REPORT: The state of animation in Central and Eastern Europe
by Vladan Petkovic
- With the 43rd edition of the Annecy Film Festival just finished, Cineuropa takes a detailed look at the state of animation in Central and Eastern Europe
For the second year in a row, animation film professionals from Central and Eastern European countries – united under the CEE Animation brand – were part of the Creative Europe MEDIA Umbrella stand at the MIFA in Annecy. Over 50 promising producers, talented animators, and representatives of festivals, national film funds and other film institutions from 12 different countries presented their animation industries or productions at MIFA, which unspooled alongside the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.
With almost 40 companies and more than 30 films and projects (for the full list, please click here) from the region present at Annecy, the animation industry from Central and Eastern Europe is making a powerful and determined move to establish CEE Animation as a quality brand in this particular sector.
Although gathered under the umbrella of CEE Animation, the 12 countries (plus another three that we will look at here) differ significantly in terms of the number of animated films produced, distributed, and awarded at festivals, as well as in the ways that this field of the industry is funded, and what the infrastructure is like in terms of active studios and educational institutions.
Powerhouses: Poland, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Estonia
Just a superficial look at the list of these four countries reveals that the size of the territory and the market do not necessarily dictate the quantity and quality of animated films. However, the largest of them, Poland, is also the most successful of all the Eastern European countries in terms of the number of films produced and the number of awards its movies win at international festivals.
At Cannes last month, Little Soul by Barbara Rupik won the third prize in the Cinéfondation competition, and last year, some of the biggest hits in the Cannes shorts competition were III by Marta Pajek and Other by Marta Magnuska. Two weeks ago, Acid Rain by Tomasz Popakul won both the Grand Prix and the Audience Award at Animafest Zagreb and screened in competition at Annecy, along with Little Soul and four other Polish shorts, and Piotr Milczarek's Rain won the "Jean-Luc Xiberras" Award for a First Film.
Poland has a powerful and resilient infrastructure, with five animation schools, the one in Lodz being the most highly acclaimed. Lodz is also the location of the WJTeam/LIKAON animation studio, most famous for its collaboration on Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs [+see also:
film profile], which earned it a Silver Bear at the Berlinale. And finally, the Polish Film Institute dedicates 10% of its €34 million budget to animation.
All this combined has resulted in Poland producing one big animated feature each year, and it has won the European Film Award for Best Animated Feature two years in a row: in 2017 with Loving Vincent [+see also:
interview: Dorota Kobiela
film profile] by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, which was also nominated for the Golden Globes, the Oscars and the BAFTAs, and Another Day of Life [+see also:
interview: Raul de la Fuente
film profile] by Raúl de la Fuente and Damian Nenow in 2018. The latter is a big European co-production, between Poland, Spain, Belgium, Germany and Hungary. For animated features, it is often necessary to pull financing from various pan-European funds and countries where there is more money available for this form.
This is a fact that producers in another territory with a rich tradition of animation – the Czech Republic – are aware of as well. Of Unwanted Things and People, an omnibus project that recently received the Eurimages Co-production Development Award at Cartoon Movie (see the news), is a co-production between the Czech Republic's Maur Film, Slovakia's Artichoke, Slovenia's ZVVIKS and the aforementioned WJTeam/LIKAON from Poland.
The Czech Republic had three feature-length animated films in theatrical distribution in 2018: two instalments of the Pat & Mat [+see also:
film profile] franchise by Marek Beneš, In Action Again and Winter Fun (taking nearly 88,000 admissions), and Jan Švankmajer's Insect [+see also:
interview: Jan Švankmajer
film profile]. Promising upcoming projects include Fritzi – A Miraculous Revolutionary Tale, a co-production with Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium directed by Ralf Kukula and Matthias Bruhn, and The Impossible Voyage by Noro Držiak. Martin Kotík and Inna Evlannikova's Harvie and the Magic Museum [+see also:
film profile] (2017) is the best-selling Czech animated film in recent history, having been sold to 90 countries.
