What if they threw a party and everyone came? That is exactly what happened at the 50th-anniversary edition of the World Festival of Animated Film
What if they threw a party and everyone came? That is exactly what happened at the 50th-anniversary edition of the World Festival of Animated Film. The guest list read like the who's who in the animation world. This was the first festival many people had attended in two years, which added to the specialness of the event.
As befits the 50th anniversary the festival dedicated a great deal of screen time to looking back at what has become known as the Zagreb School of Animation. Five separate screenings were dedicated to the animators who made the city of Zagreb such a major name in the creation of animated films.
Unfortunately, many of the earliest films have not been preserved in the Croatian State Archives. The earliest fragment was the 1-minute 1928 trailer for the Andrija Stamper School of Public Health made by Stanislav Noworyta.
The first fully preserved film strip with animated drawings made in Zagreb is the 1932 experimental film created by Viktor Rybak and Miroslav Modic. Rybak was the author of numerous film reports and documentaries between 1923 and 1930. In 1931 he founded his own film production company and film processing lab in Zagreb. The 15-second experimental piece was created because of Rybak’s amateur enthusiasm for animation. It was never intended to be shown to the public or used in any commercial way. According to Rybak, the film was made in cooperation with employees of his company and Miroslav Modic was the cartoonist.
The Zagreb School of animation, characterized by stories told with an economy of line, developed in a large part due to the shortage and cost of cels and other materials. As a result, animators had to resort to making as few drawings as possible to tell the story. It is said that the animators washed cels when they completed an order so that they could use them again for the next commercial.
Each of the 5 programs covered an important period in the history of the Zagreb School of Animation. The first screening was devoted to the very beginning with films that laid the foundation by the people who brought animation to Zagreb. The Bonjour Cannes 1958 program recreated the legendary screening from 1958 at the Cannes Film Festival. It showed the same 7 films that introduced the world to the fresh ideas and style being created at Zagreb Studio. It was after this screening that the noted French film historian Georges Sadoul and film critic Andre Martin coined the term the Zagreb School of Animated Film.
The Golden Age of Zagreb Film from 1960 to 1970 screened beloved classics in two programs. Last but not least there was a program of children’s films.
In 1951 Dusan Vukotic created Kico. This was the first attempt at Zagreb Studio to create a reoccurring character. Kico first appeared in How Kico Was Born. With this film, Vukotic attempted to create his own style and separate himself from the traditional Disney formula of animation. Dusan had a long and prolific career. In 1962 his film Surogat (Ersatz in English) won an Oscar for Best Short Animated Film. It is a satire on civilization’s superficiality and humanity’s preference for convenience above practicality. In the film a man brings a collection of inflatable objects to the beach, literally everything, including his inflatable girlfriend, is a blown-up object.
No tribute to Croatian animation would be complete without the work of Borivoj Dovnikovic, better known as Bordo. Sadly he passed away in February of this year but as one of the founders of the Zagreb School of animation, he has left a legacy of his wonderful animated films. Simple and often based on gags, Bordo’s films champion “the little man”. As part of the Golden Age of Zagreb Films, two of Bordo’s films were screened. Curiosity (1966) is about human curiosity, a disease for which no cure has yet to be found. While a man is trying to rest on a park bench, passersby are curious about what he has in the bag on the bench next to him.
In Learning to Walk(1978) Bordo tells the story of a man who has always walked the way his mother taught him to walk. Four of his friends take turns trying to teach him their style of walking, convinced that each one’s way is the only way to walk. The little man has a difficult time getting away from his friends but eventually, he does and then he goes back to the way he has always walked. Learning to Walk is a particular favorite of mine and it was lovely to see it on the big screen again.
No Zagreb program would be complete without a Professor Balthazar film. Created by Zlatko Grgic in 1967, the Professor became the Zagreb Studio’s first successful animated series. The Professor Balthazar adventures ran on television from 1967 to 1978. It centered around a white-haired professor who solved people’s problems using his knowledge and logic. He would then activate his magical machine and produce an invention that would solve the problem.
