ANIMAFEST ZAGREB 2009 - Much Sweeter The Second Time Around
Wednesday August 19th 2009, 4:32 am
Filed under: Festivals

When Nik and I accepted our invitation to attend the 19th edition of the World Festival of Animated Film in Zagreb, Croatia I was curious to see if they had learned from their mistakes and had returned Animafest to its former place as one of the most prestigious animation festivals in the world.  I had been very critical of the festival the year before when a new, younger, inexperienced staff replaced long time Festival Director Margit Anatauer, affectionately known as Buba.  I am very happy to report that Animafest Zagreb has regained its place of honor.
Animafest 2009 did everything right and then some.  The premiere screenings were held in the beautiful old Kino Europa with on stage interviews for all animators who were present.  Animators were given hospitality for the entire festival, not just for three day as happened last year, and there were daily interviews with animators, directors and film guests. Igor Prassel conducted them at the French Cutural Institute and they were well attended.  Igor knows how to ask the right questions  and then give the interviewee space to answer, while keeping the conversation on track.

Nik and Igor Prassel
Nik and Igor Prassel

In odd numbered years feature films take center stage.  I had already seen  and written about most of the 10 feature films in competition, such as Bill Plympton’s Idiots and Angels, Tatia Rosenthal’s $9.99,  Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max and of course Nina Paley’s masterful achievement Sita Sings The Blues.  Nik introduced Sita on stage at both of its screenings.
Luckily there were two surprises for me. Argentinean Gustavo Cova’s  Boogie, el Aceitoso is based on a character created by the late cartoonist and writer Roberto Fontanarrosa.  Hit Man Boogie, who Fontanarrosa created as a Dirty Harry parody, is the best hit man in the city.  Unlikable and out of touch with reality, Boogie is a sexist brute, a violent racist and a feared hired assassin.  The film, definitely not for children, provides a lethal dose of irony and such extreme violence that it becomes impossible not to laugh. There is also a strong Anti-American, anti-Imperalism message that will probably not make it a runaway hit in the US.
Boogie, el Aceitoso is a perfect showcase for Cova’s vast expertise in mixing visual effects and animation, combining paper cut-outs with 2D and 3D animation.  In Argentina, Gustavo is known as a pioneer in new animation techniques and he has previously created a 3D children’s series, a successful adult TV series, and a satirical series shown all over Latin America.
I was looking forward to seeing Mia et le Migou (Mia and the Migou) Jacques-Remy Girerd’s latest film because I loved his 2001 Raining Cats and Frogs.  Unfortunately this film, the story of a 10 year old South American girl’s search for her often absent father who is working on a  construction project in a tropical forest doesn’t have the same sparkle and charm that his earlier work has. Girerd’s script is a nice story of Mia’s journey through the forest in search of her father and her discovery of the true force and spirit of nature, particularly the Migou’s,  custodians of a strange magical tree.  Delicate drawing and fine art work were sadly lacking and the film left me with the impression that it was a rushed and unfinished project.  Unlike the playful and rich music that composer Serge Besset wrote for Raining Cats and Frogs, the score for this film seems a bit lacking in style and often did not fit the moods and feelings of the images.
Jacques-Remy Girerd, founder of the legendary Folimage Studio in Valencia, France, did give a fascinating and lively interview at the Director’s Chat  the day after the initial screening.  He kept the audience laughing throughout with his stories about how having a family has influenced his desire to make films for young people.  Even if I can’t recommend Mia et la Migou, I can definitely say you should not miss any opportunity to hear Jacques-Remy speak.

