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KROK CELEBRATES A SPECIAL ANNIVERSARY - 30 September – 8 October 2018 Volga River, Russia

KROK is a special festival for me and this year it was extra special because it was its 25th Anniversary.  Such an auspicious occasion brought together many old friends and a flood of memories of KROK’s past.  It was time to remember friends, who in the words of Yuri Norshteyn, Honorary President of KROK, ”. . . have already crossed the great river, looking at us from the other side”.

     KROK is a special festival for me and this year it was extra special because it was its 25th Anniversary.  Such an auspicious occasion brought together many old friends and a flood of memories of KROK’s past.  It was time to remember friends, who in the words of Yuri Norshteyn, Honorary President of KROK, ”. . . have already crossed the great river, looking at us from the other side”.

     Special programs were screened to take us down memory lane.  Grand Prix Winning Films of KROK showcased 9 films ranging from Elena Gavrylko’s The Girlfriend, which won in 1991, to the top prize winner of 2016, Nina Gantz’s Edmond.  To add to the nostalgia, the name and country of each jury was listed in the catalog along with the name and country of the animator and a still from the film.

     The “30,40, 50 …” selection of films screened 5 classic Russian animations that were created 30, 40 and 50 years ago.  Yefim Gamburg’s 20-minute 1968 black and white film parodies spy and detective fiction clichés.  Film, Film, Film, is Fyodor Khitruk’s parody of the Soviet movie industry, where dealing with bureaucratic officials in the 1960s was a routine headache.  Also from 1968, Boris Stepantsev’s The Kid and Carlson is based on a trilogy of children’s books written by the noted Swedish author Astrid Lindgren.  The stories are about a young boy who is very lonely.  In need of a friend, he invents Carlson, a plump little man who lives on the roof.

     The 1970s was represented by Vladimir Popov’s 1978 animation Three From Prostokvashino.  The main character is a boy whose parents will not let him keep a talking cat that he finds.  Along with the cat and his dog, the boy sets off for Prostokvashino where they set up house and have many adventures. The 1988 film We Are Women by Elena Kasavina, Lyudmila Tkachikova and Sergei Kushnerov showcased the 1980’s. 

   The Puppeteers Association of the Soyuzmultfilm Studio also celebrated an anniversary, its 65th, in 2018. The history of Russian puppet animation began with the films of Vladislav Starevich, who immigrated to France following the Russia Revolution.  In 1924 Alexandr Ptushko and his team breathed new life into puppet animation in the USSR, but unfortunately, their work was interrupted by World War II.  Puppet animators were once again left to master their craft on their own.

      In 1953 a new group was formed, the Puppeteers Association, and in 1956 it moved to a church in Staropesovsky Lane in the Old Arbat district of Moscow. Unfortunately, the association was eventually forced to leave their home in the church almost 10 years ago which resulted in a lapse of puppet animation at Soyuzmultfilm Studio.  With each passing year, it seems less likely that they will ever get back together.

     The anniversary program was full of wonderful films including one of my all-time favorites, The Mitten directed by Roman Kachanov in 1967.  It is a sweet story about a little girl whose mother won’t let her have a puppy, which she desperately wants.  The girl goes out to play where we see all the other children are with their dogs.  She begins to pretend that her mitten is a dog and her imagination turns her mitten into a knitted dog that comes to life.  In the end, her mother finally realizes how much her daughter wants a dog and allows her to have one of the upstairs neighbor’s puppies.  The story is beautifully told and the puppets are charming.

Alexander Petrov and Yuri Norstein with Nancy at the anniversary party

     When people think of Yuri Norshtein they think of Hedgehog in the Fog which is a great film, but don’t overlook his beautiful The Heron and the Crane.  Made in 1974 at Soyuzmultfilm, it is the story of two would-be lovers, a heron and a crane, whose pride and self-importance continually prevent them from accepting each other’s marriage proposals despite the fact that they are in love with each other.  The story is based on a Russian fairy tale that is a cautionary fable about pride.