The festival showed the 9-minute Professor Balthazar: Lighthouse Keeping. In this episode, the Professor goes to the Alps and meets a man who has been yodeling all of his life. His problem is that his yodeling causes avalanches. Next, the professor meets a lighthouse keeper on a South Sea island who loves ice cream but can’t eat it because it is so hot that it melts before he can get it to his mouth. The professor solves their problems by having them swap places. One can safely yodel on the island and the other can eat all of the ice cream he wants in the Alps. The film was made in 1969 by Zlatko Grgic, Boris Kolar, and Ante Zaninovic.
Professor Balthazar has become a symbol of the city of Zagreb and his bowler hat the symbol of the Zagreb Animation Festival. At one time or another, every animator at the Zagreb Studio worked on an episode of Professor Balthazar.
Zlatko Grgic also created the Maxi Cat series which ran from 1971 to 1973. These mini-films which are only one minute long. Each featured an ungainly feline, Maxi Cat, who has brief encounters with ordinary objects such as doors, a hat, or a broom with surprising results. The animation is very simple, the backgrounds nonexistent and the only objects are those needed for the short story. The festival screened three Maxi Cat episodes: The Lunch, Fishing, and The Door.
The Zlatko Grgic Award at Animafest Zagreb pays tribute to this great Croatian animator. It is awarded to the best first film produced apart from educational institutions.
The short film competition was particularly strong this year. My personal favorite film was Tal Kantor’s Letter To A Pig. The Israeli filmmaker confronts memory and how we perceive it, usually fragmented and incomplete. In her 17-minute film a Holocaust survivor reads a letter he to a classroom full of young people that he wrote to the pig who saved his life. A young schoolgirl hears his words and sinks into a macabrely twisted dream where she confronts questions of identity, collective trauma, and the extremes of human nature. Tal used a mixture of hand-drawn animation, live-action, and acrylic paint on paper to tell this very moving story.
Letter To A Pig won the Zlatko Grgic Award. In giving it, the jury, made up of Paul Driessen, Les Mills, Alex Dudok de Wit, Ana Nedeljkovic, and Igor Grubic said, “We counted many pigs among this year’s films. A pig can be repulsive and sweet, brutal and smart, and this film places this complex animal at the heart of a richly ambiguous, elegantly designed story with an unusual perspective on the Holocaust”.
I find animated documentaries to be fascinating, and the 70-minute feature film 1970 about the protests in Poland that year was no exception. Director Tomasz Wolski made the unusual choice to tell the story from the point of view of the bureaucrats who made up the crisis team rather than through the protester’s eyes. It was the team’s job to “handle” the protesters and shut down the revolt.
The whole thing began in December of 1970 when shelves in Polish supermarkets were empty and food prices became sky high. The Gdansk shipyard workers had had all they could take and called a strike. The original dozen protestors quickly multiplied and eventually swelled to tens of thousands of people.
The Communist rulers of Poland were determined not to allow a repeat of the 1956 Prague uprising. At first, they tried propaganda pamphlets which were ignored. Frustrated and angry they sent in militias, army units, and tanks. After 8 days the revolt was finally crushed leaving 41 protesters dead and 1,164 people wounded, some seriously.
Wolski uses archival recorded telephone conversations between Communist leaders as the backdrop for 1970. The crisis team is portrayed in stop-motion while archival live-action footage of the riots shows the terrible effects of their “crisis control”. As I watched the film, I felt like I was in that smoke-filled room. Anyone interested in history will find this inside look into how power corrupts extremely fascinating.
Each year Animafest gives a Lifetime Achievement Award; This year the festival honored one of its own, Nedeljko Dragic. This was very fitting on the festival’s 50th Anniversary. Dragic is not only a director, he is an author of animated films, a caricaturist, an illustrator, and an acclaimed comic book artist. He is also one of the greatest authors of the Zagreb School of Animation. His animation style is uniquely original and as one critic observed his style has “lavish drawings imbued with a linear, caricaturist method”.
Dragic’s films frequently have a philosophical component about a man in the world. Passing Days (1969) is about an ordinary man who tries to lead a simple life but his efforts are thwarted by the world around him. The 1974 film The Diary was inspired by his experiences in America along with his intimate thoughts. He skipped the conventional screenplay and storyboard for this film and just sat down at his desk and started animating.
In a career that spans from 1965 to the present Nedeljko Dragic is a worthy winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award. The Masters of Animation: Nedeljko Dragic screening presented 10 of his films.
The beautiful 2022 poster was designed by Michael Dudok De Wit. His bluebirds also flitted in and out of the trailer which was created by the cream of the animation world. Contributing to the Exquisite Corpse piece were: Michaela Pavlatova, Koji Yamamura, Joan Gratz, Daniel Suljic, Xi Chen, Marta Pajek, Frank Dion, Spela Cadez, Juan Pablo Zaramella, Paul Driessen, and last but not least Joanna Quinn. Nik had the great honor to be invited to create the music for the trailer.
The festival took advantage of its all-star cast this year to offer 12 master classes. Attendees had the opportunity to learn about evolving and developing short films from Joanna Quinn and Les Mills. Marta Pajek took her audience through the process of writing her triptych of films Impossible Figures and Other Stories from her first idea to the development of the final concept.
Other workshops were presented by scriptwriter Pedro Rivero, producer Jelena Popovic, Michael Dudok De Wit, Spela Cadez, Anastasiya Verlinska, Juan Pablo Zaramella, Veljko and Milivoj Popovic, Aya Suzuki, and Paul Driessen. A special panel discussion, Queer Creative Voices, discussed the evolution of diversity and inclusion within the animation industry.
As part of the 50th Anniversary festival, producer Paola Orlic curated an elaborate exhibition, Animafest Zagreb 1972 – 2022, at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The exhibition is so extensive and rich in content that it deserves its own article. Due to the high attendance, the exhibition date has been extended to the 28th of August.
I suggest a summer holiday trip to Zagreb to visit the exhibition and then a trip to the Croatian coast to cool off in the beautiful, clear water. I will soon write a piece dedicated strictly to the exhibition next.
Every year a highlight of the festival is the picnic. For the previous 2 years, the picnic was held at the beautiful City Botanical Gardens within walking distance of the festival since it wasn’t safe to put us all on a bus and drive for an hour to the countryside due to Covid. This year the picnic location was quite a surprise.
Before the picnic, we were all taken to the Museum of Contemporary Art to visit the exhibition. Rain was forecast for that day so instead of taking us to an outdoor area, the picnic came to us. It was set up on the wide-covered veranda at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Even though it felt a bit more formal than usual, the catered buffet was delicious as always. Festival Artistic Director Daniel Suljic is not only an animator, he is also a musician and a DJ. He showed his prowess at the turntable by providing music for the picnic. Nik also played for us.
For the 50th anniversary, Margit (Buba) Antauer, President of the Animafest Zagreb Council and Festival Producer Paola Orlic headed an editorial team that published Fifty Years of World Festival of Animated Film – Animafest Zagreb. The 535-page book is chock full of memories for anyone who has ever attended the festival. As someone who has been there for over 20 years, the hundreds of photos alone are a treasure. You can find out more about the book and order it at: https://www.upi2mbooks.r/trgovina/upi2m-books-izdanja/akcija-upi2m-books/pedeset-godina-animafesta/
The book is normally 300 Kuna (around 40 euros) but there is a special discount available on the website of 240 Kuna (30 euros). Unfortunately, the English language version of the website doesn’t work but there is always Google translate and it is very easy to order. The book is in both English and Croatian.
I had the pleasure of presenting the English language book chat at the festival. This year I had 3 authors with widely different but fascinating books. Milen Alempijevic from Serbia wrote The Last Turn At Albuquerque, the prolific writer and head of the Ottawa International Animation Festival, Chris Robinson presented his latest book Mad Eyed Misfits – Writings On Indie Animation, and Finish photographer Timo Viljakainen talked about Behind the Eyes the World.
