What are Slovak animators currently working on? A broad answer to this question was delivered by Fest Anča in co-operation with the Association of Animated Film Producers (APAF), the Slovak Film Institute and Filmpark. For the second time, the Fest Anča International Animation Festival also included an industry programme section called Fest Anča New Talents, which focused on practical aspects of animated film creation mainly through discussions and presentations.
One part of this programme section was a pitching forum that comprised presentations of Slovak animators’ new projects. Participants could refine their art of presentation the day before the forum at a workshop held by Juraj Krasnohorský (director and creative producer) and Jana Černík (head of the German Short Film Association). Presentations were evaluated and the winner selected by a Czechoslovak jury. Zuzana Gindl-Tatárová, Michela Pavlátová, Martin Vandas, Jan Maxa and Tibor Búzadecided that the best one was the project by Dávid Štumpf and Michaela Mihályiová – The End (Koniec). The winners got a direct invitation to the 2016 Visegrad Animation Forum , where they can compete for partnerships with broadcasters, distributors and producers, in other words, for the financial funds necessary for the film making process.
While ten projects were submitted to the Fest Anča New Talents competition, in the end two were not presented. The pitching forum reflected the current state of Slovak animation production, since it opened with a presentation about an animated series for children. During the last two years we have witnessed, if not an explosion, then certainly a boom of animated series development. After a long time, Slovak animation for children has risen from the ashes mainly thanks to a contract between Radio and Television Slovakia (RTVS) and the state, as well as the Audiovisual Fund (AVF) grant system.
Dorota and Matej Holub were the first to address the microphone and present their in-development animated series Dumpling Slovakia (Haluškové Slovensko), a 2D computer animation for children from 6 up to 12 years. The pilot episode has been completed and screened to its first child viewers. The twelve-episode series will present the Slovak environment, culture and customs in an entertaining way, through Slovak fairy tales and legends. The only character which appears in every episode is the narrator – Mr. Dumpling. The educational-entertaining format makes the most of authentic visual displays from various cultural regions in Slovakia (mainly the typical pottery from Modra) presented in a digital guise. 2D animation together with horizontal movement resembles the project Lokal TV. Since Matej Holub is the animator and director of the InOut studio, which produces Lokal TV, he is more than familiar with this kind of animation. The stylization of the mise en scène attracts the eye with its white and blue tonality.
Jana Znášiková with her animated series Vim and Tom (Vim a Tom), realised in co-operation with Animoline, represented the older generation of animators with different aesthetics. Vim the bat and Tom the bird portray two worlds – day and night – who through their life philosophy and funny situations encourage young viewers (3-7 years) to be more tolerant to differences between us. While the adult characters are negative examples of social prejudice, the young protagonists build bridges of friendship. Jana Znášiková, graduate from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, began to develop the series during her studies at the Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts in Prague in cooperation with professor Jiří Kubíček. The series has eight to ten re-occurring characters, plus in every episode there are some other episodic characters. Classic drawn animation of graphically stylized characters is accompanied by detailed ink and watercolour backgrounds. In 2012 the pilot episode Choir (Spevokol) was created and screened to focus groups of children.
After the series’ presentations, five short and one feature film made their appearance.
The Embroidered Cartoon (Vyšívaný animák) project by Nina Turčanová and scriptwriter Barbora Kalinová draws on folk traditions. Nina who came up with the theme and directed the film is a member of the girl group Kundy Crew, which critically tears down social taboos and deconstructs traditional folklore by embroidering controversial slogans. However, this time they are not preparing any kind of socially engaged satire for adults. The authors are working together on a short anthology film for children. The stories are narrated by a jay that accompanies viewers through four educational fables inspired by well-known folk proverbs. The folklore is present in folk tales, as well as in the visual representation of the film which is typical of the Kundy Crew. The animated cross embroidery on the screen is a model for the visual, however, the film digitalises traditional drawing. Objects placed into the grid are allusions to the old raster animation typical of the first computer games or contemporary pixel art. In such a way traditional embroidery changes its appearance to reflect current trends.