     This film is the first of several films that Yuri worked on with his artist wife Francesca Yarbusova and cameraman Alexander Zhukovsky.  Norshtein’s films are much more intricate than normal cut out animation.  To achieve the effect the team was looking for in The Heron and the Crane, they built a special piece of equipment.  It involved the use of multiple glass planes that can be moved in any direction away from or toward the camera which achieves a unique 3D look.

          The centerpiece of the festival is the competition screenings.  Originally KROK was open to both student and professional works every year.  Several years ago it began to alternate, one-year featuring student films and the next year professional works.  In honor of the 25th anniversary, the 2018 edition of the festival included both student and professional animators.

     Far too often students bite off more than they can chew, making films that are much too long that end up with a very weak finish, if they finish at all, because they have gone off on unnecessary tangents and run out of time to complete their film.  What can be wonderful is when a student makes a long film and gets it all right.  Jan Mika used cutout animation, puppets, 2D, real-time, and live action to make We’re Human, After All, a 17-minute filmThe film is the story of a hare who is facing another bleak winter of freezing cold, hunger, danger from hunters, and his arch-enemy the fox until he discovers what a good, comfortable, safe life rabbits lead in the cozy rabbit hutches.  But is their life really so safe?

     I particularly liked the music for the film by Viliam Beres.  I couldn’t find out any information about him but I assume that he was a student at the Film Academy of Miroslav Ondricek in the Czech Republic, where Mika made the film as his Masters Degree Graduation Film.  We’re Human, After All has won several awards at festivals.  At KROK the film earned Jan the Best Graduation Film award along with four thousand euros.

Triet Le, a US-based Vietnamese animation student, took just 3 minutes to tell his satirical tale about abusive horn honking in Vietnam.  The film depicts motorists in cars, on motorcycles, and bicycles using their voices to honk as they speed past each other.  It results in some very funny consequences.

Animator Triet Le at the directors’ chat discussing his film with Mikhail Tumelya, Russian film critic Larissa Maliukova and translator Maria Koropova ​​

     I am not used to seeing a 4-minute film by Priit and Olga Parn because their films usually have very complex plots that cannot fit in a short format.  I was very curious about their 4-minute The Eyeless Hunter, A Khanty Story.  The animation is immediately recognizable as Priit’s characteristic style, but the story is based on a legend passed down through generations of the Khanty, an indigenous people living primarily in Siberia.     

     Eesti Joonis Film in Estonia commissioned several of their animators to create short animations based on legends from various parts of the Soviet Union.  The Eyeless Hunter is a rather gruesome tale about a Khanty wife who is angry when her husband returns home from a day in the forest without any food.  The next day she secretly follows him into the woods and when he falls asleep, she is incensed by his laziness and steals his eyes - then the rest of the legend unfolds.  The story fits Priit and Olga’s style perfectly.

     Fellow Estonian Riho Unt who works with Nukufilm is one of the most versatile people in the animation world.  He is a graphic artist, author, and caricaturist as well as an extremely talented multi award-winning animation director.  His films range from the brilliant and disturbing The Master, which won the Jury Award Crystal at Annecy in 2015, to the delightfully humorous Brothers Bearheart which is my all-time favorite animated film.  Taking time out from his own short film work, he was one of the directors of Kasper Jancis’ delightful feature film Captain Morton and the Spider Queen.  

His follow-up film to The Master is Mary and the 7 Dwarfs which is in a totally different vein.  Sister Mary has spent her entire life behind convent walls.  Now elderly and very proper, the mechanically inclined nun has decided to fulfill her childhood dream.  The only problem is her fragmented, almost non-existent memory.  Sister Mary is afraid that her ultimate dream might turn out to be a sin instead.  As always with Riho and Nukufilm’s work, the puppets are perfect works of art.  The film may not be as intense and powerful as The Master but it speaks to anyone who has an unfulfilled dream (and that is just about everyone).

