KinoKultura: Issue 45 (2014)

Golden Kuker: More Animated than Ever

By Mihaela Mihailova (Yale U)

The fifth annual Golden Kuker International Animation Festival in Sofia offered a range of screenings, workshops, master classes and events over an entire week, from 12 May to 18 May. Held in support of Sofia’s candidacy for European Capital of Culture in 2019, the event featured around 400 animated shorts from around the world (out of which 164 were in competition in the various prize categories), as well as four full-length features.

approved for adoptionThe feature-length competition program focused on European films: France’s Approved for Adoption (Laurent Boileau and Jung, 2012), Romania’s Crulic: the Path to Beyond (Anca Damian, 2011), Russia’s Space Dogs 2: Moon Adventures (Inna Evlannikova and Aleksandr Khramtsov, 2014) and Spain’s The Heart of the Oak (Ricardo Ramon and Angel Izquierdo, 2012). In tune with the increased prominence of the animated documentary in recent years (on the festival circuit and in scholarly publications alike), both standout features in this program are non-fiction films. Approved for Adoption is a documentary memoir offering a glimpse into the childhood of one of its directors, South Korean-born artist Jung Henin, who was adopted by a Belgian family at an early age. The evocative and atmospheric hand-drawn 2D piece, rendered in warm, nostalgic brown and gray tones, presents a beautiful, confidently animated journey, capturing the emotional turmoil of the protagonist’s identity crisis. Crulic: The Path to Beyond, which was awarded the Cristal for Best Feature at Annecy in 2012, and which went on to win the Grand Prix at Golden Kuker, is an animated documentary about Claudiu Crulic, a Romanian citizen who goes on a hunger strike while in Polish prison, only to be ignored by Polish and Romanian officials alike. The film, based on real events from 2008, is notable for its emotionally poignant storytelling and its imaginative, visually striking use of mixed animation technique involving drawings, cutouts and photographs. 

space dogsThe shorts selection spanned all inhabited continents, even showcasing African animation for the first time in the festival’s history with the short Cholera Campaign (Hassan Yola, 2013), a computer-animated educational piece from Cameroon. The program was predictably dominated by European productions, such as the exquisite and lyrical French short Autumn Leaves (Carlos de Carvalho and Aude Danset, 2013) and the elegantly stylized Dutch film Fallin’ Floyd (Albert ‘t Hooft and Paco Vink, 2013), which paid tribute to jazz music and the American Golden Age of animation alike. Asia was represented by a wide range of techniques and national traditions, from the elegant tribute to Persian miniatures in the Iranian cut-out film The Role of Each Fret (Maryam Farahzadi, 2013) to the mesmerizing abstract study in metamorphosis in the Japanese short Land (Masanobu Hiraoka, 2013). The North American selection was particularly strong; Canadian filmmaker Patrick Lapierre’s exquisitely drawn Cosmos Will Save the World (2013) offers an atmospheric fictionalized take on a key event in humankind’s historical journey towards the stars. The hand-animated Monkey Rag (2013) by Atlanta-based animator Joanna Davidovich is another stylish throwback to Hollywood’s beloved musical cartoons, charged with raw energy, humor, and charm. Out of the South American countries, Brazil and Argentina had a strong presence, thanks to films such as Gabriel Garcia’s enigmatic computer-animated film Ed (2013) and Santiago “Bou” Grasso’s poignant stop-motion Father (2013), dedicated to a turning point in the nation’s history. Finally, the quirky Australian 3D animation student short Position: Vacant (Leonie Yue, 2013) is notable for its whimsical, caricature-like character design.

grandfatherTo further emphasize the international scope and collaborative spirit of Golden Kuker, the festival featured programs highlighting award-winning films from two other international animation festivals: Animayovka, which is held annually in Mogilev, Belarus; and RabbitFest, which takes place in Perugia, Italy. Both programs offered a fascinating selection of styles and techniques, while also showcasing some of the best recent shorts to come out of Belarus, Russia, and Italy, among others. The Animayovka screening introduced a number of beautiful traditional drawn animation pieces, such as Russian animator Vera Tokareva’s lyrical short Lu. A Christmas Story (2005). However, the most accomplished and visually striking film in that series was Polish animator Tomek Baginski’s computer-animated Kinematograph (2011), a moving ode to the thrill of invention and the hypnotic appeal of early cinema. The RabbitFest program featured a number of fine art-inspired shorts, such as Rino Stefano Tagliaferro’s appropriately named Beauty (2014), a serene and smoothly animated tribute to classical Western painting, and Donato Sansone’s surreal and nightmarish Portrait (2014), reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s work.

The host country was represented by a number of recent shorts produced both at home and abroad in an impressive range of techniques. In the super short competition, Eleonora Asparuhova’s drawn film The Orange Song (2014),produced in the United Kingdom, delighted the audience with a whimsical visualization of a beloved Bulgarian childrens’ song. Simeon Sokerov’s Portals (2013), which took the prize for Best Bulgarian Animated Film, impressed jury and viewers alike with its imaginative use of 3D computer graphics to create a colorful, phantasmagorical universe inhabited by plasmatic creatures. Velislava Gospodinova’s The Blood (2012) is a powerful kinetic meditation on destruction, violence, and hope, energized by the contrast between the vibrant red of its titular substance and the subdued gray tones of the background.

