11 June 2020
This summer, for the first time, the most important animated film festival of the year, traditionally held in the French town of Annecy, will take place completely online. Originally scheduled for June 15–20, the festival has been extended to run an additional 10 days, through June 30. This year’s selection, followed by the global animation community, includes four works from the Czech Republic: a new episode of the TV series Hungry Bear Tales: Truffles!; the short works Carrousel, Way of Sylvie, and the video clip P/\ST: Distress. On the industry side, the Mifa market program will present two projects: I Want to Know! and Hello, Summer! Returning to Annecy is Even Mice Belong in Heaven.
Article by by Pavel Horáček for CZECH FILM magazine / Summer 2020
Hungry Bear Tales has already been broadcast by France Télévisions, and the latest episode, Truffles!, competing in the TV Films category, may have an advantage in the land of "le coq gaulois". The series is the work of seasoned director duo Alexandra Májová and Kateřina Karhánková, the latter of whom competed in Annecy with both of her previous films, The New Species (2013) and Fruits of Clouds (2017).
Hungry Bear Tales was created under the banner of Czech company Bionaut and producer Barbora Příkaská, who has long worked with both artists. She says being able to take part in Annecy also has a personal dimension for her: “Truffles! is one of my favorite episodes. I really wanted to enter it in Annecy, and I’m incredibly pleased that it happened.”
In addition to French TV distribution, the series will appear in Czech, Slovak, and French cinemas, and early next year, of course, on coproducer Czech Television. Irish and Polish partners round out the Czech and Slovak coproduction of the series, which fortunately has been able to retain the unusually unpolished artwork of Filip Pošivač. At first glance, this sets the series apart from other contemporary projects. Featuring two bears in the leading roles, Hungry Bear Tales draws on the best of classic Czech children’s animation. The stories revolve around various tasty treats, like blueberries and genuine truffles, with a unique visual style and subtle verbal humor. The series is based on the books by Zbyňek Černík.
Carrousel: A world inside a shell
The short film competition is traditionally the center of attention at animated film festivals. Making its way into this elite category at Annecy 2020 is Carrousel, the product of a Belgian-Czech collaboration. Jasmine Elsen (director's showreel), the project’s young director, became well acquainted with the Czech-Slovak scene during her studies at VŠMU in Bratislava, and wanted to have some puppet animation in her film. Thanks to support from the Czech Film Fund, she was able to take advantage of the experience of the renowned Prague studio Anima, and created her puppet scenes there.
As producer Peter Badač from BFILM.cz explains: “We created about a minute of animation for the film, as well as animation for the closing credits. We worked on it for about two months in 2019. We collaborated with studio Anima, who have years of experience with puppet animation and helped us immensely with facilities and equipment.”
Badač’s company is an important player in Czech and Slovak animation. Among the projects BFILM.cz has produced are two internationally successful animated shorts — SH_T HAPPENS (dirs. Michaela Mihályi and Dávid Štumpf; premiered at the Venice IFF) and The Kite (dir. Martin Smatana; premiered at the Berlinale) — and his firm is currently producing both the feature-length animated film Heart of a Tower (dir. Peter Budinský) and the special-effect film Martin and the Forest Secret (dir. Petr Oukropec).
Carrousel is about a girl content to remain in her own self-contained microworld, which the audience glimpses of by way of tableaux repeating in different variations. Soon, however, the girl’s space is disturbed by external influences (represented by two men and birds), which she struggles to cope with through aggression and defiance. Elsen’s film is laced with visual metaphors, such as the motif of the snail shell (with clear symbolism). In addition to the snails themselves, this motif also appears in the girl’s vest, a bag of candy, and the roof of the carrousel from which the movie takes its name. The unusual motif of animated real hair, which plays an important role for the girl in Carrousel, is also found in Elsen’s previous student film, Kastaars (2016).
An appeal from FAMU
Of the many quality contemporary films from Czech schools, only Way of Sylvie by Verica Pospíšilová Kordić fought its way into the international student film competition at Annecy. The film’s slapstick works with the subject of the role of women in contemporary society. The artist chose a more subdued artistic style so as not to divert attention from the story and gags on which the film is based. The title character Sylvie lives a variety of roles, with different colored brains for each role. But one day the brains get mixed up, triggering a series of comic situations resulting from a confusion in the roles of daughter, wife, mother, and working woman. The complications escalate to the point of absurdity, leaving Sylvie collapsed in the hospital from exhaustion. Will her family (and society) ease off their demands and reconsider her workload? Take a guess. Pospíšilová Kordić, who originally hails from Croatia, graduated from Prague’s FAMU with this gently urgent film.
