as a clown on board to entertain them when they weren’t hard at work being creative.

Igor Volchek on piano and Nik playing the Soprano Sax at ReAnimation

Mikhail Tumelya and Yuriy Norsteyn performing at ReAnimation

     Of course, it’s the KROK boat so there was plenty of time for fun and music.  Beginning with the opening night banquet onboard our boat the wine, vodka, and music began to flow.  The night time Re-animation Club with music provided by Igor Volchek playing piano and Nik on soprano sax gave everyone a chance to perform, play music, sing, or tell a story to share their special talent and warm-up for the Big Event, CARNIVAL.

We Can't Live Without KROK

      This year’s Carnival theme was” We Can’t Live Without KROK”.  Nik and I were lucky enough to be part of a very fun and creative carnival group made up of William Henne, Izabela Plucinska, Veronica Solomon, and Sonja Rohleder.   William, from Zorobabel Production House in Brussels, is not only a producer and animator, he is an excellent scriptwriter.  With some input from all of us he not only wrote a great script, he even story boarded it out.  Sonja provided great make up and we pooled resources to create a set and props.  Our skit portrayed what will happen to you if you miss the KROK boat after an excursion and are stranded on an island.  We were lucky enough to be awarded a prize by the judges.

Izabela Plucinska, hearafter known as IzaDevil Our carnival group (left t right) - IzaDevil Plucinska, Nik, Sonja Rohleder, Victoria Soloman, front me and William Henne Ivan Maximov, Mikhail's wife Anna, and Mikhail at Carnival

     Along with the formal gatherings, there were afternoon music sessions in cabins along with late-night music in the lounge areas.  For dancing, there was Ivan Maximov DJing in the upstairs dining room.  One night jury member Daniel Suljic, another super DJ, selected the dance music.

Nik, Alexey Alexeev, and Mikhail Tumelya Yuriy Norsteyn dropped in to sing at a cabin party

     Time flies by on the KROK boat and all too soon it was time for the closing ceremony.  Before the awards were handed out there was a special presentation given to Francois Salomon.  Francois is the behind the scenes “Life Blood” of KROK.  As the catalogue said “If not for you Francois . . . the life of Russian animators would have been bleaker.  Duller.  With less joy in it.  And it’s doubtful whether our animation ship would ever be able to sail for all these years”.

Francois Salomon modelling his life jacket during the fire drill

     Heir to a legendary French ski equipment dynasty, Francois and his Russian born wife, Elvira, have saved the KROK boat on numerous occasions when it was about to sink.  It is not just Russian animators who owe him a great debt of gratitude, but also animators from all over the world who have had the wonderful adventure of sailing on the KROK boat.  Thank you, Francois!

Dancing on the top deck

     If you are ever lucky enough to be invited to KROK don’t miss the amazing opportunity.  You will have a fantastic time and meet people who will become your good friends for life. 

Festival Director Irina Kaplichnaya and Deputy Director Natali Stan-Astra

     A very heartfelt thank you goes to the festival General Director Irina Kaplichnaya, Natali Stan-Astra, Deputy General Director and all of their very hard working staff for keeping the KROK boat afloat for 30 years.  Here’s to the next 30.

     KROK 2020 will be held from 2 to 12 October but the exact route has not been announced yet.  You can learn more about the festival at:


Category 1 – Graduation Films

    Jury Diploma:  The Deepness Of The Fry - August Niclasen, Denmark – For the most special and unique film

    Jury Diploma:  Grand Bassin – Heloise Courtois, Victori Jalabert, Chloe Plat, and Adele Raigneau, France – For               


   Jury Diploma:   Hello, My Dears – Alexander Vasiliev, Russia – For charm and surprise

   Jury Diploma:   Ramouli – Yann Le Bot, France – For dark humor and mood

   Award and 4 Thousand Euros – Dutchgaria, Capucine Muller, Belgium

Category 2 – First Professional Film

   Jury Diploma:  Paper or Plastic – Nata Metlukh, United States – For surreal narrative

   Jury Diploma:  Symbiosis – Nadja Andrasev, France, Hungary – For graphic style

   Award and 4 thousand Euros:  Kids – Michael Frei, Switzerland

Category 3 – Films Up To 5 Minutes

   Jury Diploma:  The Six – Chen Xi and An Xu, China – For unique framing

   Award:   The Voice Over- CaLMi, Claudia Cortes Espejo, Lora D’Addazio, and Mathilde Remy, Belgium

Category 4 – Films 5 to 10 Minutes

   Jury Diploma:  The Cord – Aleksandr Bubnov, Ukraine – For design and animation

   Award:  The Last Day of Autumn – Marjolaine Perreten, Switzerland

Category 5 – Films 10 to 50 Minutes

   Jury Diploma:  Portrait of Suzanne – Izabela Plucinska, Poland/Germany – For bringing a nightmare to life

   Jury Diploma:  The Blissful Accidental Death – Sergiu Negulici, Romania – For combining documentary and fantasy

   Award:  I’m Going Out For Cigarettes – Osman Cerfon, France

Special Awards:

  Technical Achievement Award and 4 Thousand Euros:  Love Me, Fear Me – Veronica Solomon, Germany

  Direction and Narrative Award and 4 Thousand Euros:  He Can’t Live Without Cosmos – Konstantin Bronzit, Russia

  Best Children’s Film Award and 4 Thousand Euros:  Butterboo – Emilie Pigeard, France/Belgium

  Special Alexander Tatarskiy Prize ‘The Plasticine Crow’ – ‘Virtuoso Pilot’ and 4 Thousand Euros:  Toomas Beneath     

          Of The Wild Wolves – Chintis Lundgren, Estonia, Croatia, and France

  Grand Prix and 5 Thousand Euros:  Memorable – Bruno Collet, France

  Audience Awards:  The Diver, Lulia Voitova, France

  Tonino Guerra Prize:  Listen Papa!, Tatiana Poliektove and Olga Poliektova, Russia, France, and Germany