KinoKultura: Issue 34 (2011)

The Present and Future of Animation: Suzdal 2011

By Oskar Sandrock (Germersheim)

shataloThe 16th Open Russian Animation Festival was held in Suzdal from 23-27 February 2011. As in the previous year, it combined film screenings with an international congress on the animation industry, exploring topics such as the development of characters for animation (especially serials), issues of co-production and international distribution, and technological production matters. The “Morning Exercises” presented the work of children’s studios from across Russia, playing to always full halls.

The festival runs several competition programmes, including shorts, student films, debuts, serials and (social) advertising clips. So let us look at the different sections of this rich film programme, showing eighty films over two days plus the opening night. And, if the jury in the last year was composed of men only, then this year’s jury was not only all female, but also very young: Nina Bisiarina (Journey to the Sea / Poezdka k more, 2009); Anastasia Zhuravleva (Attention, the Doors are Opening / Ostorozhno, dveri otkryvaiutsia, 2005); Liza Skvortsova (Lullabies / Kolybel’nye mira); and Anna Shepilova (The Other / Drugaia, 2008). The jury chairman was Stanislav Sokolov, animator and professor of the Film Institute VGIK.  

Let is start with last year’s winner: Ivan Maksimov’s Tides To and Fro (Prilivy tuda-siuda) is without question a masterpiece from a master. As in his earlier cartoon’s Maksimov dwells on the absurdity of human life. Here he is concerned with the life of creatures, people and amphibian, as the water rises and recedes on the coast. The story is funny and witty, requiring no words as we watch the figures move in their habitat, all presented in subtle shades of grey and blue. After all: none of these little creatures have a chance to stand up against the force of nature, so the best they can do is move to and fro. 

vorobei kotory derzhal slovoOther films, too, were based on original stories. Irina Litmanovich’s Domestic Romance (Domashnii romans) uses cut-out cardboard figures for a story set in the Soviet era, as if a memory of childhood: the time when Voice of America was a forbidden fruit and families had to fear neighbours, friends and of course, the innocently honest words of their own children in public spaces. Dmitrii Geller’s The Sparrow who Kept his Word (Vorobei, kotoryi umel derzhat’ slovo) was created by the studio Pchela and scripted by Roza Khusnutdinova. Geller’s puppet animation is stunning, creating a loveable creature of an obedient sparrow, who sits through the storm and fights off his fear of the dark night all alone in order to make the weather turn better. The sparrow’s naïve belief that this promise might be true and his stubborn attitude—actually make the weather change!

metelSeveral films were based on literary models or folk tales. Aleksei Demin’s Shatalo, based on Iurii Koval’, is a fine story of a cat that appears in a field and brings dooms onto the life of the villagers. The beige-colour drawings with white and fine figures create a sharp contrast to the pitch-black and clumsy cat Shatalo. Maria Muat’s The Blizzard (Metel’), based on Pushkin’s story, offers a wonderful rendering of the snow storm that leads to the marriage between two people who are unaware of their relation when they fall in love. Muat here uses puppets which move in the adverse weather conditions, creating a blurred image that allows for the confusion of the story. Oktiabrina Potapova’s Grandpa’s Felt Boot (Dedushkin valenok) caused a bit of a stir if only for a song by the master of animation, Iurii Norstein, used to accompany a scene. The black-and-white and sepia-color drawings reveal Potapova’s fine pencil work with which she illustrated and brings to live the story of Mikhail Prishvin. From Ekaterinburg, Sergei Ainutdinov’s Who’s the Boss at Home (Kto v dome glavnyi) brings a novel departure for the director into Norwegian legends: in his drawn and computer-animated film he makes fun of family life ruled by none other than a piglet, revealing his extraordinary sense for humour of his earlier cartoons.

syn okhotnikaAlso based on folk tales were several of Pilot’s productions: Valentin Telegin’s The Dog’s Master (Sobachii barin), and Sergei Gordeev’s The Ruses of the Fox (Prodelki lisa), the latter drawn on buckled paper. The story is of an Inuit feeding a fox, which cheats the Inuit and then turns into a small red creature. Sergei Merinov’s Teeth, Tail and Ears (Zuby, khvost i ushi) is a funny tale of three peoples, whose characteristics are associated with the respective parts of the creature’s body: the Estonian teeth, the Chinese tail and the Russian ears. Andrei Kuznetsov’s Pumasipa is a computer-animated wittily drawn tale about two hunters: one boasts while the other works hard. Rim Sharafutdinov’s The Hunter’s Son (Syn okhotnika) from Bashkortostan Studio came as a little surprise, not to say disappointment, after what seemed to be a parody of the epic genre, The Side Where the Wind is (Ta storona, gde veter, 2009): it is a film made in Soviet-style animation about the heroism of a son, who wishes to overcome the dragons and other obstacles to procure eternal life for his father.

