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July 18th, 2010

This is the first existing trailer for the upcoming animated feature by the award-winning director Garri Bardin, which he's been working on for almost 6 years. The Russian public release will hopefully be on Sept. 16, 2010, while the international premiere is at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland in August. I did the English translation on my own initiative.



The trailer was made by Boris Shcherbitskiy, who's known for creating fan-made trailers for old Russian animation classics. He writes: "About two months ago, I was given the chance to make a real trailer for a film soon to be in cinemas. After watching the material, I decided to decline: I didn't get the artistic itch that had overcome me before I began work on my previous works. Especially considering that there was another man (much more skilled than I) who was given the very same task. But they convinced me that I should at least try, so I did. In the end, of course, the professional work was chosen to play in theatres. But they say that the director liked my trailer better. The official, professional one, you'll see later. Mine was chosen for getting the word out online."

The "online campaign" is being run by gavro-shik.


Гадкий! Утёнок гадкий!
Ужасно гадкий, жуткий и плохой
и не утёнок, и не цыплёнок -
ты даже сам не знаешь кто такой.

Не то что мы, ребята местные,
собой прелестные,
и всем известные
а ты такой ужасный -
ты безобразный,
ты несуразный,
грязный и чужой.

Чтобы тебя любили,
ты должен быть короче и жирней! (-ей-ей)
Точь в точь как мы, ребята классные,
собой прекрасные,
ну сколько можно обьяснять что не бывает
таких уродов,
среди нормальных уток и гусей.

Ты гадкий-гадкий! Ты не утиный!
Ты не гусиный, не куриный сын.
Ты безпородный, и все-противный,
худой и длинный - живи один!

Ugly! That duckling's ugly!
Horribly ugly, vile and a disgrace.
And he's no duckling, nor's he a chicken;
not even HE can say where is his place.

Quite unlike us, your local residents,
great-looking precedents,
well-known around these lands,
While you're the worst endeavour
that we've seen ever,
and you will never
be a local face.

"No-one will ever love you
unless you get much shorter and more fat!"
The spitting image of us local boys,
who have such grace and poise;
how many times must we explain that among normal
goose and duck siblings,
you'll never see repulsive freaks like that.

You're ugly! Ugly! You're not a duckling!
You're not a gosling, nor a chicken's own.
You are a mongrel, dreadfully scrawny,
too tall and bony - go live alone!


At times, the translation is not literal, but expresses the overall sentiment instead. I kept to the original rhyme scheme as much as I could.

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Also, I'm posting below the first part of an radio interview with Garri Bardin taken on Finam.fm on March 12, 2010, by Yelena Likhachova. Parts 2-4 will come later.

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July 9th, 2010

"Ready or Not, Here I Come" (literal title, "I Go Seek") was directed in 1992 by the mysterious Vlad Fesenko. The actual story of how the film got made is a bit unclear; in the film itself, only the logo of Moscow's Pilot animation studio appears, while animator.ru says that it was made by Uzbekfilm and the Cinema Technologies Group. My guess about what this means is that it was made at Uzbekfilm (because all of the crew were Uzbekfilm employees), distributed by Pilot (who replaced other logos with their own), and partially funded by Cinema Technologies Group (this group worked with many different studios at this time).

What ended up getting made is one of the best examples of surrealism in animation.

Actually, most of the great examples of surrealism in Russian animation were released by Pilot studio at about this time (late 1980s, early 1990s), and they were mostly directed by new directors who made a brilliant film or two, and then immediately left their profession, often moving to the West to work as commercial animators or in advertising. Other examples include Andrey Svislotskiy's Hypnerotomachia, and Igor Kovalyov's His Wife the Hen and Andrey Svislotskiy (he named the film after his fellow director).

As for Vlad Fesenko, I could find very little information about him. He comes out of nowhere, directs a brilliant film, and then just disappears? Huh? The only film credit prior to this one that I could find is as co-director on "The Tales of Old Usto", a 1986 children's film (you can view a few seconds of it here). In the late 1980s (~1987-1988, maybe starting a year earlier and ending a year later), according to kinoart.ru, Fesenko enrolled in Moscow's Seniour Courses for Screenwriters and Directors, along with Aleksandr Petrov, Ivan Maximov, Mikhail Tumelya, Valeriy Olkovich, Vitaliy Bakunovich and Vadim Medzhibovskiy, with Mikhail Aldashin joining a bit later. There, he received instruction from Fyodor Khitruk, Yuriy Norshteyn and Eduard Nazarov. After 1992, I think I saw him credited for an early 1990s Ukrainian commercial - I can't seem to find it now, though.

