Feature Animation

Fernando Cortizo Prepares Holocaust-themed 'Shkid' Animation Feature (EXCLUSIVE)

Shkid animation feature by Fernando Cortizo

15000 Jewish children were sent to the infamous 'model' (a lot of quotes here) Nazi concentration camp of Terezín (Theresienstadt)  in the Czech Republic; only 100 children survived. Terezín has been justly famous for its being a charade and a showcase for showing off the Nazi's 'polished' face to the world. The Brundibár children's opera by Jewish Czech composer Hans Krása (with a libretto by Adolf Hoffmeister) was first performed at the camp by its children inmates.  

Holocaust is a subject topic whose atrocities seem impossible to depict in animation; yet Fernando Cortizo, the author of the stop-motion feature 'The Apostle' (2012, watch it here) and Artefacto Producciones have devoted a long time and effort to research and bring (in a 2D animated form) a certain aspect of the inhumane events into the big animated screen.

“Republic of Shkid' is the name of the group of children living in barracks number 417 in the Ghetto of Terezín. Cortizo came to the topic almost by chance. 'About 4 years ago', he tells Zippy Frames, 'my son was going to perform the opera Brundibar with the choir to which he belonged and the presentation would be attended by Dagma Bieblová, one of the girls who performed said opera in the Terezín concentration camp during the Second World War. Dagma was one of the few surviving children from that camp. 

An interview with  Dagma Bieblová soon followed, and one thing led to another, including a period of extended research, and consultations with experts, such as the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Michael Berenbaum, Holocaust history expert Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, and Paul Salmons, Program Director of the UCL Centre for Holocaust education. Yet, apart from the secondary research, Cortizo did on-location research as well.

"Despite the fact that there is a lot of material about the Shoah, the Theresienstadt story is little-known, and I had to dive into documents, newspapers, and experts and locate the few survivors who were still alive". Cortizo managed to talk to 3 of those Theresienstadt children, all of them over 90 years old. 'The most complicated thing is not to reconstruct the historical facts, but to get into the heads of those boys, understanding their thoughts and reflections, learning about their plans for the future and getting emotional with their acts of solidarity and resistance'.

Research has brought enough material not just for an animation feature, but a documentary in the making as well. The documentary itself with all the documents, interviews, and recordings is now currently in the final editing phase" Cortizo states. 

The 2D animation feature in pre-production, on the other hand (a 4.5 EUR m project) has already secured 3 countries: Mexico (Armar Media - Aron Margolis), Spain (Artefacto Producciones, Algarabia Animation -Tomás Conde) and US (Daniel Dreiffus of the 'All Quiet on the Western Front'), with more countries, such as the Czech Republic, into the negotiation table -with the financing to close soon.

But Cortizo needed to make both some narrative and aesthetic choices for 'Shkid'. The main character is the fictional Pavel, a 14-year-old Czech boy, who lives quietly in Prague with his mother till the Nazi invasion. He dreams of being an explorer and traveler. His deportation to Terezín camp will dramatically change his whole predicament. Even though a fictional character, Pavel is inspired by the stories of various newspapers and writings of children in the Terezín camp (mainly in the clandestine 'Vedem' publication). "I wanted the viewer to engage with one specific character, a compendium of characteristics and experiences, and a character present in each and every one of the most important events of this incredible story", Cortizo states.

The 2D animation design understandably borrows a lot from animated films of the period, including the landmark Disney films 'Snow White' (1937), 'Pinocchio' (1940)', 'Fantasia' (1941), and Bambi (1942). But this is more than a historical accuracy claim. "It seems to me a very interesting and metaphorical idea since while these young people were fighting for their lives at one end of the world, at the other, young people of their age went to the cinema to see the premiere of those films". Cortizo has also some artistic design ideas for more impressive techniques at the film, as he did use them in the stop-motion 'The Apostle', to impact the viewer.

The 2020 CARTOON Movie Shkid preview showed a glimpse of a concept trailer, in which elements of lights and shadows were carefully superimposed on its main character -something that is to be clearly continued in the film. But what about the level of harrowing events depicted?

"We think that children should know about Shoah, and we should not sugarcoat the terrible events of those years" the 'Shkid' director continues. "But the film is mainly focused on the stories and lives of these young people. The enemy, the Nazis, is presented as a disease that is present, against which they must fight, but without forgetting that those young people were people full of life, strength, dreams, and heroism". The latter stories are what the film wants to celebrate, and their memories (firstly documented as aspirations and experiences in the 'Vedem' magazine and elsewhere) still linger on, even 70+ years after their untimely death.

Having already support from the international Jewish community (including the Yad Vashem organization, Mexico International Jewish Film Festival, the Jewish Museum of Prague, and the Jewish Community of Galicia), the 90-minute 'Shkid' had to go on a hiatus during the pandemic. The artistic and production team aims for a late 2024 release.

Some exclusive concept art, expression, and color tests from the 'Shkid' development stage:

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