Varazdin is a city in North Croatia, north of Zagreb, whose centre is near Drava River. It is mainly known for its baroque buildings, music, textile, food and IT industry. For 26 years, the non-profit organization VANIMA existed in Varazdin with a main activity of teaching animation to children. VANIMA started as a small activity focusing on classic animation techniques like Stop-Motion but now it has grown up to host tens of children and youth who are creating their own animated films with the help of professional animators. VANIMA's current two leaders Sandra Malenica and Hrvoje Selec continued to hold animated films workshops till 2010 when they decided to also launch the International Children and Youth Animation Film Festival (VAFI), in Varazdin in order to host animated films made by children and youth under eighteen years coming from all over the world.
VAFI was founded in desire to make Varazdin a place where children and professionals can exchange their experience and make new friendships beyond their own countries and where children and young people enjoy films while learning to associate at the same time.
Every year, VAFI is in partnership with one school from Varazdin and one country (this year it is France), so in that way it could initiate tolerance, friendship and learning about other cultures among young people, so it can be a festival for films and children, not only prizes. VAFI JUNIOR has three competitive categories divided by age of their authors: MINI for children under ten, MIDI for children from eleven to fourteen years and MAXI for youth from 15 to 18 years. Each category has one first and four equal second prizes. Back in 2010, when this concept was initiated, VAFI Festival got the first prize for the most innovative and creative project in Croatia. In this 5th edition that took take place April 22-27, VAFI continued to screen animated films by professional artists made for children and youth in a special section called VAFI SENIOR that started last years. It is also having three categories divided by the age of the recipient: MINI for children under ten, MIDI for children from 11 to 14 years and MAXI for youth from 15 to 18 years old. Juries of VAFI JUNIOR in the 5th VAFI included animation professor Anastasia Dimitra from Greece as president, animation director Darko Krec from Croatia and Sherif Awad from Egypt. The prizes for the new VAFI SENIOR were given by a jury of children and youth, members of VANIMA.
Besides official projections, VAFI has many other activities like exhibitions, lectures and workshops. "This year, VAFI had two animation workshops", says Sandra Malenica. "One workshop will is lead by Studio DA from Russia and another lead by a Croatian animator. There was also a comic workshop and illustration workshop - both lead by famous Croatians in their field. A Roundtable on Pedagogical aspects of working with children on animation was also held during the 5th edition. I think also that VAFI SENIOR and VAFI JUNIOR are interesting initiatives where children's animation is qualified by adults and professional films are qualified by the children who act like colleagues of grownups".
Besides promotion of children's creativity, VAFI also presented different aspects of animation through partners like Borivoj Dovnikovic Bordo, Los Angeles International Children's Film Festival, Japan and MTV Croatia. This year, VAFI presented French animation through a program dedicated to both children and adults.
Animation in Croatia has a long tradition, "Croatia got the first Oscar in 1962 which was the first given outside of USA", remembers Hrvoje Selec. "It was for the animated movie Ersatz made by Dusan Vukotic in 1961. Vukoti? was part of Zagreb Animation School which was very popular at the time. Nowadays, animation is getting back on the old tracks. We have a Department of Animation at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, one of the biggest animation festivals in world - Animafest Zagreb and a lot of studios for professionals and amateurs including the ones for children".
In the occasion of giving a tribute to France in this 5th edition of VAFI, some classic and modern French shorts were shown on the opening day including the melancholic tale La traversée de l'Atlantique à la rame (Rowing Across the Atlantic) by Jean-François Laguionie, a twenty-one minute animated short that won La Palme d'Or Award in Cannes Film Festival 1978 and also Le César Award in 1979. During its opening credits, we see the wrecks of an empty small boat on an isolated beach then a nearby notebook that takes us into a flashback in the early twentieth century when two French newlyweds embarked on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. On the boat, the couple took various musical instruments to entertain themselves while keeping a log of their journey on the notebook. But as time passes by, they move away into the ocean and their journey takes more fantastic and surreal turns. A more comic and modern CGI animated seven-minute French short is called À la française (In the French Way, 2012). It was made by five co-directors Morrigane Boyer, Julien Hazebroucq, Ren-Hsien Hsu, Emmanuelle Leleu and William Lorton who re-imagined , in a very ironic way, the court of Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV, were all of the characters are fully dressed up like chicken.
The festival was also the platform of several events including an exhibition of the comic strips made by jury member of the junior competition Darko Kre? who graduated as a mining engineer but dedicated his life to animated films like Duet, Coffins, The Last Waltz in the Old Mill' and The Level. The exhibition centered on Kre?'s work as a comic strip artist of the three series Boduljko i ?bunika, Kvark and Karlek published in Croatian newspapers.
Another invitee were two animators from the Russian "Studio Da" in Saint-Petersburg who realized with Croatian children a three-minute short called Picnic during the six days of VAFI festival. "Studio Da" only started in 2008 as a charitable project with part-time volunteers to work with children with special needs and difficulties to provide them with psychological support, rehabilitation and socialization through the art of animation.
The 1st Mini Prize for animation shorts made by children less than ten years went to the Croatian film Mijau Vau (Meow Wow) by Paula ?ani? in which she imagined a cat trying to save a dog when it is captured in a cage. Four mentions went to Boje (Colors) from Ukraine, Fantasticni Cirkus (Fantastical Circus) from the Czech Republic, Titanic from Croatia and Kakav Nered (Wow, What a Mess) from Belgium.
The 1st Midi Prize for animation shorts made by children between eleven and fourteen years went to the Croatian short Prlvaji Grad (Dirty City) for its reflection of environmental problems faced in modern cities. The film made by a group of children at ?AF Studio in ?akovec City, imagined houses rebelling against their tenants and chasing them for their bad habits of messing the city. Four other mentions also went to Izbor Angelice (Angelica, the Choice) from Italy, Bartol U Verlogu Strasti (Bartholomew in the Grip of Passion) from the Czech Republic, Ribicija (Gone Fishing) from United Kingdom and Lovacka Sreca (Hunter's Luck) from Slovenia for the use of visual metaphors and symbols as well as a lot of animation techniques to develop their stories.
The 1st Maxi Prize for animation shorts made by children between fifteen and eighteen years went to Duboko More (Deep Sea), a Belgium inventive animation that combines maritime audio effects with the use of everyday tools to create undersea creatures and environment. It was considered by jury member to be the most beautiful film screened this year. The four mentions is this category went to Lazna Evolucija (Pseudo Evolution) from Brazil, Feather from Croatia, Galeb (Seagull) from Croatia and Recikliranje (Recycle) from Croatia.
The winning films can be discovered on VAFI Channel on YouTube through the link https://www.youtube.com/user/VafiVarazdin