devochka kot porezala paletsEduard Beliaev of Animos Studio brought The Girl who Cut her Finger (Devochka, kotoraia porezala pal’chik), a film made with plasticine figures in a story about migration from Chukotka to Kamchatka after the giant monster Moiryzpakh has snatched a girl. The funny, but muddled style of this film is not helped by the dull voiceover narrative. Also from Animos comes Natal’ia Mal’gina’s Oska the Saint (Os’ka-sviatoi), a film with beautiful drawings used to tell a moral tale of an orphan boy, who has to first serve his mistress for long years before he is allowed to become a holy man: then, he is forced to climb onto a church tower, from where he falls to his death: now he can join his father.

lisa i zhuravlSeveral animation films from animators of Belarus deserve mention: Mikhail Tumelia’s Paper Decorations (Bumazhnye uzory) is an imaginative piece of animation, using paper ornaments to relate a folk story set to the ethno-music of the group Troitsa, providing good rhythm to a humorous tale. Julia Ruditskaia’s Please, Call Back Later is a piece of 2D computer animation. Ruditskaia graduated as designer from the Belarusian State University and now studies at the SHAR School in Moscow. Her stylish and extravagant drawings of the town, showing a girl who waits for call first at home, and then as she gets on a bus to go to a café, can not really compensate the weak narrative. Irina Kodiukova’s It was Summer (Bylo leto) renders in cut-out animation the story of the Frog Prince. Vladimir Petkevich’s The Fox and the Crane (Lisa i zhuravl’) nicely renders the well-known fable about the fox and crane deciding to live together, but things don’t quite wok out. The subject-matter recalls Iurii Norstein’s poetic rendering of The Crane and the Heron (Tsaplia i zhuravl’, 1974), two creatures who cannot bring themselves to live together in the first place, even if they have many more affinities than Petkevich’s animals.

bonjourStudent Films
There were a number of impressive student films at Suzdal this year, which is promising for animation. Bonjour by Anna Abashina of VGIK is quite ingenious in its approach: it revolves around a drawn dancer and a statue: the dancer draws a line around the sculpture and makes her pliable and mobile. Set to the chanson of Charles Trenet he dances with the sculpture before she freezes again in her original position. Exploring a similar topic is The Ballerina and the Mirror (Balerina i zerkalo) by VGIK student Nataliia Surenovich, using black-and-white drawings to create a ballerina who practices at the bar, while her mirror image moves independently and faster: the mirror no longer reflects but perfects her, and this images is collapsed with reality in the end. Another VGIK student is Dina Velikovskaia, whose Pages of Fear (Stranitsy strakha) investigates a difficult topic for a student film; using cut-out animation, with a child’s voice as narrator, Velikovskaia creates the style of a horror story (strashilka), where the action happens between pages of paper and print, as soldiers, planes, and boots emerge on the pages, as it were, in the imagination of a girl reading a book about the war.

stormwarningFrom the studio SHAR there is first Anton D’iakov’s Bach, a story about a snail that makes its way towards the water, told in a funny and touching manner and using drawn animation. Iuliia Postavskaia’s Playmate (Drug detstva) is an amazing, drawn in black and white animation. The playmate is a teddy bear who entertains the child, bothers the youth, angers the young man and gets stuffed under the bed – until a new child is born who retrieves the playmate. Also from SHAR is Storm Warning (Shtormovoe preduprezhdenie) by Aleksandra Shadrina, using beautiful watercolours for a story of a boy and a girl: the boy brings the post every day—but it takes a storm for them to finally get acquainted.

esche razOnce Again (Eschhe raz) is an amazing work of animation, made with classy Chagall style paintings, on glass, by the students of Aleksandr Petrov in Yaroslavl. The film shows fantasies of life before the war as an old man sits in his armchair and plays the same record over and over again to bring up memories of past.

From the London National Film and Television School comes Augusta Zurelidi, whose Laika is a computer-animated story about a space dog who sacrifices its life for the sake of space exploration and perishes. Professionally drawn, but a sad ending and a rather weak narrative above all lacking the humour of the full-length animation Belka and Strelka. And from the Ecole des Gobelins in Paris comes Karina Gaziziva with her Scarf (Sharfik), a story of hunger during the Leningrad Siege told by means of 2D computer animation.

technical support of realityDebuts
Several curious and promising debuts screened at this year’s festival. First of all, a new name in animation is that of Sergei Orlov, a physicist with no training in animation. With Technical Support of Reality (Tekhpodderzhka real’nosti) he created a lovely anecdotal story based on an internet blog about a man who reports a theft to his insurance, and suddenly the entire world around him disappears. The black-and-white sketches and drawings move in space and flex into 3D, creating the sensation of volume.