We also find a Czech entry in the commissioned works competition: a music video by Nora Štrbová and Beta Suchanová, who both graduated from Prague’s FAMU. The angry critique of “Distress,” by Czech rap duo P/\ST, is accompanied by an equally disturbing video from the directing duo. Grounded in black-and-white imagery, alternating simple but strong motifs, the distress this style personifies alters in form — growing, spilling over, crawling on walls, coming out of woods and streams, and, finally, making an elusive escape.
This isn’t the only splash Štrbová is making on the festival scene. Her short film S P A C E S, in which she deals with the serious illness of her brother, just had its premiere in Switzerland, at the Visions du Réel festival, in Nyon.
Even Mice belong in Preview
This year's edition of the festival will be also following the evolution of long-awaited Czech-French-Polish-Slovak feature Even Mice Belong in Heaven, directed by Denisa Grimmová, Jan Bubeníček and produced by Vladimír Lhoták / Fresh Films, Alexandre Charlet / Les Films du Cygne and co-produced by Animoon of Poland, and CinemArt SK of Slovakia. The film will be presented in a new format Preview, introduced by the festival this year.
Smatana’s behind it all
Peter Badač, mentioned above as coproducer of Carrousel, will also be presenting an upcoming project at Annecy: I Want to Know! — a series aimed at answering difficult questions posed by children. Badač is both writer and director, with artwork by Martin Smatana, who attracted attention last year with his global hit The Kite, his final project at FAMU. This puppet short premiered at Berlinale, and took home the children’s viewer prize at Annecy, confirming Smatana’s ability to tackle hard topics (in this case the loss of a loved one) in an unusual way that is comprehensible for children. I Want to Know! uses the same artistic approach as The Kite in episodes like “Divorce”, “Bullying", and “Two Mommies,” with titles corresponding to their topics.
“The Kite was inspired by my childhood,” Smatana says. “When I was little, I asked grown-ups a lot of questions: ‘What happens to you when you die? Where do you go? Do you fly away?’ The only person willing to answer was my grandfather, who was an amateur astronomer: ‘Of course I’m going to fly away! At the end of my life, I’m going to be so skinny and light that one day a wind will come along and blow me like a piece of paper high up into the universe.’”
He continues: “After we filmed and released The Kite in 2019, we thought we could also answer other questions that children ask their parents. At the same time, we found that the visual style, the puppetry and music, got through to kids, and since the film has no dialogue, it’s universal, for the entire world. For our new project, we want to base it on the elements that interested kids and parents most, and expand the range of questions into a television series.”
Smatana not only animated the puppet passage of Carrousel, but is also involved in Hello, Summer!, one of seven short film projects (including I Want to Know!) that will be presented during the Mifa Pitches at Annecy. (The pitches will also be available to view online.) Hello, Summer! is planned to be an 8-minute film for children aged 5 to 9. It has already received support from the Czech Film Fund, and was selected for the prestigious Animation Sans Frontières development program. It tells the story of a family of four on vacation, with all the escapades you might expect.
As the author reveals, it also draws on his own experiences: “When I traveled with my parents as a kid, I would entertain myself by taking a blank piece of paper and putting some object on it, like swimming goggles or my mother’s fan. Then I would take crayons and draw things on the paper that gave the object a whole new meaning.”
Hello, Summer! brings together two major figures in the new generation of Czech animators, as Veronika Zacharová is also involved, known for her funny films that have been big festival hits: The Bearytales (2015), What Happened in the Zoo (2015), The House (2016), and Wandering Bondy (2017), which she made as a student at Tomáš Baťa University in Zlín. Hello, Summer! will combine real objects, stop-motion animation (Smatana’s specialty), and cartoon animation, showcasing the childish drawings that are Zacharová’s specialty. This strong team is rounded out by screenwriter Lukáš Gregor. Formerly Zacharová’s mentor in Zlín, Gregor is a seasoned theorist and historian of animated film, who has played an important role in the successful animation coming out of Tomáš Baťa University in recent years.
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