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XXII International Animated Film Festival KROK - 30 September to 8 October 2016 Russia

“And the ship keeps sailing through dead calm, mist, and rough seas” is the perfect motto for the KROK International Animated Film Festival.  KROK is a joint Russian/Ukrainian festival that takes place on a boat, and even the current tense political situation between the two countries and the death of Eduard Nazarov, one of the festivals three Presidents, couldn’t dampen spirits as we sailed from Moscow to Yaroslavl.

“And the ship keeps sailing through dead calm, mist, and rough seas” is the perfect motto for the KROK International Animated Film Festival.  KROK is a joint Russian/Ukrainian festival that takes place on a boat, and even the current tense political situation between the two countries and the death of Eduard Nazarov, one of the festivals three Presidents, couldn’t dampen spirits as we sailed from Moscow to Yaroslavl.

Noted animator, director, and voice over artist Eduard Nazarov, famed animator Yuriy Norshteyn, and Ukrainian animator David Cherkasskiy have always been the Presidents of KROK.  Sadly Eduard passed away on 11 September of this year which added a bittersweet note to this year’s sailing, but as the festival organizers said, “Eduard will always be our President” and his spirit sailed with us this year.

Festival director Irina Kaplichnaya with, L-R, Eduard Nazerov, Yuriy Norstein and David Cherkasskiy

KROK alternates student films in competition one year with professional films the next.  2016 was the year for student, graduation, and first professional films with educational institutions from 80 countries represented.

   The KROK 2016 Grand Prix was awarded to Nina Gantz for Edmond.   Nina also won the 2016 BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award for Edmond.  In this stop-motion film, Edmond’s desire to love and to be close to others is too strong.  He slips through floors into his past in his attempt to understand his need to be close to others which ultimately reach cannibalistic proportions.  The nine minute graduation film used felt puppets to tell a darkly comedic story of loneliness and need.

To create Welcome Lenin, Russian animator Mikhail Soloshenko used a rare pixilation technique made famous by Norman McLaren in his Oscar winning short Neighbors.  Using photographs and shots of actors photographed frame by frame, Mikhail tells a post-modernist tale of a typical Russian family in an ordinary flat who take care of a tiny and very restless author Alexander Pushkin.  When Pushkin disappears, the son of the family allows a tiny Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, leader of the 1917 Revolution, to move into the flat much very much against his mother’s wishes.  Mother is very happy when her darling Pushkin returns to oust Lenin from the flat in a very funny Wild West style shoot out. I’ve seen this satiric and humorous animation several times and it always makes me laugh.    

   In Ships of Years Past Russian animator Georgiy Boguslabskiy used puppet animation and antique film footage to portray an old sea captain’s last voyage.  Two nasty bureaucrats oust the captain from his ship and leave him on a tiny island just big enough to hold a lighthouse and the captain retreats into his memories with the ghosts of other ship captains of the past.

Boguslabskiy’s puppets are beautifully crafted and the story is well told.  Some people felt that there was too much live action footage of life on military ships in bygone eras in the film but I thought that it add a great deal of depth to the film, giving us a window into the captain’s memories of life at sea.  Georgiy received the KROK award for the best First Professional Film.

The Plasticine Crow is a very special KROK award.  It was created in memory of the renowned animator and Pilot studio founder Alexander Tartasky after his untimely death in 2007, whose film The Plasticine Crow is an animated classic.  Tartasky was known for his great sense of humor and love of mechanical toys and the award is given by the KROK staff in conjunction with the jury each year to the film which most exemplifies humor in an animated film.  This year the award went to Dina Velikovskaya from Russia for Kukushka (Cuckoo).  In the film a cuckoo is mesmerized by the incredibly large sun in the desert where she lives.  She thinks that she can touch it if she can only get close enough to it but no matter how hard she tries, using all sorts of absurd tactics, she can’t reach it.  Her attempts are made even more difficult by her small child who keeps trying to distract her.  No matter what absurd lengths she goes to leave him with another mother he refuses to desert her side.  In Dina’s humorous puppet film, mother cuckoo learns almost too late about the joys of being a parent. 

This year for the first time KROK gave two awards for poetry in film.  The Tonino Awards are named for the late poet, writer, and screen writer Tonino Guerra.  Tonino collaborated with some of the most prominent film directors in the world on such films as Amarcord and Blow-Up.  His ability to lend subtle and poetic overtones to speech on film made him a very sought after collaborator.  

A Tonino was awarded to Yi Zhao for Löss. Yi Zhao was born in China and now lives in The Netherlands.  His 28 minute cut out and 2D film is set in a remote Chinese village where a woman is sold to a farmer for a bag of sweet potatoes.  Her only escape from a harsh existence is to make mud dolls and dream of a better life.  As the seasons pass her life goes from bad to worse.  The film is visually beautiful and evokes a poetic mood.