As for shorts, Kateřina Karhánková's Fruits of Clouds screened at almost 200 festivals and was awarded at the Berlinale. Martin Smatana's The Kite also premiered at the Berlinale and screened at Annecy as well, winning the Young Audience Award along with Diana Cam Van Nguyen's Rotterdam title Apart, and three other films (see the news), including Daria Kascheeva's Daughter, which won the Junior Jury Award for Best Graduation Film. Both Daughter and Apart were made at FAMU, one of Europe's most highly respected film schools.
As for the Baltic territories, Estonia has a rich and recognisable animation scene, and its year started with the feature-length Latvian-Estonian co-production Lotte and the Lost Dragons [+see also:
film profile] by Heiki Ernits and Janno Põldma premiering at the Berlinale. Last week, Teofrastus by Sergei Kibus was awarded at Zlín (see the news), and five Estonian shorts and three student films are taking part in various sections at Annecy.
The Estonian-Danish co-production Raggie by Meelis Arulepp and Karsten Kiilerich, based on the internationally popular children's book, will hit screens in 2020.
Tallinn-based Nukufilm, the oldest functioning stop-motion studio in the world, enjoyed success last year with Kaspar Jancis' feature Captain Morten and the Spider Queen [+see also:
film profile], and the Cartoon d’Or-winning director is now in production with the short Cosmonaut at the Eesti Joonisfilm studio.
Both Estonia and Latvia have cash rebates available for animated films, which certainly helped the latter to produce seven animated features in 2018 and 2019 alone. In addition to Lotte, the most notable ones are Before the Day Breaks by Roze Stiebra and Away [+see also:
interview: Gints Zilbalodis
film profile] by Gints Zilbalodis, which just world-premiered at Animafest Zagreb and went on to triumph in the Contrechamp competition at Annecy. Two more are coming soon: My Favorite War by Ilze Burkovska-Jacobsen and My Love Affair with Marriage by Signe Baumane.
Bouncing back: Croatia and Hungary
A former powerhouse of European animation with the globally acclaimed Zagreb School of Animation, which had an immense influence in the 1960s and 1970s, Croatia is once again growing stronger in the field. At the 2018 Berlinale, Iva Cvijanović's A Hedgehog's Home, produced by Bonobo Studio, received a Special Mention in Generation Kplus. In addition, the feature-length animated documentary Chris the Swiss [+see also:
interview: Anja Kofmel
film profile] by Anja Komfel, a co-production between Switzerland, Germany, Croatia and Finland, premiered in the Cannes Critics’ Week, and for the production of the animated segments, an animation studio was founded in Zagreb under the direction of the Croatian co-producer Siniša Juričić, from Nukleus Film, supported by animation producers Vanja Sremac and Lado Skorin.
This year, Croatia has six short films at Annecy, including A Demonstration of Brilliance in Four Acts by Lucija Mrzljak and Morten Tšinakov, and Imbued Life by Ivana Bošnjak and Thomas Johnson, both of which were awarded last week at Animafest Zagreb, the second-oldest animation festival in the world.
The Croatian Audiovisual Centre (HAVC) supports the national production of short animated films with about €400,000 per year.
In Hungary, no feature-length animation appeared in cinemas until Ruben Brandt, Collector [+see also:
film profile] by Milorad Krstić, which is probably the biggest Eastern European animated hit this century. Feature films are supported by the Hungarian National Film Fund, whereas all animated shorts and series are supported by the Media Patronage Program of the Media Council of Hungary.
A whole new wave of Hungarian animators has surfaced in recent years: Réka Bucsi, Zsuzsanna Kreif, Borbála Zétényi, Nadja Andrasev, Luca Tóth, Péter Vácz and Flóra Anna Buda, who won the Teddy Award for Best Short Film at this year's Berlinale with Entropia.
Gaining momentum: Slovakia, Serbia, Romania, Macedonia, Slovenia, Lithuania
These territories differ in terms of their animation tradition and infrastructure, as well as the current state of funding, but what they do have in common is the growing international acclaim they are garnering for their films.
