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World Festival of Animated Film /
6 to 11 June 2022
World Festival of Animated Film / 6 to 11 June 2022
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Winners and “Recidivists”: Animafest 2022 Grand Competition Short Film
05/09/2022

Alongside numerous film retrospectives and accompanying programmes dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the World Festival of Animated Film – Animafest Zagreb, in its core the festival will once again showcase some of the best films from around the globe.

As if intent on celebrating our big anniversary, the global animated film production has sent to Zagreb in 2022 a true star cast, among whom are former Animafest winners Yumi Joung (House of Existence), Špela Čadež (Steakhouse) and Phil Mulloy (Happily Ever After), multiple returning contestants of our most prestigious competition such as Yoriko Mizushiri (Anxious Body), Emma Calder (Beware of Trains, world premiere), Marta Pajek (Impossible Figures and Other Stories I), Izabela Plucińska (98 kg), Juan Pablo Zaramella (Passenger, world premiere) and Xi Chen (The Loach, with Xu An), the audience favourites David Doutel & Vasco Sá (Garrano) and Pedro Rivero (The Days That (Never) Were), as well as former young hopefuls currently on a high – Tal Kantor (Letter to a Pig), Malte Stein (Thing) and Sophie Koko Gate (Hotel Kalura).

Representing home colours are Darko Masnec (Salute to the Sun, production company Studio u šumi, world premiere), Branko Farac (Psychographic, a Zagreb Film production), and Laura Martinović (10 Days of Lovid, Minya film production and animation) in a Dutch co-production.

Daniel Šuljić, Margit Antauer and Vesna Meštrić have selected 47 titles out of nearly 1800 applications (900 of which were for this particular competition). Few of the films explicitly tackle current topics such as the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, but the world’s animated filmmakers possibly indirectly tackled those themes through the domination of black-and-white drawings, as well as through higher amount of satire (Fortress, dir. ZALESKY’S), black humour and historical-political topics (Iran-Iraq and the Gulf wars, Ben Ali dictatorship in Tunis, as well as multigenerational reflections of the Holocaust: Where the Winds Die, Shadow of Paradise, Blind Spot, Letter to a Pig, Holy Holocaust). In the competition are a few truly magnificent puppet films, including the Oscar-nominated Chilean psychological thriller Bestia (dir. Hugo Covarrubias) and the French psychological horror Skinned (dir. Joachim Hérissé) which will have its world premiere in Zagreb. Several demanding cut-out films (Fortress, Steakhouse, Beware of Trains) are distinguished by being thought-out and made as complete film works. Also awaiting us are accomplished works in various painting techniques (Garrano, They Dance with Their Heads) and the visual spectacle of the “must see to believe” provenance – the postmodern tapestry,emaki(horizontal scroll) Swallow the Universe.

Animated documentary film (Shadow of Paradise, Blind Spot, The Garbage Man) and a rise in hybrid genres and techniques (A Long Protracted Scene of An Accident), including live action film (Naughty), even theatre and dance (Happily Ever After, They Dance with Their Heads) are but a few defining features of this year’s competition. Finally, alongside the usual psychological, personal, confessional and family topics dealing with dominantly women’s, but also with children’s (Pachyderm) experiences, this year animated art film is making a big comeback to solid, often genre plots (Lucky Man, The Night Watch, Miracasas, The Days That (Never) Were, Cockroaches) to the joy of cinephiles all around.

Winners and “Recidivists”

Switching from puppet film to cut-out and 2D animation, the most successful Slovenian author Špela Čadež reached new creative heights by winning Animafest 2017. In her impeccable new film Steakhouse, Čadež returns to the territory of the so-called little man and his humorous, but altogether worrisome, minutely psychologising and emotionally nuanced dilemmas.

In contrast, after winning the Animafest Grand Prix in 2014, Yumi Joung returns with her film House of Existence, done in her signature, classical 2D black and white technique. Realised in a minimalist style, with no background, yet graphically almost photorealistic, House of Existence shows a gradual disintegration of a building, which can be interpreted as loss of memory, beliefs or any firm material or rational standpoints. Emma Calder’s Beware of Trains is another hybrid of collage and 2D animation, a semi-autobiographical film about the fears and fantasies of motherhood, partnership, sex, parental illness, accidents and murders… all leaning onto the leitmotif of the train. Calder is the author of the cult classic Madame Potatoe (1983), and has especially distinguished herself in commissioned cinema – the most famous beingThe Queen’s Monastery (1998), an anti-war étude in watercolour (awarded in Zagreb), and the music video for the Eurythmics song Shame.

Phil Mulloy has screened around fifteen of his films on Animafest so far, winning the Grand Prix in 2016. A master of satire and grotesque, he has ridiculed social values for decades, and is drawn to the darker side of human nature. His latest film Happily Ever After, albeit saturated in black humour, also contains a touch of gentleness, offering a human-ant choreography as a theatrical show about hard earned love in which ants are technicians who mercilessly set and reset a scene that shows a fragment of a human encounter.