The second Tonino went to Russian animator Svetlana Razgulayeva for Why Banana Snarls.  The 10 minute cutout and 2D film tells the story of an unlucky fellow who dreams of seas and ships while working as an advertising copy writer.

L_R - Suresh and Nilima Eriyat (India), Biren Ghose (India), Nancy, Kine Aune (Norway), Monique Renault (Netherlands) and Sayoko Kinoshita (Japan)

The opening night ceremony was held in the Grand Hall of the House of Cinema in Moscow presided over by Master of Ceremonies Vadim Zhuk.  Vadim is an actor who not only MC’s the opening and closing ceremony but also keeps everything running smoothly at Re-Animation and Carnival evenings.  His warm sense of humor has become a fixture at all special events on the KROK boat.

Vadim Zhuk, KROK Emcee Extraordinaire

    After a charming musical welcome performed by a group of young people in traditional attire and the jury introduction, the opening night film Kubo and the Two Strings was screened.  I was very curious to see the film because I had read so many enthusiastic reviews of it.  There is no doubt that Studio Laika does masterful work at creating beautiful puppet animation and their craftwork on the dragon character is an amazing achievement, but after seeing such beautifully crafted feature films as My Life as a Courgette and Louise in Winter the film left me feeling as if I had just watched another piece of Hollywood entertainment - technical bells and whistles pulled out to tell another story of a big eyed boy on a quest with one or two magical companions without whom he would never realize his goal.   Ho hum, I’ve seen that before.

This year the legendary Moscow film studio Soyuzmultfilm celebrates its 80th anniversary.  Founded in 1936 to primarily produce children’s animation, the studio’s films have captivated audiences worldwide and left its mark on the history of animation.  The studio has been home to such national treasurers as Eduard Nazarov and Yuriy Norshteyn.  In 1984 at the Los Angeles Animation Olympics Yuriy’s Tale of Tales was voted the greatest animated film of all times by an international committee of journalists, scholars, and festival directors.  The studio is still creating excellent films by such distinguished animators as Mikhail Aldashin, who is a creative producer there, and a new generation of Russian animators.

To celebrate the 80th birthday at KROK a program of films created at Soyuzmultfilm from 1962 to 2002 was screened.  One of my favorite short animations, The Mitten (1967), was directed by Roman Kachanov at the studio.  The charming film about a little girl who desperately wants a puppy has delighted generations of young people and always makes me smile when I watch it.

KROK is famous for its warm atmosphere, hilarious skits, and carnival night along with numerous screenings, masterclasses, and intense discussions of the films in the Meet the Animator sessions.  The festival also offers a unique opportunity to talk with people in all fields of animation.  Children on the KROK boat also produce a short film under the guidance of professional animators.  Life on the KROK boat is very busy but there is always time for fun.

Alexey Alekseev and Nik modelling life jackets during the onboard emergency drill

  On several evenings everyone is encouraged to perform at the Re-Animation Club.  People tell stories, sing, dance and tell silly jokes.  The sessions are always a good ice breaker especially in the student years when there are lots of new faces on board.  It’s also a great way to get ready for the “Big Event” – Carnival.

  You know it’s time for Carnival when groups of people are clustered all over the boat whispering and laughing as they create costumes and props.  This year the theme was animals.  The international group that I performed with dressed as different animals on Noah’s Ark and sang a song that Nilima Eriyat, Executive Producer at Eeksaurus Studio in Mumbai, India remembered from her childhood.  First we sang the original lyrics in an Indian dialect then we repeated eight lines eight times replacing a word with the name of a KROK staffer.  We were very lucky to be awarded a prize of a delicious bottle of vodka which we all thoroughly enjoyed and a jar of delicious pickled vegetable to go with the vodka.

Carnival swans Suresh and Biren Ghose

The show was stolen by jury member Biren Ghose from Bangalore and Suresh Eriyat, Director and founder of Eeksaurus Studio in Mumbai.  Dressed in improvised tutus the two preformed a short segment of Swan Lake which was incredibly funny.  On another evening Biren surprised us all when he showed off his talents as a ‘60’s rock and roll singer complete with all of the appropriate hip movements.  Nik on clarinet and pianist Igor Volchek were kept very busy playing for all of the evening events. 

Igor Volchek, Mikhail Tumelya and Nik making beautiful music at Re-animation

Nik and I were fortunate enough to share a table with Nilima and Suresh Eriyat in the dining room.  They were great company and amidst many memorable mealtime conversations I learned a great deal about the state of animation in Mumbai and India in general.

