Celebrating the Czech Republic’s vibrant animation tradition at Anifest
Anifest, a weeklong festival dedicated to animated film has fast become a firm fixture on the Czech cultural calendar since it was established seven years ago. This year’s event, which was held in the picturesque South Bohemian town of Třeboň, screened 320 films in various competitive categories as well as several animated works out of competition from all over the world.
It also attracted an estimated 35,000 visitors to the town along with 369 filmmakers and around 2,000 accredited guests.
These included the respected English film journalist and broadcaster Phillip Bergson, who also sat on one of the competition juries.
Although Mr Bergson is more likely to be associated with major international festivals like Cannes, he maintains that Anifest’s burgeoning reputation helped ensure that he had no hesitation in accepting an invitation to the event, which he says has a lot to offer:
“It is a lovely little event in a very historic part of south Bohemia. Increasingly, it is the smaller festivals where you can actually make discoveries and where you won’t get kicked out of screenings because you don’t have the right coloured card. You can actually meet the filmmakers and I think that’s really impressive. Třeboň really is a charming historic place and although it is very tiny, it has a real cinema and a beautiful baroque theatre. I think it also has everything that a film festival should have and what film festivals used to have before they became great media events.”
Besides its competition screenings and accompanying events such as special concerts and workshops, Anifest also showcases the work of many renowned Czech artists like Vladimír Jiránek, who is one of two Czech animators to have had a retrospective of their work shown at this year’s festival.
Jiránek’s work is associated with the so-called golden age of Czech and Slovak animation in the 1970s and 80s, when Czechoslovakia developed a reputation as a hub of animated film production.
Leading German animator and honorary president of this year’s Anifest Raimund Krumme says that this period has left behind a legacy that Czechs can be proud of
“Even before we could cross borders from east to west and west to east, we already knew Czech animation and we loved Czech animation. I think they have a rich tradition and I know that they really maintain this tradition and take it to new boundaries, which is wonderful.
“It’s a certain style of animation – it’s very human, it’s entertaining but also keeps one eye on the arts as well.”
Legendary Czech animator and pioneer of puppet animation Břetislav Pojar is a regular guest at Anifest. So what does he think the success of Czech animation is based on and is it still as innovative and vibrant now as it was in the past?
“We’re probably a little bit different from other people. And this is probably what makes our animation so attractive. Styles and tastes have changed a lot over the years. The movies they make today are very different in style to the films they made when the genre was in its infancy.
“But the decisive thing has always been to have enough talented people. The talent is still here. However, the other important thing is money. And unfortunately, there is not a lot of that around at the moment.”
As Mr Pojar suggests, unlike the glory days of the mid-to-late-twentieth century, Czech animation production has had to undergo a painful transition process ever since state support for the industry collapsed after the fall of communism and studios had to seek funds from private sources.
“We decided to organise an international festival to help Czech production and to show Czech filmmakers films, because it’s difficult and expensive for the Czech filmmakers to go abroad to other animated festivals, so we decided to bring the films to the Czech Republic. That’s one of the reasons why we decided to first hold the festival seven years ago.”
Although Anifest’s programme typically includes lots of experimental animated films from all over the world, it also shows plenty of mainstream productions such as the Simpsons movie and the popular French feature-film Persepolis, which won this year’s main prize.
Los-Angeles-based animation producer Ron Diamond, who was a juror for this year’s main competition, says that the sheer variety of films on offer at Anifest is part of the event’s huge appeal.
“What you find here is a broad array, meaning it is a really diverse programme. So you can find very artistic work as well as more entertaining films all in the same group. That’s not to say that the artistic films can’t be entertaining, because they often are.
“When I say artistic, I’m talking about non-narrative experimental films. Some festivals sort of specialise in that, while others specialise in more commercial output.
“Here you kind of get all of it. So you get to see a lot more films and audiences really get a chance to see a lot more animation.”
With the rise of major animation studios like Pixar and Dreamworks and the massive success of animated features like Shrek and The Incredibles, the animation genre has become a central facet of the movie industry in recent years.
Given that animation features are now routinely included in the official selections of mainstream festivals like Cannes and Karlovy Vary, it could be argued that the presentation of animated film no longer needs to be “ghettoised” in specialist events like Anifest.
Phillip Bergson, however, is in no doubt that animation showcases such as Anifest still have plenty to offer:
“A lot of animated film – particularly if it comes from somewhere like Korea – is not exactly mainstream in the multiplexes of Europe or the rest of the world. So it still needs a kind of festival circuit.
“What I’ve noticed and perhaps regret is that a lot of mainstream filmmaking has become too comic book. We’ve had too many literal film versions at 190-million-dollar budgets from the major Hollywood studios of what are basically comic books and nothing more.
“And yet in these kinds of films – like Ironman or whatever is coming to your nearest multiplex – I don’t think you’ll find a third of the kind of artistic interest and the complicated allusions and references that are in some of these feature films and fairytale stories.
“What a festival like Anifest does is celebrate invention, magic and the world of the fairytale. And that is what I think you want if you are going to pay some money to go to the cinema. You want to be taken to another world.
“Animation, of course, can completely do this because the pigs can fly, the elephants are pink, and humans can be more beautiful than they normally are.”