In addition to the screenings, Golden Kuker offered a variety of master classes and talks aimed at animation students and aficionados alike. Bill Dennis, CEO and founder of the International Animation Consulting Group and President of ASIFA India, delivered a talk outlining his long and eventful career in animation production and consulting, offering advice to aspiring animators. Award-winning Dutch animation director, artist, and composer Hisko Hulsing, whose films were shown during a special retrospective at the festival, explained the creative process behind his impressive short Junkyard, presenting a wealth of visual material and engaging with a room full of curious Bulgarian animation students. Émigré filmmaker Rumen Petkov, the animation artist and director behind the first Bulgarian animated feature film Treasure Planet (1982), returned once again to Sofia in order to teach a three-day master class which is quickly becoming a staple of this festival. Since relocating to the United States in 1990, Petkov has worked as a writer, storyboard artist and director on popular animated TV series such as Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Laboratory, and Cow and Chicken, and taught at California Institute of the Arts. During his lectures, he covered the basics of animation techniques, provided tips on producing and working in the context of commercial animation, offered individual feedback on student projects, and discussed new media avenues for promotion and distribution of animation.

habitatGolden Kuker also featured special categories dedicated to eco films, children’s films, music videos, and television series. Still, the student animation category remains a true highlight of this event. Golden Kuker is a festival dedicated to young animators and, as such, it has traditionally emphasized student films. This year was no exception, treating the viewer to a number of excellent student shorts using a variety of animation techniques in fresh and innovative ways. For instance, the German student film Snail Trail (Philipp Artus, 2012), which is based on a laser sculpture installation, stands out thanks to its mesmerizing and complex use of digital animation to create the metamorphoses and fractal-like shapes that dominate the screen. Bulgarian animator Ina Georgieva’s drawn short Habitat (2012), with its grotesque monochromatic drawings, reveals a bleak and oppressive world recognizable to anyone familiar with the signature architecture of the Soviet Bloc. In Facing the News (Wiep Teeuwisse, 2013), a short from the Netherlands, newspapers come to life through stop-motion. In general, student-produced stop-motion animation was well represented at the festival, thanks to films such as Slovakian animator Tomáš Danay’s Mr. Carrot (2013) and Russian director Dina Velikovskaya’s My Strange Grandfather (2011). The former, which combines animated objects, puppets, and clay, is a hilarious romp full of clever visual gags focused on the misadventures of the eponymous protagonist at a vegetable processing factory. The latter, which was recognized by the jury as best in the student film category, uses masterfully crafted puppets full of personality in order to weave a nostalgic tale about an enigmatic old man. The brilliant water surface and tactile sand alone are enough to immediately transport the viewer to the enchanted shores of beach towns dimly remembered through the haze of childhood.

mythopolisIn line with this year’s festival theme—“laughter”—some of the most memorable crowd favorites set a lighthearted tone. The Czech student film Mythopolis (Alexandra Hetmerová, 2013) is a refreshingly humorous take on familiar characters from Greek mythology. No Time for Toes (2013), by Finnish filmmaker Kari Pieskä, uses clever sound design and minimalist sketchy imagery to offer an amusingly honest take on the ups and downs of fatherhood. Joost Lieuwna from the Netherlands presented two humorous shorts—How Dave and Emma Got Pregnant (2012) and Leaving Home (2013)—whose cartoony two-dimensional look complements their zany and absurdist narratives. The latter film in particular features inventive and charming visual gags and benefits from masterful comic timing. Finally, the delightfully upbeat and colorful minimalist French short Us (Ulrich Totier, 2013) is a winning experiment in wordless humor.

In the end, “laughter” proved to be a fitting choice, as it captured the celebratory and hopeful spirit of this anniversary event. At five years old, Golden Kuker has already established itself as one of Bulgaria’s two leading animation festivals and looks ahead to further expand its international reach and celebrate animation diversity in all its forms.

Mihaela Mihailova
Yale U

Jury Prizes
Grand Prix: Crulic: The Path to Beyond by Anca Damian
Special Award “Proiko Proikov” for Best Comedy Film: Frabbits by Charlie Kothe
Best Animated Super Short Film (about 1 min): What’s your Secret of Long Life? by Eszter Jánka
Best Animated Short Film (up to 10 min): Fallin’ Floyd by Albert ‘t Hooft and Paco Vink
Best Animated Short Film (10-45 min): Toto by  Zbigniew Czapla
Best Animated Music Film: Giving me a Chance by Nacho Rodríguez 
Best Animated Student Film: My Strange Grandfather by Dina Velikovskaya
Best Animated Kids’ Film: L’ami by Christophe Defaye and Olivier Defaye
Best Animated Eco Film: Vigia by Marcel Barelli
TV Series Best Film: Old Folks’ Tales Chapter 3 by Carlos Smith and Marcelo Dematei
Best Bulgarian Animated Film: Portals by Simeon Sokerov


Mihaela Mihailova © 2014

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Updated: 04 Jul 14