Dreamworld Dreamworld

CEE Animation Forum has rolled around again quickly, after Covid delayed last year’s edition to October. The event, which normally takes place in the Czech Republic, is a peerless showcase of animation talent from Central and Eastern Europe.

The forum is structured around pitching competitions, in which studios and artists present their current projects to potential buyers and partners. For its ninth edition, it has gone virtual – for the second year running. I tuned in to watch the seven feature pitches. Here are my impressions of the three I liked best:

Senior Crush

Director: Orsolya Richolm
Producer: Ulab (Hungary)
Looking for: co-producer, financing, creative input

A 16-year-old girl finds a kind of love — and a father figure — in the form of Mr. Toad, her school’s middle-aged IT technician. The pitch didn’t really describe the dynamic between the pair, but the girl struck me as a nuanced character, and the storyline as an intriguing subversion of coming-of-age clichés.

Richolm is a young filmmaker: she wrote Senior Crush as her graduation project while studying scriptwriting. She has also directed three animated shorts. Her pitch, though plot-heavy, was clearly presented; her rough-and-ready pencil animation, which uses rotoscoping, felt appropriate to the tale of teenage tumult.

Senior Crush
Vast Blue Antarctica

Director: Christos Panagos
Producer: Kimonos Animation Studio (Cyprus)
Looking for: co-producer, financing, sales agents

The only documentary — and only hybrid production — among the pitches was a real curio: a profile of Alexandre Gautier, a woodworker based at the French scientific mission in Antarctica, that doubles up as a meditation on the meaning of death, dreams, exile, and climate change. Before he went to Antarctica, where he is beyond contact, the filmmakers handed him a list of philosophical questions to prompt his musings while there.

Gautier himself shot live-action footage for the film. This, along with his photos and handsome drawings of the South Pole, will inform the style of the rotoscoped animated sequences. Exactly how the animation will be used remains unclear: we’re told they will document Gautier’s “thoughts, dreams, and aspirations,” setting up a tension “between dream and reality.” But I’m sold on the Herzogian premise alone.

Vast Blue Antarctica

Directors: Veljko Popović, Milivoj Popović
Producer: Prime Render Studios (Croatia)
Looking for: producers

This is the debut feature project from the duo behind the ribald Annecy-winning short Cyclists. A group of Gen Z kids, including an influencer and a hacker, slip into a fantastical realm where they learn what social media could never teach them: to accept themselves as they are. Big talent is involved: Pedro Rivero (co-director, Birdboy: The Forgotten Children) is writing the script and Dave Cooper (co-creator, Pig Goat Banana Cricket) is doing designs.

The directors know what they think about social media — a “cruel world,” they call it. If the film takes this view, I’m curious to see how they’ll make it appealing to their target audience of kids aged 8–14 who, for better or worse, are digital natives, and unlikely to give up their IG or Tiktok accounts.

Image at top: “Dreamworld”

Catch up on last year's pitches