The jury: George Schwizgebel, Jakob Schuh, Ru Kawahata, Dmitry Geller, and Alexander Bubnov

     This year’s International Jury was headed by the renowned Swiss animator George Schwizgebel.  The other members were Aleksandr Bubnov from the Ukraine/Bulgaria, Dmitry Geller of Russia, Ru Kuwahata who was born in Japan but now lives in the United States, and Jakob Schuh from Germany.  Each jury member presented a retrospective of their work.  George Schwizgebel gave a particularly interesting presentation entitled My Way of Making Animated Films where he not only screened his films but talked about the involved process and technique of painting on glass that he uses.

Georges Schwizgebel explaining his work process

     Each day there was the “Coffee Breaks With the Directors” where directors of films that had recently been shown were asked questions by different members of the KROK staff and had an opportunity to talk about their film in depth.  The audience was also given the opportunity to ask questions and make comments.​​​The Konstantin Simonov

     Our boat, the Konstantin Simonov, was home to animators from around the world for 8 days so you had the opportunity to really get to know your shipmates.  This year we sailed from Moscow to Kazan on the Volga with stops along the way where we had time to explore the different cities.  Kazan is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, a semi-autonomous region of Russia and center of Tatar culture.  There are always some children aboard as well as a few dogs; one year someone even brought her cat.   There is a daily workshop for the children on board the ship where they learn about animation, try out different basic techniques and produce a short film which is screened at the closing ceremony.

Pet snails are also welcome at KROK! The children’s workshop

     Of course, KROK is not just about watching film.  There is plenty of time for fun.  After the opening ceremony, which was held at the House of Cinema in Moscow there was a sumptuous banquet aboard ship.  One thing that we all love to do at KROK is entertain each other so on many nights the “Re-Animation Club” convened after the last screening.  At the club, held in the top deck room, which is also the screening room, people sang solo or in groups, told stories, and showed off whatever special talent they had.

L-R Sergey Karpov, Mikhail Tumelya, Yuri Norstein and festival MC Vadim Zhuk perform at Re-animation All dressed up and ready for carnival

     The big event is Car-ni-val!  When you see small groups of people huddled together that suddenly stop talking when you get near you know that they are working on their top secret carnival skit.  This year our group updated Alexi Alexeev’s very funny KJFG No. 5 into KJFG No. 25.  The 3 aging musicians, the rabbit, the bear, and the wolf are still trying to become rock stars, the hunter is as oblivious to everything as ever, and his faithful dog is still plodding along with him.

Creative carnival costuming

Nancy with (L-R) Suresh Eriyat, Nilima Eriyat and Rajat Dholakia Suresh Eriyat, our carnival bear

     In our version my dear friend Suresh Eriyat, director at his Studio Eeksaurus in Mumbai made the perfect tree thumping bass player.  His lovely producer wife Nilima Eriyat was an adorable rabbit thumping away on her tree stump, and I howled away as the wolf.  Noted Indian composer Rajat Dholakia made a great absentminded hunter and director Elene Sebiskveradze from Tbilisi, Georgia did a marvelous job as the long-suffering dog.  Our cast was rounded out by Elene’s sister Salome Sebiskveradze and Nik portraying trees.  We tied for first place and received a bag full of delicious goodies including caviar and a bottle of vodka that was consumed immediately.

Nik, Elene Sebiskveradze, Nancy and Salome Sebiskveradze modeling the KROK T-shirts

     In honor of KROK’s 25th Anniversary, we all received a Russian sailor’s blue and white striped shirt with KROK embroidered on the pocket.  The shirt is a lasting memory of all of my years sailing on the KROK boat.

Mikhail Tumelya and Nik literally take to the floor Mikhail Aldeshin, Alexey Alexeev and Alexey Yushenkov join the band

     Most late nights after Re-Animation was over, Nik and Belarus animator/musician and dear friend Mikhail Tumelya played music together.  Mikhail is a very talented director and he is also a super Balalaika player. Quite often the pair were usually joined by other animator/players to entertain us late into the night.