Known through their student works are Tat’iana and Ol’ga Poliektova, whose debut Tomato Story is nicely drawn, telling of the domestic war between two women, one with red tomatoes on her balcony and the other harvesting noting but withering old tomatoes. The drawing is reminiscent of their O sole mio (2008), albeit a little less poetic. Svetlana Zueva, who is known through her work on the Lullabies, showed her debut Auntie Nettle (Tetushka krapiva), also scripted by Roza Khusnutdinova. The drawn figures with eyes that resemble whole flowers tell a beautiful story of a girl who frees the flowers from weed and nettles and makes them grow again.

podarokAlso known from Lullabies is Anastasiia Sokolova, whose drawn animation Soldier and Ballerina (Soldatik i tantsovshchitsa) is based on H.C. Andersen’s tale, making for a lovely story of the romance between a tin soldier and a porcelain ballerina that is destroyed by a jealous cat. Better known as animator on Zoia Kireeva’s films is Mikhail Dvoriakin from Ekaterinburg. His film The Gift (Podarok) might better be titled Mal’chik-durachok, as indeed it seems to be a continuation of Kireeva’s famous film The Little Fool (Devochka-dura). Dvoriakin uses the same style drawings, creating poignant portrayals of the cheeky lads at school, as the boy (the little fool) with A handmade card makes no lasting impression on the girl he is after.

my dog loves jazzSerials
The series Fixtures (Fiksiki) about an alarm clock is a little too educational for my taste, a bit too instructive and lacking vigour; it is also a little too much leaning toward toy story, animating tools. A different thing altogether is Lucky! (Vezukha!), where Leonid Shmel’kov (who studied with Maksimov at SHAR) presented We are all Aliens in this World (Vse my inoplanetiane na etoi zemle) about a boy wanting to travel to Shambale. The techno-style drawings and faces, offering only a two-dimensional view of the figures (a bit like The Simpsons, but with more frill) are impressive and set to a detached narrative voice-over. Veronika Fedorova’s My Dog loves Jazz (Moia sobaka liubit dzhaz) is clearly the most classy and stylish serial cartoon, with an original and inventive story based on Marina Moskvina’s work and produced by Arsen Gotlib of Metronom Film. Other serials included Good Beasts (Zverushki-Dobriushki), the obligatory Smeshariki, and Masha and the Bear (Masha i medved’) as well as Pilot’s new serial about the detective bureau Bulldog and Shorty (Bul’dog i shorty).

Concluding Remark
An interesting aspect of this year’s show is the emergence of a lot of films based on classical literature and Russian folklore, i.e. its national heritage, but also obviously patriotic films, dwelling on Russia’s heroic history—e.g. Artem Lukichev’s Ural; Igor’ Mishukov’s Aleksandr Nevskii; Natal’ia Fedchenko’s Meeting (Vstrecha) and Stanislav Podivalov’s Peresvet i Osliabia. These films, most likely driven by state commissions, would not appear to be in the right place in a festival programme, competing with experimental and student works.

Oskar Sandrock

Awards and Prizes
Grand Prix: The Gift (Podarok) by Mikhail Dvoriankin
Best Director: Paper Ornaments (Bumazhnye uzory) by Mikhail Tumelia
Best Dramaturgy: Shatalo, by Aleksei Demin.
Best Visuals: Sergei Prokof’ev, by Iuliia Titova, Dmitrii Surinovich
Best Animation: Ballerina and Mirror (Balerina i zerkalo) by Nataliia Surinovich
Best film for children: The Sparrow who Kept his Word (Vorobei, kotoryi umel derzhat’ slovo) by Dmitrii Geller
Best Student Film: Once Again (Eschhe raz) by Ekaterina Ovchinnikova, Tat’iana Okruzhnova, Alina Iakh”iaeva, Natal’ia Pavlycheva, Elena Petrova, Mariia Arkhipova
Best Debut: Iurii Norshtein for his acting and solo song performance in Oktriabrina Potapova’s Grandpa’s Felt Boots (Dedushkin valenok)
Best Serial: My Dog loves Jazz (Moia sobaka liubit dzhaz) from the cycle “Vezukha!”, dir. Veronika Fedorova
Special Jury Prize for Broadening Horizons: The Girl who Cut her Finger (Devochka, kotoraia porezala palets) by Eduard Beliaev
Special Jury Prize for a New Approach to the Anti-War Theme: Pages of Fear (Stranitsy strakha) by Dina Velikovskaia  

Oskar Sandrock © 2011

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