KinoKultura: Issue 40 (2013)

Animated Suzdal

By Birgit Beumers (IAS/CEU Budapest)

mostThe 18th animation festival in Suzdal had to be extended by a day, lasting from 27 February to 4 March (instead of 3 March), in order to accommodate the ever-growing range of programs. Aleksandr Gerasimov must be congratulated on the spirit of innovation that he brings to this event. Thus, the festival included a competition with student films, debuts, advertising clips, serials and—for the first time—full-length features, of which there were five, reflecting an altogether healthier industry in the genre: Rinat Gazizov’s Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk (Pokhozhdeniia bravogo soldata Shveika); Ol’ga Lopato’s 3D film From the Screw (Ot vinta); Vladimir Toropchin’s Ivan Tsarevich and Grey Wolf (Ivan Tsarevich i seryi volk), Maksim Sveshnikov and Vlad Barbe’s Snow Queen (Snezhniaa koroleva); and Denis Chernov’s Smeshariki: The Beginning (Smeshariki. Nachalo).

primeval fatherMoreover, the children studios, which are growing every year in their number, presented their works in early morning screenings, led by the indefatigable Petr Anofrikov with his studio “Poisk” from Akademgorodok near Novosibirsk. The Association of Animated Film held a plenary meeting (even if it hardly required the large auditorium…), and a congress was held for professionals, presenting new technological developments (e.g. freezelight) and sociological research on animated film. Master-classes by screenwriters complemented the program. The greatest innovation in the schedule was a pitching session, held for the first time, which saw eight projects presented and assessed by producers and professionals, with the participants prepared and coached by the “trainer” Anna Gudkova, who has been running the Kinotavr Pitching sessions successfully for many years.

Another welcome addition to the program were two sessions that presented new films from the CIS. Ever since the Confederation of the Filmmakers’ Unions ceased to organize the “Forum” of the cinemas of the Baltic Republics and the CIS, the contacts and cultural exchange with the former Soviet republics has been somewhat severed, and limited to feature films at best. This year, Natalya Lukinykh managed to pull together a program that would allow viewers to “catch up” with what has been happening in the animation sector in Central Asia, the southern Caucasus and the Baltic republics, as well as Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. Indeed, Belorussian animation was amply represented, especially through a program curated by Mikhail Tumelya, showing some amazing films from the last 40 years to mark the formation of the animation studio in Belarus.

zashkafLast year’s winner, Aleksei Turkus, presented two films in this the competition: The Land behind the Wardrobe (Zashkaf, 2012), produced by Aquarius film, explores the space behind a wardrobe where un-needed things are stowed away in a space that acquires a life of its own—until the wardrobe is removed, to make room for a Christmas tree. Finely drawn, this film evokes the mysterious life of objects and gadgets that populate our memory. In Little Chapai (Malchik Chapaichik, Christmas Films 2012), Turkus uses a voiceover narrative to parody the life of Chapaev, turning him into a toddler who performs truly heroic deeds for his (more mature) companions Anna and Petya.

zima prishlaThe work of the Studio and School Shar is impressive. Vasilii Shlychkov showed his Winter has Come (Zima prishla, 2012), where he uses a range of textiles and materials in autumnal colors not only to dress his puppets, but to form the background and create an atmospheric and functional setting. Thus, foxes and hares mingle in the autumnal landscape until the fox rolls up the yarn to make the trees lose their leaves. White lace replaces the woolen autumn shades to create the winter setting: the girl remains inside, while the fox now walks through a fragile winter landscape. Other films developed at Shar focus more on the originality of the story, as is the case for Primeval Father (Pervobytnyi papa, 2012) by Vladimir Danilov. In simple pencil black-and-white drawings he creates a witty sketch about inventions in a world where progress stands against backwardness as a father and his son travel through a barren landscape. The cartoon’s simplicity and laconic style are impressive. Anna Kadyrova’s Mole at the Seaside (Krot na more, 2012) is another piece of drawn animation, this time in color. A mole visits the seaside and views mass tourism from “below.” Leonid Shmelkov’s Jump-Bounce (Pryg-Skok, 2012) is also a simply drawn cartoon that builds on the humorous effect of disappointed expectation as the filmmaker plays with repetition and variation.