The first thing that I asked Milen was where the title of his book came from. It turns out that it came from a conversation that his wife had with a monk at a monastery church. During their conversation, the monk asked her if she watched cartoons. This came out of the blue without him knowing Milen’s involvement with animation. When she said yes, he asked “Have you watched Kung Fu Panda?” Again, she said yes. He went on “Well, there is a scene when the old turtle says “. . . yesterday is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” The monk went on “It seems that ‘I should have made the turn at Albuquerque’ is not of much use in life”.
His book is a collection of short essays, several influenced by his keen interest in jazz. I especially enjoyed his writings about the link between animated film and jazz and his piece on animated documentaries of jazz musicians. Milan’s writing is very readable and the book covers a wide range of subjects.
The Last Turn At Albuquerque is published by the Students’ City Cultural Center/Academic Film Center in Serbia. You can find out ordering information on their website: www.dksg.rs. It is in Serbian but our old friend Google translate will help you get all of the information that you need.
In Mad Eyed Misfits – Writings on Indie Animation Chris Robinson looks at a wide range of films and filmmakers that include such familiar names as Don Hertzfeldt, Adam Elliot, Masaaki Yuasa, Wong Ping, Bruce Bickford, Jodie Mack, Rosto, Suzan Pitt, Clyde Henry (aka Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski) and Cartoon Saloon and many more in the 34 chapters in the book. Chris’ interviews, especially a never before published conversation with the late great Rosto (d. 2019) make for especially good reads. Whether you agree with his opinions or not Mad Eyed Misfits will give you a lot of food for thought.
Mad Eyed Misfits – Writings on Indie Animation is published by CRC Press. You can purchase the paperback edition on Amazon for 22.44 Euros, 22.00 Dollars, or 18.99 pounds. It is also available in a hardcover edition and as an eBook.
Finnish photographer Timo Viljakainen began taking portraits of animators with their eyes shut in the early 1990s. He has collected 81 photographs into a lovely book titled Behind the Eyes the World.
Explaining the title Timo said “When a person closes his eyes, he breaks the connection with the viewer. He retreats into himself, with his eyes closed, it is easier for him to think, dream, or reminisce. Seeing a photograph of such a person, you wonder what he is thinking about and you look for the answer in the background. By so doing you turn the picture, which was a portrait, into a story. Eyes closed, but mind open.”
Behind the Eyes the World is a perfect gift for anyone who loves animation. Each photo gives a special glimpse into the individual personalities of the animators and because many of the photos were taken at festivals it also brings back memories of where we were. The book can be ordered directly from Timo by contacting him at: email@example.com
The price in Europe is 40€ including shipping costs. Overseas the price is 45€ shipping included.
The 9th edition of Animafest Scanner, a symposium for contemporary animation study, was held on the 7th and 8th of June in conjunction with the festival. Over the two days, the 16 speakers focused on three topics: Global Animation and its History – A Tribute to Giannalberto Bendazzi, The State of Contemporary European Animation and its Future, and Gender and Diversity.
The Scanner keynote speaker is always the recipient of the Animafest Zagreb Award for Outstanding Contributions to Animation Studies. This year the festival honored Rolf Giesen with the award. Giesen is a German film historian, screenwriter, lecturer, critic and scholar with a very broad knowledge ranging from animation history to the latest advances in the digital age.
Unfortunately, he was not able to be present but he delivered his keynote address, Caught Between Two Stools: Star Wars vs The Art of Animation, via the big screen. In comparing the difference between European and American animation he noted that Star Wars opened the era of the blockbuster, of movies that make a billion dollars in the international market. He went on to point out that European animation is as different and varied as the individual European countries and that none of the big global players are in Europe.
Gieson feels that“. . . our strength should be content and animation quality. Zagreb was and is a good example that we have something to say, that we value the art of animation higher than commercial standardization”.
Along with Les Mill’s jury duty, Les and Joanna Quinn were kept extremely busy at the festival. The pair gave a master class and participated in Rise and Shine for three full days. Despite that Joanna found time to create dozens of quick sketches of festival goers. She has been kind enough to share some of them with all of you. Thank you Joanna for giving me the privilege of using your artwork in my article. You can see many ofthem at the end of this article.
