Anifilm: lifeblood for short and student film productions

'Rocks in My Pockets', photo: archive of Anifilm

The annual Anifilm festival of animated film kicks off in the South Bohemian town of Třeboň on Tuesday. Over the next six days, hundreds of films, as well as music videos and animated commercials will be screened in numerous venues all over the town. The original festival, Anifest, was founded in 2002 and changed into Anifilm last year.

Just a day before its launch, I spoke to Anifilm’s programme director Pavel Horáček and I first asked him about this year’s biggest highlights:

“The first thing that comes to my mind is definitely the international competition, which offers over a hundred films this years and which offers the best selection of contemporary animations.

“In the short film section there are for instance films by the famous Estonian couple, Olga and Priit Parn, or a new short by Vincent Parronaud, one of the authors of the famous Persepolis.

“There is also a rich accompanying programme. This year, the festival will commemorate the significant Czech animator and director Vlasta Pospíšilová and there will be several sections of the programme dedicated to her work.

“A large space is also devoted to Sweden, because it is celebrating 100 years of animation. And one of the main topics of this year’s event is applied animation.”

What exactly is applied animation?

“It is quite a broad topic. The most common use is in advertising – in adds, television, jingles, identifiers of individual TV stations, but also in applications for mobile phones and video games or subtitle sequences for feature films and so on. There are a lot of things to show.”

Why have you decided to focus on applied animation and are Czechs successful in this field?

“We decided because it seems to us that it is a neglected or an overlooked topic, despite the fact that many Czech directors or designers make a living by applied animation. They do it on a very high level and they are really sought after abroad.

Pavel Horáček,  photo: archive of Pavel Horáček
“They are using various techniques, such as puppets, which are not that common in advertising. So yes, I would say that Czechs are very successful in applied animation.”

Czech animation has had a very long and rich history. Would you say it is still as innovative and vibrant as it used to be in the past?

“I believe so. There are still new activities and new students of animation. There are several schools around the Czech Republic, with well-known animators teaching there, such as Jiří Bárta, Michaela Pavlátová and Pavel Koucký. So the conditions in schools are really good.

“At the same time, it is true that Czech animation is not in the same shape as it was before 1989. It needs more support for production and distribution of shorts. In the past, it was common that shorts were distributed in cinemas and they were widely known. Nowadays, you see them very rarely.”

So can Czech animated films nowadays compete with large studios, such as Pixar?

“I think it is not the point. It is very hard to compete with such huge studios and big budgets. But Czechs are still very good in puppet animation and various less common techniques. So I think this is the direction we should take.”

Can you mention some of the new, promising names from the younger generation of Czech animators?

“For me, personally, short films and student films are the most important part of Anifilm and similar events.”

“Yes, there are many of them. There are a number of students, who are also taking part in our competition this year. There is for instance Vojtěch Kiss with Anatomy of a Spider. He has already graduated from a film school and his puppet film is really amazing, almost half an hour long and really well done.

“I would also like to mention Martin Kukal from Zlín, from the University of Tomáš Baťa, who is also in the competition. And there are many others, but I cannot mention all of them.”

So are there any Czech entries in this year’s competitions, in the animated shorts and animated feature films?

“There were almost 1,500 applicants this year and we selected about one hundred films to all the categories. We have Czech entries in shorts, we have four films in the student competition and we have two music videos, one by Noro Držiak for the Kafka Band and another one by Jakub Kouřil, a FAMU student, who made a music video for the singer Tomáš Klus.”

One of the entries in the feature films competition this year is Rocks in My Pockets by Signe Bauman, which won the FIPRESCI Award at Karlovy Vary last year. Would you say that animated films are increasingly regarded as part of mainstream film production?

“Yes, this trend started several years ago, although I think this film is a slightly different case. Signe Bauman, the author, used to make only shorts before moving on to a longer version.

'Rocks in My Pockets',  photo: archive of Anifilm
“As I see it, animators know that it is very hard to reach the audiences with short films and that it is much easier with feature films. The FIPRESCI Award is a proof of that. And I am very glad for it, because it shows that animated films can be taken really seriously.”

But you still think that festivals such as this one are an important platform for short films, for instance.

“Definitely. Many animators would tell you that short animation is the best way of doing animation. It is very different to make a film in ninety minutes or in five minutes. It is almost like a completely different genre or field. For me, personally, short films and student films are the most important part of Anifilm and similar events.

This year marks 50 years of Večerníček, Czech television's hugely popular animated series for children. How important were these series for Czech animators?

“It was crucial. It was a field they counted upon for making a living. It was also very important for many generations of children. It was the first contact with animation, as well as quality design and artwork. The tradition has remained to this day, although it is not as strongly supported and the Czech television has very restricted budget for the new series. Still I think it is very important to support production for children.

Will ANIFILM also mark the anniversary?

“In the past, it was common that short films were distributed in cinemas and they were widely known.”

“There are seven or eight special blocks focusing on Večerníček. They are covering the series from the very beginning, from the black and white series from the 1950s and 1960s. They also present the main authors of Večerníčeks, such as Adolf Born and Zdeněk Smetana.”

Finally, how would you say the festival has developed over the years?

“It is definitely bigger and more sophisticated, I believe. The number of visitors is also growing. And the town of Třeboň is starting to be too small for us.

“This is why we are occupying the Old Town Hall on Třeboň’s main square this year. And we have also introduced two new categories, the music videos and experimental forms of animation.”