From Film New Europe:
Is Central Europe poised to regain its position as a leading force in the field of animation? Judging from the recent upsurge in production, and a new emphasis on feature length animation, this could be the region to watch.
It’s a form that has a long and honored tradition. From Lithuania’s Ladislaw Starewicz (who brings a Polish pedigree), creator of puppet animation, to Czechoslovakia’s imaginative successor to Georges Melies, Karel Zeman – the subject of a year-long tribute by the Zlin festival of films for children and youth (www.zlin-fest.cz) – the region has produced more than its share of masters.
Now, taking its cue from the popularity of U.S. feature animation films, producers and directors are readying a range of films to challenge the Americans at the box office.
Hungary got a boost from native son Gabor Csupo, a guest at the Zlin festival last year. He brought his Simpsons-honed style and humor to Immigranti (www.klaskycsupo.com), an in-your-face comedy about misfit immigrants searching for the American dream in L.A. Along with unbridled energy, “Csupo brought a positive American impact,” says Hungarian animation producer Tamas Liszka. Csupo was one of the “foreign” filmmakers who looked to Hungarian professionals for crafting animation. Secret of the Kells (which was nominated for an Oscar) was partially animated at Hungary’s Kecskemet studio (www.kecskemetfilm.hu), with Hungarian financing. Liszka, a 2010 European Film Promotion (www.efp-online.com) Producer on the Move, is in production with his first feature length animated film, Egill: The Last Pagan, the first Icelandic/Hungarian (www.lichthof.hu)co-production, with Poland (www.se-ma-for.com) also on board, directed by Hungary’s award winning animator Aron Gauder.
Liszka stresses that Egill, like Immigranti, is not a children’s animation film. In fact, Central Europe has a superlative body of animated films with adult themes, although those were primarily shorts. One exception is the Czech Republic’s Jan Svankmajer, known for his unique brand of surrealistic animation.
Poland is another contender in the feature animation with a children’s film set to the music of Chopin. The international production between Poland (www.breakthrufilms.co.uk), Norway, France and Great Britain was initiated by the Polish Film Institute (www.pisf.pl) and the Polish Ministry of Culture as part of the “Chopin Year” project.
But the real powerhouse in the region is the Czech Republic, which has 14 or more full-length animated films planned for theatrical release between 2010 and 2013. Drawing intense attention is the ambitious Alois Nebel directed by Tomas Lunak for Negativ (www.negativ.cz), based on a graphic novel and employing a new animation technique that has experts likening it to Waltz with Bashir. While a number of the Czech films will be aimed squarely at the children’s market – a field where Czech filmmakers excel – even top filmmakers and producers are turning their attention to animation. While animation purists will argue the point, most people agree that Jan Sverak’s newly release Kuky’s Return (www.sverak.cz) with an animated puppet in the title role, is just the crest of the animation wave about to be unleashed.
Zlin festival director Petr Koliha gave FNE his insights on the new vibrancy in animation in Central Europe. “Although creating full-length animation works is terribly complex, European animation is attempting to compete with works from overseas, in quality if not in quantity. The new generation of young film creators is emerging as a driving force in the revival of animated creation. Zlín too has a great film school tradition. Animated creation also may appear to creators as a relatively more innovative and freer genre for bringing creative ideas and projects to life,” he said.
— By Cathy Meils in Zlin Film Festival: