A more radical, direct, formally and thematically unhindered expression has characterised the Animafest Student Film Competition since its introduction in 1998. Animation schools and their film productions have multiplied since then in many parts of the world, so 780 student works were submitted for the World Festival of Animated Film in Zagreb in 2022. However, it is difficult to surpass the traditional leaders among higher education institutions, so this year, according to the selection committee consisting of Kata Gugić, Hrvoje Selec and Daniel Šuljić, the best average of submitted works came from the National Film and Television School (NFTS) from the United Kingdom, thus earning the Best Animation School Award. In the Student Film Competition, which consists of 42 films, including two Croatian ones (Illuminated by Morana Marija Vulić and Stinky in the Dark Forest by Sunčana Brkulj), NFTS is presenting four works.
Renee Zhan’s Soft Animals is an erotic miniature about a chance meeting of old acquaintances and animal attraction, made in a very interesting combination of charcoal and painting on glass. The stop-motion Do Not Feed the Pigeons (dir. Antonin Niclass) attracts, in turn, with a design of flattened characters and the micro-situation of a bus waiting room dominated by pigeon magic. Night of the Living Dread (dir. Ida Melum) is a puppet-technique comedy that plays with the tropes of psychological horror, but actually tells about personal history and identity building in the face of uncertainty and sends a message of self-acceptance in all periods of life. The curious protagonist of Curiosa (dir. Tessa Moult-Milewska), carried out in a combination of pixilation and puppet film, enters the head of her new boyfriend, but after the initial enthusiasm there she finds a rich past that she may not be able to cope with.
From another famous school, the Parisian Gobelins, comes The Uncertain Snow by a group of authors about a photographer lost in the snow wasteland longing for a colleague from a research station. The Czech Sisters by Andrea Szelesova from Prague’s FAMU in a completely different, desert climate indirectly speak of a sisterhood that may be in the past, or may never have happened. In another film from Gobelins, Goodbye Jérôme, a group of authors depicts a paradise in a colourful surrealist drawing in which the title character searches for his wife, but she does not intend to continue where she left off with him before death.
From another famous French school, La Poudrière, comes Remains of the Future by Nicolas Verdier, a classic, hand-crafted and beautifuly “transformational” study of modernist architecture of the 1970s and its embodied visions of the future. But perhaps the most interesting French student film The Seine’s Tears comes from the somewhat lesser-known Pôle 3D school. In it, a group of authors touches on the trauma of the Algerian War, i.e. the 1961 Paris Massacre in which police killed dozens, perhaps hundreds, of protesters, mostly Algerians, and many were thrown into the river. Made from a first person POV, i.e. out of intermittent portable camera shots, with characters reminiscent of puppets (even though it is computer animation), The Seine’s Tears in the manner of The Missing Picture artistically gives representation to an event whose consequences were covered up until 1998. The final imagination of the concert celebration as a kind of apotheosis is especially interesting.
Two German films also stand out in the competition. In His Mercy by Christoph Büttner is a black-and-white endeavour in a combination of rotoscope and 2D/3D drawings based on a short story by the French symbolist writer Villiers de L’Isle-Adam. The film with a distinct atmosphere follows the oneiric visions of a long-term prisoner and death row inmate, and stands out with its flowing motif of moisture. Jonathan Schwenk’s Zoon is an unusual but appealing stop-motion film with axolotls devouring each other and being devoured by undefined singing creatures that then dissipate in the sky.
Other European cinemas also have their trump cards in the 2022 Student Film Competition. The evocative black-and-white, hand-drawn Hungarian animation Lesser of Two Evils by Máté Horesnyi plays with the conventions of film noir, but is in fact an absurdist, humorous and somewhat furious work based on Attila Hazai’s prose that intersects the confessions and desires of several characters. Beasts Among Us by Natalia Durszewicz from another prestigious animation school, the one from Łódź, in a surrealist tone takes us into an intense, primordial situation in which the human race is enslaved as circus attractions and food. An Italian feminist confessional film about women’s football made in a combination of rotoscope, 2D and painting on glass Girls Talk about Football was directed by Paola Sorrentino.
The witty meta-prank on Truman Show and the stop-motion process about the TV salesman An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake And I Think I Believe It by Lachlan Pendragon arrives at Animafest from faraway Australia. And the autobiographical, quite self-ironic, and to ‘festival folks’ hilariously insider film This Will Not Be a Festival Film by Julia Orlik, the author of one of the finest student films in the entire history of this competition (I’m Here, Dušan Vukotić Award, 2021) with whose success Orlik confidently jokes in this new work is also a meta-puppet-film.