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New Croatian Cinema – Malcolm Turner on LIAF 2009 Programme

'She Who Measures' (Veljko Popovic, 2008)

'She Who Measures' (Veljko Popovic, 2008)

Croatia has an enviable record in the world of creative animation. But the production of animated film there follows the travails of the extraordinary political history of the region. The mid 1950’s through the 1960’s were roundly regarded as animating golden age in Croatia and some of the finest films from that era are featured in our very special “Zagreb Film Tribute” programme. The extraordinary events of the 1990’s and the breaking up of Yugoslavia brought war and social upheaval to Croatia.

While the Zagreb Film Studio managed to continue to function through this period, the emergence of an independent, confident Croatia has given rise to a new generation of independent Croatian animators. These artists emerged from a war into a world that gave them new tools and confronted them with new challenges. Experimental filmmaking using inexpensive equipment, edited on desktop computers and screened in bars and clubs took off and was the impetus behind the founding of the 25FPS festival.

As the 21st Century gathered momentum so too did this new generation of young Croatian animators. Some worked within the Zagreb Film structure (full time or part time), some worked completely independently and some formed their own production and distribution companies, such as Kenges. Recently, Kenges restructured after more than 10 years of operation, dividing into two separate entities, 3D2D Animatori and Bonobo Studio; the latter already deep in production of some substantial new animated films by animators such as Simon Bogojevic Narath and Veljko Popovic. This Croatian programme was, for the most part, created while I was in Zagreb working on the Zagreb Film Tribute programme. It came together over coffees and beers in Zagreb’s cafés and outdoor beer gardens. To meet this new generation of Croatian animators is to come face to face with any number of crossroads. The war was – as all wars are – an interruption to the way things had always been done but it also represented an opportunity for a fresh start, new ideas and a break from previous hierarchies.

The rich history of animation that sits in the vaults at Zagreb Film was not always as revered to these young Croatians as it was to this slightly less young animation festival director who had flown in to see the sights, animatedly speaking. The animation avant-garde and the unique Croatian takes on surrealism weren’t always regarded as ideal inspirations for going forward in an age where it was possible (and perhaps necessary) to explore issues of freedom, portray histories of barbaric evil and polemicise the effects of globalisation and capitalism. Many of the Croatian animators I met seem to share a certain low wattage pessimistic view that funding sources will be stretched from thin to the point of perforation and the spectre of the EU slowly rolling towards them holds few perceived benefits. And yet, here they are making world-class films, creating and teaching in world-class university-level courses and sitting in the midst of a festival scene that has never been stronger nor more diverse. Watch out for animators such as Simon Bogojevic Narath whose film Morana is the latest addition to a seriously good and improving body of work. His previous films, in particular, ‘Plasticat’ (2003) and ‘Leviathan’ (2006), have screened all over the world. His film-in-production, ‘The Flowers Of Battle’ (2010?), shows incredible promise. Veljko Popovic is another Croatian animator making waves. Watching his film ‘She Who Measures’ it is hard to imagine this being the work of somebody only recently graduated. In addition to finding himself an assistant to the professor at the prestigious Art Academy in Split, he is also one of the three co-founders of hot new effects and animation house, Lemonade3d.

It has to be said, in closing, that the glaring gap in this programme is that there is no film from Daniel Suljic. The timing was just wrong really. Daniel has created one of the most impressive bodies of work of any of the new generation of Croatian animators. He is accomplished in a number of styles (painted under camera, hand drawn and even using coffee as a powder to create images) and his films have screened at every festival that values expressive, quality animation. As we sit here tapping away at this keyboard, the idea of a Daniel Suljic Retrospective is slowly coming into focus…

Malcolm Turner, 2009