Still from Hen, His Wife Still from Hen, His Wife

In this series, we profile the most interesting independent animation filmmakers working today — the artists who, through short films and other projects, change our ideas of what the medium can do.

With war raging in Ukraine, we’re turning our attention today to Ukrainian filmmaker Igor Kovalyov, who has spent large parts of his career working in both Russia and the United States.

In a sentence: Mixing absurdism and a distinct graphic style, Kovalyov’s films are travelling fresco dreamscapes that explore frequently mysterious, volatile, and dysfunctional elements of human relationships.

Where to start: Hen, His Wife (1989). The film that put Kovalyov on the international animation map. A troubled but apparently normal household is shattered when a masked stranger arrives without warning and alerts the husband that his wife is actually a hen. With its almost grotesque character design, rough lines, and fluid camera movement, Kovalyov creates a masterful surrealist parable about a family in a state of collapse (though feel free to interpret this film anyway you see fit!). When Gabor Csupo saw the film at the 1990 Ottawa International Animation Festival (where it was the controversial grand prize winner), he invited Kovalyov to work at Klasky-Csupo studios in Hollywood. Kovalyov would go on to make key contributions to the studio on series like Rugrats and Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. He also directed The Rugrats Movie (1998).

What to watch next: Flying Nansen (2000). A snowy hallucination (inspired by the Norwegian explorer, Fridtiof Nansen) about an explorer who travels to the North Pole where danger, adventure, and a woman await him.

Other key works: Andrey Svislotsky (1992), Bird in The Window (1996), Milch (2005), Before Love (2016)

Influences: Robert Bresson, Priit Pärn, Andrei Tarkovsky, Jia Zhangke

Says: “I don’t really want my viewers to feel something particular. At least I don’t want my artworks to tell them what to feel. The most important thing that I’ve always appreciated in art/movies/design is probably ambiguity.”

Currently working on: Kovalyov is developing a new short that he expects to be around 20 minutes in length.

Image at top: “Hen, His Wife”

Previously on Know Your Indie Filmmaker

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Chris Robinson

Chris Robinson

Chris Robinson is a writer and Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF). Robinson has authored thirteen books including Between Genius and Utter Illiteracy: A Story of Estonian Animation (2006), Ballad of a Thin Man: In Search of Ryan Larkin (2008), and Japanese Animation: Time Out of Mind (2010). He also wrote the screenplay for the award-winning animation short, Lipsett Diaries.

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