nashe vseThe Film Institute VGIK is another very strong animation school, now working with producer Fedor Popov and the Debut Centre to produce student and diploma films. Alina Terent’eva’s The Toy (Igrushka, 2012) is a nicely drawn piece of animation. The story is about a stray cat that is always chased away. Once it sits on a fence to watch a girl take care of a toy cat. In a convenient moment, the cat sneaks into the house to replace the toy, making both cat and girl happy. Maybe a little lacking in dramatic conflict, this is a finely produced student film. A similar theme appears in Evgeniia Shlegel’s The Doll (Kukla, 2010), who also studied at VGIK but made her film independently. This piece of puppet animation deals with a girl who comes to city and ends up frozen (as a doll, or mannequin) in a display window, devoured by the glamour of city life.
skeletWith Our everything (Nashe vse, 2012) Elena Vorontsova has produced a witty parody on the exaggerated tendency to celebrate the anniversaries of writers—and not only writers— in Russia. In her drawn animation she mocks a competition of school drawings to mark yet another Pushkin jubilee: the children have no idea what Pushkin’s verse is about and misunderstand the lines in the most basic and banal manner. On this basis, they draw their images for the school’s ceremony. Svetlana Razguliaeva, who has in recent years impressed viewers with her experiments in different styles, this time showed How the Beetle lost its Head (Kak bukashka golovu poteriala, 2012), a tale from the Vologda region set in simple style and to folk music, with simple yet mysterious drawings that bring out the element of witchcraft in the story. The Skeleton-Girl (Devushka skelet, 2012) by Stefania Dvoyak is another originally drawn film that is based on an Inuit tale, where death and life sit next to each other. A fisherman brings up the skeleton of a girl when he is fishing, and he takes it home. The girl takes the heart of the fisherman and comes to life to become his wife. The film simply and plainly illustrates the cycle of life: the girl, who drowned in her childhood, has come back for her life.

pereletnaiaThe studio Pchela, led by Maria Muat, produced an impressive range of films for this year’s festival. On the Wings (Pereletniaia, 2012) by Vera Miakisheva uses plainly drawn images for a beautiful story about a little duck that wants to fly. Eventually it flies off with the cranes, leaving her family worried, but the duck sees the big world but ultimately returns. Miakisheva’s art work makes the story both funny and touching. Julia Aronova’s My Mother is an Aeroplane (Moia mama samolet, 2012) is a lovely story about a mother who delivers letters by plane… and there’s a dad too, only he is on a boat. Exploring the style of Soviet posters of the 50s and 60s, this is a fine film from a former VGIK student. Natalia Chernysheva’s Snowflake (Snezhinka, 2012) is another example of a perfect match between story and technique. A snowflake arrives by letter in Africa—and according to folk belief this means the arrival of winter. So it snows. All the animals freeze and look funny as they are covered in white. The recipient of the letter swiftly takes the animals into his tent so they can all warm up—and as he sends the snowflake back, winter goes away.

snezhinkaSt Petersburg was not at all well represented in this year’s program, which may already be a consequence of the departure of the masters Ivan Maksimov, Konstantin Bronzit and Dmitrii Vysotskii from the St Petersburg State University for Film and Television (SPbGUKiT) following a row after the management’s refusal to guarantee proper technical equipment for the teaching program. Roman Sokolov’s Friends (Druz’ia, 2012) is an exception: drawn on coarse paper and using different layers, this cutout animation tells a story about a man who does everything for his friends—and eventually gives himself up to death, becoming a ferryman over the river Styx. The cartoons from SPbGUKiT have always fared well and been ranked highly at festivals, and one can only hope that the situation there will be remedied soon.

shumThe work of Ol’ga and Tania Poliektovy with their film Noise (Shum) should also be singled out. The sisters, former students of SPbGUKiT, produced this film with the support of Sergei Selianov’s CTB. The slightly grotesque drawings show a man who lives on his own. He hears a buzzing noise and begins to kill the numerous flies in his room. Lonely, he conjures up the image of a lady-friend: but the woman he meets turns out to be a figment of the imagination only—she is of paper and can be folded away. Then he meets a real woman, but the encounter is first doomed by mistrust, until he is convinced that she is real. 

