Kiev Weekly Interview with Nik and Nancy
Monday October 29th 2007, 6:02 am
Filed under: Festivals

While Nik and I were in Kiev for the KROK International Festival of Animation we were interviewed by Dmytro Ivanov for the KIEV WEEKLY. The article can be read in either English and Ukrainian at the web address listed below. The photo was taken while our boat was docked in Yalta.

“What’s Cooking?”
Monday October 22nd 2007, 12:42 pm
Filed under: Educational

Class of 2006
Class of 2006

I am in Switzerland, as a lecturer at Art & Design branch of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts (Hochschule Luzern, formerly HGK Lucerne School of Art and Design), staying in Zurich with my dear friend Rolf Bächler. This is the second time Rolf and I have taught a course together titled “What’s Cooking?” which we created last year for the newly introduced Design Management class. As the first instructors at the beginning of the studies, our task is team building while exposing the new group of students to a real-life management and design assignment.

To achieve this goal, we use a hands-on cooking project: In a very short time, the students must plan a meal within a budget for a group of people. They must take into consideration the specific needs and expectations of the people, plan, shop, cook, decorate, serve and clean up – all in a rigid time frame. In Lucerne the service is provided for the “Senti-Treff” Community Center’s regular Tuesday Family lunch-table, which is usually attended by 20 to 25 adults and children.

Students at Work
Students at Work

Nancy and Rolf on boat
Nancy and Rolf on boat

In the process of this project, the group must define what needs to be done, break into small task groups to execute the duties and yet work as a total team to complete the task.In a morning lecture, Rolf and I outline the task, but after that we are only there to give advice when we are asked for it, and jump in if we see that anything is going terribly wrong. We want the students to set up their own structure, think and plan through the process and execute every task themselves.

The result of this exercise is to get a group to learn how to quickly build a team while still functioning as individuals and for small groups within the team to solve a problem. They also must apply design techniques in the guise of decorating the rooms and the tables, draw menus, present the meals, etc.

This course has been so well received by our students that we would love to make it available to other schools and businesses that could profit from it. I hope you enjoy the attached pictures from our 2006 class and the comments by one of the participants. If you want to know more about “What’s Cooking”, you can e-mail me at

Bon appetit!

Module 1 - What’s Cooking

Comments from one of our students

So, what’s cooking? Or should it rather be called “what’s up”? At least that’s how it could be interpreted. All the same, it is what it says, cooking! But what has cooking in common with Design Management? Definitely more than one might assume at first glance. Just think of all the ingredients that you need to prepare a proper three-course menu and what it takes until the dishes can be served. Nothing to be worried about you might reckon. However, what if it is not just for a handful of friends but for some hundred guests? All of a sudden you are to face a great deal of challenges that you have to overcome i.e. with whom are you dealing, what are their requirements, what’s the budget, how do you “design” this event and its various facets, which premises are suitable catering for this number of people, where and how do I go for shopping and how do you split up the various jobs (obviously such a task could never be managed by a single person) to mention only but a few. Hence welcome to the world of Design Management and the perfect case study and unforgettable experience to kick off this course.

Text by Simon Buikema
DMI - December 2006

KROK 2007
Wednesday October 17th 2007, 2:23 pm
Filed under: Festivals

KROK banner in front of ship
KROK banner in front of ship

The KROK 2007 International Animated Film Festival, held this year in the Ukraine, was a tribute to the brilliant Russian animator Alexander Tatarsky who died unexpectedly in July. Many of the festival attendees were still in a state of shock, so it was a bittersweet event. The opening night of the festival was highlighted by a special tribute to the great director. The second night the evening was devoted to a retrospective of his films, followed by “Recalling Sascha,” a memorial which gave friends and colleagues a chance to tell humorous and touching stories about the beloved filmmaker, and to laugh a lot, just as Tatarsky would have wanted since he loved to laugh, often pulling practical jokes and fond of playing with his beloved collection of toys and doll. The decision not to translate the events of the evening into English was completely correct because it would have broken the mood. I was lucky enough to have a translator sitting close by, filling me in, so that I did not have to miss out on the joy and sadness of the evening. On closing night the children’s film project, a film traditionally made by the young people on board the ship, was an homage to the much loved Tatarsky.