Jacques Remy-Girerd at his interview
Jacques Remy-Girerd at his interview

Six feature films were screened out of competition in the World Panorama program.  Four films, including A Town Called Panic, the Belgian feature which opened Annecy the next week, were at late night screenings which was billed as “Samurais, cowboys and Indians, blood, panic, phobias, madness, and eccentricity without restriction” There was definitely something for everyone.
Michel Ocelot, who won the 2007 Grand Prix with his visually stunning Azur et Asmar, was invited to return as the 2009 Honorary Festival President.  Although I have seen most of his films individually, it was a rare privilege to see a retrospective of his work.
Ocelot’s three feature films, Kirikou and the Sorceress (which won a 1999 Annecy Crystal), Kirikou and the Wild Beasts, and Azur et Asmar  show the strong influence of Africa from his upbringing in Guinea from the age of 6 to 12 years old.  The program of eight shorts featured five films made with the cut-out silhouette technique very similar to that used by Lotte Reiniger in her 1926 Adventures of Prince Achmed.  My favorite film, The Three Inventors (1980) uses delicate white paper cutouts that create the illusion of a film made out of lace to tell the tale of how society treats two creative inventors and their little inventor daughter.
Two programs for young people were aimed at different age groups.  Space and Energy, aimed at a very young audience showcases the wide world around us through such films as Gil Alkabetz’s multiple award winner A Sunny Day and Reinis Kalnaellis’ very sweet When Apples Roll.  The second program,  My Body  and Me(Dia), was presented in co-operation with the New York International Children’s Film Festival .  It deals with  changes in the adolescent body to help pre teens and teens break taboos and widen their horizons.
Animafest 2nd Regional Pitching Forum was really interesting.  It is aimed at helping animation professionals in the production and distribution of animated films in Central and Eastern Europe. The well attended event was packed full of such workshops as “How to Pitch A Film” and “How to Finance Animation Cinema in Europe”.  One attendee that I spoke to told me that he felt the three day event had been very well worth his time, especially “Case Studies” which presented the status of two feature film projects that were pitched last year.
Erik Novak (The District) brought the group up to date on the progress of  Egill, The Last Pagan, his joint Hungarian/Icelandic/Polish co-production.  Over breakfast one morning my old friend Erik told me that Egill has a unique visual style.  Instead of traditional puppets or live performers, the film is being made with both stop-motion and motion capture. His armatures are equipped with LED markers and digital cameras record the positions of the LED’s.  The data produced is transferred to traditional 3D programs and only minor corrections are necessary.
The highlight of the Pitching Forum was the opportunity for 6 producers from Central and Eastern Europe to present their projects to an International Jury, composed of French Producer Valerie Schermann, Luca Raffaelli, Artistic Director of I Castelli Animati in Italy, and Izabela Rieben, Director of Animated Film Acquisition, Television Suisse.  At their discretion, the jury can award 3000 Euros as financial support to the best regional project presentation.  The winner, Heart in the Wall, a Polish/Swiss/South Korean co-production was announced at the Saturday Award Ceremony.  A Special Jury Mention  was awarded to the Czech Republic production Tales From Gingerland.
Adding special flavor to the festival this year were four special trailers, two of which were created by the very talented Alexei Alexeev.  Bill Plympton also gave a masterclass to a sold out audience.

Bill Plympton at his workshop
Bill Plympton at his workshop

There were three exhibitions definitely worth a visit.  The French Cultural Institute Mediatheque hosted Michel Ocelot’s Hidden Treasure.  Sketches, animatics, storyboards, set designs, and graphic research were displayed along with production stages of his short films.
The historic Lotrocak Tower, which was once part of a gate to the  walled city of Zagreb which was closed every evening when the evening bell rang, was the perfect setting for the Fear(s) of the Dark – From Drawing to Animation exhibition.  The narrow circular stairway and ancient stone walls added to the eerie effect of art work from this animated horror film.  The exhibition followed the developmental process of the film through original drawings, storyboards, sketches, silkscreened posters, and video material.
The exhibit that I enjoyed the most was the collection of drawings, sketches, and frame enlargements from Olga and Pritt Parn’s latest film, Life Without Gabriella Ferri.  I am a big fan of this film  and it was a delight to have an opportunity to look at the fanciful drawings at leisure.  The beautifully framed  originals were for sale at very reasonable prices.  Nik and I had a very difficult time not taking our favorite home with us but unfortunately we just don’t have a bare inch of wall space.