New this year at the festival was Rise and Shine. It is a unique animation pitching lab for young animators, organized as a collaboration between CEE Animation, Animafest Zagreb, and Animateka International Animation Festival. It is aimed at directors and producers of short films in development. Ten projects were selected to be presented.
The participants benefited from one on one sessions with some of the leading names in animation. Among the tutors were noted animator Joanna Quinn; writer and producer Les Mills; screenwriter, director and producer Pedro Rivero; writer, script editor, and lecturer Anna Vasova and Matthieu Darras, who has designed and led several programs for film and talent development.
Time seemed to fly by at the festival and it was over far too soon. A very big thank you goes to Buba, Paola Orlic, Meta Milic, and Daniel Suljic for inviting Nik and me to be part of the festival and making our stay in Zagreb such a pleasure. I am already looking forward to next year’s festival which will be held from the 5th through the 10th of June 2023.
You can learn more about the festival at: www.animafest.hr
Joanna Quinn's Sketches
Short Film Jury: Paul Driessen, Les Mills, Alex Dudok de Wit, Ana Nedeljkovic, and Igor Grubic
Short Film Grand Prix: Garbage Man (O homem do lixo) – Laura Concalves, Portugal
Golden Zagreb Award for Creativity and Innovative Artistic Achievement: Bestia – Hugo
The Zlatko Grgic Award for the Best First Film Made Outside an Educational Institution: Letter
To a Pig – Tal Kantor, Israel
Jury Special Mentions:
Igor Grubic: Impossible Figures and Other Stories – Marta Pajek, Poland
Alex Dudok de Wit: Thing (Ding) – Malte Stein, Germany
Ana Nedeljkovic : Steakhouse – Spela Cadez, Slovenia
Paul Driessen: Skinned (Ecorchee) – Joachim Herisses, France
Les Mills: Swallow the Universe – Nieto, Colombia
Feature Film Jury: Olga Parn, Aya Suzuki, and Anastasiya Verlinska
The Feature Film Award: My Sunny Maad – Michaela Pavlatova, Czech Republic
Special Mention: Dozens of Norths (Ikuta no kita) – Koji Yamamura, Japan
Special Mention: The Crossing (La traverse) – Florence Miaihe, France
Student Film and Croatian Film Jury: Alexandra Ramires, Jelena Popovic, and Igor Prassel
Dusan Vukotic Award for Best Student Film: Butterfly Jam (La Confiture de papillons) –
Shih-Yen Huang, Taiwan/France
Special Mention: Mom What’s Up With the Dog?(Maman, il a quoi le chien?) – Lola Lefevre,
Special Mention: The Immoral (L’immoral) – Ekin Koca, France
Best Croatian Film Award and 1,000 euros Awarded by the Croatian Film Director’s Guild: 11-
Vuk Jevremovic, Croatia
Special Mention: Letters From the Edge of the Forest – Jelena Oroz, Croatia
Special Mention for the Best Croatian Minority Co-production: Love in Times of Coal-Based
Economy (Milosc w czasach gospodarki opartej no weglu) -Tomasz Siwinski, co produced by
Letko and Adriatic Animation
VR Competition Jury: Eva Cvijanovic, Milen Alempijevic, and Franziska Brucker
Best VR : Samsara- Hsin-Chien Huang, Taiwan
Special Mention: Marco & Polo Go Round – Benjamin Steiger Levine – Canada/Belgium
Children’s Film Jury: Ema and Jakov Barbarovic, Gita Gugo, Lala Spremo, and Nika Vrbanic
Best Childrens Film: Piropiro, Miyoung Baek, Korea
Special Mention: Franzy’s Soup Kitchen (La Soupe de Franzy) – Ana Chubinidze, Georgia/France
Audience Award Mr. M Feature Film: The Crossing (La traverse) – Florence Miailhe, France
Audience Award Mr. M Short Film: Garbage Man – Laura Gonçalves, Portugal