2019 Film Essays

Looking Ahead: A Passage Through Animafest, Zagreb’s Festival of Animated Film

Animafest Zagreb - Under the Rib Cage

As part of Animafest Zagreb’s main annual theme, the Croatian “World Festival of Animated Film” decided to highlight the connections between animation and the fine arts. Among the films celebrated, Milorad Krstić’s heist thriller Ruben Brandt, Collector won the Grand Prix in the Grand Competition (Feature Film) and Denis Do’s 2D computer-animation international co-production Funan snatched a Special Mention and the Audience Award.

While Animafest Zagreb’s main program, various exhibitions and some of its awards did lean into the concept of intertwining the new with the old, it was more striking how some stories in the festival — the second oldest animation film event in the world — decided to look ahead instead of looking back.

One of the main attractions is its short film competition, and one could argue that Animafest Zagreb’s true winner was Acid Rain, the 26-minute film by Polish filmmaker Tomek Popakul. The psychedelic piece about one young woman’s self discovery through a colourful land of drugs, raves and toxic relationships has made a victorious round in international festivals since its world premiere at this year’s IFFR. Acid Rain picked up both the Grand Prix and the Audience Award in the Grand Competition (Short Film) category to much surprise for Popakul, who accepted the award at the closing ceremony almost speechless.

Animafest Zagreb - Acid Rain

Acid Rain aims to give its audience a sensorial experience rather than a narrative-focused one. Popakul and his team constructed a lysergic world where glitches are part of the natural environment and people seem to have originated from a video game circa 2000. The futuristic environments are explored by Young (Daria Bulka), the backpack adventurer protagonist, and his shady travel companion Skinny (Piotr Bucka). It’s impossible to get a grasp of all the details hidden in this artificial scenery, but it’s this complex visual language that proves how anatomy and geography can be altered completely in the name of storytelling.

In a different manner, the Animafest Zagreb film Away also prioritizes a visual experience where, in this case, dialogue among characters is nonexistent. This is the outstanding feature debut of the young Latvian filmmaker Gints Zilbalodis, which made its premiere in Animafest before going to win in the Contrechamp category of the Annecy International Animated Film Festival.

The movie’s path to the screen reflects an adventure as epic as the one in the film, where a boy trapped on an island is haunted by a shadowy and colossal figure that chases him. Zilbalodis made the entire animated feature by himself, taking care of the story, character design, animation, music, etc. The brave director’s venture not only includes a short credits sequence, but also a strange look into a near future where extremely accomplished animators have all the tools at their disposal in the comfort of their home. Although proud of his solitary achievement, Zilbalodis announced in Animafest that he is indeed looking for collaborators for his second film.

Animafest Zagreb - Away Gints Zilbalodis

With a diverse program focused on Virtual Reality installations (an art form that seems to have found a steady home mostly in film festivals and video games cons), Animafest Zagreb also provided a glimpse into how the industry could adopt this discipline in the future: exploiting architecture in its favor. Part of the exhibition, for example, was presented inside of Grič Tunnel, a pedestrian passage in an old tunnel used as a bomb shelter refuge during World War II. This smart location choice gave part of the VR Project Competition some extra appeal while also demonstrating how to implement new technologies in narrative events. The winner of the section was the French piece Accused No. 2: Walter Sisulu, a virtual-reality animated documentary about the South African anti-apartheid activist.

Two other highlights from Animafest Zagreb can be grouped into one theme that always has fascinated the film industry: the challenge of finding and constructing stories. The European productions Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles and Another Day of Life showcased the difficulties behind two very different works from distinctive cultural voices of Spain and Poland: the filmmaker Luis Buñuel and the journalist and writer Ryszard Kapuscinski. The first one works as a linear behind-the-scenes story of Buñuel’s documentary Land Without Bread, while the second one mixes rotoscopy animation and documentary interviews to reconstruct what the journalist experienced during his three months in the Angolan Civil War. Both films have a distinctive visual style that thrive by translating the internal conflicts of its main protagonists: two storytellers whose lives are changed by the hard realities they want to show to the world.

By featuring a wide variety of animated works from both young and experienced filmmakers, Animafest Zagreb showed it has the reach to bring together great talents through a stimulating environment. While it’s not possible to talk about one of Zagreb’s main cultural events without mentioning its bigger brother, the Annecy Film Festival, Animafest has managed to become a cool, younger and memorable relative where the double life of animation, the one labeled for grown ups and world-class film festivals, stays quite relevant.

Animafest Zagreb - Another Day of Life

Pablo Staricco’s Top 10 Shorts at Animafest Zagreb:

1. Under the Rib Cage (Belgium, France, 2019)

2. Slug Life (United Kingdom, 2018)

3. Flood (Germany, 2018)

4. Si So Mi (Taiwan, 2018)

5. I’m Going Out for Cigarettes (France, 2018)

6. Imbued Life (Croatia, 2019)

7. Marfa (United Kingdom, 2018)

8. My Trip to Japan (Argentina, Japan, 2018)

9. Conception: Catie + Jen (United Kingdom, 2018)

10. John Morena’s Trilogy: Gimme! / Face Value / Dicks (United States, 2018)

Pablo Staricco Cadenazzi (@pstaricco) is a France-based Uruguayan journalist, film critic and member of FIPRESCI. He worked as a staff member for the newspapers El País and El Observador, and he is currently part of the the movie podcast Santas Listas (from @polentapodcast) and the comics publisher Pantano Editorial.