This year’s celebration of animation was held 25 September through 6 October aboard the cruise ship Taras Shevchenko, sailing from Odessa to Kiev on the Black Sea and the Dneiper River. Festival participants met the first evening at the KROK office in Kiev and took the night train to Odessa. As my frequent readers know, I love train travel, and so these overnight trips in Russia and the Ukraine are always a big treat for me. These train trips always involve food, plenty of drink and sometimes live music, giving us a chance to see old friends and to meet new animators in a more intimate setting than the boat, if such is possible. We held a party in our compartment and when I finally couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer and succumbed to slumber, the party was still going on. When I awoke, I found the same folks sitting in the same places in our compartment. What a perfect beginning to another memorable trip!

Odessa, a major seaport on the Black Sea is the 4th largest city in the Ukraine. It reminds me of New Orleans with its wrought iron balconies and lush vegetation. It is a city where I can’t wait to wander through the huge outdoor market and explore its side streets. It’s famous for the Odessa Steps (known locally as the Potemkin Steps), the setting of the most memorable scene in Eisenstein’s “The Battleship Potemkin”, which commemorated the workers’ uprising when hundreds of Odessa citizens were murdered on the massive stone stairway.

Nik and Nancy by Potemkin Steps
Nik and Nancy by Potemkin Steps

It has been several years since the KROK boat docked in Yalta. On my last visit it was a pleasant tourist holiday city complete with a McDonalds on the malicon and good beaches outside of the city. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Yalta had not become overly built up and still had its charm, especially if you walked up into the hills above the city.

Nik and Nancy in Yalta
Nik and Nancy in Yalta

Our arrival in Sebastopol, where the opening night celebration was held, is always very special for me because it means I can go swimming in the Black Sea at Khersones, one of my favorite beaches, which is just a short bus ride from town. I always plan for 5 or 6 hours of sheer hedonistic pleasure to lie in the sun and to swim in the charming bay. I invariably run into other friends from the boat that have found their way here, walking through ancient ruins that you pass through to get to the water.Another favorite trek is to walk away from the downtown, and cross to the other side of a fingerlet of the bay, where the hills are covered with terraced slopes planted in grapes. It is world away from the tourist-populated area of downtown Sebastopol, and here one has an opportunity to eat some really good local cooking. Each visit to Sebastopol reveals new secrets to me.

Upon leaving the Black Sea and starting up the Dneiper River we leave behind the tourist towns and the boat stops become increasingly interesting to me. We dock at cities where I can just walk the streets and discover how people live their day-to-day lives.

Nik and I were asked to join an official delegation, which included Festival co-president Edward Nazarov and several animators, to represent KROK at the town of Chercasy when our boat docked in Kanev. After an hour’s bus ride we arrived at a movie theatre where an audience of school children greeted us. Several of us were asked to say a few words to the audience before a screening of historic animated films. We moved to the lobby during the screening to hold a press conference. The theatre lobby was decorated with beautiful, colorful posters about KROK that the young people had made and had received awards for and I had the privilege to meet several of the top students. We were then invited to lunch with the Mayor at a lovely restaurant where we were treated to a delicious traditional meal, serenaded by a wonderful folk music group, and of course, there were many vodka toasts.

After lunch we returned to the theatre to address an older audience of students. After several of us gave short speeches, Nik played for the audience. When we adjourned to the lobby we were treated to another delicious spread of food along with more vodka and other beverages including a lovely tasting cherry wine that was made locally. Alexander Denga, Director of the Charity Fund “Suzirya” presented gifts to all of the foreign visitors. Nik and I were honored to receive a 3½-foot long glass “sword” filled with honey vodka. Nik built a strong box for our very special gift that survived the plane trip unscathed, and is now safely in our home in Gent awaiting the perfect occasion to drink it.