Anyway, enough exposition. Please enjoy the film. Analysis and translation notes are below the video. (to make sure subtitles are turned on, click on the triangle on the bottom right and turn on CC) (the .srt subtitle file can be downloaded here)



The poem at the beginning is rather odd. The first four lines are a traditional counting rhyme for the game of hide-and-seek (although usually only the first two are spoken), while the next four are modified from a "children's poem" written by Valeriy Bryusov in August 1901

The result is a bit unsettling:

Раз, два, три, четыре, пять
Я иду искать
Кто за мной стоит,
тот в огне горит
Слово скажешь, на гулять -
Черной цепи не распять.
Снизу яма, сверху высь,
Между них вертись, вертись.
Кто не спрятался, я не виноват.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
I'll be searching high and low,
Stand behind my back,
and you'll be burned black.
Speak a word, and try to run;
the black chain won't be undone.
Pits below you, cliffs above;
in between, you'll spin and rove.
Ready or not, here I come!


After watching through the film many times, I've begun to see that there is definite purpose in it. Surrealism, after all, is not about being random; it's about using unconventional symbols to portray something that is invisible to the naked eye. I think I understand the beginning and end, but not the middle; if someone can see something that I missed, please leave a post. And so, let's begin.

The film's description on animator.ru says: "In childhood hide-and-seek is a game but in grown-up life it becomes a way of life."

The opening montage (after the counting rhyme) shows us that this kid could have lived in many places; some kids are born in the jungle, some are locked behind bars, and some are born to immediate fame. This particular kid is born in a decaying urban society. Everything in this film is a visual metaphor. Alcoholism is depicted as a hand literally reaching out from the gutter for a bottle, and closing the sewer lid over itself.

So our main character is born into a city that is falling apart, where authorities (represented by the walking hands) are chasing powerless undesirables (represented by flies that scatter when a police whistle blows), as well as other competing powerful figures (hands that give the finger to the police - 2:09 in the video). Lovers hide in the apartments. A sweeper lady tries to clean up some of the mess at first, before breaking her broom and leaving in disgust. Our protagonist witnesses how one of these powerless undesirables (depicted as an insect) is dealt with - the pleading falls on deaf ears as he (or she) is approached to be swatted with a newspaper. This is when an authority figure grabs the kid, stopping him from wandering around and seeing too many things, instead putting him onto a straight-and-narrow railroad to "success".

Our protagonist obediently takes his first steps on this railroad, and soon he's moving faster and faster. Night falls, and he no longer notices the surrounding scenery - his gaze is fixed on the promising lights in the distance, which he's sure to reach... sometime. This hope is represented by the blue ball that he absentmindedly rubs as he sits patiently (i.e. 2:56). The railroad becomes quite hilly, though, and the blue ball (which is revealed to be a bauble of the sort that decorates a New Year tree - in other words, representing hope for the future), is left unattended, falls to the ground and smashes. As soon as that happens, the passengers of the train have no reason to stay on it. Reality changes - the passengers now perceive themselves to not be on the train, but that the train is rolling over them. They stand up, confront the train, and it rolls away and rusts as if it had never been.

At 4:30 begins the middle part of the film that I don't understand very well right now. Having left the train behind, a new society needs to be built. Someone takes it upon himself to look through a theodolite and measure... people. Journalists, military. When some show disloyalty (I think, if I'm interpreting the spitting gesture correctly), he removes the floor beneath them. At 4:51, a single glass cup (in a metal cupholder, which were used on Soviet trains) is placed among other liquid-holders that are made completely of clay or metal. When the steel furnace begins pouring molten metal (maybe this represents the new ruler solidifying control), the glass breaks when the hot liquid reaches it. Again perception changes. The hot liquid has cooled, and everything is frozen. Lovers sitting in a frozen boat sink beneath the ice when consent (represented by the ring) is given. The call of "water!" is answered by a seagull, which flies toward us, and gives us... religion.

Five boys dutifully sit and listen to the completely incomprehensible words of an old rabbi who reads from pages whose actual meaning is much more basic than he lets on. I think that the religion here need not necessarily be Jewish; it could be any incomprehensible old dogma that keeps being repeated up until the point that it suddenly stops being mentioned and is almost like it never was. Only very young people will probably not know what I'm talking about. The rabbi falls silent, and his Torah pointer barely has the strength to flick away a wayward bug from the page. The other four boys tiptoe out of the room, but our protagonist goes up to the religious book.

