Puppet film is the sort of animated film chosen by some of its most famous authors, like the four-time Oscar winner Nick Park, the ‘father’ of the unforgettable Wallace and Gromit, the Czech classic Jan Švankmajer, who made a great impact on the younger generations of animators, Suzie Templeton, who fascinated both the audience and the critics with her adaptation of Prokofiev’s symphony fairy tale Peter and the Wolf, or the wizards of stop-motion, twins Stephen and Timothy Quay. These are just some of the masters whose films are included in the world top list of puppet films, the central part of Animafest 2014 theme programme. This selection was formed by 45 leading authors using this technique via Animafest’s survey.
Next to The Wrong Trousers (1993) by Nick Park, a film from the Wallace and Gromit serial, the list includes another Oscar-winning work by this English filmmaker, the entertaining Creature Comforts (1989), where the clay bestiary speaks about everyday frustrations of an ordinary man. Jan Švankmajer is represented with Dimensions of Dialogue (1982, Golden Bear in Berlin, Grand Prix in Annecy), the Quay Brothers with the eerie Street of Crocodiles (1986, based on Bruno Schulz’s story, nominated for Palme d’Or), and Australian Adam Elliot with the Oscar-winning Harvie Krumpet (2003). Among the works of Jiří Trnka there is The Hand (1965), Barry Purves is represented by a fantasy farce in which Shakespeare in person and silently gives an overview of his works (Next, 1989), while a hyper-realist portrayal of the paranoid title character is the appeal of the Canadian film Madame Tutli-Putli (Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, 2007). Another Oscar-winning film from another team of twin brothers is Balance (1989) by the Lauenstein brothers, and we also revisit the winner of Animafest’s 2012 Grand Prix Oh Willy… by Emma de Swaef and Marc Roels. The old classic Fétiche / The Mascot (1934) by Władisław Starewicz is a portrayal of the early days of this extremely demanding but highly creative and atmospheric technique called the puppet film. The list is completed by Peter and the Wolf (2006) by Suzie Templeton (another Oscar!), Down to the Bone (2001) by René Castillo and Adam (1991) by Peter Lord. With this programme Animafest 2014 gives the visitors a unique chance to get a full insight into the best puppet films in one place, from both traditions of the style – the older, limited to the animation of key parts on a model (‘hard’ puppets) and the newer, using clay and plasticine to achieve more realistic expression (‘soft’ puppets).
The second part of the puppet film theme programme consists of two national panoramas as a result of collaboration between Animafest and the International Animated Film Festival in Annecy, the leading festivals which this year reflect on the rich history of stop-motion. The Croatian puppet film panorama, which will be shown to the French audience after Animafest and thus promote local cinema, includes eight films, from classics like Branko Ranitović (Heart in the Snow), Mate Bagdanović (Gliša, Raka and Njaka) and Zlatko Bourek (Farce), to middle-generation filmmakers like David Peroš Bonnot (Soldat), to younger generations – Božidar Trkulja (Story from the Beginning of Time), Zdenko Bašić (Gulliver), Lea Kralj Jager (At First Sight), Ivana Bošnjak and Thomas Johnson (Simulacra). Following the rare works from the era of the Zagreb School of Animation, puppet animation in Croatia only in the mid-2000 experiences a renaissance, so this programme provides an outstanding insight into the context of the groundbreaking trend that points to a new flourish of local animation.
The programme is completed by the exhibition Puppet in Croatian Animated Film, curated by Božidar Trkulja and Daniel Šuljić at the ULUPUH Gallery (Ivan Tkalčić Street 14, TUE-SAT 10am-8pm, SUN 10am-1pm). The exhibition displays the puppets and models used in the mentioned films, as well as some still or yet unfinished, Martin Babić’s Jure Grando: Štrigun iz Kringe, Bruno Razum’s Nikola Tesla’s Secret Laboratory, David Peroš Bonnot’s Arctic Pirate, and Sanja Šantak’s Height. A special guest of the exhibition is the Slovenian filmmaker Špela Čadež, whose puppet film Boles won over 30 awards in the past year and is presented in Animafest 2014 Grand Panorama, while her earlier works, also puppet films, can be seen in the 3 x 3 section. Lea Vidaković’s triptych Sisters, the Belgian puppet film included in Animafest’s Student Competition, will be accompanies by the namesake exhibition at Matica Hrvatska Gallery (Matica Hrvatska Street 2, MON-FRI 1pm-7pm, SAT 11am-1pm), opening on 3 June.
The French puppet film panorama is composed by the Annecy festival director Marcel Jean, the winner of Animafest’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to Animation Studies, and the first speaker at the international Animafest Scanner 2014 symposium. In his selection Jean paid special attention to less known masterpieces, whose creative visual procedures earned them rebirth. The French puppet panorama also ranges from classics, like Julien Pappé (Sophie et les gammes), to the contemporary puppet-masters like Pierre-Luc Granjon (Le château des autres), as well as works nominated for Annecy’s Crystal Calypso is Like So and Le jour de gloire... by Bruno Collet and Franck Dion’s L’inventaire fantôme.
Feature-length surprises that Animafest traditionally includes in its ‘short’ edition are also this year motivated by puppets. The family horror comedy ParaNorman (Sam Fell and Chris Butler, 2012), screened for the first time to the Croatian audience, and The Pirates! Band of Misfits (Peter Lord, 2012) from Aardman Animations studio, one of the leading world productions dedicated to this kind of animation, prove that puppet film, although historically less industrialized than drawn animation, is gradually penetrating high-budget animation. In case of these two films, this trend takes place to the pleasure of the youngest viewers and their parents.
And finally, the Hidden Treasures category includes two true puppet film spectacles: Prometheus’ Garden (1988) by Bruce Bickford and The Pied Piper (1986) by Jiří Barta. Bruce Bickford made a name for himself with his clay animations for Frank Zappa’s videos, and often shocking, surreal approach, incredible character metamorphoses, impressive camera manipulation and fascinating use of detailed models that altogether best describe Prometheus’ Garden, which pushes the expressive potential of clay to the very limits. In his adaptation of the medieval German folk tale of the Hamelin pied piper, Jiří Barta embraced gothic atmosphere, visual influences of Van Eyck and the expressionism, and innovative approach to wood animation in order to create his probably most ambitious work. The Pied Piper, screened at the Cannes festival in 1986, takes subtle advantage from the absence of perspective and a fictional language evoking ‘the Dark Age’.