Argentinian stop motion master Juan Pablo Zaramella is screening his work in Zagreb for the third time. Zaramella, who holds the Guinness record of the most-awarded short festival film (Luminaris, 324 awards), mentions McLaren and Švankmajer as his idols, but the audience may find the Passenger’s paper, white and flat, mumbling characters from the train reminiscent of the Zagreb School of Animated Films.

Tal Kantor rose to fame while still a student of the renowned Bezalel, in particular with the film In Other Words (Animafest 2017) – a unique blend of live action and animated film in which she deconstructs the superficiality of familial relations. This time around she brings us Letter to a Pig, in a similar, but further developed style of “hybridised” characters – a Holocaust drama of symbolic imagination that speaks of the (non)transferability of experience, identity and acceptance of diversity.

The new Yoriko Mizushiri film Anxious Body is a sequel in a cherished opus of an animator for whom Animafest had already organised a grand retrospective of her work, while she, apart from a handful of her films, has presented Animafest with one of the most beautiful illustrations in the Festival’s 50-year history. Marta Pajek, another renowned representative of women’s animated cinema, has showcased her works II and III to the Zagreb audience, and is now offering us the final installation in her hit art triptych Impossible Figures and Other Stories I. The “impossible” new Escherian perspectives in I relate to the city, the traces of Dumała’s sculptural poetics and to an aged woman protagonist who narrates and finally sings, in one of the most powerful scenes in animated film in years.

D. Doutel and V. Sá, an animation duo from Porto, delighted the Animafest audiences in 2018 with the unique visuals of their paint-on-glass animated film Augur. Their new film Garrano, done in the same technique, is a story of another doutel-sáesque moral dilemma, but also of context (lithium mine) that resonates as particularly current in our part of the world. Basque filmmaker Pedro Rivero, Animafest jury member in 2018, brings us in allegoric Sci-Fi form (also found in the Laloux-style surrealist Terra incognita, the spatial-temporal slips of Cockroaches, and the magical realism of Miracasas) the most explicit Covid film – the rotoscopic work The Days That (Never) Were, characterised by “follow shots” and a critique of the futility of human plans.

Prior to his sudden death in 2017, Xu An was with Xi Chen part of an inseparable and dominant duo of contemporary Chinese animation. As Xu An left a large number of unrealised screenplays, Xi Chen set on a mission to finish their opus inspired by eras of Chinese history. The Loach is their eighth, and Xi Chen’s ninth participation on Animafest. Claude Luyet is a Swiss animation legend, a frequent guest at the Cannes Film Festival and the winner of Hiroshima, who showcased his works in Zagreb in 1978, 1986, 1992 and 2008. His film Lucky Man is an Americana, road movie and a crime story with a serial killer, yet also a serious critique of the transience and relativity of luck, as well as a compactly structured story for fans of American comics, film and music.

Three intriguing debutants

That the puppet film is an extremely fertile ground for grotesque and monstrosity is an old animation maxim, predating even the Quay Brothers. The ability to remain psychologically convincing and to infuse into body horror not only pathology, but also genuine human emotions and longings is a sign of skill that surpasses the evocative texture of deformed rag dolls and high levels of production. Through the oppressive relationship between Siamese twins surviving alone in misty marshland the film tells a story of the simultaneous necessity and intolerance of human proximity and the horror of familial relations. A tense story with the final twist worthy of a quality horror film, Skinned by Joachim Hérissé essentially poses the universal question: can the human relationship be amputated, and at what cost?

Slawek Zalewski ZALESKY’S, a student of Jerzy Kucia, whose life path took him after graduation, among other places, to work on Austrian construction site, takes us in Fortress to an unnamed city just before (announced, but never materialised) siege whose large population invokes a medieval carnivalesque and apocalypse, but also Workers’ Day Parade somewhere behind the Iron Curtain in 1957. Fortress is an often funny, absurdist commentary on the ideological, religious and militarist media manipulations which can reach ludicrous levels in (fabricated) times of crisis in authoritarian societies. It is a visually extremely syncretic and unique pastiche of collage and cel animation, with particularly prominent use of background lighting, silhouettes and mostly black figures in front of a dominantly orange background.

The combination of traditional and new elements and techniques sets apart Our 2 as one of the visually most original films of this year’s competition. The film is classical in its permanent transformation of figures and shapes, in its Far Eastern convention of facial drawing, its markedly bright colours and its choice of a love theme. Its treatment, however, captures a broad range from classical romance with flowers and sunsets, over friendship and motherhood, to great pain and loss. Yungsung Song closes out this truly original journey with an atypical soundscape dominated by defamiliarizing voices.