Olga Bobrowska reports from the Poznan animation festival.
9th Animator International Film Festival ended on July 14th after an intense week of screenings, audiovisual performances, professional meetings and academic reflection. Animator, curated by Marcin Giżycki, an acclaimed film scholar and filmmaker, maintains an exceptional position in the landscape of Polish animated film festivals.
Competition programme includes the highlights of the season, yet the event remains open for novelties realized by young or not widely known authors; it brings together international producers and distributors but at the same time pays special attention to the activities conducted by film scholars and filmmakers involved in an academic work.
Certainly, anyone willing to indulge in illusionary frame by frame realities should attend this manifold and intellectually vital festival. One may risk a statement that Animator film programme may cause a real vertigo, and even though the competition sets are repeated, it is quite impossible to embrace its whole variety.
Similarly, the following review shall only briefly outline several inspiring titles and events of the 9th edition. The international jury grants Pegasi made of different metals and other special awards to the authors of short films.
Michaela Pavlatova, Špela Čadež and Mateusz Solorz from Etiuda & Anima IFF named Igor Kovalyov's Before Love a winner of the Golden Pegasus.
Before Love, Igor Kovalyov
The disturbing and pulsating design contributes to dream-like atmosphere that perfectly matches the twisted story of love triangle, devastating desire and bloody murder.
It seems like Kovalyov has captured the very elusive momentum that occurs exactly before one falls in love, when the individual is torn apart by neurosis and fears originating from malfunctioned and alienating reality, as well as by primal drives that force a human being to overtake the intimacy of one another, to stalk, to possess and even to kill.
Igor Kovalyov receives the Golden Pegasus for Before Love (c) Animator
Silver and Bronze Pegasus went subsequently to Theodore Ushev for Blind Vaysha and Phil Mulloy for Endgame, films that share the anxiety about the condition of contemporaneity but radically differ when it comes to the aesthetics.
The first one reflects on absolute detachment from present tense in our perception of the world and refers to traditional linocut, while the latter uses rough drawing and primitive video game stylistics to brutally mock the auto-destructive patterns of humans' acts.
Endgame, Phil Mulloy
Impossible Figures II by Marta Pajek (best Polish short film, Spectator cinema distributor award) definitely stood out in the Animator programme. Figures, shapes and lines drawn by Pajek expand into mysterious labyrinths or reduce into simple architect's sketch devoid of depth and complexity. Elements of the design constantly multiply and mutate but the forms they absorb are quite distant from our cognitive experience.
Created reality is filled with fear and confusion, even the smallest act of holding an egg requires a special attention and strength from the main female character. Bodily tiredness has repercussions on all her relations and reactions; however, even if she is exhausted, she is still stronger than the sleepy and smiling man or group of people who hopelessly seek for passion. The female artists significantly shape the trends and directions of contemporary Polish animation.
Izabela Plucińska left Poznań with the audience award for Sexy Laundry, the most subtle puppet animation about sadomasochistic sexual practices performed by a middle-aged couple in an old-fashioned hotel room.
Animator has clearly exposed the emergence of a new generation of female artists, mostly connected to the Film School in Łódź, who unconventionally expand the spectrum of materials used in the films, and courageously create multilayered narratives that require openness for abstract associations, psychological sensitivity and fluency in decoding the genre cinema language.
From this perspective one should take a closer look at Izumi Yoshida's Kinki (The Wojciech Juszczuk Special Award for artistic merits), Anita Kwiatkowska-Naqvi's Locus, Natalia Brożyńska's The Advisers of King Hydrops or Karolina Specht's Don't Lose Your Head.
An equally important part of the programme was a feature films competition valuated by another jury committee.
Margaret Parsons (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.), Paweł Sitkiewicz (University of Gdańsk) and Stanislav Sokolov awarded Nuts! by Penny Lane as a best feature animation [film review].
The film comprising animated sequences, found footage and talking heads interviews evokes one of the most absurd story of the 1930s USA when Dr John Brinkley convincingly claimed that he is able to cure male impotence by the transplantation of goats testicles.
Nuts, Penny Lane
In regard to Penny Lane's work, it is interesting to raise a question whether animated documentary is a fully justified term or should we rather speak about supportive function of animation filmmaking in documentary genre.
Full list of Animator's winners shall be found on the Festival's website
As usually the festival audience was mostly interested in competition programme. Nevertheless some of the most the most fascinating film adventures were to be found in the retrospectives. Reviews of Paul Bush's and Barry Purves's works were a prominent part of the programme, but no one expected that the retrospective of Zenon Wasilewski's films would become a real thrill of the festival.
Wasilewski, a pioneer of Polish post-war animation, is mostly associated with children production. Yet the selection chosen by the film critic Jerzy Armata revealed surreal, rebellious, sharp and sincerely intelligent puppet films made between 1947 and 1966. Such qualities unfold in A Crime in the Street of Ventriloquist Cat (1961), an absurd criminal story based on an inevitable clash between flat animation represented by cut-out silhouette of a poor poet and 3-dimensional world of puppets that stand for small-time bourgeois imaginary.
At the times of Krakus King, Zenon Wasilewski
The parodistic feature of Wasilewski's work caused the author a lot of hardships in his relations with decision-makers of Polish communist cinematography. The artist's hilarious oeuvre interestingly complements the panorama of subversive animation (the so-called "artistic contraband") from behind the Iron Curtain.
Multi-faceted examination of puppet film became the major aim for the participants of the From Starewicz to Star Wars academic conference organized by Animator and Adam Mickiewicz University.
As a discipline Animation Studies remains rather autonomous from Film Studies, especially because of the method of complementary dialogue between film scholars and filmmakers.
The best example of this may be found in lectures delivered by Paul Bush and Mikhail Gurevich (independent scholar from Chicago). The British filmmaker who is at the same time a teacher at the Lucerne School of Art and Design positioned puppet film art in a large and ever expending matrix of performing practices that use specific poetics in order to infuse the objects with imaginary power and subjectivity.
Animator 2016 screening (c) K Pictures
In a talk on political inclinations (or rather their lack) in a Soviet puppet theatre and film of 1970s and 1980s, Mikhail Gurevich pursued subversive motifs in regard to puppet and set design, arguing that rejection of conventional forms of (re)presentation under certain circumstances may be interpreted as a political statement. Full conference programme shall be found on the Festival's website
Animator is held in Poznań, a city of an impressive architecture, beautiful parks and dynamic artistic scene. If one suffers from animation 'overdose', it is always possible to leave the cinema for a while, blend into urban tissue, feel the ambient of Poznań and think about the experiences that have just occurred in a screening room.
Animator festival club (c) K Pictures
Perhaps the persistence of reflection is the most striking feature of Animator, a festival that allows the animation crowd to fulfil the overwhelming need to switch the perspectives.
Olga Bobrowska is an animation professional and scholar specializing in Classic Chinese Animated Films, and festival director of StopTrik festival, Maribor.