Animation against Despotism

A seminar with Midhat Ajanovic, Nikica Gilić and Behzad Khosravi Noori
Friday 23 November, 5.30–8pm

What are the imaginable alternative futures for the past? What method of investigation or even interrogation could be used to destabilize the given narrative of the past? The image of the past perhaps demands reinvention to confirm the possibility to think about social transformation, emancipation and solidarity.

This seminar explores the relationship between world politics and animation production with Zagreb Film at the centre. It brings forth the question of how the macro politics during the cold war affected the specificities of means of production within Zagreb Film given its modernistic tendency.

Placing the idea of the third road, Non-aligned movement and cold war dichotomy on one hand and postcolonial, antifascism and solidarity in the global south on the other could elaborate on the tangible intercultural links that charts a contemporaneity of events under certain geopolitical conditions.

Midhat Ajanovic
Titoism and the idea of ‘the third road’ as ideological foundation of Zagreb School for animated film

Geographically, and ideologically, Yugoslavia stood on the border between two confronted blocks during the Cold War, but belonged to neither. The idea of ‘the third road’ was extremely popular; people really saw their country as an alternative to imperialist West and bureaucratic East.

Yugoslav regime was rarely criticized for lack of democracy; it was more fiercely attacked by the nationalist right wing, which sheds much light on the catastrophe that happened after Tito’s death. Yugoslav filmmakers rarely confronted the system; they were mostly its ardent propagators. The ‘third road’ idea was popular even among the creators of Yugoslav’s best films – members of the Zagreb School of Animated film. Still, satire was an important element of Zagreb films, but the satirical razor was directed towards actual global problems, racism, colonialism, pollution, hunger, poverty, fear of the A-bomb, war, etc. Criticism was present, but it did not include social criticism. Yugoslav system was not only spared of criticism, it was, indirectly but indisputably, celebrated. The idea of a small, spiteful country existing on the borderline between two gigantic and hostile worlds was interwoven in many films made in the Zagreb studio. A small freedom oasis, surrounded by pressures, terror and danger, was an all-present motif in animated anecdotes of the leading school’s masters. A small man abused by his surrounding, who, despite the troubles, kept fighting for his way of life, his independence and neutrality was a common denominator of the authors of the Zagreb school, regardless of their artistic profile and their filmic and visual expression.

Soon after Tito’s death in 1980, the idea of the ‘third road’ turned out to be completely ‘unrealistic reality’, just like La Grande Illusion. After Gorbachov, perestroika, the fall of the Berlin wall, and the end of the cold war, the idea of the ‘third road’ and a country in between lost its initial meaning. Yugoslavia lost its international position, and moreover, dissolved in a bloody war.

Nikica Gilić
Zagreb School and its authors in context

Zagreb School of Animated Film, representative of the tendencies towards modernist and auteurist cinema, has appeared in the context significantly different from that of Eastern and Western Block countries. Additionally, the artists of this “school” have never shared a common style; they were strongly individual, creating quite different animated films. It is therefore interesting to analyse The Zagreb School in the context of the collectivist tendencies typical for all producer-based cinema productions (both market-oriented and “socialist” ones), as well as those typical for animated film production and those typical for the socialist Yugoslavia. In order to develop in its full diversity, The Zagreb School had to overcome the organisational growth typical for producer based productions, influence of classical style typical for animation in general and the drive towards socialist collectivism (the latter being less strong than in other European socialist countries but significant nevertheless). Zagreb School, many may argue, is so great because the individualism was allowed to flourish. But would it be possible and would it be equally influential in a country of different social and geopolitical features than Yugoslavia?

Midhat Ajanović (born in Sarajevo 1959) is a theoretician of animation, author and film maker born in Sarajevo (Bosnia) in 1959. He studied journalism in Sarajevo and practiced film animation in Zagreb film Studio of Animation (Croatia). Between 1984 and 1992 he directed seven animated short films and published a number of essays and reviews on cinema and animation. Since 1994 he is living in Gothenburg (Sweden) where he obtained a degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Film Studies. He teaches history and theory of animation at various Swedish film schools (currently at University West in Trollhättan) and writes regularly about film and animation. He is an author of numerous publications published in several languages, among them The Man and the Line (2013), Den rörliga skämtteckningen (2009), Karikatura i pokret (2008) and Animacija i realizam/ Animation and Realism (2004), Animazione e relismo (2006). He worked as the organizer and artistic director of the festivals in Podgorica (Montenegro), Zagreb (Croatia) and Eksjö (Sweden) and was the member of many international juries. For his work, he got various rewards, among them 20th World Festival of Animated Film special award for contribution to animation studies.

Nikica Gilić (born in Split, 1973) got his PhD in film studies in Zagreb, in 2005. He works as associate professor at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Zagreb, where he teaches history and theory of cinema. He also teaches film theory at Academy of Drama Art and has given guest lectures in cinema studies at universities in Berlin, Konstanz, Regensburg, Graz and Brno. He is editor in chief of Hrvatski filmski ljetopis film journal and a member of the editorial board of online journal Apparatus (Germany). He wrote books Uvod u povijest hrvatskog igranog filma (Introduction to the History of Croatian Film, 2010 and 2011), Uvod u teoriju filmske priče (Introduction to Theory of Narration in Cinema, Zagreb, 2007) and Filmske vrste i rodovi (Film Genres and Types, 2007 and 2013). In 2015 he became an Associate Research Fellow at the Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies in Munich and Regensburg. Formerly president of the administrative council of Zagreb film, he is a member of Animafest Zagreb Festival Council and served in the selection comittee for the festival in 2015 and 2016. He is one of the editors of the soon forthcoming book Global Animation Theory for Bloomsbury (2018).

In collaboration with Konstfack and ABF