Building A Niche: Impressions from Animanima 2017
'čačak means 'mud' in Turkish, and the Ottoman rulers who baptized it certainly did not seem to held in high esteem this small town of West Morava, but always ready to erupt energy through birthday parties, jazz nights -and festivals.
Animanima festival (organized by the Cultural Centre in Čačak in a still functioning Yugoslav-era building) is the brainchild of Milen Alempijević , an animation professional, writer and music enthusiast. Now in its 11th year -and still severely underfunded- Animanima manages to bring along the important artistic animation stuff of the day and the venerated masters (this year, the Italian Bruno Bozzetto and a semi-retrospective of his work, along with the new doc Bozzetto non troppo by Marco Bonfanti).
But the really immersive programme that took most of the 5-day festival time was the Doodles to Pixels Spanish animation, curated by Carolina López Caballero, director of Animac LLeida, and Xcèntric, the cinema of Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB). This 8-part programme of lost-and-found shorts, TV commercials and features (previously presented in Annecy and MoMA, among other venues) manages to connect names like Jossie Malis, Anna Solanas and Marc Riba with household Spanish auteurs like Francisco Macian (his 1966 feature, The Dream Wizard is a dated but still sweet, UPA-influenced, children's story).
Wisely, Animanima did not bring feature film competition in its 5-day schedule, and Michael Dudok de Wit's The Red Turtle and Claude Barras' My Life as a Zucchini are always a joy to behold (with the latter being an audience favorite as well).
In the shorts competition (both professional and student films), a mixture of contemporary dystopia with the need to connect nevertheless was the offer on the table. Frédéric Tremblay's stop-motion Dolls Don't Cry cleverly transferred an erotic triangle into a puppet-human relationship, apart from the usual mirror reflexion of the maker and its making. Estonian filmmaker Chintis Lundgren moves into the queer territory of human relationships with Manivald, while the social and the personal mix with great, simple (not simplistic) poetry in Alexandra Ramires (Xá) and Laura Gonçalves Drop by Drop (Animanima jury prize).
French animation does try literary adaptations; Fx Goby's To Build a Fire (based on Jack London's eponymous novel) brings along a sense of homelessness from long shots of snowing enviroment to close-ups, while comedy standouts include The Table (Eugene Boitsov) and Artists and Hooligans (Ivan Maximov).
Špela Čadež's Nighthawk has almost become an instant festival classic, but still a film that brings along new qualities with repeated viewings (Grand Prix of Animanima festival). Marta Pajek wisely does not transform her main woman character in the labyrinthine Impossible Figures and Other Stories II, but the space around her character, in a combination of Kubrick's The Shining with Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad.
Animanima brought along with its Serbian programme its guests: both iconoclast animation director Rastko Ćirić, now professor of Faculty of Applied Arts at the University of Arts in Belgrade, and Milan Milosavljević, festival producer of Balkanima festival (Belgrade) made Animanima festival a comprehensive Serbian effort.
Slovenian animator Timon Leder (the Weasel trailer) took over pixillation and kids (and their impatient teachers) in a Saturday workshop, while Aleksandar Zolotić and his comics exhibition make sure that European dystopia is here to stay for much more. Greek contemporary animation, with films from both Greeks inside and outside Greece repositioned its presence inside a Balkan festival.
Talks and lectures were easily assembled and presented during the last festival day. Steven Woloshen has a new film and book in the making (Found Footage); his own personal story of assembling film stock as a prime material for animation (and not as the end product of a collective studio effort) always offers a an easy-to-accomplish alternative to the very streamlined, polished CGI look of contemporary studio animation. He was presented with an (unexpected) special achievement award by the festival.
Olga Bobrowska, festival director of StopTrik (stop-motion festival in Maribor and Lodz) prepares a new animation conference in November 2017 on propaganda and animation (watch this space). Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design is a fine Israeli animation school, well-represented in animation festivals. Animator, teacher (and Ari Folman collaborator) Tal Gadon presented both a shorts tribute and a talk of 'how-they-make-it', within an animation department that devotes time to build a rich animation curriculum (both history & theory, 2D/3D character design and backgrounds, and more).
Animanima operates at a small scale (but not in its food portions), and picks up films, programmes and people that will help it put its own stamp at the animation festival map. West Morava river is great, but so are the film selections inside Cacak Cultural Hall.