Late Nite folk songs - Alexey Budovsky, Mikhail Tumelya and Nik Phelps
Late Nite folk songs - Alexey Budovsky, Mikhail Tumelya and Nik Phelps

The most memorable moments of the KROK trip for me are the nights spent listening to live music and dancing on the top deck until dawn when master animator Ivan Maximov turns into a master DJ. Sunrises on the Dneiper River are equaled only by the breathtaking sight of the Lavra, an ancient Byzantine monastery in Kiev, turning into a shimmering gold mass as we sailed into Kiev harbor at sunrise. KROK is the place where I get 50 weeks-a-year worth of devils out of my head, smoking, drinking and dancing all night. Somehow I still manage to make it to the early morning screenings because I don’t want to miss anything (I must admit I never make it to breakfast after the first days). One thing that makes KROK so special is that the friends you make there become your really good friends for life. Nik and I would never have moved to Gent if we had not met our dear friend Rob Brayne on the KROK boat in 2001.

DJ Ivan Maximov
DJ Ivan Maximov

Nancy and Leon Estrin
Nancy and Leon Estrin


Since KROK is first and foremost an animation festival, some films definitely deserve discussion. I have already seen and written about many of the films, such as Alexandr Petrov’s beautiful paint-on-glass animation entitled My Love, and Joanna Quinn’s award winning Dreams and Desires – Family Ties.Over the past few years I have seen different segments of the MOUNTAIN OF GEMS project from Russia’s Pilot Studio. Different directors are given the opportunity to create in their style a fairy tale or legend from a different region in the former Soviet Union. This year we were treated to 13 of these beautifully crafted animated sequences. This ambitious project was the brainchild of the late Alexander Tatarsky and many of the scripts were either written or co-authored by him.

Svetlana Filippova’s Three Love Stories was my favorite film of those that I had never viewed before. Svetlana fuses black and white drawn image with old film footage so perfectly that it was difficult to tell when one medium stops and the other begins in my mind. The use of period popular music adds to the over all effect. Set at the beginning of the 20th Century, it depicts a poet looking for love amidst the political turmoil of the time. I have watched the film several times again here at home and my respect for her work continues to grow. I hope that this film will be accepted by many more festivals and be allowed to gain a wide audience.

OTOMI, based on a short story by Akutagawa Ryunosuke (1892-1927, Tokyo) was created by the Atelier Collective in Brussels. This lovely example of puppet animation is set in a Tokyo neighborhood in 1868 where the army has evacuated the entire city so that it can invade the streets, driving out rebels who are hostile to Japanese government reforms. A young servant girl returns to retrieve the mistress’s house cat which was accidentally left behind and encounters a tramp in the house. As the situation unfolds tensions arise, but they never give a hint as to the surprise conclusion of the film.

The Collective is an animation workshop for non-professionals concentrating on short film projects. Every decision from script to sound design is made by the group and the collective’s impressive films are produced with professional means and transferred to 35 mm film.

Gitanjali Rao’s Painted Rainbow takes you inside the life of an old woman who lives in solitude with her cat in the midst of a big city. She does have a secret window on the world: a precious collection of match boxes, each of which has a different picture on its cover. The painted labels open onto a myriad of exotic vistas. Gitanjali, from Bombay, appeared on opening and closing nights in different beautiful saris, and Painted Rainbow was awarded a diploma at KROK for “wisdom and poetry”, which her lovely film certainly deserved.

For sheer whimsy and wonderful outrageousness you can’t beat the films of Ivan Maximov. Rain Down from Above, a companion piece to last year’s Wind Along the Coast, received a diploma for “creating a moving and surreal world.” All of his films certainly do that. No matter how many times I have watched his films they always make me smile. Norman Cousins may have laughed himself well from cancer with the Marx Brothers’ movies, but I’d take an Ivan Maximov animation any day to laugh myself well. When we lived in the States and showed his films, they were always overwhelming audience favorites, proving that his blend of whimsy and wisdom transcends all cultural and language barriers.

One of the most important parts of KROK for me is the chance to see films from countries such as Macedonia, Armenia, and Uzbekistan, which are not often screened at other European festivals. Even if the quality of these films from some emerging nations may not be of the highest caliber, it is important for them to be screened so that these film makers can be encouraged to continue to create, to have a chance to meet other animators from around the world, and to give us all a chance to peak into a window of their world.

Nik, Fernando Galrito from Lisbon and I conducted an Exquisite Corpse workshop on board the ship. 25 selected animators were given a first and a last image and asked to create 23 connecting drawings, all in abstract form, about KROK. The film, which was screened on closing night, took 3 days from start to completion including all the drawings, Fernando’s filming and editing and Nik’s composing and recording the music. I must admit that I am very proud to be the producer of a film that includes work by such legendary animators as Yuri Norstein and Alexandr Petrov.