At Priit and Olga's Exhibit
At Priit and Olga’s Exhibit

Last year one of the biggest things missing from the festival was a central meeting place.  This year the centrally located café/club Appartment was the perfect answer.  With three large rooms and a lovely outdoor deck  there was plenty of room for all of us.  The bar even took the food coupons which Animafest was most generous to give us. On several occasions Nik  and Alexei Alexeev on clarinet and guitar, two thirds of the Annecy Plus Band this year, got warmed up  for the following week in France by playing for all of us late into the night.

Nik and Alexei Alexeev
Nik and Alexei Alexeev

There were lots of little nice touches to this year’s festival.  The festival staff invited all guests to  several delicious sit down lunches  and this year  there were enough chairs for everyone to sit down at once. Each guest was given a white t-shirt with a basic design on it.  We were invited to customize and embellish our shirts with the magic markers that were provided in the theatre lobby.  One of my very favorite touches was all the complementary (savory, not sweet) popcorn that you could eat at the main theatre bar.  A very sweet touch from the festival staff was the lovely lavender plant that appeared in our hotel room.  I’m afraid that most of the guests left them in the rooms but I hand carried ours on the plane to Annecy and then on home to Gent.  It is now thriving and blooming in my garden as a permanent memory of a lovely week.
Zagreb is a beautiful, historic city which I have really enjoyed exploring on past visits to Animafest, This year the festival was so full of wonderful things to see that I only had time for one trip to the outdoor market to buy delicious local honey and fresh cherries.
All too soon Saturday arrived and It was time for the awards ceremony.  This year the closing ceremony was very clever, short and fun.  It opened with one of Alexi Alexeev’s festival trailers and then  Alexi, wearing a top hat, was introduced on stage while images of his characters were projected onto his shirt and on to the clothes of the festival heads, (and on the screen and the stage apron as well).  Long speeches were avoided; the juries kept their statements brief, and the awards handed out in rapid succession. (full list of the winners appears at the end of the article).  Michel Ocelot received a standing ovation when he was called to the stage to be honored as the Honorary President of the 2009 Animafest.

The Market
The Market

Immediately following the ceremony, Barry and the Disco Worm was screened.  I had seen Danish animator Thomas Borch Nielsen’s film at Anima Basauri, where it  won the Best Feature Film Award and it turned out to be a thoroughly delightful experience.  I must admit that when I heard the title I expected the worst, but the irrepressible earthworm Barry, who dreams of being a disco star, had me wanting to dance in the theatre isle to the rhythm of ‘70’s disco hits. I have a feeling that I was not the only one the only one who felt the urge to dance.
Amid ample food and drink we recalled lovely memories of our week in Zagreb at the closing night party at The Apartment. At the end of the night it was nice to know that many of us would see each other the next day in Annecy.
Nik and I can’t thank  the Festival enough for their warm hospitality, especially Sanja Zanki who was in charge of hospitality and Ana Cvitas, head of the press office.  They did everything possible to provide me with any information that I asked for and helped to make my job so pleasant and easy.  I am so happy to be able to write positive words about ANIMAFEST 2009 and look forward to returning next year for Animafest 2010/short film edition.
Short films can be submitted to the 2010 edition, June 1 through 6, before January 31, 2010.

Visit the festival website at:

Contact them at:

ANIMAFEST Zagreb Award Winning Films

International Jury:  Lotta Geffenblad, Swedish animator; Jia Duan, Professor Beijing Film Academy, Beijing, China; and Dubravko Matakovic, free lance artist and animator, Zagreb.
Grand Prix –The Marbel Z and 3000.00 Euros:
Waltz With Bashir – Ari Folman

Special Mentions:
The Secret of Kells – Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey
Life Without Gabriella Ferri – Pritt and Olga Parn
Mary  and Max – Adam Elliot

Pitching Forum Jury:
Izabela Marie Rieben – Director of Animated Film Acquisitans at Television Suisse; Valerie Schermann – French Producer; and Luca Raffaelli – Director I Castelli Animati, Italy
Golden Zagreb Award and 3,000.00 Euros:
Heart in the Wall – Balbina Bruszewska
Special Mention:
Tales From Gingerland – Tomas Hubacek
Audience Award Mr. M:
Mary and Max – Adam Elliot

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