He walks between the pages of religion, and uses its reassuring "holy text" to seal himself off from the world, reverting to the fetus position and finally to an egg. The view of the outside world from inside the egg is hazy; a woman kisses him, maybe someone throws a rotten egg at him, but it's all a bit far off. Finally, the final scene shows us what he looks like to people from the outside: a dirt-poor sweeper with his eyes symbolically tied shut. Just doing his part to keep the world a bit cleaner, but probably not doing a very good job, because opening his eyes would be too painful.

It strikes me that this film could be a self-portrait (though I stress that I know very little about the director).
ValerieChatoner has finally finished her long project of translating this 2007 animated feature by Melnitsa Animation Studio (directed by Vladimir Toropchin). She uploaded part 1 on June 27, 2009, and part 14 on June 30, 2010. Her subtitles serve as a beautiful tool for people wanting to learn Russian, because both languages are displayed simultaneously on the screen.

The film is the 3rd part of the "3 bogatyrs" trilogy, which star three legendary Russian heros from long ago. Melnitsa had a hit with the first one in 2004, and decided to milk the franchise for all it was worth, much like DreamWorks did with "Shrek" in the United States. The comparisons don't stop there: the films use heavily patriotic Russian motifs but are American structurally, in things like editing, humour and character development.

The film was fairly successful at the Russian box office, gathering at least $9.5 million, which more than covered its budget of $2 million. Internationally, it has been seen at a few film festivals, but no other release.

All 14 parts are embedded below.


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Translations for June

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drawing, old man
9 Russian animated films were newly-subtitled in the past month. I'll post most of them in this entry, while a few will be given their own posts.

To see the subtitles, make sure that CC is turned on (click on the triangle in the lower right-hand corner).

"The Little Sparrow", directed by Aleksey Karayev in 1984 (Karayev also directed Welcome, The Lodgers of an Old House, The Sneetches, and I Can Hear You)

(subtitles by Dennis Keen (UCSantaCruzRussian), who applied this translation of the original story, further edited by me, June 2)



Personally, I think that this is a charming film with brilliant use of the cutout animation technique, but it would've been much better to stick with the original ending of the story rather than add in a simplistic moral. In the original ending, the child reading it comes to his own conclusions, which is much more effective.

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July 8th, 2010

Director Sergey Merinov wrote in his LiveJournal on July 3rd that Pilot, Russia's oldest private animation studio (see Wikipedia article) will be closing in one week, one of many Russian animation studio casualties recently. If this happens, it will be the end of an era; it was largely Pilot that set the standard for Russian animation after the Soviet collapse (to quote animation historian Georgiy Borodin, one of the most fundamental changes in the last 20 years has been "the change of school from the 'Soyuzmultfilm school' (or the 'old Moscow school') to the "Pilot school").

For some reason, what he wrote gathered quite a lot of attention, with 330 comments as of today (not counting the many deleted ones) and most of the major TV and radio news organizations now lining up interviews and round-tables about the situation.

Here's an interview with Sergey Merinov originally published on Lenta.ru on July 6th, translated by myself, in which Merinov does a good job of explaining the current situation in Russia and the conditions that led to it.
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On July 5, 2010, the animated film director Sergey Merinov wrote in his LJ that Pilot studio has enough money for one week of work. Therefore, the legendary studio currently finds itself on the verge of closure. Lenta.ru talked with the director about the situation that "Pilot" finds itself in, and found out that Russian animation is, at the present time, not needed by anyone.

Is it true that the studio only has enough money for one week of work?

Yes, that is currently the case. The situation is such that Goskino is currently unable to pay studios (practically any of them) for those films which it ordered from them and which they have produced. Many studios perished before us; we held off the end for a while with our own resources, but they have run out as well.

What will happen after this money runs out? Where will the people go?

We will mothball our films, and release our employees into unpaid leave until the return of financing or the arrival of some non-governmental, commercial projects. In fact, we could have lived without state funding: the studio worked not only on government projects, but there were also many different commercial projects. It's just that in this current crisis, there are some constraints here. It turned out that the government is also unable to support us. It's not just that there has been a financing reform and most of the money was given to the largest studios (you probably know this story about Mikhalkov and the other big studios), while animation and documentary film were given almost nothing. That's not even the main problem; the main problem is that even the little that was given is not being paid. As I understand it, Goskino is ready to pay, but they're not being given any money either. Unfortunately, I don't work in government, so I don't know what the problem is. Currently, all studios which ran with state funding, and there are quite a few of them, have halted operations.