The “Re-Animation Club” is traditionally a night of stories, jokes and music and it took place on our first night out on the Black Sea. This year the MC was Gerben Schermer, director and programmer of the Holland Animation Festival. Gerben, speaking only Dutch, had his words “translated” to the audience by non-Dutch speaking Moscow journalist Alexander “Sascha” Plushev. He peppered the evening with Belgian jokes aimed at Nik and I. One of the other Belgian animators on board (yes, there were four of us Belgians this year) couldn’t understand why there were so many Belgian jokes until we explained that many of our KROK friends didn’t really believe that we would ever make the BIG move. Even at Carnival several nights later, the Belgian jokes didn’t stop. Some were really creative including one animator bringing to life the Mannekin Pis of Gent, a famous statue of a little urinating boy that is a few blocks from our house.

This year at Carnival we once again headed an international team of 11 and our parody of a Eurovision song and dance routine, performed to original music and lyrics by Nik of course, was honored with a prize, a bottle of vodka that did not go to waste. With so many talented people on board, the quest for prizes is always fierce!

Edward Nazarov, Russian festival president with new hat on Fisherman's Island
Edward Nazarov, Russian festival president with new hat on Fisherman’s Island

KROK is so much more, from the directors’ chats that often add wonderful insights into the animators’ creative process, to a trip to Fisherman’s Island where we are fed wonderful meals and moonshine vodka made by local families. I cannot possibly write about it all, but here are a few more highlights.

Along with retrospectives given of each juror’s works there were numerous programs, including “The Spirit of Genius –Fyodor Khitruk and His Films” directed by shipmate Otto Alder; a screening of films by the Hubleys and “The Season of the Patriarchs” dedicated to the 75thth birthday of Ukrainian director Evgenie Sivokon. I was on a jury with Evgenie in Portugal, and although he speaks as little English as I do Russian, we communicated very well, and I developed a deep respect for him. I was delighted to have a chance to see his films and realize what an important part of Ukrainian animation history he is. birthday of David Cherkasky, the Ukrainian President of the Festival, and the 70

All too soon, the closing night ceremonies arrived. This year KROK scored an impressive coup when it became one of very few festivals allowed to present Suzie Templeton’s award winning film Peter and the Wolf with the Sergei Prokofiev score performed with a live orchestra. The music, played by the Kiev Municipal Orchestra, was lovely. Although I recognize the amazing technical achievement that the film represents, I have seen it several times, and each time it becomes less appealing and leaves me feeling very cold. It may be technically amazing, but I feel that the film lacks heart, soul and warmth. A minor point for anyone who knows the story is that unlike in the original, the duck dies and the wolf goes free. Unfortunately the duck was the character that I liked the best. I would much rather see a film that didn’t take 5 years to complete with such an astronomical budget, but which has depth and soul.

As always, I am amazed at the remarkable ability of Irina Kaplichnaya and her wonderful staff to deal with all the problems that arise from so many animators from all over the world on one ship. Their tireless efforts enable the rest of us to enjoy a wonderful festival. I think that all too often we all forget how much work goes into making the KROK festival a reality. As I write this there are only 50 more weeks until KROK 2008, and I can hardly wait! You can contact KROK about next year’s festival, which will be for student works, at

Festival Results (from KROK website):

The Jury of the KROK International Animated Films Festival

Igor Kovalyov (USA) – Head of the Jury
Sayoko Kinoshita (Japan)
Alexandr Boubnov (Ukraine)
Valentin Olshvang (Russia)
Rao Heidmets (Estonia)

decided to award:

In the category Films up to 5 minutes of running time
Diploma to the film: Pole Hole, director Alexey Alexeev, Hungary – «For lightness and elegance»
Diploma to the film Unbreakable Nail-Do, director Mikhail Tumelya, Belarussia – «For brevity and wit»
Diploma to the film: Lapsus, director Juan Pablo Zaramella, Argentina – «For humour and harmony of the black and white»
Prize and diploma to the film: Jeux, director George Schwitzgebel, Switzerland-Canada

