Puppet animation is considered the domain of the older generation of the Academy of Performing Arts graduates. The youngest students and alumni, who exclusively film with the use of digital technology, usually focus on 2D films often animated by means of computers. In this sense, Martin Smatana and his puppet film pick up the threads of the older generation’s work, pushing it a bit further. And just like in the senior’s films, one can really sense all the fiddly work in Martin’s Rosso Papavero; the work was a prerequisite for creating the intricately elaborate objects. The film not only breathes a ‘handmade’ style. The attention of the viewer is diverted from the material by the magical style of the film and the refined, ambiguous story.
Martin Smatana at work
The film Rosso Papavero was finished last year, and has already won the Literary Fund´s prize at last October’s Biennial of Animation Bratislava. At the beginning of this year it will be competing for an international award. In a way, Rosso Papavero is a winner already, as it is the first film from the Academy of Performing Arts that has been selected for the Berlinale festival (5 – 15 February 2015). This student film will compete at the Berlinale Generation Kplus competition section with other short films, regardless of type or their authors’ experience. The section fits the film like a glove. The festival’s website says: “The section is home to cinematic works that are thematically and aesthetically linked to the experiences of children and young people. The program encloses outstanding children’s and youth films, as well as films for all target audiences that are also suitable for young people.” That is exactly what Rosso Papavero is like: it enchants both children and adults. Let’s see what the film’s director and animator Martin Smatana has to say about it.
How did the film emerge? Is it just a semestral assignment on the topic of walking, or is it a film concluding your undergraduate studies at the Academy?
Rosso Papavero was originally designed as a semestral exercise on the various types of walking, which we were assigned in the first year at the Academy. Bebe Remencová was the first to have the idea of incorporating the various types of walking in the setting of a circus, where a parade of circus performers comes successively to the stage. With Ivana Sujová, screenwriter, we later developed the idea and portrayed the whole circus caravan as a dream-like fantasy of a boy who lets himself be carried away by his own imagination, which he cannot and does not want to escape.
I chose the puppet animation technique, since I considered it the best tool for creating the magical and dream-like atmosphere. For the purposes of the film, my grandfather crafted wooden miniatures of circus caravans, which pass through a night-time scenery and disappear in a brightly-lit circus tent. As for designing the puppets and sewing the costumes, I cooperated with students of the Academy of Fine Arts and Design. Last summer, when I handed in the assignment and finished the first year at the Academy, I reanimated some of the shots and shot the rest of the film. Afterwards, my classmate Dávid Štumpf started image post-processing which took almost two years, including some breaks. Meanwhile, Adam Kuchta was preparing and recording the sound effects for the film, and Michal Šabík worked on the grading, which is the process of enhancing the colour and light in a motion picture. We finished Rosso Papavero at the end of the third year, but I did not submit it as my Bachelor film.
The film explores the thin line between reality and fantasy. Why do you find this theme attractive?
The theme as such resulted from the original idea. I chose it because I find the rich and incredible imagination of children fascinating. They create their own, idealized world, which is better, more colourful and exciting than reality itself. Children do not categorically differentiate between the world of their fantasies and reality, in their view, the dream-like and the real intertwine. But is there a boundary of imagination that a child should not cross? This is the idea that I wanted to explore in the film. Rosso Papavero is a gentle story of a boy whose reality is transformed by his imagination. It is not a typical narration with a clear-cut message. Rather it puts emphasis on gentleness, innocence, and the magic of a turning point. Viewers can associate situations from the film with their own lives, recall moments when they experienced child-like expectation, curiosity, blind trust, and the ability to let their fantasies run wild.
The film is also interesting because it is a long take. Why did you decide for a oner?
The main reason was of a technical character. I was shooting the film in a school studio not large enough to rebuild and move about the puppet scenes and stage sets. Therefore, we only made one-, two- and a half-metre long puppet scenery with spotlights around. The camera was placed on the other side of the room so that the whole puppet scenery and background would fit into one shot as a whole. The camera was fastened firmly in one place, and did not move an inch for the next four months. Not even when David was walking down the corridor (laughs).
I also wanted to film the puppet animation without cuts because all the emotions, moods and thinking processes of the circus performers had to be expressed by gestures, moves and the movement of their whole bodies rather than by facial expressions, since the film was shot wide as a whole. However, for dramaturgical reasons we eventually decided to alter the concept of a oner and added an additional scene at the end of the film, showing the main character in close-up.
Under what circumstances was Rosso Papavero chosen for Berlinale? Did the Academy send it, or did you?
I originally wanted to submit the film to Berlinale myself, but the registration fee was simply too high. A couple of days later, a message from the Academy arrived stating that each year the school selects ten films and sends them to the festival at a reduced fee. There was still one place vacant, and the school suggested that I send my film. And so I did, under the school’s letterhead.
Generation Section at Berlinale 2015:
Text: Eva Šošková
21. 1. 2015
Translation: Zuzana Hábeková