The Zagreb World Festival Of Animated Films: On The Eve Of Zagreb 2000

by Borivoj "Bordo" Dovnikovic

Festival participants of Zagreb 1980.

The purpose of international festivals of animated film is to evaluate recent production in the field throughout the world, to look back on the history of animation by showing relevant national, personal or thematic retrospectives, and to organize meetings, discussions, lectures, exhibitions and similar events, all with as wide an audience as possible in mind. The aim is to promote and improve the art of film animation and animated film in general. This involves encouraging creativity which eschews pre-set patterns and ideas/notions/conceptions, and finds new ways of exploring the possibilities of film animation.

Zagreb’s Place
Competitive festivals of animated films first appeared in 1960 following the foundation of ASIFA, the International Association of Animated Film. The first occasion was the biennial festival in the French town of Annecy, beneath the Alps. This soon became the cult meeting place of world animators. In the mid-Sixties, the international festival on the Black Sea in Mamaia, Romania, was founded, followed, in the Seventies, by a festival in Varna, Bulgaria. Neither lasted very long. Today there are many international festivals of animated films, and the biggest ones, beside Annecy and Zagreb, are Hiroshima, Ottawa, Stuttgart, Espinho and KROK, the Russian-Ukrainian festival that takes place aboard a ship.

Logo for Zagreb’s first festival in 1972.

In the late Sixties Zagreb ran as a candidate to hold the festival. Armed with the artistic reputation of the Zagreb School of Animated Film and new, fresh ideas, Zagreb won the license at the ASIFA board meeting in London in 1969 to organize a biannual international festival of animated film. The same year, at the annual ASIFA assembly at the Mamaia Festival, Zagreb’s pledge to introduce an international selection committee, along with an international jury, was warmly welcomed. Until that time, national committees selected the films for festivals and this often led to biased decisions. Furthermore, Zagreb authors decided, as hosts of the festival, not to include their films in the competition, seeking in this way to maximize objectivity. Consequently, in 1972 Zagreb received a friendly letter from ASIFA representative Alexandre Alexeieff in Paris: "Finally it is your turn to host the festival. We are coming to be taught. You have generously renounced the opportunity to compete, which would have been a bit dangerous for us; therefore we will applaud you as if we were your equals." (The next festival did include domestic authors in the competition, at the insistence of the international community.)

Bugs Bunny knows what’s up at Zagreb 1972!

Firsts and Set-Backs
The First World Festival of Animated Film in Zagreb was held in June 1972. Since then, for almost 30 years, it has been alternating every other year in springtime with the Annecy festival. The Annecy festival has grown in line with France’s economical strength and aspirations. When Annecy realized that the biennial rhythm was insufficient (especially in view of its commercial fair), it moved to an annual cycle and thus entered the timeframe of the Zagreb festival. This decision was made without consulting Zagreb or ASIFA. This year both festivals will be held in the same month, only ten days apart! From next year on, Zagreb will, of course, have to move from its traditional June slot to early spring, with the bitter feeling that the claims of well to do France as the protector and leader of small European countries (fighting against American cultural imperialism) are just a fairy tale.

Post festival parties animate the scene.

The Zagreb festival has survived for all these years in spite of many national economic difficulties, even the recent war. It has relied on the budgets, often not big enough, of the city of Zagreb and the state. Even in the former Yugoslavia, the festival was financed exclusively from the resources of the Republic of Croatia, and so the tradition has continued in the newly formed state. Since the very beginning of the festival, its main characteristic has been that the artists of the Zagreb School of Animated Film have had the main role in creating the festival programme. Whichever company was officially in charge of the festival organization, the artists themselves created the artistic conception and the festival’s programme. The presidents of the programme committees have been directors Dusan Vukotic, myself, Borivoj Dovnikovic and Josko Marusic. Indeed, from 1985 to 1991, I was the Festival Director. This undoubtedly guarantees that in all segments of the festival paramount attention is given to filmmaker artists and animation as an art form.

In 1986, the Zagreb festival introduced a Life Achievement Award, and since then it has been regularly awarded to people whose creative work has made a considerable contribution to the development of art animation throughout the world. Up to now, the laureates have been: Norman McLaren, Chuck Jones, John Halas, Bob Godfrey, Dusan Vukotic, Caroline Leaf and Bruno Bozzetto. In June, the Zagreb 2000 Prize will be awarded to the Czech animation master, Jan Svankmajer.

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