KinoKultura: Issue 47 (2015)

KROK 2014: Student Animation Makes Waves

By Mihaela Mihailova (Yale U)

Unlike most other animation festivals, KROK, which takes place aboard a ship, is a fully immersive experience. For the duration of the cruise, a motley crew of animators, jury members, viewers and critics eat, drink, dance, sightsee, and watch films together within the traveling microcosm of the ship. A whirlwind of incessant activity, KROK is both an endurance test and a rite of passage for animation professionals and aficionados alike.

The 21st international animated film festival KROK took place between 29 September and 6 October 2014. This year’s edition of the joint Ukrainian-Russian initiative was dedicated to student films and professional debuts, giving an international group of young animators the opportunity to meet and discuss their work with renowned directors, such as Iurii Norshtein, Aleksandr Petrov, Andrei Khrzhanovskii, Ivan Maksimov, Mikhail Aldashin, and Mikhail Tumelya, among others. Impervious to the waves of political conflict, the cruise ship “Aleksandr Radishchev” took its passengers from Moscow to Yaroslavl at a leisurely pace, stopping by the towns of Tver’, Uglich, Myshkin, Tutaev, and Rybinsk for brief sightseeing breaks.

Though fascinating in their own right, the beautiful historic landmarks and vibrant fall foliage of the Russian countryside were simply a pleasant addition to KROK’s main attraction, the diverse selection of promising and impressively well-executed student and graduate works. The competition was divided into three separate categories: student films (produced during the course of education), graduation films, and first professional films. Contrary to what one might expect from a program showcasing several stages of professional development, the overall quality of the shorts remained consistent across categories. Within each group, a number of memorable entries stood out thanks to their wit, technical mastery, or willingness to experiment with form.  

retourThe student category, jokingly known as a minefield of youthful angst and depression, went beyond the dreaded doom and gloom to offer a selection of quirky and humorous shorts. The German film Wind (Robert Löbel, 2013) delighted viewers with its clever visual gags about a society capable of thriving only in perpetual windy weather. The stark and minimalistic black-and-white Polish short Splat! (Alicja Błaszczyńska, 2012),while just over a minute long, satisfied fans of dark humor with its well-timed twist ending. The Table is Set (Pöytä on katettu, 2013), a charming puppet film made in Finland by Anni Oja, Sini Pietiläinen, Taru Riskilä, Markus Tervola, Nuppu Nykyri, earned a well-deserved award “For Surprising Perspective” thanks to its creative manipulation of three-dimensional space. Finally, The Return (Le Retour, 2013), a simple narrative about returning to one’s childhood home produced at France’s La Poudrière school by Natalia Chernysheva (whose debut film Snowflake [Snezhinka, 2012] received numerous awards), stood out thanks to its quietly moving nostalgic atmosphere and its exquisitely painterly rendition of a nostalgic country landscape.

symphony42The selection of graduation films was easily the strongest this year. My Milk Cup Cow (Koppu no naka no Koushi, 2014), a drawn animation by Chinese director Yantong Zhu which would go on to win the Grand Prix, impressed the Jury with its disarmingly personal and moving narrative about a daughter’s relationship with her single father and the appropriately naïve drawings reflecting the point of view of a little girl. Hungarian Réka Bucsi’s gorgeous non-narrative short Symphony no. 42 (2013), which has dominated the festival circuit this year (culminating in its selection for the Oscar shortlist in November 2014), wowed audiences and critics alike with its stylized symbolism and the captivating animistic spirit of its whimsical, colorful natural environments. Another festival favorite, British animator Daisy Jacobs’ The Bigger Picture (2014), resonated with audiences due to its unflinching, sometimes darkly humorous account of the struggles associated with providing care for the elderly. Still, what this film will be remembered for is the innovative technique developed by Jacobs who used life-size characters and props created through a combination of painting and papier-mâché. Kiosk (2013), produced in Switzerland by Latvian animator Anete Melece, is a disarmingly uplifting narrative about a kiosk vendor’s dreams of travel and adventure. Despite its formidable competition, the film stood out thanks to the director’s excellent comedic timing and visual gags, her vividly caricaturish, drawn typages, and her masterful characterization of the endearing, relatable protagonist. The Belgian clay animation short Cash Register 9 (Kassa 9, dir. Anna Heuninck, 2013), which centered around the cashier Olga, impressed with its mastery of composition and pacing, achieving emotional resonance despite its minimalism by conveying a sense of Olga’s rigid, immutable daily routine through static framing and economy in gesture and movement punctuated by a well-timed crisis.

