We spoke to Mihai Mitrica, founder of Romania’s first animation festival, about the best new animation films and Romania's animation scene.
Under censorship, puppets could be subversive
In the 1960s and 1970s, under the communist regimes in eastern Europe, films in cinemas were censored. However, there was a tradition of puppet theatre in a number of our countries. It was seen as being ‘children’s theatre’, but it could be very subversive. People would use puppet theatre to express their ideas, as nobody would check it.
After communism, the first animators in Romania, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Estonia, mainly used puppets to recreate political short plays and films.
One example from our short film programme this year is Splendida Moarte Accident (The Blissful Accidental Death) by the Romanian animator Sergiu Negulici. It uses animated objects and paper puppets combined with 2D and 3D computer technology to look back at history. Negulici was still a student of sculpture at the National University of Arts in Bucharest when he started making films like this. He was a member of the first post-production studio in Romania after 1989.
Today, the international differences are less pronounced because almost everybody has switched to digital and computer animation, but you can still see some of the legacy of these puppet animations in animators like Negulici and others.
Horror, sadness and laughter can be more believable in animation than in real life
One film that we will be screening this year is based on a graphic novel called Wrinkles by Ignacio Ferreras from Spain. It is a touching story about three old men who suffer from Alzheimer’s.
The animation is done in a style that you would think is funny or light-hearted – very much in opposition to the subject. This makes the emotions more powerful than a non-animated documentary would be.
At the same time, the homemade nature of an animated film – particularly those by independent animators – allows you to go straight to the emotion. Bill Plympton’s Hair High, for example, features some of the funniest comedy you will ever see. Its excellent, unique animation sets it apart. The roughness of the film is a much-needed break from the perfection that is Disney and Dreamworks. Plympton is one of the most successful animators, who has become an icon of independent animation. He really proves that you don't need expensive 3D graphics to make an amazing film; all you truly need is talent and ambition. You feel you are welcomed into the crazy world that is Plympton's animation style.
Some of the animations are scarier than real life. One animated short that we screened in a previous year was the Mexican film Martirys, which is about a dismal and decadent world. A little saint cares for creatures that have suicidal impulses. There is one scene where a saint without a head gives birth to babies in a church. The film is only eight minutes long, but that’s all it needs to take your breath away.
We are experiencing a new wave of creative animation
I got interested in animation as a child. I was fascinated to learn how drawings could come to life. I read a lot of magazines about animation, and realised that there was no way to see the films that I read about in Bucharest. So I decided to do something about it.
I set up the Anim'est Festival in 2006. Back then there were very few festivals. Almost everybody, barring a few creative animators, thought that animation was just about Tom and Jerry and Disney. I wanted to educate people in Romania in the animation industry.
At our first festival, we screened only one or two Romanian contemporary shorts because there were no others. Little by little, the number increased, and now animation is becoming quite dynamic here. It's helped by the fact that in recent years, many artistic events and festivals have started in Romania, not just for animation but related to film in general.
There isn't enough money for creative projects
It would still be impossible to arrange a purely Romanian animation festival. There simply isn’t the volume of material yet, and while there are some good professional studios, almost all of them work in advertising. I understand this, because that’s where the money is, but on the other hand, there isn’t much financial support for the creative, independent projects that I see coming from people at Anim'est. Many young people have great ideas, but they don’t have the resources, contacts or training to work in a team that would make those ideas truly successful.
So it's an advantage that 95 per cent of the content at Anim'est is international, because it encourages collaboration between people of different cultures. Students can meet, talk and exchange impressions with experienced producers, filmmakers and graphic designers. If you want to be an animator, theory is good, but practice is the key.
Anim'est International Animation Festival takes place from 29 September to 8 October 2017 in Bucharest, Romania.
British Council Romania is a partner of the event.