So whose fault is it that the studios are in a deplorable state?

It's hard to say. The underlying reason is probably the crisis, which has stopped many commercial projects; few wish to invest in animation today, as this is, after all, a pretty long-term form of art. And also the state funding freeze. Unfortunately, no coherent policy in support of animation exists in our country at all. I have the sense that the new minister of culture is unaware that animation even exists in our country and continues to somehow function. Lately we've been hearing from our TV screens that, for example, when the president met with our leaders of culture one of them (I don't remember who exactly) persistently spent a long time badmouthing "The Little Grey Neck" (for some reason that was the film he picked). He was saying that it hearkens to the past, while American cartoons, no matter how bad they be, promise the future. And the president himself, when he met kids at a boy scout camp, recommended that they watch the newest "Shrek". I think that he did it with a pure heart, but you know how we like to imbue every little statement with great meaning. Basically speaking, they decided that in these difficult times, animation can safely be sacrificed. At least, that's my impression. Of course, this is only my guess, but the theory seems to fit current events.

Many are asking us: why are you whining and asking for state funding? In fact, I think that studios could survive self-sufficiently as well, if there were coherent government policies to support domestic producers: quotas for television, a law for commercials which would allow commercials to run during children's programming. Currently, by the way, many channels simply do not show animated films, and therefore buy neither them nor children's programs, simply because they can not insert advertisements into them. Concerning quotas, they exist in many European countries. For example in the UK, channels are required to show, I believe, not less than 50% domestic animation. In France, there is a dedicated channel for domestic animation. But we simply have nowhere to sell - TV, as I said, is not interested in buying our products. And if they do buy them, they put them at 6 am on Sundays. As I understand it, this is done just for the record. One can understand their perspective - it is unprofitable for them to show us because of this advertising law. Or here's another idea: if the channel shows animation which it funds itself, the channel is allowed some competitive advantages, as is done in many countries.

And if there will not be a coherent policy, just tell us: "we have no need for domestic animation". In fact, in many countries, there is no domestic animation, and nobody has died because of this; but it's not good to keep us in limbo. If it is decided that there will be no support, it means that studios will become purely commercial entities and will make products primarily for a Western audience, as it was in the early and mid-1990s, when there were no state commissions and we all worked for the West.

Earlier, you sold some things to the West, and made something for Cartoon Network.

Yes, and not only that. We worked on a series which had a very good rating. But we always wanted to make something for our own audience.

This is understandable. Long-term cooperation didn't work out?

Actually, we even worked on two series: "Mike, Lu & Og" and "Mister Bean". But when the state commission came, it became much more interesting for us to work on "Mountain of Gems" for our own viewers and children. This was a much more important project for us. After all, Western companies don't order the entire production and, as a rule, give us only some part of the work on the show ...

For example, which part?

In "Mike, Lu and Og", for example, there were American writers, but we did the storyboard and sent it all to Korea, where they did the animation. In "Mr. Bean" we, conversely, did the animation based on storyboards made in England. That is, there were different forms of cooperation. You must understand, this was not made for our audience, but we will have to do this again; also, in times of crisis such work has become much scarcer, and such a commission must still be found. Also, Western countries are now trying to place such orders mostly in China or Korea. Not in Russia, where labour is more expensive.

You had all sorts of projects for television; what happened to them? Or were they, too, closed because of the crisis?

All projects are stalled, because neither private investors, nor the state have the strength to finance animation.

You wrote about the studios "Toonbox" and "Aeroplan", about their success. Do you think that they were simply lucky enough to receive a commission?

And they got lucky that this year, the Moscow municipal government has allocated money for animated series; this is a city commission. The government of Moscow, by the way, is one that supports animation. Two years ago, for example, it financed two films in the "Mountain of Gems" project, and this year it ordered two shows from these studios. But it cannot support all Russian animation.

What do you think must be done right now in order to save "Pilot"?

The correct question is: what must be done to save not just "Pilot", but all stalled studios. In Moscow there is a wonderful studio called "Animos" - they halted production of a feature film. This is a catastrophe! You see, if you stop this sort of production, it cannot start up again. And there are also many small studios that are stalled. So, to save all this, I think, there must be government goodwill: someone should order Goskino to release money so that it can at least pay us for what it has already commissioned. That's the first thing. The second thing of course (as I already said before), is a coherent state policy relating to animation and actions to support it (if, I repeat, we need domestic animation at all). This need not be state funding; this is not always the best route in our country - it is better to create favourable conditions for the development of the animation business in Russia.