For many years at KROK Belarus animator Mikhail Tumelya, Russian animator Alexey Alekseev, and Nik have performed late night music on the boat as “The Riverside Ramblers”.  Mikhail on balalaika, Alexey on his guitarlele, and Nik on horns are joined by anyone who can play or sing anything into the wee hours of the night for impromptu jam sessions.

Nik and Mikhail Tumelya playing and singing into the morning

Of course there was lots of food and drink to go along with the music.  On some evenings, master animator and DJ par-excellence Ivan Maximov spun a great collection of music for dancing.Ivan Maximov DJ-ing for dancing

The trip from Moscow to Yarsolavl on the Volga River was beautiful with all of the trees on shore turning red and gold for autumn.  Every day the boat docked for several hours giving us time to explore the cities along the way.  In Tver Nik and I discovered a giant statue of the Oscar outside of a movie theatre.Nancy with Oscar in Tver

 This was my third visit to Myshkin (the mouse village).  It is home to a mouse museum which has all sizes and shapes of mice in every material imaginable from all over the world and images of mice around the town.  Myshkin is purported to be the village where felt was invented.  The first time I visited Myshkin with the KROK boat it was a sleepy little village but this trip there was much more traffic on the main street, new houses under construction, and new businesses selling all things felt.  I was happy to find that a grand collection of antique motorcycles and autos housed in a local resident’s shed and yard was still there and that the beautifully decorated wooden houses were as inviting as ever.

A mouse in Myshkin One of the cars at the antique motorcycle and auto collection Nik in front of a house in Myshkin

Time flies by so fast on the KROK boat and all too soon it was time for the closing ceremony at the beautiful new Millennium Concert Hall in Yaroslavl.  When we entered the hall we were greeted by a group of playful young mimes.  As we walked up the broad stair case to the next floor we were serenaded by a large brass band.Mimes greeting us at the closing ceremony

Inside the concert hall the ceremony began with dancers in traditional costumes performing folk dances.  The dresses and the intricate steps were charming.  Next the mayor of Yaroslavl took to the stage to present gifts and flowers to Yuriy Norshteyn, Alexander Petrov, and Festival Director Irina Kaplichnaya.  Yaroslavl is very proud that Alexander Petrov is a native son and that his home and studio are just outside of the city.  After the jury announced the awards we returned to the ship for a final celebratory banquet.Alexander Petrov and Mikhail Tumelya

I love to travel to festivals but KROK holds a very special place in my heart and I look forward to it every year.  If you are invited to KROK I urge you to attend.  You will see marvelous films and most important of all you will meet people who will become your lifelong friends.

Nik and I thank Irina Kaplichnaya and the entire KROK staff for allowing us to be part of the great adventure called KROK.  Next year will be a professional year.  You can learn more about the festival and how to submit your film at:

KROK awards

JURY DECISIONSThe jury L-R - Pascal Blais, Igor Kovalyov, Izabel Plucinska, Birin Ghose and Otto Alder

International Jury:  Igor Kovalyov – Russia/Ukraine Head of Jury

                                   Otto Alder – Germany/Switzerland

                                    Pascal Blais – Canada

                                    Biren Ghose – India

                                    Izabela Plucinska – Poland/Germany

Student Films

Diploma:  Aport (Fetch) – Denis Voronin – Russia

Diploma:  The Pain – Nadezhda Fedotova – Russia

Diploma:  Tale – Attila Bertoti – Hungary

Prize for Best Student Film and 3,000  USD:  Last Judgement –Junyi Xiao – USA

Graduation Films:

Diploma:  Hurry Up – Margot Reumont – Belgium

Diploma:  Hamlet, The Comedy – Eugeniy Fadeyev – Russia

Prize for Best Graduation Film and 3,000 USD:  The Shrapnel – Dmitry Ivanov – Russia

First Professional Film: 

Diploma:  The Corner – Charlie Belin – France

Prize for Best First Professional Film and 3,000 USD:  Ships of Years Past – Georgiy Boguslavskiy – Russia

Special Jury Prize and 3,000 USD – Two Friends – Natalia Chernysheva – France

Special Jury Prize and 3,000 USD – Loss – Yi Zhao – China/The Netherlands

Special Jury Prize and 3,000 USD – Merlot – Marta Gennari and Giulia Martinelli – Italy

Special Alexander Tatarskiy – The Plasticine Crow and 5,000 USD – Kukushka (Cuckoo) – Dina Velikovskaya

Grand Prix and 7,000 USD – Edmond – Nina Gantz – United Kingdom

Tonino Poetry Prize – Why the Banana Snarls – Svetlana Razgulyayeva – Russia

Tonino Poetry Prize – Loss – Yi Zhao – China/The Netherlands

Special Author’s Ceramics Prize – Aleksey Turkus

Audience Award – Two Friends – Natalia Chernysheva - France