kioskThe category of debut films featured a number of titles united by their innovative approaches to visualizing a range of psychological and physical states. In Anatole’s Little Saucepan (La Petite Casserole d’Anatole, 2014), a French puppet film by Éric Montchaud, the title saucepan, forever tied to little Anatole, functions as an effective metaphor for handicap, turning the short into a tender call for acceptance. The Wound (Obida, 2013), a poignant, muted—both emotionally and visually—entry by Russian animator Anna Budanova, anthropomorphizes a girl’s growing psychological trauma as a non-descript, ever-growing black creature rendered with rough, unpolished strokes. One of the most visually daring and complex offerings, Nicolai Troshinsky’s Astigmatism (Astigmatismo, 2013), uses a mixture of cutouts and paint on glass in order to convey the near-surreal perspective of a boy who has lost his glasses. On the lighter side, audience favorite The Sense of Touch (Le Sens du Toucher, 2014), a dialogue-free love story by French director Jean-Charles Mbotti Malolo is notable for its harmonious fusion of music and movement and its unique, dance-inspired approach to storytelling by means of choreography.

In addition to the competition screenings, KROK commemorated the 95th anniversary of the State Film Institute (VGIK) and the 90th anniversary of animation education in Russia with a special retrospective. Opting to showcase “young Russian animation,” the program offered a selection of student and graduate films from the institute produced between 1992 and 2011. Befitting the occasion, viewers were treated to a number of innovative, daring, and masterfully executed pieces such as Zoia Trofimova’s The Trifle (Meloch’, 1993), Vadim Oborvalov’s stunning short Hands-wings (Rukokrylyi, 2006), and Anna Shepilova’s The One Who Was Different (Drugaia, 2008), inspired by the art of Marc Chagall.

The legacy of legendary animator Frédéric Back, who passed away in 2013, was celebrated with a retrospective featuring his classic films All Nothing (Tout rien, 1980), Crac (1981), and The Man Who Planted Trees (L’homme qui plantait des arbres, 1987). Other special screenings showcased selected works by the festival’s international jury, comprised of Anatolii Lavrenishin (Ukraine), Dmitrii Vysotskii (Russia), Mauro Carraro (Switzerland), Vladimir Leschiov (Latvia), and Gil Alkabetz (Germany/Israel).

Despite the variety of excellent screenings, it is likely that, for many of the young international animators, the real highlights of the festival—not counting “Carnival,” the extravagant and provocative costume party KROK has become famous for—were the unique opportunities to spend time with some of Russia’s celebrated animation masters. In Yaroslavl, KROK participants had a chance to visit Oscar-winning animator Aleksandr Petrov’s studio. Aboard the ship, students were treated to a master class by Iurii Norshtein, in which the animator read from his two-volume book Snow on the Grass (Sneg na trave, 2008) and discussed Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of vertical montage. Even outside these events, one would often spot well-established animators and relative newcomers comparing and exchanging notes. It is this spirit of camaraderie, as much as the outstanding animation itself, that has kept the KROK ship afloat for two decades.

Mihaela Mihailova
Yale University


Best Student (Coursework) Film:
Winner: Return by Natalia Chernysheva (La Poudrière)
Diploma “For Hitting the Target:” High Wool by Nikolai Maderthoner and Moritz Mugler (Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, Ludwigsburg)
Diploma “For Surprising Perspective:” The Table is Set by Anni Oja, Sini Pietiläinen, Taru Riskilä, Markus Tervola, Nuppu Nykyri (Turku)

Best Graduation Film:
Winner: Kiosk by Anete Melece
Diploma “For Balance between Form and Content:” Sea Legs by Olesya Shchukina (La Poudrière)
Diploma “For Plot without Holes:” International Father’s Day (Starptautiskā Tēva Diena, Atom Art and Estonian Academy of Arts, 2012)by Edmunds Jansons (Latvia)

Best Debut Film:
Best in Category: The Wound (Obida) by Anna Budanova (Russia, 2012)
Diploma “For Best Adaptation:” Boles by Špela Čadež (Slovenia, Germany, 2013)
Diploma “For A Unique Method of Healing Wounds of the Soul:” Women’s Letters (Lettres de femmes, France, 2013) by Augusto Zanovello

Other Awards:
Best Children’s Film: Brave Mother (Smelaia mama, 2014) by Aleksandra Lukina
Funniest Film: Wind by Robert Löbel
Most Original Cinematic Vision: Astigmatism by Nicolai Troshinsky
“Knighthood in the Profession” Prize: Evgenii Sivokon (Ukraine)
“Plasticine Crow” (Aleksandr Tatarskii Prize): Symphony no. 42 by Reka Bucsi
Grand Prix: My Milk Cup Cow by Yantong Zhu
Audience Prize: Wind by Robert Löbel
Critics’ Jury Prize: Friends (Druz’ia, 2012) by Roman Sokolov


Mihaela Mihailova © 2015

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