However, currently everything is directed at supporting the Western producer; that is, you can't break into distribution - all the best timeslots are scheduled years ahead of time for Western vendors, and it is unprofitable for television to buy our product, as I have said. And also, when Disney makes a contract with the channels, it does not allow them to air anyone else. We have a complete mess with this, and Western animation producers feel better than they do at home. They get all the advantages, and we get nothing. The animation community, by the way, has appealed many times to various offices, including the State Duma, and the deputies, and to the president and the prime minister, but so far, unfortunately, we've received no response. I understand that this is not the most important thing in the country; we have many other more serious problems, but I still believe that a state with a long-term vision should take care of the education of the younger generation, and animation is one of the most important parts of upbringing.

In "Novaya gazeta", you wrote that if Tatarskiy was alive, he wouldn't have allowed this. What do you think about this?

Well, it's hard to say. History does not know the subjunctive tense, but I think that he'd work something out, because he had entry into the highest offices, where he was listened to. Today, there is no such figure in Russian animation.

Do you think there is a chance that the feature film "Train Arrival" will be completed?

Very unlikely - the project is entirely mothballed. It was hoped that Igor Kovalyov, the closest partner and friend of Tatarskiy, who now works in Hollywood, would take up the flame, but as I understand it, he has not yet found the money for it. It was their joint project; a joint creation. The rights to this animated film belong to "Pilot" and to him.

Please tell me in detail about "Mountain of Gems" - specifically for those who have not heard about it.

It's a great pity that many have not heard of "Mountain of Gems" (although that really is the case). It was at least somewhat known when "Channel One" used to show it on public holidays and on some weekends at noon. At that time, by the way, it beat all viewer ratings ever; that is, not one animation product, I believe, in Russia's entire history had such high ratings. And then, unfortunately, Disney came to "Channel One", and we were moved to 6 a.m. on Sunday morning.

6 a.m. on Sunday?

Yes, it is now broadcast on Sundays, not all but some - I never did figure out their system. I do not know who watches television at six a.m. on a Sunday; I would like to look at this man. They cut off our audience in this manner, and so everyone forgot about "Mountain of Gems". Only sophisticated parents who can find these cartoons on the Internet, download them, and show them to their children are left. Well, or buy them on DVD (although, as you know, DVDs sell poorly because of piracy these days).

In any case, "Mountain of Gems" is a huge project, which counts among its number 52 stories of the ethnic groups of Russia. To be exact, 48 of them are completed, and the last 4 are being worked on - it is their production which is stalled because of the financial difficulties (we originally planned to make over 100, one for each of the ethnic peoples living in Russia). Each episode of this project includes, first of all, a plasticine introduction which tells about the peoples of Russia and about the people which the cartoon will be about (it is this introduction which serves to unite the project). After the introduction, which lasts about a minute and a half, immediately follows the tale itself which lasts 11:30. Each episode is made, as a rule, with a new director and in a new style: we have 3D films, traditional animation (which is the most beloved today by viewers, as I understand it), plasticine, computer cutouts, puppets; basically, cartoons in all possible animation styles. The director chooses the technique which, in his opinion, best suits the tale that he wishes to show children.

So a pretty interesting project. There are loyal fans of our project, though not as many as I would like, who are always waiting for new episodes. I know that there are even families who try to show children only the old Soviet cartoons and "Mountain of Gems", and shield them from Western cartoons, which have too much violence. I do not think, of course, that this is correct, but it is nice that parents choose our films for the education of the younger generation.

Tell me, is there any hope at all for the rebirth of Russian animation?

Well hope, as they say, dies last of all. You see, until recently, we didn't just work - we were preparing a new cadre. We do have young people: VGIK educates new directors and studios are preparing new animators in their internal courses. Today, for example, many animation societies have formed in schools. So I think there is hope for the future, especially since animation is one of the most dynamic art forms. That phenomenon, "Avatar", is 80 percent animation; computer graphics. Basically, animation has a future in cinema; a different matter is whether it will be in demand in Russia. If not, then our strong school and tradition will be working for the Western audience, which is very unfortunate.

By the way, in addition to production, our other big problem is that channels try to simply not show films since the 80s. They show the old ones more or less, but almost nobody has seen those that were produced in the new Russia from the 90s to 2000s. And yet, there are very many good films among them, and even, I won't hesitate to use the word, masterpieces. For example, among our animation community we have the Oscar-winner Aleksandr Petrov, and our films have won prizes at Cannes. It's a pity that the audience has seen almost none of this.

What would you recommend to our viewers from this "forgotten" period?

