Last year, the Covid-19 pandemic hit all creative industries, and animation was no exception. Many domestic and foreign festivals, where premieres take place and distribution cooperation is negotiated, have been cancelled or moved to the online environment. How did Czech animation creators cope with the limitations and new challenges?
As early as in March, the Association of Czech Animation Film responded to the crisis with a statement, proposing steps to strengthen the segment of domestic production of animated content, especially of series, so that the Czech Republic can disengage economically from the dominant focus on live action film, thus boosting a significant sector of creative industries which may largely exist and work online.
“Production of animated films takes years, so animation is a good field for overcoming shorter periods of crisis. Even during a pandemic, most production can be organized remotely. In a way, the field brings some economic and social stability. The negative consequences of the current pandemic situation will probably show in the future from today’s impossibility to prepare new co-production projects, which are highly important for animation,” ASAF Deputy Chairman Michal Podhradský explains.
Czech animation in cinemas
Although last year did not bring any domestic animated feature, this year and the following years should bring some great new releases to Czech cinemas.
At the moment, the only officially announced animated premiere of this year is the long-awaited feature film by Denisa Grimmová and Jan Bubeníček Even Mice Belong in Heaven based on a book of the same name by Iva Procházková. Mice should arrive at Czech cinemas in October. The producers Fresh Films & Hausboot (CZ), Les Films du Cygne (FR), Animoon (PL) and Cinemart (SK) are behind the Czech-French-Polish-Slovak co-production.
The premiere of the ambitious co-production of France, Germany and the Czech Republic (Les Films de l´Arlequin, Balance Film, MAUR film, XBO Films, ARTE, MDR, Czech Television) The Crossing by director Florence Miailhe was cancelled last year due to the unfavorable situation and is likely to take place at the Cannes Film Festival in 2021. It is the first-ever animated feature film made with the oil-paint-on-glass animation technique, following the dramatic journey of siblings fleeing persecution from an unidentified Eastern European country.
The project My Sunny Maad by the Czech production company Negativ (co-produced by Czech Television, Sacrebleu production (FR) and BFILM (SK) is just nearing completion. It is an adaptation of a novella by Petra Procházková, according to the screenplay by Ivan Arsenjev, and directed by Michaela Pavlátová. This high-budget film (in Czech standards) strives for international distribution and participation at A-level festivals abroad.
The feature film The Proud Princess by director Radek Beran is currently being produced, as well as The Websters, directed by Katarína Kerekesová, which build upon the successful series about a spider family. Debuting director Petr Budínský is preparing his first animated film for children, Heart of a Tower, in a Czech-Slovak-Belgian co-production. The international project Pearl, which started production preparations in the autumn of 2020, will begin its own animation in the coming year. An animated feature being created in Rolling Pictures studio, where the animated Harvie was “born”, is to be finished by the end of 2022.
Last year, Fritzi – A Revolutionary Tale (a co-production of MAUR film, 2019) set out on a successful journey around the world. The greatest achievements of this feature film for children about the November 1989 revolution include national Oscar nominations for Germany, two awards at the Tehran International Film Festival, the Golden Sparrow Award from the oldest German children’s film festival and the European Children’s Film Association Award.
International success of short films
Despite the fact that official film presentations at many festivals have been rescheduled for the next year or moved to virtual space, Czech animation made a good impression around the world. A number of short films were made; see our selection of the most interesting ones below, or a broader overview provided by the Czech Film Center Catalogue.
At the beginning of last year, two animated shorts, Daughter (directed by Daria Kashcheeva, 2019) and SH_T HAPPENS (directed by Dávid Štumpf and Michaela Mihályi, 2019), were presented at the most prestigious Sundance Film Festival. The latter is also going to compete for the French César Award in February.
The animated puppet drama Daughter, co-produced by the Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts in Prague with MAUR film, is also the only Czech animated film that has made it to the Oscar finals in the Best Animated Short Film category in the last few decades. Although Daria Kashcheeva did not win the Golden Statue of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, she has received over a hundred international awards, including a student Oscar for Best Foreign Animated Film from September 2019 or the Crystal for Best Student Film from the Annecy IAFF 2019.
