Decline of Animation?

2016 did not bring any big numbers, themes or technical challenges to Slovak animation. However, we should not forget its highpoint – the Christmas première of the TV series The Tots (Drobci) and some minor distribution successes. While 2015 was characterised by several premières of short films without releasing them into distribution, last year the situation was quite the reverse.

It was possible to view several new films in the traditional way at the Áčko and Fest Anča Festivals. The Student Film Festival Áčko exclusively presents the production of the last completed school year, the Slovak film competition at the Fest Anča International Animation Festival presents films from the last two to three calendar years. As the deadline for film applications at Fest Anča is usually in the first quarter of the year, films made in the current year do not have much of a chance of taking part in the respective edition of the festival. Maybe that is also why last year there was only one film with a 2016 copyright at Fest Anča – Occupation (Okupácia) by Martina Mikušová, which also competed in the Áčko Festival. Occupation and also Mikušová’s next film Chilli (2016), the animated film which won the Áčko Festival, have become part of the – so far students’ – “dark poetry wave” represented by Marta Prokopová (White Forest/Biely les, 2014; Mila Fog, 2015) and foreshadowed, for instance, by Júlia Koleňáková’s Suitcase (Kufor, 2012). A common feature of these films is the depiction of the dark side of partner relations by means of a correspondingly dark film style. Occupation metonymically represents a man and woman by means of hands and cells. It is a film about the physical and mental abuse of a woman, just like the figurative film Chilli where the woman is hunted like an animal by her brutal partner. Prokopová’s White Forest depicts Emil, a man suffering for love both mentally and physically, and Mila Fog, in turn the immersion of a woman into herself, whereby the anticipated reason for her turning into herself is men. There are differences between the individual authors, especially in the colours and the animation technique which also express the authors’ relation to the animation medium. Prokopová’s films are monochrome, made by combined animation techniques and they are something of a sacred temple devoid of film selfirony. Mikušová’s films are created by means of aggressive combinations of colours in computergenerated 2D animation. Physical violence in the form of cut-off fingers or the penetrated palm of a hand is depicted simply in terms of graphics, unrealistically, even comically schematically. The films do depict the uneasy theme of violence against women, but all that aggression is borne only by “some sort of drawn figures”.

In addition to the already mentioned winner of Fest Anča, Mila Fog, and Star Taxi (Hviezdny taxík) and Brother Deer (Braček jelenček), which received their premières two years ago, there was another film in the festival competition that was also made in 2015 – the PhD. film by Martina Frajštáková Balloon Girl (Balónové dievča). Just as in her Master’s degree film, Terra Nullius, so also in this case, the film delivers a very clear linear story based on a simple initial metaphor. Terra Nullius visualises the phrase “Mother Earth” and derives further meanings from it. Balloon Girl is based on the metaphor presented at the very beginning of the film – a balloon flies away from the girl and she is so frustrated that a black hair with a balloon at its end grows on her head. Long hair represents the flowing of time, the heroine’s mane becomes thicker and thicker and causes further and further problems, leading to an ever greater frustration and new balloons. And so, just as the girl’s hair grows thicker, so also does the film – by way of its further meanings.

In addition to Martina Mikušová’s films, several others were presented at the Student Film Festival Áčko: The Beauty and the Knight (Kráska a rytier, 2016) by Matej Babic, Scandinavia (Škandinávia, 2016) by Katarína Kočanová and the non-competition Redemption (Spasenie, 2016) by Marek Jasaň. There was only one Bachelor’s and one Master’s degree work in the competition, all the rest being exercises.

In 2016, a Slovak minority co-production also had its première – a short film by the Hungarian director, Luca Tóth, Superbia (2016). Luca Tóth reverses the men-women stereotypes in a comic way in a surreal fluid world. Just as in Slovakia, Hungary also has a strong generation of women authors of animated films. While the heroines in Slovak animated films are mainly sensitive filters drawing on the personal experience of the authors in the area of human relations, Hungarian films act as the means for a social or feminist appeal.

Unlike 2015, which was a fallow year in terms of distribution, last year several projects were screened in cinemas: Star Taxi (dir. J. Krumpolec, 2015) together with Operation Arctic (Operasjon Arktis, dir. G. Bøe-Waal), Brother Deer (dir. Z. Žiaková, 2015) with 5 October (dir. M. Kollar) and Cowboyland (Kovbojsko, dir. D. Štump, 2015) with Far from Men (Loin des hommes, dir. D. Oelhoffen). A bedtime story in cinema distribution was quite a novelty of 2016 – the successful TV series Mimi & Lisa (Mimi & Líza) by Katarína Kerekesová was presented in a block of seven episodes. However, the fulllength Murderous Tales (Smrteľné historky, 2016) by Czech filmmaker Jan Bubeníček was also released in distribution; this was made in a Slovak minority co-production.

After Katarína Kerekesová, another animator of the younger generation – Vanda Raýmanová – is coming up with a new TV series. Her project The Tots broadcast by RTVS over Christmas has links with her short film Who’s There? (Kto je tam?, 2010). While, according to the press-kit, Mimi & Lisa is made for children aged five to seven, The Tots is aimed at younger viewers – the Slovak Audiovisual Fund registration system mentions the three-to-six age category. The style of this series is a bit slower, the meanings are reduced and the structure and the puns of the stories are more didactic. Some sort of lesson is always stated by the protagonists themselves at the end of each episode of The Tots, such as “I won’t be bad again, but I will do this or that”. The story is also summarised at the end of each episode of Mimi & Lisa, albeit not so explicitly, by enhancing the ethical and moral position of the characters – they never fail to do so. The aim of this summary is mainly to calm the small viewers down following an adventure and, at the same time, to summarise the experience that helps the friends to get to know each other and to know the world from the other’s perspective. Mimi & Lisa is not primarily intended as an educational TV series but it is particularly receptive. However, both series duly react to the needs of their target audiences.

2016 was meagre in terms of production and, as for distribution, it lived off the production of the previous year. Let us hope that this is not an indicator of a substantial change but “just” a coincidence or the frequently referred-to “concurrent production” of several projects.

This work was supported by the Slovak Research and Development Agency under Contract no. APVV-0797-12.

Eva Šošková
Mimi & Lisa. PHOTO: Fool Moon