KROK bell awards and the Plasticine Crow award awaiting their new owners

     The 8 days of KROK always fly by and all too soon it was time for the closing ceremony which was held in Kazan at the Moskovsky Cultural Center.  The jury announced their decisions and the KROK bells and diplomas were handed out.  The Grand Prix bell went to Russian animator Svetlana Filippova for Mitya’s Love.  The beautifully drawn 13’ film is based on a short story by Boris Schergin. 

     The young shipwright Mitya sets out to go to the cinema.  Along the way, he sees a beautiful stranger.  He falls in love with her the moment he sees her but she disappears.  He has to find the girl but he doesn’t know her name or address.  He decides to go all over the city in search of her.  The film utilizes images by Russian avant-garde artists Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova and the masters of naive art Pavel Leonov and Lyubov Maikova as Mitya searches throughout the city for the young lady.

     Svetlana’s 2014 film Brutus is a film that I am very fond of and Mitya’s Love is just as beautifully drawn and animated.  The film definitely deserves more than one viewing to catch all of the tiny details.  A full list of all of the winning films is at the end of this article.

Festival General Director Irina Kaplichnaya and Nancy at the anniversary party

     David Cherkasskiy and Eduard Nazarov will always be the Presidents of the festival but with the sad passing of David and Eduard, Yuri Norsteyn has become the Honorary President of the KROK Festival.  A big thank you goes to Irina Kaplichnaya and her hard-working staff for keeping the KROK boat afloat.  I am already looking forward to the 2019 edition of KROK which will actually be the 30th Anniversary edition.  How is that possible if this was the 25th Anniversary?  Simple, for the first few years KROK was held every other year so next year we have another milestone to celebrate.

You can learn more about KROK and how to submit your film at:


Graduation Films:

     Jury Diploma: Sister – Siqi Song, China

     Jury Diploma: Facing it – Sam Gainsborough, United Kingdom

     Best Film: We’re Human, After All – Jan Mika, Czech Republic – Prize money 4 thousand Euros

First Professional Film:

     Jury Diploma: Beware the Intuition – Robin Courtel, France

     Jury Diploma: The First Thunder – Anastasia Melikhova, Russia

     Best Film: Weekend – Trevor Jimenez, United States – Prize Money 4 thousand Euros

Films Up To Five Minutes:

     Jury Diploma:  Selfies – Claudius Gentinetta, Switzerland

     Jury Diploma:  Ming – Danski Tang, United States

    Jury Diploma: Parking Attendant – Dante Zaballa, Germany/Argentina

    Best Film: Separation – Shahaf Ram, Israel

Films 5 to 10 Minutes:

    Jury Diploma: Reach the Sky – Daniel Sterlin-Altman, Canada

    Best Film: Yellow – Ivana Sebestova, Slovakia

Films 10 to 50 Minutes:

    Jury Diploma: The  Fall – Boris Labbe, France

    Best Film: This Magnificant Cake – Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels, Belgium, France, The Netherlands –      Prize Money 4 thousand Euros

Special Prize:  Cat Days – Jon Frickey, Germany/Japan

 Special Prize:  Five Minutes To Sea – Natalya Mirzoyan, Russia

 Special Prize For Best Children's Film: The Theory of Sunset – Roman Sokolov, Russia – Prize Money 5 thousand Euros

Special Alexander Tatarskiy Prize “The Plasticine Crow” – “Virtuoso Pilot: The Table – Eugene Boitsov, France – Prize Money 5 thousand Euros

Grand Prix: Mitya’s Love – Svetlana Filippova, Russia – Prize Money 7 thousand Euros

Audience Award: Five Minutes To Sea – Natalya Mirzoyan – Prize Money 1 thousand Euros