Burgeoning animation festival spreads its wings


In this week’s edition of Panorama, we report from the latest edition of Anifest. Now in its eighth year, this international showcase of animated film has become a major cultural event in the Czech Republic. It screens several hundred films and attracts tens of thousands of festivalgoers and scores of international guests. In fact, Anifest has now got so big that part of the event this year will be held in the spa city of Teplice in addition to the charming town of Třeboň in south Bohemia, which is its traditional base but which no longer has the facilities to match the ambitions of the festival organisers.

As always, this year’s event offers animation fans a chance to sample several genres of this branch of film. This includes a rare opportunity to see a selection of African animation and a special retrospective of Italian animated films, which the festival’s honorary president, animation historian Giannalberto Bendazzi, helped choose.

He says that events like Anifest play a crucial role in presenting the sheer depth and scope of animated film production to audiences, who might not otherwise get an opportunity to see work like this in mainstream cinema venues:

“Animation is a second cinema. It has its own history, masters and genres. The challenge for us who are within the walls of this ghetto is to break down these barriers to let us out and the rest of the world in. That is what the festival is here for.

“Unfortunately, there is a problem with distributing films everywhere in the world. Because of this, if you make films that are not blockbusters, your film will not be distributed. You need a special event and that special event is this festival.”

'Creation of the World'
Another highlight of this year’s festival comprises a selection of films by the renowned late Czech director Eduard Hofman, who is famous for his adaptations of Karel Čapek’s stories and his feature-length film The Creation of the World, which he made with the French artist Jean Effel.

Giannalberto Bendazzi says it is fitting that Anifest regularly includes special retrospectives by Czech animators, as these local artists have an important place in the pantheon of animated film production.

“It has many masters for such a small country with such a little population. It is a bit like Ireland, which has got more Nobel Prizes for literature than anywhere else in comparison to the quantity of people living in the country.”

According to Giannalberto Bendazzi the Czech Republic’s proud animation tradition has some distinct qualities, which help the country’s animators to frequently punch above their weight in animated film:

“One special characteristic is puppet animation, ranging from Jiří Trnka in the 1940s to Jan Švankmajer today. But you also have other great masters like Michaela Pavlátová. This young lady is one of the greatest animators in the world. She doesn’t make any puppets, but only uses drawings.”

Another well known Czech animator is Petr Sís, who won a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1980 for his short film Heads. Now based in New-York, where he works as an award-winning book illustrator, Sis was attending Anifest for the first time this year, as a member of the international jury. He says the event far exceeded his expectations:

“I have to say I sort of prejudged the whole thing. I thought it would be a local affair. I was pleasantly surprised by the films, which were of a very high standard. It was also very good because they were from all over the world, which was very revealing and eye-opening. I am very impressed and grateful that I came. I mostly like the idea that young people are coming to Třeboň, just hanging around and going to see the films. And there is lots of interest in them. Overall it’s been a very positive experience.”

Another renowned Czech animator and book illustrator attending Anifest for the first time was Ludmila Zeman, the daughter of the legendary Czech animator Karel Zeman who made world famous films such as Journey to Prehistory and The Fabulous Baron Munchausen.

Like Sís, Zeman also found that Anifest exceeded her expectations:

“It’s amazing here. I must say that even though I lived in the Czech Republic for a very long time, I never visited Třeboň before. But it’s a beautiful city. It looks like a film set. It’s very pleasant to walk everywhere. Everything is very close by. I think the public here is also very good and that they are used to watching animated films, because the cinemas are full every day and people are really enjoying the movies. This is a great place for animated film to be”

As Ludmila Zeman suggests, the beautifully picturesque town of Třeboň has played a major role in helping attract visitors to the festival. Now, however, part of the event will also be held in the larger spa town of Teplice for the first time.

Anifest’s marketing manager Magdalena Šebestová says that the increasing popularity of Anifest meant that such a move was inevitable.

“The audiences just grew in numbers. Eight years ago, when it started, it was a local festival, which was only for Czechs. We are happy to say that it has become an international event and there is a growing number of people coming here. So to make a long story short, the festival has outgrown the town. Even though Třeboň is quite wonderful and charming, it’s becoming more and more difficult to fulfil the technical requirements, so we decided that we needed to look for something larger.”

Although no final decision has been made on where next year’s Anifest will be held, there is a distinct possibility that the event may move permanently to Teplice, which is better able to cater for the festival’s growing audience.

If that happens, many veteran festivalgoers may miss the charm of Třeboň, but Magdalena Šebestová is hopeful that it won’t diminish the important place that Anifest now occupies on the Czech Republic’s cultural calendar.

“Our international guests seem to welcome the size and the atmosphere of the event. I’m kind of saddened by the thought that we may be losing this in a way if we go somewhere else. But hopefully it’s not only about the atmosphere in Třeboň. Hopefully, it’s also about the atmosphere that comes from us, the people who organise the event, because, if you don’t like animation, you don’t stay in this field. You can’t make money on animation and you can’t really become famous doing animation. It is a genre that is only for those who are genuinely interested in it. So hopefully our activities show how much we love it and that we will keep on doing our best to make it accessible to everybody.”

The Teplice leg of Anifest runs until 10 May. You can find more details on the festival’s website at www.anifest.cz