The films of Aleksandr Petrov, of Konstantin Bronzit, of our Pilot studio. There are also the films of Ivan Maximov, Natalya Berezovaya, Yelena Chernova, Andrey Sokolov - I could spend a long time listing unique directors and the films that they have produced during this period. But they reach the viewer in fits and starts, via cable channels, DVDs or the internet, and there is no wide distribution as there was before. This is bad.

Thank you for the interview.

Thank you. Good bye.

Interview conducted by Andrey Konyayev.

P.S. To see some subtitled films made by Pilot studio, go here, sort the table by "studio", and scroll down alphabetically. For wordless films by Pilot, go here and do the same.

July 2nd, 2010

An article on Telegraf.lv breaks the news about Dauka studio. (a much shorter English-language article can be read here)

Here's a lovely cartoon made at Dauka in 1996, directed by Roze Stiebra. It's called "The Sad Cow":


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Translated article:

Dauka, which has over the course of 40 years released children's cartoons which several generations have grown up on, is indefinitely suspending its work because of a lack of resources. Producer Ansis Berzinsh believes that the reason is that the studio's films are oriented not at international film festivals but primarily at the domestic children's audience.

Thanks to Dauka were born the popular "Fantadrom", "Little Bath for Hares", "Ness and Nessie", "Cat Windmill", "Uncommon Rigans" and many other films, about 130 in total. Many of them have been noted at film festivals, and can be viewed at the portal www.pasakas.net and other sites. A DVD collection has been published consisting of 95 animated films.

And so on June 16, Dauka invited friends and the press to its home at Shmerl 3, rented from the Riga film studio, in order to say goodbye and to show a new cartoon from the famous Roze Stiebra and the young director Mikus Straume called "How Brother Rabbit Overcame the Lion". It is the fourth film in the series "Stories of the World's Nations". The studio never did get the money for this project from the National Film Centre of Latvia (NFCL). But it did manage to finish the movie with the miserly resources from the Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia. And then it was silent...

According to Ansis Berzinsh, Dauka cannot keep its premises when there are no projects. Nevertheless, the studio is not yet announcing bankruptcy, and continues to search for partners and other possible ways to continue its work.

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The position of the NFCL was laid out for the press by its director Ilze Gaylite-Holmberg: there are studios which don't receive state funding for many years already, yet nevertheless successfully continue work. Dauka simply needs to learn the experience of such animation production companies as JetMedia and Rija, which combine commercial work with art and search for sponsors or coproduction partners themselves.

The representatives of NFCL underline that they can never give more than 40% of the funding for all the projects that are submitted to the contest for consideration. Experts have to compare and reject the less relevant projects. And so in 2009, 10 out 19 projects were funded, and Dauka was left out because of comparative "irrelevance". The same thing happened this year, when the experts could support only 7 projects out of 16. Of course, the studio's contribution to Latvian film is undisputed. However, in today's difficult conditions, state funding cannot be guaranteed to a single studio; all must compete as equals.

Out Children Suffer

"Of course, I'm guilty of our studio having almost no cooperation with international partners," admits Ansis Berzinsh, "but I think that the Film Centre's relationship to the genre of animation is a serious mistake. They don't consider the cultural interests of Latvia's children's audience. In other countries, children's projects in all areas and genres are funded separately, while in our country they are considered old-fashioned."

The studio exists to create Latvian films for Latvian children which are founded on the traditions of Latvian culture. Other producers of animation mainly orient on film festivals. This is a completely different sort of production, which is almost not shown in Latvia. Most of those films are made more for the adult audience. The Film Centre supports precisely this festival route. And our children suffer.

Commentary

Kristine Matisa is the Chief Information Officer and head of film distribution of NFCL

- Kristine, so basically the studio itself is to blame, because it doesn't seek out other partners besides the government?


- Yes, you could put it that way. Although you couldn't say that Dauka was left completely unfunded - last year, it received money from the Capital Culture Find... All must submit projects into the competition, and if their projects are compared unfavourably with others, that means that they're simply less interesting. Nobody will grant money simply for the studio to not die. The government grants money for a concrete film which the government, probably, needs at that moment.

Everyone can say nice things about his own project. But today, a fundamental unwillingness to cooperate with international partners is simply suicide.

Robert Vinovskis, a member of the NFCL's expert committee and producer of documentary cinema

— Gopodin Vinovskis, in what specific way is Dauka studio's project "irrelevant"?


