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The Place to Be to See Nordic/Baltic Animation: 2018 Fredrikstad Animation Festival

Held October 25-28, 2018, the Fredrikstad Animation Festival is the only opportunity to see a wide variety of Nordic/Baltic animation that does not often get shown at other festivals, meet the people that create it, and learn about what is new in the region’s animation community.

     For 4 days the city of Fredrikstad, located 1 ½ hours south of Oslo, becomes the mecca of Nordic/Baltic animation.  The Fredrikstad Animation Festival is the only opportunity to see a wide variety of Nordic/Baltic animation that does not often get shown at other festivals, meet the people that create it, and learn about what is new in the region’s animation community.

     The Nordic/Baltic competitions were very strong.  The 19 films in the 2 programs were from Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.  All of the films in this category were eligible for Golden Gunnar Awards for Best Nordic/Baltic short animated film as well as the Grand Prix, Best Short Film, and the Audience Award.   

 I appreciate the surreal humor of Estonian films and Strawberry Eaters by Mattias Malk caught my attention right away.  It is the story of 2 strawberry farmers whose field is destroyed by ravenous snails.  When the couple tries to start a new life in the city, the woman announces that they are expecting a baby.  Her paranoid husband can still only see snails everywhere and suspects that they are responsible for her pregnancy rather than him and from there, things can only go from bad to worse for the couple.  The quirky story is enhanced by a color palette made up solely of shades of strawberry red and black.


     Åsa Sandzen is a Swedish documentary maker who pulls no punches in her films.  Her 2014 film Still Born explored the emotions of mothers whose children were dead at birth.  Her current animated documentary The Second Shore deals with people who have undergone a near-death experience.

     Three people tell their own stories of close encounters with their own mortality and try to delve into what happens when the body undergoes a trauma and death approaches.  I found the film difficult to watch and yet so fascinating that I could not take my eyes off the screen for the full 15 minutes of the film.

     The experimental film Little Boy by Norwegian director Kirstian Pedersen is a 5-minute interpretation of the moment that the atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.  Pedersen tells us in the film that there were 2 suns over the city that morning.  One was the dawn of the new day and the other sun was the atomic bomb code-named Little Boy.

     Using time-lapse digital 2D animation the film presents images that are startlingly beautiful until you gradually realize what they are.  The sound design and noise of cicadas created by Svenn Jakobsen add an eerie dimension to the film.

     Lest you think that all of the films in this category were intensely serious there was room for humor.  The 4 ½ minute A Most Precise and Nuanced Look into the Life of the Man, Legend, and Visionary – Martin Luther has a title almost as long as the film.  It is a very silly film full of offbeat humor but it is also a completely, utterly accurate history lesson about Martin Luther.  Danish director Mangus Igland Møller used 2D and 3D animation to delve into this piece of history.  The film was produced for the 500 year anniversary of the church reformation.  The film took home the Best Achievement in a Commissioned Film award at the 2018 Emile Awards.

     In the Nordic/Baltic Competition Vermin stood out for me.   Jeremie Becquer’s 6-minute film used 3D animation to confront racial prejudice.  In the film, a rat, who is a sensitive poet, is confronted with the harshness of a society where mice rule.  When he is brutally beaten in a subway station by the mice police for just existing, all of the other mice passengers turn a blind eye to his plight.  Jeremie completed Vermin, his graduation film, at the Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark.  The film has also been selected for the Graduation Short Film category at Annecy this year.

     The opening night film was The Tower, Norwegian filmmaker Mats Grorud’s first feature film.  The film depicts the painful history of Palestinian refugees through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl, Wardi, who lives with her family, including her grandfather Sidi, in a 4 story tall tower in a refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon.


     Fleeing his homeland during the first Israeli-Arab conflict in 1948, he has never stopped dreaming about returning to his homeland.  Sadly, Sidi realizes that he is old and will never see his beloved homeland again.  At the same time, Wardi is becoming more aware of her family’s history through stories told to her by the generations of her relatives that live in the tower.  As she listens to their stories Wardi begins to search for her own place in the world.