obidaAmongst the studios beyond Moscow and Petersburg, Ekaterinburg has always boasted of a strong tradition. Nina Bisarina’s When Leaving, don’t Forget your Belongings (Pri vykhode ne zabyvaite svoi veshchi, Snega Studio, 2012) is a drawn animation in black-and-white with bright red color accents for the girl doing her makeup. The film is about growing up, about a teenager who no longer wants to be a child, but who still takes her toy hare on the bus. Looking at a boy, she is embarrassed and forgets the toy, but later she searches it on a night bus. The producer Valentina Khizhniakova backed Anna Budanova’s Insult (Obida, Ural Cinema, 2012), where the hand of Mikhail Dvoriankin is clearly visible in the style of the drawings. However, the story lacks unfortunately the humor that is so characteristic on Dvoriankin and his collaborator Zoya Kireeva. Whilst the art work is delicate and subtle, the story is a depressing and pessimistic tale of an insult that destroys a whole life—maybe this is a story to be explored in psychological depth and live action rather than through the abstracted and compressed form of a cartoon.

aldarHumor is certainly not lacking in Rim Sharafkhutdinov’s Aldar and Grey Wolf (Aldar i seryi volk, 2013), which he made in Bashkortostan. It is probably the funniest film in the competition, with an extraordinary sense of rhythm and an abundance of verbal humor and slapstick that is hard to match. The story begins with a wolf that eats a man, who surrenders only because he wants to have peace from his nagging wife…

immortalThe studio Pilot continues to develop its series of “Mountain of Gems,” making films based on folk tales of various peoples. One of the animators who worked at the studio, Anna Shepilova, now made her own film titles It’s Raining (Dozh’ idet, 2012), a stylish retro story of a happy childhood interrupted by the war. Meanwhile, Sergei Merinov, Sergei Gordeev, Natalia Berezovaia all continue working on folk tales. Stepan Biriukov’s Gifts of the Black Raven (Podarki chernogo vorona) is a beautiful piece of plasticine animation about a greedy landlord who deprives one of his subjects of everything he has, until magic establishes justice in the end. But it is Mikhail Aldashin’s Immortal (Bessmertnyi, 2012) that garnered the main award at Suzdal, and shortly after a NIKA for Best Animation (awarded on 2 April 2013). Based on a story from Dagestan, the film tells—yet another story about death. A young man loses his friend. He desires immortality. And he finds it, in a lush palace with a beautiful wife and no worries. Only he begins to long for his friends—who have long passed away. Centuries go by, until the man returns to the world, equipped with four apples he must not lose—yet they all go missing on the way as he remembers his past. Using coarse lubok-style drawings with allusions to the style of Niko Pirosmani, Aldashin’s film will become a true classic. 

tisheIvan Maksimov’s, Long Bridge in the Right Direction (Dlinnyi most v nuzhnuiu storonu, 2012) is another brilliant piece by this master of laconic stories, using black-and-white drawings to portray life on an island as trees are cut to build bridge, but on the wrong side: it is destroyed by a thunderstorm. Aleksei Demin’s Quiet, Gran’s Asleep (Tishe, babushka spit, 2012) is an amazing film that has maybe been undervalued in Suzdal. Demin meticulously and finely reconstructs the atmosphere of the Soviet past, using paper and pen. A woman cannot go to sleep. The jazz music of Kozlov, but also the traffic and the noise of the post-war city stop her from getting rest. But everything is perfect in another place—a place that is disciplined, ordered and dull. From the city of educated and cultured boys Vaska goes to those who are not well behaved, so that grandma can sleep. The uneducated world is colorful, as opposed to the pastel shades of the ordered city. Demin makes a subtle comment on entropy, and on opposition.

Birgit Beumers
Institute for Advanced Studies, CEU Budapest

Jury Prizes
Grand Prix: Immortal by Mikhail Aldashin
Best Director: Ivan Maksimov, Long Bridge in the Right Direction and Stepan Biriukov, Gifts of the Black Raven
Special Jury Prize: The Breadroll and the Bird by Inga Korzhneva
Best Visual Method: Winter has Come by Vasilii Shlychkov
Best Animation: Insult by Anna Budanova
Best Sound: How I Served one Landlord by Mikhail Tumelya
Best Children’s Film: My Mum is an Aeroplane by Julia Aronova
Best Student Film: Primeval Father by Vladimir Danilov
Best Debut: Friends by Roman Sokolov


Birgit Beumers© 2013

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Updated: 13 Apr 13