- It isn't bad by itself, but in context. In my view, the film "How Brother Rabbit Overcame the Lion" was less original artistically - in visuals and direction. This African story is very simple, and the cartoon is oriented at the youngest audience. The moral is very important, which is: the rabbit betrays his friends, and when it's his turn to be eaten by the lion, he cleverly tricks the king of the animals into a well. Oh, what a clever fellow - he tricked his friends and saved himself!.. And children are supposed to look up to this character?!

June 30th, 2010

Last week, Vitaly Shafirov uploaded 5 videos to Youtube covering Yuriy Norshteyn's 1999 appearance at the Klasky Csupo studio:
(Shafirov is an emigrant from the Soviet Union, although the only film I could find him credited for is as an animator on this one)


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June 4th, 2010

Here are a few videos in which director Aleksandr Petrov talks about how he makes his films. To turn on my English subtitles, click on CC in the lower-right-hand corner. (P.S. these videos have been added to the new article on the Animatsiya Wiki: List of subtitled films and reports about Russian animation)

This is a news report that appeared on Nov.18, 2009, during an exhibition of Petrov's work in Izhevsk gallery. About the film "My Love" (2006) (the film itself can be seen here, though it's in slightly the wrong aspect ratio...):



In 2 parts, this covers the making of "The Mermaid" and the Oscar-winning The Old Man and the Sea:





You can see the substantial changes to Petrov's working methods over the years. In the mid-1990s, Petrov was still working mostly alone, on a single layer of glass, on film, without computers. 10 years later, he worked on two separate layers (one for backgrounds, one for characters), and used assistants and computers (I can't find it now, but there was a video of the work that Mikhail Tumelya did on the computer - he animated a cat jumping out of a balcony, the 3D camera movements, and various elements, for Petrov to use as a base).

So what has Petrov been doing since 2006? He made a commercial or two before the financial crisis hit. In a 2009 interview, Petrov said that he didn't have a job and was using up the last of his previously-earned money. According to this article (not translated):

"Aleksandr Petrov would like to start working on an animated feature film, an idea of which he's been thinking for a long time, but how can one start making anything when there's little to no money""

It is sad that Russia can find the money to make second-class imitations of Western computer-animated films, but cannot find the money to nurture a homegrown talent and method which has not been mastered anywhere else in the world.

An entire feature made using Petrov's technique would be an unprecedented and fantastic undertaking.

May 30th, 2010

"Hunting Season" by Aleksandr Viken (1981, Kievnauchfilm). A "realistic" story from the point of view of a dog which is taken hunting for the first time.

This was Viken's first film as director. It was an early success for him, winning a jury diploma in Tallinn '82 (All-Union Film Festival). Viken also directed "The Last Battle" (1988), which I translated earlier. The two films are very different. Where "The Last Battle" is sharp, biting, and exaggerated, "Hunting Season" is friendly, welcoming and orderly. What they have in common is an attention to excellence in art direction.

"Hunting Season" is a snapshot of a social atmosphere (and personality) that is no more; Russian society has changed and become more predatory and hard-edged.

My only real complaint about this film is the reuse of animation that happens at the beginning. Though there's a good structural reason for it, by the last repetition I was beginning to feel a bit annoyed.



"I Shall Give You a Star" by Fyodor Khitruk (1974, Soyuzmultfilm). Subtitled by businka1. A parable about male/female relations by the director of the Russian "Winnie-the-Pooh" cartoons. Starts out very funny, but verges into possibly being a bit preachy. While also relevant in the West, the gender divide that the film parodies is still more pronounced in Russian society.



"Comet in Moominland. Part 3" by Nina Shorina (1978, Ecran). Parts 1 and 2 can be watched here. Subtitles by jkhelgi. I have not actually watched this series yet...



May 26th, 2010

At least one higher education institution is helping to translate Russian animation. To quote from the channel description of UCSantaCruzRussian:
Under the supervision of Professor Bill Nickell, students at the University of California, Santa Cruz have been transcribing, translating, and subtitling Russian-language animation recorded off of Russian television or found online. As part of a growing community of Russian animation fans and hobbyists, UCSantaCruzRussian hopes to share our love for Russian culture with others and make a wealth of animated films available to more people.

Student Dennis Keen controls the Youtube channel, and has translated most of the recent uploads. Back in March, I sent a private message to him, expressing my admiration for the project, but also expressing some reservations about the selections, which I felt weren't that interesting artistically. I received the following reply:

I think I should clarify a little my situation, so that the selection of films that have been uploaded so far can be put in the proper context. My professor has been working on this project for a couple years now. Several students have worked with him. The professor, Bill, would give the students a CD of a random assortment of films he had recorded off of television, and they would translate whichever ones they chose. Now, until I came along, none of his students had any interest in Russian animation. They did the translations quickly for easy credit, and did not put much thought into which videos to translate. The videos I've posted so far are their work, and I can't speak for their quality.