     The Tower is a very personal film for Mats.  The story takes place in the same refugee camp (Burjal Barjaneh in Lebanon) where he spent time teaching refugee children in the early 2000s.  During his childhood, his mother used to work as a nurse in refugee camps in Lebanon.  The filmmaker said “When she came back to Norway, she told us about how the kids in the camps were growing up, and that one day there would be peace and we would go there together”.  Unfortunately, that day has still not come.

Exterior set of THE TOWER

     The film’s message is very important.  Unfortunately, I did not like the puppets and their movements kept distracting me from the story, but that said the film is worth seeing for the story it tells.  The cardboard sets suit the story perfectly.  I had the opportunity to see the sets up close since they were on display in the festival theatre lobby and seeing them first hand made me appreciate all of their intricate detailing and the work that went into making them.

     Each year the festival gives a Golden Gunnar Life Time Achievement Award to honor a Nordic/Baltic animator who has made an outstanding contribution to the world of animation.  This year the award went to Latvian animator Roze Stiebra.  I was particularly excited to be there to see Roze receive her award because we have been friends for a long time.  Some years ago I had the privilege of visiting Roze in her studio in Riga, Latvia. 

Roze Stiebra receiving the Golden Gunnar LIFE TIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

     Roza studied at the Leningrad State Institute of Theatre, Music, and Cinematography where she graduated in 1964 with a diploma as a director of animation.  Her career began at Latvian television with live action puppets but she knew that she really wanted to animate.  Roza began creating her beautiful films during the Soviet era when every creative decision had to be cleared with Moscow officials and local censors.  Despite the economic and political obstacles, she did start a department of animation and professionally pioneered both cut-out and drawn animation in her home country.  During her long career in animation, Roze has created more than 30 films and received numerous national and international awards.

Roze Stiebra at the opening of her exhibitio

     A retrospective of 10 of Roza’s films was screened at the festival.  An exhibition of her artwork titled Recognizing the Miracle, The Amazing Films of Roze Stiebra was mounted at the Litteraturhust (Library) where several other festival events were held.

     The Fredrikstad Animation Festival serves as an important meeting point for the Nordic/Baltic animation industry.  The festival kicked off with a breakfast seminar hosted by the city’s creative industry and Blender Collective.  Located in an industrial building in downtown Fredrikstad, Blender Collective offers reasonably priced temporary and long term workspaces for rent.  At the breakfast presentation Swedish producer/director Petter Lindblad gave a work in progress presentation about his upcoming VR short film Lifegiver.  Lindblad and co-director Mike Pollack are producing the project with funding from the Swedish Film Institute.  Lifegiver deals with refugees set in a science fiction format.  It tells a story about their fate and the difficult moral decisions people face when placed in extreme situations.

     New Nordic Animation gave the hottest directors, producers, and studios from the Northern Countries an opportunity to introduce the audience to their latest projects.  First up was Norwegian producer Frank Mosvold, head of the television and film houses Mosvold Studios AS and Kool Productions AS.

Frank Mosvold introducing the ELLA BELLA BINGO feature film

     The studio’s motto is “We Make Children Smile” and their popular preschool television series Ella Bella Bingo certainly does that.  So far the long-running series has 104 seven minute episodes and is still going strong.  Ella Bella Bingo follows the adventures of 5-year-old Ella and her friends.  Ella loves adventure but they don’t always turn out the way she expects them to.  Whenever she finds herself in a sticky situation she exclaims “Oh what a pickle!”  Luckily Ella also has a remarkable ability to solve her everyday dilemmas and when she does find the solution she cries out “Bingo!” At the New Nordic Animation presentation, Frank announced the forthcoming Ella Bella Bingo feature movie due out in the spring of 2020.

     Lana Tankosa Nikolic is a producer and owner of Late Love Production.  Based in Viborg, Denmark, the studio produces independent animation, documentaries, shorts, VR projects, and web sites.  Begun in 2010, Late Love Production produced Italian animator Martina Scarpelli’s 12-minute film Egg.  The film deals with anorexia in a sensitive way with simple strong black and white line drawings.   Martina’s debut film has won numerous awards including the prestigious Jean-Luc Xiberras Award for First Film at Annecy in 2018.