The Slovak Audiovisual Fund has a section for animation, but it is not big enough or sufficiently well endowed to make a feature film, so producers are, as in the fiction film industry, relying a great deal on co-productions with the Czech Republic and other countries, like with Peter Budinský's Heart of a Tower, co-production between Slovak companies Plutoon, BFILM, that latter's Czech branch BFILM.cz, and Belgium's Stacka. An exception is Parralel Movie (2018), feature animated film by Matyas Brych and Vladimír Kriško, solely produced by one Slovak company - VISIONFILM.
In the last four years, since Film Center Serbia essentially restarted its activities, the territory has seen a significant increase in production and visibility. Three feature films are currently at the development stage, out of which Twice Upon a Time by Vojin Vasović seems most likely to succeed. Recent international successes include the short films Untravel by Ana Nedeljkovic and Nikola Majdak Jr, Musical Traumas by Miloš Tomić, and Echo by Kosta Rakićević and Boris Simović.
Romanian animation has a spotty track record owing to the inconsistency of national funding from the CNC, which was introduced in 2010 for the first time, but thanks to Anca Damian and her feature-length animated documentaries The Magic Mountain [+see also:
film profile] and Crulic: The Path to Beyond [+see also:
interview: Anca Damian
film profile], and the Annecy-premiered animated feature Marona's Fantastic Tale [+see also:
film profile], it has been visible internationally for the whole decade. Recent successes among short films include The Blissful Accidental Death by Sergiu Negulici, The Last Customer by Sergei Chiviriga and CEVA by Paul Mureșan.
Macedonia is the poorest of these five territories but still manages to be relevant thanks to filmmakers such as Vuk Mitevski, whose short EDNA has just won the Jury Award for Best European Film at the Krakow Film Festival (see the news); Žarko Ivanov, whose animated trilogy Round Trip screened at more than 100 festivals and won more than 15 awards; and Goce Cvetanovski, the co-founder of the biggest 2D animation studio in the Balkans, Lynx Animation Studios. Cvetanovski is currently working on the first Macedonian animated feature, John Vardar vs. the Galaxy, a co-production between Macedonia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Lithuania.
The last territory in the list has witnessed significant growth in the last three years, thanks to the Lithuanian Film Centre's funding scheme for the development, production and distribution of animated films. Trail of Angels, a short VR animation by Kristina Buožytė, bowed at Venice, and The Juggler by Skirmanta Jakaitė premiered at DOK Leipzig. This film also be screened at Annecy along with Winter in the Rain Forest by Anu-Laura Tuttelberg, a minority co-production with France.
Slovenia has its animation star in Špela Čadež, whose Boles (2013) and Nighthawk (2016) screened at every possible festival and won at many - the former was awarded at Interfilm Berlin, Hiroshima and Cinema Jove in Valencia and was nominated for Cartoon d'Or, and the latter bagged prizes at DOK Leipzig, Animanima and Animafest Zagreb. In addition, Kolja Saksida and Grega Mastnak are keeping busy with their series Kolyaa and Prince Ki-Ki-Do, respectively.
In development: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro
Bosnia and Herzegovina's rich animation tradition, which was interrupted by the 1990s war, started reawakening with the founding of the animation department at the Academy of Arts at the University of Banja Luka in 2014 and animation festivals in this city and Neum. There are now five animation studios in the country, and four short films and five graduation shorts are in production, along with one TV series.
Bulgaria's National Film Center only funds short animated films, and two of these have represented the country recently on the animation scene: 20 Kicks by Dimitar Dimitrov at Annecy in 2018, and Techno by Atanas Filipov last week at Animafest Zagreb. Vessela Dantcheva's short Hierarchy Glitch screened at Annecy as part of Happiness Machine, an omnibus made by ten women animators and ten women composers from all over Europe.
The animation sector in Montenegro is still in the initial stages of development. However, since the establishment of the Film Centre of Montenegro in 2017, the local industry has been booming, and the funding body has earmarked €20,000 for animated films in 2019. One title to watch is veteran director Nikica Raičević's Cypress, a co-production with Bosnia.
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