Filed under: Festivals
Animated Dreams Festival – Tallinn, Estonia - November 21 through 25
I have always been intrigued by Estonian animation, so when I had the opportunity to visit Animated Dreams, Estonia’s only animation festival I was thrilled. It was held in Tallinn, the country’s beautiful capitol city on the 21st to the 25th of November. The festival, which grew out of the Black Nights Film Festival, did not disappoint my high expectations. The catalog’s introduction boldly states WARNING: Your Dreams Have Been Animated, and this was a threat not to be taken lightly.
This year’s festival coincided with the 50th anniversary of Nukufilm, the legendary stop-motion film studio that was one of the first studios to practice that art form in Eastern Europe. In terms of studio size, technical supplies and number of employees Nukufilm, an art-house type studio, is the largest of its style in Northern Europe.
Animated Dreams is more than a festival that just screens films and gives awards. From mid-morning until late afternoon the colloquium was dedicated to the art of puppet animation and Nukufilm’s anniversary. It was called “The Soul of Voodoo”, so named because, as the catalog says “the art of puppet film resembles voodoo – the masters play with nails and wires . . . they twist and bend the legs and hands of puppets in order to give them soul”. The talks and panel topics ranged from Eastern European and Japanese stop motion to Aardman and Nukufilm Studios. Guest speakers were as diverse as Priit Parn, Peter Lord, Suzie Templeton, and the internationally renowned Japanese puppet animation director Kihachiro Kawamoto.
The morning talks and afternoon panel discussions were followed by evening retrospectives of Nukufilms, Soyuzmultifilms, and Czech Animation among others. Competition screenings concluded the formal evening programs followed by parties and special events.
The jury was comprised of the Finnish born puppet animation director, Katarina Lillqvist, award winning Norwegian animator Pjotr Sapegin, and Mikk Rand, Estonian director. Rand organized the first juried short film competition with in the Black Nights film festival in 2001 which has grown into the Animated Nights film festival. Judging this competition was quite difficult as the films were outstanding, but the judges made some excellent choices.
Kleit (The Dress) by Estonian directors Mari-Liis Bassovskaja and Jelena Girlin was selected as the Animated Dreams nominee for the ANOBA award. All films from the Baltic and Nordic regions were eligible for this honor.
I was delighted that a Jury’s Special Mention went to Signe Bauman’s Teat Beat of Sex for, as the jury said, “the author talks about things which are seldom spoken about. Funny, self-ironic, educating, and slightly bizarre…” I couldn’t agree more. A Jury’s Special Mention Award also went to Luis Cook’s delightfully quirky The Pearce Sisters.
|Peter Lord accepting the award for Luis Cook|
Madame Tutli-Puti, a film that I have already praised at length, was given The Jury Prize for Best Design. Irinka et Sandrinka took the Jury Prize for Best Story for a “very personal film which breaks the borders between documentary and animation.”The Wooden Wolf Award (Grand Prix),the trophy, crafted by Estonian puppet masters was presented to Tale of How by the trio of South African animators known as the Black Heart Gang. The jury’s description of the film said that it “looks like nothing else we have seen before. All components of this brave movie are superb and perfectly balanced … The soundtrack is unusual – it’s an opera.” I have also written about this film before and definitely agree with the jury’s assessment.
Unfortunately I missed the opening night screening and party because I was still in Riga, Latvia where I had a full day of visiting some of that city’s best known animation studios on a tour arranged by my friend Zane Dzene, Latvian film critic and author. I have heard that the parties are quite spectacular and packed with surprises, and if the rest of the late night events and parties were any example I missed quite an event.
The second night of the festival, Nukufilms hosted a party at their studio as part of their Birthday Celebration. It was a fabulous opportunity to tour the studio and casually hang out with some of the leading film makers of several generations of Nukfilms such as Rao Heidmets, Riho Unt, the always fun Hardi Volmer, Mati Kutt and Priit Tender and the new names - Partel Tall, Jelena Girlin, and Mari-Liis Bassovskaja, who are the studio’s new generation
It was exciting to see live and up close so many of the wonderful puppets that I know so well from their films. I was particularly enchanted to meet the Brothers Bearheart puppets, since they are from a film that makes me smile every time that I watch it. I know about the three bear cubs from Ivan Shishkin’s painting “Morning in a Pine Forest” and the delightful film tells of the three bears that end up as painters in Paris. Anyone who is familiar with the impressionist painters will laugh heartily at the adventures of the three brothers, Henry, Vincent (with appropriately bandaged ear), and August as they travel back to Russia to find their heritage. I have seen the original painting in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. I wondered how comprehensible the film is to people not familiar with the picture. I finally decided that anyone who can enjoy the art puns will like the film. At the studio we dined on a spread of cabbage soup, black bread and beer with plenty of vodka to keep us warm in the cold Estonian night on our walk back to the center of the city.
