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GOCRITIC! Animafest Zagreb 2019

A GoCritic! Experience at Animafest Zagreb

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- Our six participants at Animafest Zagreb look back at all the aspects of the festival, providing useful insight to audiences, professionals and festival organizers alike

A GoCritic! Experience at Animafest Zagreb
Animafest 2019 Grand Opening (© Nina Đurđević, Samir Cerić Kovačević, Srećko Niketić)

Our participants at Animafest Zagreb have tried something new: as a group, they produced a text giving their thoughts on and experience of the festival. It’s a conversation between six animation professionals about the programme selection and curation, as well as the individual films, the awards, the Q&A’s, the festival organisation and its atmosphere that audiences, filmmakers, industry professionals and the wonderful Animafest team themselves will definitely find useful. 

Pablo Staricco Cadenazzi: Hi everyone! To deal with post-festival blues, we decided to hold this online conversation to share our experiences of Animafest, as well as our personal thoughts on the films we saw in Zagreb. For starters, I wanted to ask: how would you describe Animafest?

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Veronika Hanákóva: Animafest is basically a presentation of what has happened in the fragmented world of animation production over the past year. There’s an obvious focus on short film competitions in both the professional programmes and the student ones. This is definitely a gesture to encourage young animators to persevere with their artistic careers. Although I appreciate narrative-based audiovisual works, I would have loved to see more experimental and television animations, or even animation distributed solely via the internet which still seems to be an unexplored area for festival programmers.

Lisa van der Waal: I would describe Animafest as a festival that gives you the opportunity to explore the diverse and surprising world of animation. Its programme covers both national and international productions, short and feature-length films, countless different styles of animation as well as historic retrospectives. But it also points to the future with its VR section. Both children and adults will be astonished by the richness of this beautiful genre when visiting Animafest.

Grace Han: You know Lisa, it's really interesting that you describe it as a "programme" more than anything else. That's exactly what Animafest Zagreb is. It's not a film market, but rather a celebration of all the films themselves. Especially, it seems, for emerging and experimental animated film!

Down Escalation by Shunsaku Hayashi

Marie Ketzscher: Is it though, really? Don’t get me wrong, I found a lot of the films very compelling and innovative, but I actually would have liked to have seen more experimental films on top of the likes of No Objects and Down Escalation. I think this might be why I didn’t really share the enthusiasm for the Grand Prix winner Acid Rain: while the technique and style felt new and excitingly immersive, the narrative, for me, was actually a conventional coming-of-age story and a drug trip gone wrong, all wrapped into one.

Pablo Staricco Cadenazzi: I have to confess that initially I meant to focus on the feature film competition. But in the end, it was Animafest’s short films programme that blew me away. Like Marie, I wasn’t overawed by Acid Rain’s story, but I’m glad I got to discover other works like Under The Rib Cage, Slug Life and Flood (my top three!). I still wish the features competition had been a bit stronger or, at least, that it had included a few more world premieres along the lines of Away (which was probably the most ground-breaking film of that section).

Lisa van der Waal: I’m not a fan of Acid Rain either, but that probably has more to do with me not liking girls/women who are so naïve. (laughs)

Paolo Russo: I have to play devil's advocate as I adored Acid Rain. It was a grim, immersive and uncomfortable journey that I’d never seen explored so distinctively through the medium of animation. It's a winner for me in an already strong competition (Imbued Life, Under the Rib Cage and Flood are my personal favourites). I was amazed by the variety of styles, techniques, narrative approaches and perspectives encompassed by the programme. While I agree with Marie that the vast majority of the films were narrative-based, I believe the programmers did an excellent job balancing the accessible with the weird. In terms of features, Away holds a special place in my heart for its tenderness. But, if I were part of the jury, I would have given some recognition to the haunting imagery and the mind-blowing level of craft involved in Wolf House.

Acid Rain by Tomek Popakul

Grace Han: "Balancing the accessible with the weird" - what a great way to put it! Though quite a few films were narrative-based, I was struck by how everything was experimental in the way they chose to tell their stories. No one block showed two films with the same medium; for example, there were never two CGI animated shorts back-to-back in a single block, if any at all. There seemed to have been really careful consideration over what constitutes an animation, not just in terms of what the story was about, but also how the story was told. Maybe this is why Under the Rib Cage was so much fun to watch, as it encompasses so many different mediums at once!

Veronika Hanáková: Definitely, Under the Rib Cage was the best short film that I saw at Animafest. Well, to be honest, I didn't see every film in the Short Film Competition. I only saw a small sample. I appreciated the Q&As which followed each screening, where the audience had the opportunity to get more information. However, since every block of short films was presented twice during the festival, maybe it would have been better to split every group of filmmakers taking part in discussions into two separate groups so that viewers who attended the second screening were able to ask them questions about the first.

Marie Ketzscher: That’s a great idea! I’m all for doing the Q&A right after each movie, or at least split the Q&As into two parts. Holding all Q&As straight after the screening sometimes seems a bit unfair on the moderator and the filmmakers, as the audience is often already rushing out to see the next thing. In terms of curation and atmosphere, I think the festival did a really great job on the overall organisation of the different programmes, especially as they had to completely reschedule when the Zabreb cinema Kino Europa was suddenly closed a few weeks before the festival started. Though one venue was a bit further out, they maintained Animafest’s core elements: its broad-but-not-overwhelming range and its intimacy.

Lisa van der Waal: I totally agree with Marie. With big film festivals, I always have this fear that I’m going to miss out, and they’re less personal. At Animafest, I came across the same people all the time and it created a kind of family atmosphere. Moreover, although the programme covers a wide range of styles and eras of animation across many different competitions and selections, it’s entirely possible to see (almost) everything you’re interested in.

Paolo Russo: I couldn’t agree more, Lisa. The size of the festival was just perfect, and everyone seemed so relaxed and friendly. I managed to see the entire shorts competition, several features and the Suzan Pitt retrospective without feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. The programme allows enough time to write, to visit Zagreb, to socialise with so many talented people and to take part in memorable karaoke sessions. I really can’t wait to come back here again in the future.

Pablo Staricco Cadenazzi: I feel that what Marie points out, about the festival having to suddenly change the main venue just a few weeks before it began, says a lot about two things in particular. First of all, their organisation skills. Props to them. But most importantly, I sense there’s a parallel between the challenges of making an animated film from scratch and the difficult task of putting together a diverse and enthralling film festival. When done right, both things can be really satisfying, as was the case with Animafest.

Grace Han: And you're right; in the end, Animafest was really fun! Though we had some issues with experimental narrative, the intimacy of the festival - in terms of the venues, the Q&As, and its overall size - really tied everyone together. I know I’m excited to come back again next year, as I’m sure everyone else is.  

Animafest 2019 GoCritic! participants
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