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Animation All Grown Up: Estonia’s Brand of Independent Animation

By: Youth Jury

Legendary Estonian animation short films highlighted at 27th SGIFF – with a suitably M18 rating Mention animation films to most people and one would get the sense that the world revolves around G-rated Pixar and Dreamworks films. In fact, chances are the very first films most are exposed to would be cartoons or animated works on daytime television or the Disney channel.Hence, what would an animated work for a more mature audience resemble? Like how one would discover Roald Dahl’s The BFG or James and The Giant Peach when one was young, then becoming steadily unnerved yet captivated in one’s teenage years after picking up his more adult works Skin or The Great Automatic Grammatizator… in much the same way, Estonian animated films – with their fiendishly humourous subjects and darkly comic timing – provide a welcome jolt of caffeine rush to the general audiences’ overly-Frozen soul.

Still from Marathon (2006)

Take Marathon by director Kaspar Jancis for instance, the opening short for a href= target=_blank rel=noreferrer noopener Cinema Today: Estonian Animation Shorts (2000)/ program. A terrorist on the lam takes part in a running marathon to evade the bumbling police but somehow manages to falls prey to an elaborate scam involving stolen trainers while on the toilet seat. Or Ada + Otto by director Ülo Pikkov, where a narcissistic crow falls in love with a man only to find that a true romantic connection is possible only when both partners accept each other for who they are: as a loving couple first, beyond their differences as crow and man.

Still from Ada + Otto (2013)

In these modern Estonian shorts, the sheer inventiveness of the situational circumstances may initially challenge less adventurous audience members used to more sanitised visions in animated features. But like the fantastic worlds created in these more family-friendly fare, the unconventional internal logic of these Estonian films is a delightful whimsy akin to those adult Dahl short stories.Going back further in time, one could trace the roots of these modern entertaining shorts to the more surrealist and absurdist godfathers of Estonian animation: Elbert Tuganov and Priit Pärn. Tuganov started his own animation studio in Talinn (Estonia’s capital) called Nukufilm in 1958, and Pärn is an author with Eesti Joonisfilm (founded 1993) respectively. Both companies are titans in Estonia’s animation industry, and these luminaries’ works can be seen together in a special section in a href= target=_blank rel=noreferrer noopener Cinema Today: Estonian Animated Shorts (1970s-1990s.)

Still from Souvenir (1977)

Of special note in this section are Souvenir by Tuganov and Breakfast On The Grass by Pärn. In Souvenir, the devastating effects of imperialism come back to haunt the ostensible winners of the war, culminating in one of the most effective scenes of satire by overlaying celebratory fireworks with firebombing. In the other equally haunting short Breakfast On The Grass, Pärn devises Kafkaesque levels of confusion for the characters in this thinly-veiled commentary on life in a former Soviet society.

Still from Breakfast On The Grass (1987)

Local Singaporean filmmaker Tan Wei Keong (director of independent animation works Pifuskin; The Great Escape) observes: “I think most Estonian animation works I’ve seen are honest to the point of being raw in direction with sometimes candid and quirky elements.” He describes the world of Estonian animated films to a T. With the two programs at SGIFF, as well as a special guest appearance of Estonian independent animator Ülo Pikkov (Ada + Otto; Tick Tack) at the screenings – one could look forward to witnessing these masters in the animation world, and discover how they have crafted these flights of fancy unshackled by both a fiercely independent spirit and a society that endorses these wondrous visions of satire and absurdity in equal measure*. *To the latter point, Karlo Funk, Head of Production and Development at the Estonian Film Foundation stated that the Estonian government actually puts 56% of its feature film’s development and production support towards animated films. Funk, Karlo. “Gravitation and Financing Animation Films”, 2009, Estonian Animation In Motion, Vol 1.Cinema Today: Estonian Animation 1970s to 1990s screens on 26 Nov 2016, Saturday, 2pm at Filmgarde Bugis+. a href= BUY TICKETS Cinema Today: Estonian Animation 2000s screens on 27 Nov 2016, Sunday, 2pm at Filmgarde Bugis+. a href= BUY TICKETS Download Estonian director Ülo Pikkov’s book ANIMASOPHY: Theoretical Writings on the Animation Film a href= target=_blank rel=noreferrer noopener here.