     Lana and Martina are now in development on a new project.  For her second film, Martina has chosen an ambitious project,  Psychomachia, which is going to be an animated opera.  Since it is in early development the plot is a bit sketchy but according to Late Love’s website it goes something like this, “In a desert wasteland, a group of archetypes, each representing a vice or virtue, are invited to a mysterious dinner at an unknown location and are each asked to bring something.  They don’t know where they are going or who invited them but they know it is going to be great.

     The artwork looks like it will have the same bold lines as Egg but whereas Martina’s first film was in black and white there may be some color in Psychomachia.  You can check out some of the artwork on the Late Love website:

     From watching these and several other presentations I can see that animation is alive and thriving in the Nordic/Baltic region.  In fact, the festival has just announced that for the 2019 edition it will add a feature film competition.  In making the decision festival director Anders Narverud Moen said “This last year we have seen an increase in releases of animated features from Norway and its neighbor countries.  The fact that the films hold a high standard, with highly artistic and technical achievement, is the reason why Fredrikstad Animation Festival chooses to establish an award that tributes the production of animated feature films from the Nordic/Baltic countries”.

     If you want to learn more about Nordic/Baltic animation check out the new WeAnimate magazine at:  The second issue of the magazine is out now and it will give you an in-depth view of all of the various facets of animation in the region along with a lot of color illustrations and photographs.

     Over the years presentations by well-known international figures in the different branches of the animation industry have become an important part of the festival.  American Carter Goodrich’s presentation on character design was not only informative but extremely entertaining as well.

Carter Goodrich and I

     Carter has a very dry sense of humor.  He also has the distinction of contributing to, and in several cases being lead character designer for Shrek, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Brave, and Despicable Me 1 and 2 to name just a few of the films that he has worked on.

     He began his presentation by telling the audience that after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design he began his career as a freelance editorial illustrator in New York City.  He has the honor of creating 21 published New Yorker covers to date which is quite an achievement in and of itself.

     In 1994 he was asked to contribute character designs for Dreamworks’ first animated feature The Prince of Egypt.  That job resulted in a move to Los Angeles where the bulk of his work shifted to freelance character design.  During his presentation, Carter talked about life as a freelancer where you never know where your next job will come from.  His advice to his audience was to “give the studio what they want.  No matter what character I design, the studio is going to change it and give it big eyes”.  Carter showed his listeners examples of his character designs along with the character that finally appeared onscreen.  He also proudly showed us a selection of his New Yorker covers.

     Eric Daniels has done it all.  Beginning as a traditional pencil and paper animator, he has become a pioneer in the field of computer animation and is currently a computer animator and technical animation director at Disney.  After teaching himself to program he has become a master at combining the two disciplines to create new, unique types of visuals.  Eric’s career spans from working on Who Framed Roger Rabbit down to the Academy Award-winning Big Hero 6 and Frozen.

Eric Daniels emphasizing a point in his presentation

     In his fascinating talk Disney: How Tech Can Solve Artistic Challenges, Eric talked his listeners through some of the processes that enabled him to solve some of the more interesting challenges he has faced at Disney as EFX director and emphasized that false starts and dead ends have led him to discover new solutions in art and technology.

     In the right hands, VR can be one of the most exciting new areas of animation.  It is no longer just the domain of the major companies with animation studios and schools such as The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark creating interesting stories in VR.

Goro Fujita and I

     Goro Fujita is a pioneer in the VR field.  He began his career as a 3D character designer and visual development artist working first in Germany and then at Dreamworks Animation.  He left Dreamworks in 2015 to join Oculus Story Studio in San Francisco where he art directed the Emmy Award-winning VR experience Henry.  In 2017 he joined Facebook Social VR to continue development on the VR tool Quill and to concentrate on developing VR as a medium for art.

     During Goro’s presentation, he talked about his career path that led to his interest in creating artistic VR content.  At the end of his talk, he gave a live Quill painting demonstration which was followed by a screening of his short film Beyond the Fence which he created using Quill.

