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Vassilis Kroustallis reports from Trebon and CEE Animation Forum. Second Part: short film projects.

13 short animation projects were pitched this year at the newly restructured Central and Eastern European (CEE) Animation Forum - open to all European projects.

Co-production in animation shorts is a new phenomenon, which both compensates for diminishing national state funding and a more accessible European practice of collaboration between European professionals. What emerged at this year's CEE Animation Forum is that short films professionals continue to be diverse, they are (thankfully) not following blindly the trends of technology, and they are still inspired by their own age -be it politics, history, sexual identity or problems of inclusion in a globalized world.

Here variety does not just translate to "anything goes"; while child topics are usually reserved for series/TV projects, here they can turn into a freer investigation of childhood and coming-of-age. And to have a sand animation project (Kafka in Love) winning the big prize for short films means that artistic excellence is not always a direct proportion of technological innovation hype. Here' s our report on the 13 short animation projects pitched:

Tutors for short film pitching preparation: Zsuzsanna Kreif, Philip LaZebnik, Phil Parker
Jury for short film pitching: Olivier Catherin, Laurent Crouzeix, Jamie Kezarian Bolio, Damien Megherbi, Jakob Schuh, Jelena Popović, Enrico Vannucci

Amok (Balázs Turai dir, Péter B. Lukács, pr. Boddah, Hungary) needs to be commented for its take on the "psycho-killer" genre plus its David OReilly influences. Inside a cartoony world, Clyde tries to stop himself from killing, and is a definitely a project that has a Mittel-Europe narrative distinct from all others (think of the recent Ruben Brandt, Collector). The question for the project (budget: 120, 000 EUR)  is how satisfyingly you can tell this necessarily convoluted story in just 15 minutes, but first signs are encouraging indeed. This project needs to go on.

Butterfly on the hook (10', Valeria Cozzarini dir., Remigio Guadagnini pr. Altreforme, Italy / Arsmedia, Slovenia): A political confrontational form in rotoscope (to remind of a harsh reality), talks of a 1923 Fascist educational reform in Slovenia, where children were denied to speak their mother tongue (based on a novel by Boris Pahor). The project (budget: 110,000 EUR) has a sober but sincere look, and the language interplay is an add-on to the visuals. If the story its director wants to tell can fit into the 10-minute narrative framework, without any losses or mis-directions, it would be a highly relevant short animation film.


Butterfly On the Hook

Family portrait (Lea Vidaković dir. Marko Dješka pr, Draško Ivezić, Ivan Bereš / Adriatic Animation, Croatia / Origin Tales, Serbia) look like a stop-motion mystery delight. Another tale of WWI, the story depicts a quiet Sunday afternoon in an aristocratic family home just before the war. Andras and his daughter Zsófia are caught by surprise when Andras’ brother Zoltan pays a sudden visit with his numerous twelve-member family. Those micro-narratives which work like Russian babushka are engaging (to say nothing of the cold austerity of the puppets). Vidaković is versed in landscape depicting (her 2011 The Familiar Landscape is an exercise here); this is a project to be worked in installation projection as well, but  this authoritarian villa needs to reveal more of its secrets.

The Goose (10', Jan Míka dr., pr., Filmofon, CZ / Autour de Minuit, FR). This is one of the simplest, straight-ahead narrative and the relatively low-budgeted projects (only 50,000 EUR) presented at Trebon. A boy fantasizes about becoming a famous footballer playing in big stadiums – but first he has to win a match in a small backyard against a goose. 2D animated backgrounds but also 2D cut-out puppets transformed into 3D computer animation make it interesting to see what the final aesthetic result would look like -the narrative line seems funny enough.

Grandpa is Sleeping (12', Matei Branea dir.,  Helga Fodorean pr. Safe Frame, Romania). A six-year-old girl takes her sleeping Grandfather on a magic journey to the ice rink to have one last ice dance before she is able to let go and accept his death. The  2D Romanian family animation project (budget: 180,00 EUR)  will inevitably face a festival comparison with the stop-motion (just premiered) The Kite by Martin Smatana, also presented at 2017 Trebon (then VAF). Still, Grandpa Is Sleeping  has a warm postcard atmosphere, while its director seems to have the right blend of artistic anarchism in his work to make this piece original and emotional as well.