At the prestigious International Animation Film Festival Annecy 2020, Czech animation was proudly represented by four films in competitions and three in the industry programme. The Belgian-Czech co-production Carousel (dir. Jasmine Elsen) competed in the main short films section, the short Way of Sylvie (dir. Verica Pospíšilová Kordič) in the student film competition, and an episode of the series Hungry Bear Tales series (dir. Kateřina Karhánková, Alexandra Májová) made it to the TV films competition and a video for the song Tíseň (dir. Nora Štrbová and Alžběta Suchanová) made for the band Past was presented in the Commissioned Films category. Other Czech projects in development and post-production directed by Martin Smatana (Hello Summer! and I want to know!) were presented in the industry presentation at the MIFA Pitches. In the Preview section, the puppet-computer animation by Denisa Grimmová and Jan Bubeníček Even Mice Belong In Heaven has been presented several times at the MIFA.
The short animated film At the End of the World (dir. Martin Kukal, 2020), which viewers had a chance to see at the Zlín Film Festival and at Anifilm in Liberec, represented Czech animation in the main competition of professional films at the prestigious Cinekid Festival in Amsterdam.
Student work also made itself known in the world. The largest short film festival in the world in Clermont-Ferrand, France, screened three Czech animated shorts, all from school studios. The above mentioned film SH_T HAPPENS (FAMU, Bfilm) in the international competition, The Concrete Jungle made at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design (dir. by Marie Urbánková, produced by MAUR film, 2019) in the section for young audiences, and The Kite (dir. by Martin Smatana, produced by FAMU, BFILM, 2019). The M.A. thesis film The Leaf (2020) by Alion Baranová, a student of the Animation Department at the Tomas Bata University in Zlín, made it to Berlinale 2020.
Czech animation festivals
Due to the complicated situation worldwide, the organizing team of the Anifilm festival decided to postpone the traditional May showcase of animation until the autumn. The festival took place in Liberec from 6th to 11th October. The winners of the Czech Horizon national competition were selected by the Czech Animation Council. The aforementioned Daughter of director Daria Kashcheeva was chosen as the best animated work. The best short film was Alexandra Májová’s Washing Machine. The award in the TV and online film/serial category went to the episode Truffles of the Hungry Bear Tales. The spot Fake News in the Digital World directed by Kryštof Pacourek was awarded as the best commissioned work, Talya La Lia: Shredder by the directing duo Eliška Oz and Lee Oz as the best music video.
Like every year, a professional animation forum the CEE Animation Forum was held, in a very complicated hybrid form. From the 28 shortlisted projects, the main prize in the Series / TV Special category went to No Happily Ever After (dir. Gabriela Plačková, Alžběta Göbelová); The Czech series Baldies (dir. Eliška Podzimková) won the Audience Award and advanced directly to Cartoon Forum 2020. This year’s novelty was also the pitching of upcoming Czech projects called Animation Espresso. A total of 23 projects at various stages of development were presented; the main prize awarded by film producer Jaromír Kallista went to the short film Forgive (dir. Alžběta Mačáková Mišejková).
A number of filmmakers also responded to the spring quarantine: the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague made available online a set of the best and most acclaimed fairy tales made by students in the last ten years under the title FAMU for Children. Another interesting project is that of the online gallery Domased, where illustrators and animators from the Czech Republic and Slovakia took a creative approach to artistically deal with their being “locked down” at home on social networks and the website.
Television production of Czech authors
On the screens of Czech Television, new episodes of the Hungry Bear Tales series were presented to viewers of ČT: D last year, which viewers were also able to see in a short story film of the same name in cinemas.
A new and no doubt remarkable project is Baldies, a series for children suffering from cancer. The upcoming thirteen episodes by the author and artist Eliška Podzimková answers questions bothering both children and parents and explains what to expect during treatment. The series is co-produced by the Czech Republic, France, the USA, the UK and Belgium. Czech Television is also taking part in the development and it should be finished in 2022.