In the category Films of 5-10 minutes of running time
Diploma to the film: Rain down from Above, director Ivan Maximov, Russia– «For creating the moving and surreal world»
Diploma to the film: Dreams and Desires – Family Ties, director Joanna Quinn, Great Britain – «For acuteness and expressiveness»
Diploma to the film: The Memory of Dogs, director Simone Massi, France-Italy – «For the philosophical comprehension of movement in time»
Diploma to the film: Lavatory-Lovestory, director Konstantin Bronzit, Russia – «For virtuosity and transparency»
Diploma to the film: The Runt, director Andreas Hykade, Germany – «For grasping the poetry of the cruel world»
Prize and diploma to the film: Rabbit, director Run Wrake, Britain

In the category Films of 10-40 minutes of running time
Diploma to the film: Leviathan, director Simon Bogojevich-Narath, Croatia – “For the refinement of the apocalyptic vision”
Diploma to the film: Lullaby, director Andrey Zolotukhin, Russia – “For feeling the fragile link between the real and the conventional”.
Diploma to the film Painted Rainbow, director Gitanjali Rao, India – «For wisdom and poetry»
Diploma to the film Apple Pie, director Isabelle Favez, Switzerland – «For lightness of the tragicomic story»
Prize and diploma to the film: Franz Kafka Village Doctor, director Koji Yamamura, Japan;
Prize and diploma to the film: My Love, director Alexander Petrov, Russia

In the category Films for children
Diploma to the film: Aston’s Stones, directors Lotta Geffenblad, Uzi Geffenblad, Sweden – «For the imageable understanding of childish psychology»
Prize, diploma and $3000 to the film The White Wolf, director Pierre-Luc Granjon, France

In the category Applied and Commissioned Animation
Diploma: Multi-Russia (We Live in Russia), directors Stepan Biriukov, Alexey Pochivalov – “For the ironic patriotism»
Diploma: Jukebox, director Alexey Budovsky, USA – «For the brightness of form»
Prize and diploma: commercial Safety of Traffic, directors – Alena Oyatieva, Elena Chernova, Russia

In the category Film – the part of animation project
Diploma to the film: Karelian Lullaby (part of the project World Lullabies), director Lisa Skvortsova, Russia – «For the elegance of the lulling design»
Diploma to the film Epistolary Novel (part of the project Funny-Balls), director Alexey Gorbunov, Russia – «For the dramatic composition»
Prize and diploma to the film: Zhikharka (part of the project Pile of Gems), director Oleg Uzhinov, Russia

- For the new interpretation of Prokofiev’s theme» and $3000 to the film Peter and the Wolf, director Suzie Templeton, Great Britain-Poland
- «For the originality of the cinematic language and visuals” and $3000 to the film Declaration in Love, director Dmitriy Geller, Russia
- «For the Funniest Film» and $3000 to the film Brothers Bearhearts, director Riho Unt, Estonia

ALEXANDER TATARSKY PRIZE THE PLASTICINE CROW - Virtuoso Pilot and $3000 - to the film Wolf Daddy, director Chan Hyung-Yun, South Korea

GRAND PRIX and $5000 to the film The Pearce Sisters, director Luis Cook, Great Britain

If you have any questions, feel free to contact them at

AWN launches my new blog
Thursday October 11th 2007, 2:08 pm
Filed under: Personal

AWN has invited me a initiate a weekly blog space on their web site. I will primarily write short reviews of animations that I like, interviews with animators, my observations about the animation world and of course, my usual long articles about festivals that I attend. Any of you who have been reading my articles for the past few years know that I will also throw in whatever is on my mind when I am writing along with observations about my life in Europe. The powers that be at AWN say that it will take a little bit of time to convert my e-mail list to my blog spot so until then you will continue to receive my musings direct from me.

Nancy - Cheers!
Nancy - Cheers!

Nancy - Serious
Nancy - Serious

I will be happy to receive comments from any readers as well as question and of course I expect to get e-mails from those who don’t agree with what I say. I welcome all of the above.

My first two entries will be my article about KROK 2007 and an interview with Joanna Quinn and Les Mills when they visit Gent this weekend.
I hope you all have as much fun reading what I write as I will have writing it.