Animafest`s Student Film Competition – the characteristically exuberant, unbridled and talented international artistic competition – took shape in 2023 with 41 films chosen from 830 submissions. Along with Daniel Šuljić, the selection was made by Jasminka Bijelić Ljubić and Hana Tintor. The National Film and Television School (NFTS) from the United Kingdom was declared the Best animation school for the second year in a row and will be represented before the Zagreb audience by Dead Silent (dir. Miriam Fox), Ascent (dir. Matti Vesanen), Homemaker (dir. Ciara Kerr) and Zuman (dir. Honor Price). 2D film Dead Silent portrays the consequences of a friend’s suicide on the psyche of young father Liam with effective ellipses, dissolving of solid objects, and sound interjections. The stop-motion Zuman is a humorous inversion of a Zoo where humans are exposed to animal visitors, and its star Steve, who yearns for a partner, is given the opportunity to escape. CGI-animated Ascent tells the story of the owner’s journey into space from a dog’s perspective. The Persian greyhound is not pleased, so it embarks on an olfactory adventure through memory in a city shrouded in a snowstorm (the creative treatment of the sense of smell might remind some of the older video game Dog’s Life). Homemaker, a musical made with ink on paper plus stop-motion animation, focuses on violence against women and sexual violence in the family using extraordinary symbolic transformations. Together with other NFTS-produced films that were submitted, these films indicate an interest in equality, diversity and inclusion, the cultivation of different techniques, thematic variety, an interesting approach to film sound and humour. Robert Bradbrook, head of the NFTS animation studio, will receive the award for best animation school at the festival’s Opening ceremony and attend the traditional retrospective programme of the award-winning school.
In the films from other schools, the themes of love, passion and relationships are the most represented. The masterful Japanese Sewing Love by the Chinese director Xu Yuan deals with young love, but also with its disappearance and violent, ultimately murderous possessiveness in bright colours and incredible metamorphoses accompanied by Nanami Sato’s electronic keyboards. Above the Clouds by Vivien Hárshegyi is a gorgeous and dynamic, but caricatured Hungarian misanthropic grotesque about young love, deeply immersed in the depiction of youth culture through fluidly animated surrealist scenes. Polish Sara Szymańska is returning to Animafest after two years with the work Opening Night (The Polish National Film, Television and Theatre School in Lodz) about a passionate meeting of a former couple at an after-party of a theatrical premiere. A range of strong emotions in conflict with the social context is compressed into one evening, which makes the occasion a perfect ellipse of a failed relationship. Vulvine, reine d’extase by the French group of authors from Gobelins is a fascinating film about a voluptuous queen who stops at nothing to meet once again the well-endowed Death that she strongly craves. The most explicit work of brutal beauty combining Eros and Thanatos will remind some of the character of Druuna by the famous comic artist Paolo Serpieri, i.e., of the entire tradition of Italian comic erotica.
Autobiographical inspirations are also present in two outstanding works. The Argentinian film Carlos Montaña directed by Itati Romero was created with a combination of traditional and digital 2D animation and direct interventions (scratching) into the medium. It shows the title character fleeing from the forces of the military junta in the province of Tucumán in 1976. It is, in fact, the nom de guerre of the director’s father, montonero Gerardo Romero, a Peronist guerrilla fighter whose anecdotes served as a template for the film with a unique brownish-yellow-orange appearance. In the self-reflexive A Taste for Music, Jordan Antonowicz-Behnan uses drawings and collages to remember his ailing father obsessed with a vinyl collection that becomes an object of both bonding and conflict.
In the growing list of stop-animated films, in addition to Zuman, other works of different tonalities and sub-techniques stand out. Aliza Sotelo Gutierrez and Rita Ataida Novais’ Chopping Wood Chips (United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal) is a cubist stop-motion animation of laser-cut wooden models that ingeniously combines form and content in the story of a family quarrel over an IKEA coffee table. Under a Shooting Contrail is a silent American puppet-metafilm by the Japanese director Rika Nakayama about a character who leaves the studio and goes out into the world to test human senses and experiences in nature before returning to the spotlight. Fernanda Caicedo’s poetic Wind Whisperer is a stop-motion, German-Ecuadorian film about a cricket, created at the famous Bauhaus University in Weimar. From the famous Israeli Bezalel Academy comes another puppet film, The Building at 9 Etzel Street (dir. Bar Vaknine, Tamar Sharvit, Matan Levi) – a depiction of construction work on a residential building whose tenants come into contact with a Palestinian worker. The slightly surrealistic film ironically shows the political ambitions of the tenants’ representatives and the nonsense of advertising discourse and superhuman technology, but above all it is a poetic, gentle plea for breaking the vicious cycle of history with the help of everyday humanity. One more film comes from Bezalel: director Raz Merhav’s ambitious hybrid of claymation and 2D, Symbiosis, about the relationship between an African albino boy and a three-legged calf – a moving, but at the same time, allegorical story of mythological strength. A felt doll is also the protagonist of the miniature French mockumentary Human Resources (dir. Trinidad Plass, Titouan Tillier, Isaac Wenzek), a gallow-humor metafilm about the ‘recycling’ of a human-doll.
For a long time, Animafest’s Student Film Competition has been contributing to the affirmation of queer identity and gender equality with a kind of positive naturalisation – the rights of women and LGBTQIA+ people in the films of young animators are self-explanatory. This year, the humorous French gay miniature La Vita Nuova (dir. Arthur Sevestre) has beautiful colours and a comic appearance, while the ‘bear’ plumber from the black-and-white Swiss film Pipes (dir. Kilian Feusi, Jessica Meier, Sujanth Ravichandran – School of Art and Design in Lucerne) found himself in a fetish gay club. The feminist fairy tale Hands on the Fire (dir. Francesca Loss, France, La Poudrière) deals with the traditional position of a young woman in a conservative rural society, while relying on sisterhood, i.e. transgenerational exemplary teaching of resistance.
But even though we are used to thinking of them primarily as destroyers of taboos, animation students are skilled in creating films about children and for children, such as the beautiful, strikingly minimalist dance film Follow My Steps (dir. Nils Balleydier). Funeral at Nine (group of authors, Gobelins) is artistically seductive but, regardless of the plot, unprovocative and speaks about the imaginations of the three protagonists who attend a gardener’s funeral. Skilfully performed and fundamentally humorous, Roald by the French group of authors from the Academy of Arts in Montpellier (ESMA) contains two completely different perspectives (saccharine-childish and monstrous) on the birthday party of a toad whose only guest is a fly.
Unlike Ascent, in which the journey into space as a common SF topos is just the background, Unique Time (dir. Yu-jin Oh) is a full-blooded South Korean cyberpunk about a nominally female android who, due to an error in face generation, becomes interesting to a photographer in a creative crisis. The film opens up classic questions of postmodern identity, actualised by the development of AI.
The future of Croatian animation in the Student Film Competition is represented by Sara Tomas (Foreign Side) and Dorotea Radušić (Peacock Inn), both from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb.