The Biennial of Animation Bratislava In Crisis: Talk with the Festival Programming Team

Biennial of Animation Bratislava team still and graphic

The festival programmers’ press release came as a shock. "On Monday, 25 March 2024, Zuzana Liptáková, the director of the Biennial of Animation Bratislava (BAB), was dismissed with an immediate effect. The Minister of Culture of the Slovak Republic, Martina Šimkovičová, dismissed her without giving a reason, despite her being the first-ever director of BAB and BIBIANA, the International House of Art for Children, who was elected through a public selection procedure” (check the full festival release).

Biennial of Animation Bratislava, the oldest animation festival in Slovakia (operating since 1985), was preparing its 17th edition this October. The festival focuses on children and youth respectively, with many engaging initiatives. The dismissal of its newly appointed festival director Zuzana Liptáková came after her hiring in August 2022 (after a public, expert selection procedure), and she enjoyed only a single edition as a festival director in 2022.

This announcement was met with protests, articles in the Slovak and Czech press), and also solidarity by other Slovakian festivals, like the Fest Anča social media post.

Zippy Frames talked to two team festival members who signed the press release and subsequently resigned from the 2024 organization preparations.

Lucia Dubravay Trautenberger
, Head of International Projects in BIBIANA, International House of Art for Children, and BAB Executive Director, and Andrej Kolenčík, BAB Program Director, shared their thoughts (the other two BAB members: Lívia Filusová, BAB Festival Production, and Jana Vicenová, BAB Production Manager).

Many issues were on the table: a) why this took place b) why now, and c) how the new BAB head, the economist and former IBM employee Petra Flach can cope with this position.
The first question seems to have no answer. “Mrs. Liptáková, the former BAB/ BIBIANA director, met with the Minister of Culture on the 25th of March”, Lucia Dubravay Trautenberger explains. “The whole meeting lasted around two minutes. She entered and they told her she was dismissed; she then asked for a reason, and they said that would not tell her -and that was it”.

Another meeting with the festival team and other BIBIANA employees, the new director of BIBIANA and festival head, and two male Ministry of Culture officials followed the next day. “They arrived to introduce the new director”, Andrej Kolenčík narrates. “They also said that they have new plans for the Biennial of Animation, and want to make some changes but nothing really precise. For us, it was a signal they don’t know what exactly the Biennial of Animation Bratislava is because they were talking of things like computer graphics, etc. But they were not satisfied with the former director’s current work”.

“They told us, it's a legal process, they can do it”, Lucia continues. “They don’t have to inform the public or us about the reason for her dismissal”. The team’s going on social media the day before the meeting with a protest was also met with dismissal from the Ministry of Culture officials. 
It was the timing when the 2024 Biennial of Bratislava edition was preparing its engines for its October edition. “We had prepared the whole conception”, Andrej Kolenčík states. “We had already over 1700 films submitted in our competition. And we were starting to go through these films. And, of course, we also planned the whole non-competitive program (partners, cinema venues, dates, etc.). A lot was going on”. 

Assuming that the Ministry of Culture had its renewed conceptions regarding the 2024 Biennial of Animation Bratislava festival (a 100% Ministry of Culture funded organization), wouldn’t a transitional period be more appropriate?
“The new director could offer Mrs. Liptáková a place in the BIBIANA organization, but it did not become clear how the former and the new director could cooperate in this scheme”, Lucia Dubravay Trautenberger explains. “At the same time, they seemed they wanted to focus on the Biennial of Illustrations instead [the event that takes place interchangeably every two years with the Biennial of Animation Bratislava].

An article published (27/3/2024, in Slovak) sheds some light on the Minister of Culture’s response, herself a Slovak National Party member. Talking about the former director and the existing BAB program, Martina Šimkovičová states: it is striking that inclusion, gender, and homosexuality were the topics when taking over the position in an institution whose task is to focus primarily on children and youth

Biennial of Animation Bratislava intro trailer 2020

Perhaps some-to-be-implemented BAB activities could have made the Ministry of Culture even more concerned. “We prepared the 2024 edition with Ukraine as a country in focus. We had already collaborated with Festival Linoleum” Lucia Dubravay Trautenberger states for the first time in public. At the same time, we were expecting changes to come soon”.

The reason was that from 22 January, the Slovak Ministry of Culture announced it would formally allow any bi-partisan collaboration with both Russian and Belarusian official agencies in the realm of culture.   “I was the Head of the International Projects”, Lucia Dubravay Trautenberger explains, “and I knew that I wasn't going to accept working with that country and was prepared to resign as Head of International Projects.”. The Ukrainian focus kept so far under the rugs, would make it a very flammable combination. 

Animation always asks the question of ‘what if'. What would have Biennial of Animation Bratislava have been, had these recent developments not taken place? And why does this matter anyhow?

“This year, the Biennial of Bratislava cooperated with the association of Slovak Producers of Animated Films [APAF]. We also planned to collaborate with the Young Horizons event, since we wanted to focus the program of the Industry Forum on children and youth”, Lucia Dubravay Trautenberger explains. BAB would have also introduced a new animation feature competition and divided the short film competition into two categories (up to 12 years and films up to 18 years), aimed to make the competition fairer.

“We had a good team, and we were excited to make it better”, Andrej Kolenčík adds, a person with sound animation festival experience, entering BAB in September 2023. “Suddenly, the festival started to grow and was visible, had a better impact (also on social media); it was a generational change”. 


Granny's Sexual Life by Urška Djukić, Émilie Pigeard won the 2022 Biennial of Animation Bratislava Viktor Kubal Prize for Best Animated Short Film 

Plus, the BAB team established a new and fresh collaboration practice with the BAB’s independent festival board of professionals (including members of Slovak television, the Academy of Performing Arts, Slovak Film Institute, and APAF). An external call for the festival’s visual identity was launched, leaving space for a more liberal approach to a state-instituted festival, still aiming at its target audience (‘schools knew about the festival”).

Both Lucia Dubravay Trautenberger and Andrej Kolencik express their concern about the current cultural policies of the Ministry of Culture, including the new proposed law on the public broadcaster.  Still, they want the new Biennial of Animation Bratislava team to succeed in its operation, and they give a ‘carte blanche’ to their existing partners to decide for themselves what to do.

For them, it is clear, though: “We were working freely and had freedom. And I think it would not be possible for us to continue without the freedom”. Andrej Kolencik. “You can be silent and then you’re OK, maybe even work there somehow. But they told us it was up to us and our 'normal' behavior and how we would cooperate with them. And for me, it was a problem”, Lucia Dubravay Trautenberger.

Biennial of Animation Bratislava 2022

Zippy Frames has reached out to the Slovakian Ministry of Culture representative for any comment regarding the story and will update accordingly.

(All BAB/BIBIANA team photos (c) Jakub Hauskrecht - Festival Photos via the Fb BAB Bienále animácie Bratislava account)

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