Oslo producer Yaprak Morali tries out the stocks in Old Town

    Of course, there was also time for fun at the festival.  As a special treat, the festival arranged a trip to Old Town for its guests.  Located across the river from new Fredrikstad, the fortified town was founded in 1567.  Behind Old Town on the rocky outcropping of Galgeberget is Kongsten Fort which was constructed in 1680 to protect the town from invasion by Sweden, Norway’s arch enemy at that time.  Although Old Town now boasts numerous gift shops, galleries, and cafés it is well worth a visit not just for the charming architecture but also to visit the historic fort.  An added plus is that the short boat trip across the river to and from Fredrikstad is free.

     There were also numerous receptions at the festival where we all had a chance to talk informally.  On the first night, there was a delicious Guest dinner at the Restaurant Fabel located on the bottom floor of the Litteraturhuset overlooking the river.  On other nights we could enjoy meals at Fabel at our own leisure which was a good time to catch up with old friends over a delicious dinner.  

     The closing ceremony was an event the likes of which I have never seen at an animation festival.  Usually, they are full of speeches with a film shown before or after the presentations and then the winning films screened for anyone left in the theatre who has not rushed to the closing night party for a drink.

Festival Director Anders Narverud Moen

     Festival Director Anders Narverud Moen knows how to put on an awards ceremony that was guaranteed to keep the audience wide awake and wondering what was coming next.  Of course, the most important thing was the awarding of the Golden Gunner Awards to the winning films but our host, or should I say, hostess, for the evening Remi Johansen Hovda aka Nabi Yeon Geisha stole the show.  He/she is a drag artist from Oslo who can certainly entertain.  Between awards presentations, Nabi sang, danced, told jokes and created a festive atmosphere, not to mention the numerous costume changes that she had.  A complete list of all of the winning films is at the end of the article.

MC Nabi Yeo Geisha

     The Fredrikstad Animation Festival was packed full of so many screenings and events that it was impossible to see everything but the film programs and presentations that I did get to see were excellent.  A warm thank you goes to Anders for inviting me to be part of the festival.  I also cannot think his staff and volunteers enough.  They were always on hand to answer question or just to have a friendly chat with since many of the volunteers were students from Volda University where I had attended the Volda Animation Festival earlier in the year.

Golden Gunnar Grand Prix winner Lizete Upite for NIGHTWALKS  with jury members (L to R) Christin Berg, Riina Vileness, and David Doutel

     The 2019 edition of the Fredrikstad Animation Festival will be a very special celebration of its 25th anniversary.  That will take place from the 24th to the 27th  of October.  Submissions for the festival will open 1 May.  If you are invited to attend the festival I guarantee that you will have a wonderful time.  You can read more about the festival and submission rules at:


Professional and Student Jury:  Riina Vilen (Finland), Chistin Berg (Norway), and David Doutel (Portugal)

Golden Gunnar Grand Prix:

     Night Walks, Lizete Upite, Latvia

Nordic/Baltic Short Film Competition:

     Quiet, Marianne Bundgaard Nielsen, Norway

Special Mention:  Little Boy, Kristian Pedersen, Norway

NordicBaltic Student Film Competition:

     Muteum, Aggie Pak Yee Lee, Estonia

Commissioned Jury: Lena Olafsdottir (Denmark), Mats Grorud (Norway), and Nick Simons (Britian/Norway)

     Når Knoklene Blir Til Gele – Kristain Pedersen (Norway)

Childrens Films:

Childrens Jury from Fredrikstad Kino and Qulthus:  Alva Sofie Apenes Marti (9), Martin Johannes Øraas (9), Mona-Lisa Lawrence (10), Theodor Langgård Jolansen (11) and Angelica Louise Bjercke (11)

Winning Film:

      The Downfall of Santa Clause, Robert Depuis, Norway

Special Mention:

     The Robot and the Whale, Jonas Forsman, Sweden

Audience Award:

     Vitello Gets a Yucky Girlfriend, Dorte Bengtson, Denmark