Contemporary Animated Features in Central Eastern Europe: Lights, Camera, Action

Exclusively for VAF: Vassilis Kroustallis, Head Editor, Zippy Frames

Post-WWII animated production from Central Eastern European countries has been justly celebrated in festival retrospectives and publications; Czech names such as Jiří Trnka, Karel Zeman and Břetislav Pojar; Hungarians like Marcell Jankovics and Gábor Csupó; and Polish artists Walerian Borowczyk, Jan Lenica and Jerzy Kucia (and many others) are still considered to represent courageously made, pivotal artistic examples of European and world animation.

However, animation feature production in the post-Soviet, independent era has now taken the international spotlight as well. In addition to the recognition enjoyed by veteran Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer (and his latest feature work Insect, 2018), the Czech black-and-white animation feature portraying a traumatic past Alois Nebel (dir. Tomáš Luňák, 2011) won the Best Animated Feature award at the 2012 European Film Awards. Similarly, the Polish/Romanian documentary story of judicial misconduct Crulic (dir. Anca Damian, 2011) was given a Special Mention at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival.

It is no wonder that CEE films share the socio-political concerns of the broader area (post-1989 change, nationalism and immigration) and an aesthetic (graphic novel / documentary sources, mixed techniques) that presents an alternative to US studio feature animation. Satire and aesthetic innovation have always been on the CEE agenda, but now the new question of urban culture and how it is processed in a globalized world has arisen. Just watch the Annecy award-winning Hungarian feature The District (dir. Áron Gauder, 2004) and its close relative, Polish urban sci-fi satire George the Hedgehog (dir. Wojtek Wawszczyk, Tomasz Lesniak, Jakub Tarkowski, 2011), as well as Gábor Csupó’s direction of Immigrants – L.A. Dolce Vita (2008). Even fairy tales can take on a darker aspect, as in Jan Balej’s stop-motion Little from the Fish Shop (Czech Republic / Germany / Slovakia, 2015).

Therefore, it is more than fitting to actually discover and support new voices and feature films in the making, and this is what the inaugural VAF 2018 feature pitching sets out to accomplish.

While his first feature, Another Day of Life (co-directed with Raúl de la Fuente) is scheduled for a 2018 release, Damian Nenow presents -along with co-director Bartek Kik – the new 2D/3D project Fatima and the Secret Treasure, where a 12-year Portuguese girl sets out a supernatural journey to save her family.

Another female character, the 13-year old princess Helka fights for happiness in the eponymous family feature (dir. by Hungarians László Nyikos and Csaba Fazekas), which blends local tales and fantasy.

Polish Studio Miniatur Filmowych (which made Anca Damian’s The Magic Mountain) now prepares Schlemiel (based on a book by Marek Ryszard Gronski),  a story of courage and friendship during difficult times, with a script by Wojciech Lepianka and Joanna Ronikier.

Contemporary Central Eastern European animation features will (thankfully) not shy away from sensitive socio-political topics, but promise to find ways to make the final work more global, concerted, and imbued with passion and flair. It is a field to watch.

A joint stop-motion effort from four  directors is the project Of Unwanted Things and People: the stories by David Súkup (Czech Republic), Ivana Laučíková (Slovakia), Leon Vidmar (Slovenia), and Agata Gorządek (Poland) – from the book by Arnošt Goldflam – promise a deeper understanding of the childhood predicament.

The renown Czech illustrator Vladimír Jiránek is the inspiration behind Jack Russel The Planet Rescuer by Ondřej Pecha (producer Bioillusion) which follows a talking dog in his very real world adventures.

The Macedonian 2D animation project John Vardar vs the Galaxy by Goce Cvetanovski extends this world scope to humorous intergalactic trends, and concludes the 2018 VAF feature pitch line-up.

The pitching competition is organised by the Visegrad Animation Forum in cooperation with the Anifilm Festival and the newly established CEE Animation platform.


1. Fatima and the Secret Treasure
Directors: Bartek Kik,  Damain Nenow
Producers: Sofia Miranda, Magdalena Bargieł (Platige Image)

Logline: Having lost her mother, Madalena, a Portuguese 12-year old girl, vows never to pray again. Now she must save her family using clues from her mom’s diary. In the guise of teenagers, an angel and a demon join this quest and secretly fight for her soul.
Target audience: family
Estimated budget: €4,5M

2. Helka
Directors: Nyikos, László,  Fazekas, Csaba, Hungary,
Producers: Sándor Csortos Szabó (Budapest Film Production Ltd.)

Logline: Helka is a 13-year-old princess who must take on her greatest enemy in order to bring freedom and happiness back to her homeland. Tradition, fairy tale, adventures, and humour.
Target audience: age 7-12, family
Estimated:  budget: €3,7 M

3. Jack Russel The Planet Rescuer (Jack Russel Zachránce planety)
Directors: Ondřej Pecha
Producers: Miloslav Šmídmajer (Bioillusion)

Logline: The film was inspired by the artwork of Vladimír Jiránek, author of the legendary duo Bob and Bobek and aims to entertain the all families with young children and teenagers.
Target audience: families with children and teenagers
Estimated budget: €708,000

4. John Vardar vs the Galaxy (Jon Vardar protiv Galaksijata)
Directors: Goce Cvetanovski, Macedonia
Producers:  Alan Castillo (Lynx Animation), Kalin Kalinov, Bulgaria Didier Falk (Will Production), Per Rosendal (Savannah)  Miljana Dragicevic (3d2d)

Logline: The most ridiculous space-opera EVER!!!
Target audience: family
Estimated budget: €1,7M

5. Of Unwanted Things and People (O nepotřebných věcech a lidech)
Directors: David Súkup [CZ], Ivana Laučíková [SK], Leon Vidmar [SI], Agata Gorządek [PL[
Producers : Martin Vandas [CZ], Juraj Krasnohorský [SK], Kolja Saskida [SL], Wojtek Leszczynski [PL]
Production companies: MAUR film [CZ], Artichoke [SK], ZVVIKS [SL], WJTeam/Likaon [PL]

Logline: Four short stories for children, by four directors from four countries, based on a book by the Czech author Arnošt Goldflam.
Target audience: age 7 – 11
Estimated budget: €1.5m

6. Schlemiel
Producers: Włodzimierz Matuszewski  (Poland)
Logline: Schlemiel is a story of courage and friendship during difficult times, when you must risk your own life to save someone you love.

Target audience: age 6-9
Estimated budget:  €4M