After the party, a group of us ended the evening in a bar for good conversation and more beer and wine. I had a long talk with Priit Parn and his wife Olga Marchenko. Olga and Priit worked together on a segment for BLACK CEILING, Estonia’s animated poetry project. Olga is an accomplished photographer in her own right, and Priit needs no introduction to anyone who knows animation since he is one of the greats of Estonian film.
|Pritt Parn and Olga Marchenko|
On the second evening, my Norwegian pal Gunnar Strom (who had moderated a panel discussion that afternoon) and I went to a party at the animation school in Tallinn to learn about the TEACHING WITH ANIMATION project. This DVD, with accompanying booklet, is a European partnership project designed to help teachers introduce animation into their classroom. There are segments on “How to Teach Animation”, advice on the different stages of production, “technical set-up” and an overview of the history of animation along with other very useful information. Anyone interested in more information on this project can visit the ANIMATION WORKSHOP website: www.animwork.dk or contact Helle Villekold at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Gunnar Strom kissing the plaque commemorating Estonia’s first animation studio|
Later in the evening the Festival invited all participants to an at an ice rink that they took over for the evening. With many of the festival attendees being from Latvia, Estonia and the Nordic countries, there was some very fancy skating going on. To add to the fun, there was a competition where each skating team created tableaux on ice. Some groups went for the grace and line (a perfect 10?) while others played on the absurd. It was all in good fun for fabulous prizes such as gift certificates to festival sponsor restaurants and bars. I was honored to be selected as one of the three judges.On Saturday I met up with my animator turned jeweler friend Julia Maria Kunnap to catch up with her activities since I had last seen her on the KROK boat several years ago. Over lunch, she filled me in on her life, then we went to the lovely apartment that she shares with her husband, Asko Kunnap, who I had never met but liked instantly. He is head of the largest advertising agency in Estonia and is very active on the Estonian poetry scene. I am familiar with the Dutch and Belgian poetry/animation projects but was not aware that Estonian poets and animators had collaborated on a project called Black Ceiling. Asko’s poem “The Very Last Cigarette” is brought to life by Kaspar Jancis, one of my favorite of the younger Estonian animators. This ironic poem is voiced on the film by Julia Maria and Asko reading the alternating male and female voices. Another collaboration that I think works very well is Andres Ehin’s poem “A Vegetated Director” brought to life on the screen by Priit Tender, another animator that I have a great respect for. The DVD comes with a lovely book of the poems in both Estonian and English, an illustration from the film, and bios of the poet s and animators.The closing night party was the true icing on a many tiered cake, with Nukufilm hosting us for their Jubilee Party at the Tallinn Puppet Theatre. The evening started off with a potpourri of old and new films from the studio, and to prove the adage that everything that old is new again we were treated to an old stop motion 3D film (the kind of film that you put on the special glasses for) from the studio vaults followed by a new 3-D film . Both films sent objects flying out over our heads to oohs and ahhs of surprise and delight from the audience.
|Audience enjoying the 3D films|
The late night buffet was a sumptuous feast and the libations flowed freely. To make it an even more spectacular party, there was the FIRST WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. Seven teams from around the world vied for the title of champion by making a film in thirty minutes while the rest of us watched. The Latvian team took home the much coveted honors amid stiff competition.
|L-R back row - Asko Kunnap, Suzie Templeton, Gunnar Strom and Peter Lord; front row Julia Maria Kunnap and me|
Sunday, the festival might be over but the fun was certainly not. After a leisurely stroll through the Tallinn open air market, I ended up in the Reval Café, the official festival gathering spot, where I was joined by Peter Lord (head of Aardman). Over a wonderful, leisurely four hour brunch, we solved all of the “animation problems of the world”. Later that afternoon I joined Julia Marie and Asko at a party to celebrate the Black Ceiling project. While dining on another sumptuous buffet and enjoying a lovely wine from the very generous bar, I met many of Estonia’s leading underground poets and zine publishers along with Signe Baumane and talented Canadian animator Theodore Ushev. This was a perfect end to a festival visit that I will never forget. I would encourage any animator to submit their film to this festival. The screening theatre is lovely and the technical facilities are excellent, so that films are presented properly and the festival staff goes out of their way to make your visit a total pleasure. To contact the festival e-mail them at email@example.com you can visit their website (in English at http://2007.poff.ee/?handler=&lang=2&st= ).
My visit to Estonia was the halfway mark in my seven week “grand animation tour” and I had three days before I was scheduled to be in Rome for the I Castelli Animati where I had been invited to be a juror and would finally meet Nik again. My good friend, Signe Baumane, who lives and creates her wonderful animations primarily in New York City, was born in Latvia and she has said many times that she would like to take me home to her family’s farm in the countryside about an hour outside of Riga. Since we were both in Estonia at the festival, this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I love festivals and watching animation but I must admit that those three days of doing nothing but reading, walking in the country with the family dogs, and eating delicious food that had been grown by Signe’s family was a wonderful treat. The family had been hunting the day before and the fresh venison tasted superb. There was also an abundance of wonderful honey from the family hives. Having this much time for Signe and I to just talk was a rare treat. On the last night of my visit the two of us spent several hours in a sauna. Signe’s entire family was so warm and welcoming that I felt very at home and so fortunate to have these special memories. All too soon it was time to leave, but it was a much more relaxed person who took the train to Riga. Next stop Rome!