The End (Koniec), a short film for adults, was presented at the pitching forum by the authors David Štumpf and Michaela Mihalyiová. Although their presentation was a little confusing, the jury was struck by the project itself and awarded it first prize. For both authors it is the out-of-school debut under the heading of the Bfilm production company. The tragicomic parody of a romantic melodrama with elements of biblical parable is a non-linear narration in four chapters. The 2D animation drawn on the computer resembles a book illustration in which images are realised as stand-alone frame compositions. Each frame should then function as a source for static graphic multiplication.
After the White Forest (Biely les), Marta Prokopová continues her dark female animation with her student film Mila Fog. It was presented by her co-worker, student of production at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, Erika Paulinská. Whereas The End was mainly about unconventional non-linear narration, Mila Fog’s story and humour lie at the opposite pole of the aesthetic spectrum. The dark poetry of image and word are highlighted in the film, as well as the existential themes of self-search. The story is based on abstraction. The main character Mila Fog is a fox who tries to escape stereotype and everyday repetition by means of thoughts. She tries to find an awakening and internal freedom by focusing on the details of the forest. Marta Prokopová uses an intuitive combination of classic hand-drawn animation, stop motion and digital cut-out animation in black and white graphics in order to display Mila’s search.
The experimental travelogue of visual artist Lucia Černeková and composer Peter Luha On the road is situated even further from classic story narration. Its fifth episode, The Time Bridge was presented at the pitching forum. After several self-productions, they now seek a suitable co-producer. Films in the travelogue focus on a subjective display of places where the authors lived for a certain time. Previous episodes were about different countries (Spain, Germany, Belgium and Finland), and this time they depict the Slovak-Hungarian border region of Štúrovo and Ostrihom. The associative surreal stream of images shows the private relationship of the authors as well as current Slovak-Hungarian relations in a historical context. It is also a combination of animation techniques, mainly hand-drawn animation, stop motion and digital cut-out. However, the final image is computer-processed.
Martin Smatana, who also participated last year, presented his first out-of-school project Kite (Šarkan) at the pitching forum. It is a traditionally narrated story for children (6-10 years), inspired by the author’s childhood memories from his grandparents’ countryside house. A six-year-old boy with a desire for adult independence and strength is, because of his urge to become a grown up, getting into trouble with his kite. Eventually, the problems are solved with the help of his grandfather. This project, as well as Martin’s previous film Rosso Papavero, is going to use puppet animation, although so far only 2D character designs have been made.
Another part of the presentations was a feature film from Peter Budínsky’s Plutoon, Heart of a Tower (Srdce veže). Peter presented the film together with its producer Barbora Roháčová, and even his dog Pluto had the courage to stand in front of the audience, however, he let his two-legged colleagues do the talking. The main target group is children from 7 to 12 years, while the project also aspires to be viewed as a family film, a European alternative to the American mainstream. Two worlds – one grey “real” and one colourful world of imagination are depicted by means of photo collage and cut-out animation processed with 3D software. The photographic material from the 1920s and ‘30s brings a specific nostalgic atmosphere to the digital film.
Two of the projects submitted for the pitching forum did not make their presentation in the end. However, since this is not only an article about a pitching forum, but also about news in Slovak animated film, we would like to introduce them.
A short animated documentary still in development Once There Was a Sea… (Bolo raz more…) from Joanna Kużuch continues the visual approach set by her previous film Fongopolis. A travelogue diary about the drying up Aral Sea (once the 4th biggest lake in the world) situated on the border of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan will be realised as a collage of real shot backgrounds combined with drawn characters and painted sea. The Aral Sea began to dry up after the Soviets decided to build cotton plantations in its area. This was of course accompanied by the construction of an irrigation system that caused an ecological disaster. The testimonies of those radically economically influenced by the drying-out of the lake will be the film’s audio track.
The animated series The Life of Insects (Zo života hmyzu) from Filmpark production is aimed at children from 4 to 8 years. In comparison to the previously mentioned series, this one communicates only through images without spoken word.
The pitching forum offered a variety of projects and reflected the current state of Slovak animated film – the growth of commercially-oriented production for children, auteur films for adult festival viewers, experiments and a feature film attempt. The presence of folklore in a modern context was also very interesting; however, this trend is a re-occurring symptom of our time, since everything that is retro or recycled is popular. Nevertheless, the important part is the original aspect of a new context. And one thing is sure – there was no lack of originality at the pitching forum.
Text: Eva Šošková
Translation: Jozef Ferencz