A Year of an Exceptional Première and also of Waiting

The year 2015 in Slovak animated film passed mainly under the sign of the long-time development of new films, the domestic success of student films, no short film in distribution and the first Slovak full-length animated film since 1980. Hence, we have advanced in some areas, and retreated in others.

Festivals were the ones that traditionally met the demand of the animated film for distribution; the latest films were presented at the Áčko Festival in Bratislava and the Fest Anča International Animation Festival in Žilina. The Áčko Festival presented in its competition section new student films of promising authors from the Animation Studio of the Film and Television Faculty at the Academy of Performing Arts. The western slapstick Cowboyland (Kovbojsko) by Dávid Štumpf – a social critique of the inability of the establishment to maintain order – won the Award for Best Animated Film.

The lyrical introspection Mila Fog by Marta Prokopová was in many ways reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life; in it the
author displays her animistic fascination with
the beauty of nature and the entire universe.
The puppet film Brother Deer (Braček Jelenček) made by Zuzana Žiaková based on the fairy tale by Pavol Dobšinský, referred to another form of connection to nature and to the inevitable demise of life.

A student film also won a prize at the Fest Anča in the Slovak animated film competition. The story of loneliness and old age with a slightly macabre undertone in the form of the return of a stuffed pet, Half Puppet (Half bábka) was made by the Belgian student, Jasmine Elsen, as her graduation film at the Film and Television Faculty of the Academy
of Performing Arts. Dávid Štumpf received the distribution award for his Cowboyland and at the New Talents industry programme he received, together with Michaela Mihályiová, the award for the best project in development entitled The End (Koniec).

The latest films of 2015 were also presented. The chalk animation Stability (Stabilita) by Daniela Krajčová, which was premièred at the prominent DOK Leipzig international festival, tells the story of a woman who gains her independence and frees herself from the claws of a dysfunctional family. In turn, the video clips Breathing Sulphur (Dýchať síru) by Marián Vredík and The Spirit of the City (Duch mesta) by Andrej Kolenčík and Veronika Kocourková demonstrate that even commercially commissioned projects can have an artistic value.

After Stability, a second professional short animated film also had its domestic première at the end of the year – Star Taxi (Hviezdny taxík) made by Igor Derevenec and Juraj Krumpolec. The project was almost ten years in preparation and the result is extremely imaginative, in both artistic and animation terms, and a fresh adventure story about the destiny of a small boy travelling with a mysterious taxi driver across the universe.

Last year, the first Slovak full-length animated film since 1980 was also made. Director Jakub Kroner followed up his year-long successful web project LokalTV with his film Lokalfilmis. His film attracted over thirty thousand viewers to cinemas in the first week alone. Lokalfilmis was based on the well-established universe of LokalTV and it drew on the popularity of well-known figures. However, it struggled with the problem of unbalanced dramaturgy and the variable attractiveness and wittiness of the individual iconic characters. But   as an exclusively commercial project, Lokalfilmis deserves appreciation for the ability of the filmmakers to finance the whole project from their own funds.

In 2015, Slovak projects in development were successfully presented not only at the Fest Anča industry programme but also abroad. The following films were presented at the most important animation industry event for Central and Eastern Europe, the Visegrad Animation Forum (VAF) in Třeboň: Night Shift (Nočná) by director Andrej Gregorčok, Once There Was a Sea (Bolo raz more) by Joanna Kożuch, and The Tots (Drobci) by Vanda Raýmanová, which was among the projects in the production phase. Peter Budinský presented his full-length film in the development phase, Heart of the Tower (Srdce veže) in Třeboň during Anifilm and in Baden in Switzerland at the important Fantoche International Animation Film Festival. The series The Websters (Websterovci) by Katarína Kerekesová was looking for international partners at the most significant European industry event
for animated series, Cartoon Forum, in Toulouse (France). Since 2015, Cowboyland and Half Puppet have been represented on the international market by New Europe Film Sales which already previously represented The Last Bus (Posledný autobus) and Snow (Sneh).

Thanks to the the local Association of Animated Film Producers’ participation in the organisation
of the VAF, Slovak films were also eligible to apply for presentation in the Visegrad Animation Rallye selection which presents the most distinguished young talents in the area of animated film from
the V4 countries. Thus, together with six other
films from the V4 countries, Fongopolis by Joanna Kożuch and In Line by Kamila Kučíková, got into the final selection which travelled around the foreign film markets in the form of a DVD and was screened at more than fifteen festivals abroad.

Other countries showed quite remarkable interest in Slovak animation. Last year, Slovak animated films were presented in Hungary at the Anilogue Festival, in Australia at the Melbourne International Animation Festival, in Ireland at the Visegrad Film Festival, in France at the À l’Est, du Nouveau Film Festival and in the Czech Republic at the PAF Festival.

Short films were maybe slightly remiss last year with regard to the number of completed professional films, but this should not be considered as their gradual decline. There are many short films as well as series currently in development or in the production phase. The low number of films released in 2015 is only a manifestation of the relatively low number of active filmmakers in correlation with the average time needed to produce an animated film in Slovakia.

Bfilm is the key player in the area of production of short animated films. A considerable proportion of short animated films are made under this company. Currently, it represents mainly younger filmmakers, such as Mária Oľhová, Dávid Štumpf, Martin Smatana and Joanna Kożuch.

A large number of series have been in production for a long time; however, they cannot, of course, be expected to be completed within one year. The production background, the size of the realisation teams and the length of production differ considerably case by case. In 2015, the second series of Mimi and Lisa (Mimi & Líza) by Katarína Kerekesová (Fool Moon) was completed. It was broadcast by RTVS over Christmas. Kerekesová is producing a new project, The Websters, Vanda Raýmanová (Objectif) continues making The Tots (Drobci), Jaroslav Baran (Animoline) is collaborating in a Polish-Slovak co-production on the production of the series Mr. Toti (Pán Toti), Jaroslav Niňaj (Polygon Production) is working on Greek Myths (Grécke báje), Ivan Popovič is continuing working on the cycle If I Only Had a Screw Loose! (Mať tak o koliesko viac!, My Studio) and its new episodes were broadcasted by RTVS in December.

The year 2015 in Slovak animated film can be characterised as a year of waiting; the continual support provided to new short films and series by the Slovak Audiovisual Fund commissions and the readiness of young filmmakers to continue making short auteur films without being lured into commercial projects may be regarded as the greatest success of this year. Equally, it turns out that other countries are also interested in
our animated films. In addition to the traditional festivals and screenings, a professional community is watching them and, for instance, Heart of the Tower, The Websters or The Tots are among the promising projects. We have undoubtedly taken a step towards another positive development in the area of short auteur film, as well as television and full-lengthfilms.

Maroš Brojo
Lokalfilmis, PHOTO: Inout Studio