Animafest: What was your criteria for the selection of films to be included in the Children’s Competition and Animafest’s Family Programme?
Martina Peštaj: The most important thing that guided my selection was suitability for children, both in terms of form and content. While watching a film, I monitor the action and think about how the children would understand it, I evaluate characters and possibilities of children identifying with them, I recognise values, I search for the moral and let myself go to humour. Afterwards I connect these aspects with animation technique, i.e. visual aesthetics, and if all this fits into a coherent, plausible and inspirational whole, I believe the children will have the same experience. When I am making the selection for the Children’s Competition, I really pay attention to choose suitable films for different age groups. The Family Programme is somewhat different: I include the films suitable for a broader age range because I count on the adults to help the younger, pre-school children with how to read a film. This is the sense of the Family Programme – active communication between children and adults, with top rated animated films.
Animafest: What are the important differences in the classification of films according to age – for example, what makes a film more suitable for eight-year-olds than six-year-olds?
Martina Peštaj: Thinking about the age group that will best respond to a film, best understand it and most strongly relate to it is my favourite part of the job. Every development stage has its rules. The cognitive development of a child favours the child’s understanding of the plot, the sensory development affects his experience of the film and the social development has an impact on the perception of the issues that are currently important to a child. Of course, children greatly differ among themselves, but some particularities are still common for a certain age. This is best seen in their notion of humour. Something that is funny to a five-year-old will never be funny to a ten-year-old and vice versa. This part of the selection process is the greatest challenge for me and this is why I find the conversations with children before and after the film important. This is how I get the most honest feedback whether my decision was good. Years of experience have sharpened my hunch, but from time to time it happens that I put a film in a wrong category.
Animafest: What are the qualities a filmmaker should possess to connect his artistic freedom with the content suitable for children?
Martina Peštaj: I adore creative animation for children and I deem it fantastic for the development of a child’s sense of aesthetics and later interest in art. I admire the diversity of visual expressions and techniques, as well as original stories, but all of these need to be adapted to children’s understanding. An animation technique can at first sight seem appropriate for the youngest children, but if the storyline contains too many elements that children that age do not understand, it will not be enough. Artistic freedom – definitely, but if our job is to work for children, it has to be within the limits of children’s understanding.
Animafest: Are there techniques, styles or procedures that are in themselves unsuitable for certain age groups?
Martina Peštaj: It never stops to amaze me how children easily watch and understand even the most peculiar animation techniques, with previous explanation. In my experience, the only approach children and youth have issues with is abstract animation. (Mis)understanding of abstract animation is greatly conditioned by the cognitive development, need for understanding of the story in which they seek concrete, recognisable and reliable elements. Children are not capable of simply following the storyline; they search for sense and meaning that relate to their personal experiences. However, I believe that children who see a larger number of outstanding animated films suitable for their age will later have no problems coping with abstract animation as well.