Kafka in Love (12', Zane Oborenko dir., Sabine Andersone pr. Atom Art, Latvia). Sand animation, inimitable visuals, and one of the most promising projects is this year's short film winner at CEE Animation Forum. Franz Kafka’s Letters to Milena is here transformed into an animation documentary with director's own reconstruction. Zane Oborenko tells that the project evolved from being more abstract about love to an emotional empathetic journey thanks to her participation to Animation Workshop (a year-long CEE Training course for animation professionals). This development cannot be commented enough, for many times indeed visual symbolism in animation tend to eat alive whatever storytelling element was there in the first place. But this is not a case in Kafka in Love, which has narrtive material even for a feature film -if Atom Art producers decide to proceed in that direction.

Kafka In Love

Mouse House (7', Timon Leder dir., Polona Kumelj pr. Invida  Slovenia / Zavod Dagiba, Slovenia - Jaka Produkcija, Croatia, co-producers). Cheese is greed and your reward is to share things in Mouse House, a short targeted at children and could easily transform into a TV special under the relevant circumstances. Two mice, Mance and Skinny are hunted by a cat, but Mance can find finds refuge in the cheese while Skinny stays outside. Budgeted at 75,000 EUR, it invests in aesthetics (shiny interior of the cheese and dynamic vs. slow rhythm in the attic outside). Timon Leder has an assured vision in his 2D projects (Weasel, for instance), let's watch what happens here as well.

Money and Happiness (10', Ana Nedeljkovic Nikola Majdak Jr. dir., Jelena Mitrovic pr., Bas Celik, Serbia). It's been a short while since the two multiply awarded stop-motion shorts (Rabbitland - Untravel) by the Serbian duo of Ana Nedeljkovic and Nikola Majdak Jr have graced the festival scene. As the third part of this trilogy on democracy, immigration and economy, Money and Happiness asks (in yellow colour, in a carefully regulated color palette) how happy you can be living in Hamsterland, where GDP grows steadily and 100% of the population declare themselves to be happy -force used to make things perfect. The big gamble here for this project (80,000 EUR budget) is how it will be both different from and continuous with Rabbitland. We will be 100% happy if things turn out well for this always relevant project.

Paolo's Happiness (10', Thorsten Droessler dir., Grit Wisskirchen pr. FilmVermoegen GmbH GE / Maur Film CZ). Whenever Paolo cries, red flowers bloom. This high-concept byline is the strongest weapon of the stop-motion, no-dialogue film ('fast-paced and hectic world leaves little to no room for quiet moments', its director states). The biggest challenge of this project (estimated budget: 185,000 EUR) is not to make Paolo a loser, but still have an empathy with him as a puppet. His sad eyes are a fine first step, let's wait for the flowers.

Playing God (10', Matteo Burani dir./pr., Giancarlo Grande pr., Cineparallax, Italy/ France). A metaphor of the relationship between a work of art and its creator, it uses the familiar Pygmalion myth of bringing a sculpture to life -in stop-motion and pixilation. Now already advanced in its 4th script draft, the 80,000 EUR-budgeted project from Bologna gets strong points in lighting and sets -while its main challenge now lies in how to create a unique narrative, an atmosphere and a story of personal failure.

Raft (15', Marko Meštrović dir. Mia Bučević pr., Kreativni sindikat, Croatia). The AnimatekaPRO WILD CARD selected project proved to be an almost silent pitch (with intertitles), but not without its music. The author of No Sleep Won't Kill You (2010) and Why Elephants? (2012) Marko Meštrović concocts a story of a band named Raft. After a global megaflood, the band ends up being saved (and at the same time captured), but in the middle of an irrational reality. The 2D film (budget: 80,000 EUR) is intended for festival audiences but its subject-matter, and the passion of its director (himself a musician) could make this effort more accessible than initially intended -if he wants to.

Viskovitz (8', Serghei Chiviriga dir., Ioana Lascar pr., deFilm, Romania). Romanian actor and director Serghei Chiviriga has an affinity to complicated characters and lives, also testified by his first animation short Best Customer (2017). In the 2D Viskovitz (budget: 170,000 EUR) he investigates the sexual awakening and inhibitions of teenage Visko the snail -also complicated by the fact that snails are hermaphrodites. This is a project that also benefited from the CEE Animation Workshop year-long programme. With a comic touch, let's see whether animation can actually be playful and inventive as its main premise is.

Viskovitz

Where To (5', Asparuh Petrov dir., Vessela Dantcheva pr., Compote Collective Ltd, Bulgaria). The project with the most dynamic and exciting movement lines, the 2D project (45,000 EUR budget) has a man being afraid to become a father. Fears, pain -and hopefully laughter as well- will accompany the project of the able director of A Petty Morning Crime, Asparuh Petrov.

The 7th edition of CEE Animation Forum took place 6-8 May 2019 in Trebon, Czech Republic.

 

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