. Conversations at the Edge (CATE)

On Encounters

Posted by | George William Price | Posted on | March 11, 2015

Alexander Stewart takes a moment to write about the upcoming program Encounters: Experimental Film and Animation from Croatia for the CATE blog. Encounters, screening Thursday (12th) and Saturday (14th) of this week, explores the rich history of Croatian film and animation. This intensively researched program reveals the unique history of Croatian avant-garde cinema–a history that runs in parallel to the canonical works of America and Western Europe.

Vladimir Petek, still from Encounters, 1963. Courtesy of the Croatian Film Association

Vladimir Petek, still from Encounters, 1963. Courtesy of
the Croatian Film Association

In June 2014, I went to Zagreb, Croatia to make a short film, and to research two types of cinema I am very interested in, experimental film and animation. Zagreb has an animation heritage that is fairly well known to students of animation, and includes the first Oscar for an animated short awarded to a film not made in the US. It was also very active as a place for artists making avant-garde film and video work in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I was interested in learning as much as I could about the history of experimental cinema and animation in Zagreb during my trip, and I was especially curious about areas of overlap between the two.

Zagreb was the main hub of animation production in Yugoslavia, and also was associated with a particular formal approach to avant-garde cinema. In comparison to the film work from Belgrade, which can be characterized as somewhat more in the mode of the first-wave European avant-garde of the 20’s and 30’s, and perhaps owes more to surrealism and Dadaism, the work from Zagreb has a distinctly more formal flavor. An excellent example is the “film of fixation,” a style of avant-garde film related to structural film that takes its name from the way that the director “fixates” on a particular aspect of filmmaking (frames, light, the figure) to the exclusion of other aspects.

This comparison between a distinctly Croatian style of experimental film and a more widely known North American style brings into focus something I thought about while watching Croatian avant-garde work. Many of the ideas I saw in the work I recognized as being analogous to ideas in work I knew from America or Western Europe. However, this was outweighed by the sense that I was encountering works from a cinematic legacy that was entirely its own. As someone who has spent a lot of time learning about and watching the canonical American and Western European avant-garde works of the 60’s-80’s, it was a deep pleasure to be able to sift through such a rich, robust and unique parallel history of avant-garde cinema, and one that was mostly unknown to me before.

The program I have assembled here is the result of conversations I had with people knowledgeable about Croatian cinema, and include writer and critic Hrvoje Turković, animation producer (and producer of my film) Vanja Andrijević, Diana Nenadić of the Croatian Film Association, curator Mirna Belina, filmmaker and teacher Ivan Ladislav Galeta, and Marina Kožul and Sanja Grbin, the directors of the 25FPS festival. Though I feel like I learned a great deal in the months I spent in Zagreb working on my film and viewing animation and experimental film, I also feel like I just scratched the surface. I chose works that I encountered that spoke to my tastes and interests. In the program are a few classic works, including Vlado Kristl’s animation Don Kihot, a legendary, challenging early work from the Zagreb School of animation; and Water Pulu, which is considered by many to be the centerpiece of experimental film master Ivan Ladislav Galeta’s works. Galeta, it should be mentioned, passed away in 2014. His influence on the contemporary experimental film community in Zagreb is enormous, and his artistic legacy is strongly felt amongst younger filmmakers and artists in Croatia today.

Alexander Stewart‘s short films have screened internationally, including at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Slamdance Film Festival, the Ann Arbor Film Festival, and ImageForum in Japan. He is co-director of the Eyeworks Festival of Experimental Animation, and curated a screening series at Roots & Culture Contemporary Art Center from 2006-2013. He teaches animation at DePaul University and lives in Chicago.