I appreciate your pointers, but I'm pretty familiar with big names in Russian animation. I've seen the entire Films by Jove series and have watched most of the films listed on the Animatsiya wiki. I have no problem finding films that are interesting that I would love to translate. However, my Russian skills simply are not developed enough to do so. I have only been studying the language for a few years, and I have a very hard time completing even a full transcription of the Russian in these videos (non-native speakers have a lot of difficulty with word boundaries, and distinguishing between certain consonants).

So my compromise is that I've tried to find films that are interesting and have a textual source which I can use to translate. These are still being worked on, but I think you'll find them much more compelling than the ones uploaded already.


And indeed, the more recent selections have been quite interesting! I'll list them here:

"The Grand Relay" by Ivan Aksenchuk (1979, Soyuzmultfilm)

Made for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, this wordless film shows, in a Greek-influenced artistic style, the history and value of the Olympics - how the torch was passed from the Greek era to the modern era.

Some other subtitled films by Aksenchuk: The Little Mermaid, Cinderella.



"The 25th - the First Day" by Yuriy Norshteyn and Arkadiy Tyurin (1968, Soyuzmultfilm).

A short film made by Yuriy Norshteyn for the 60th anniversary of the October Revolution, "The 25th - the First Day" recounts that day using art from the [1910s and 1920s]. Look out for Tatlin's Tower and Petrov-Vodkin's "Petrograd Madonna." The film features music by Dmitri Shostakovich, poetry by Vladimir Mayakovsky, and a rousing speech by V.I. Lenin.

Perhaps most importantly, it is one of the few films by Yuriy Norshteyn that is rarely seen, and has never been fully subtitled in English, until now.


This is definitely a propaganda film. But Yuriy Norshteyn has said that he wasn't forced into making it; he loves the art of that time period, and wanted to make a film using it. At the time that he made this film, though, the art styles of the early 1920s were no longer in fashion, and this film was a bit risky, despite being propaganda. Higher-ups asked him to change the end of the film and include a monologue by Lenin. Norshteyn, worried that his reputation would suffer if he got into a conflict on his very first film as director, acquiesced. After he saw the result, he vowed to himself that he would never again compromise. (no list of sources, sorry. If you really need it, I can probably find the original texts where he said those things - it will take some searching, that's all...)



"Vanya and the Crocodile" by Nataliya Dabizha (1984, Soyuzmultfilm).

An adaptation of the classic story "The Crocodile" by the famous Russian children's author, Korney Chukovsky. This charming film features puppet and cutout animation and a wonderfully playful visual style.

Dabizha uses the visuals of the film to add a second meaning that wasn't in the story. The text itself says nothing about the character of the crocodile, and the film becomes almost a satire on the story, and a parable about intolerance.



"Thank You, Stork!" by Anatoliy Solin (1978, Soyuzmultfilm)

A beautifully animated short about a stork's effort to find a loving home for an unwanted baby. Wonderful design, typography, and music.

A film about the wrong ways to treat a baby...



"Vasana" by Maria Stepanova (2006, no studio)

Sand animation by Maria Stepanova, featuring hypnotic sitar and throat singing and hallucinogenic images from the subconscious.



"Grand-ma!" by Yelena Barinova (1982, Kievnauchfilm)

A young boy calls for his grand-ma whenever a local bully picks on him. Soon he learns to stand up for himself, if only to impress a girl he likes. Great animation and imaginative daydream sequences.



"The Ingot" by Vladimir Samsonov (1983, Ecran)

Animated PSA about saving metal, from the Soviet Union. English subtitles. Wordless, but with Russian text and English subtitles.

A worker shaves down a giant metal ingot just to make a little pushpin. Moral of the story: Don't waste state resources!


Samsonov is more known for making wonderful animated poems and satirical musicals. This is just one of those simple "public-service" films that studios sometimes had to make.



"Conserve Bread" by Aleksandr Tatarskiy (1982, Ecran)

Animated public service announcement urging Soviet citizens to save bread. Wordless, but with some Russian text and English subtitles.

I saw this, and thought "this has got to be from Kievnauchfilm"... well, I was close. It's by Tatarskiy, who started there and then moved to Moscow. But the Ukrainian (specifically, David Cherkasskiy-influenced) style is really obvious.

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