A girl drinks a cup of tea before going out to town. In the rainy night she witnesses an unusual procession and, before she knows it, she is drawn into a strange world - the dark side of the universe, the universe of hell. So goes the synopsis of the animated movie "The Tea of Forgetfulness," by French author Sandra Desmazières, which was awarded the Grand Prix and a €3,000 prize at the Banja Luka 2009 International Animated Film Festival
Jury members Viola Sova, Mikhail Aldashin, Aleksa Gajić, Bulgarian animator Stojan Dukov and film-maker Nedžad Begović from Sarajevo, explained their decision by saying that "The Tea of Forgetfulness offers the heart both emotion and beauty, which the author achieves through a precise balance of excellent drawing, sound, and music."
The animated film "Notes," by Croatian author Marko Meštrović, garnered an award for creativity and art, while the best drawing award went to the Polish film "Everything Flows," by Edyta Turczanik.
Jury chairwoman and Polish author Viola Sova - who won last year's Grand Prix with her film "Refrains" - says that the festival's competition selection was good and that it offered "something for everyone."
"Some films were good, some were not; essentially they were different, and I like variety," Sova said.
French author Serge Elissalde's "Black Tea" was chosen as the best 2D animation, while the best 3D animation award went to the Iranian film "Solitude," by director Mehrdad Sheikhan.
The jury made a special mention of the German animated film "Post", by Christian Asnussen and Matthias Bruhn, which was also pronounced best film by the festival's audience. According to the jury, "Post" is "a classical animated film, whose purity and precision clearly tell the tale of the smile on the human face."
The film tells the story of a mailman in a village in the middle of nowhere, who substitutes his own letters for the mail he is supposed to deliver. The villagers are delighted, because the mailman's letters are wonderfully written, but the officials at the regional post office hold a different opinion.
A second special mention was made of "The stressful adventures of Boxhead & Roundhead - Brothers in Arms," by American author Elliot Cowan.
The festival's closing day program included Aleksa Gajić's "Technotise - Edith and I", the first feature length-animation from Serbia.
"Festivals like this are definitely the motors of the animation world. They show that the things we see on Cartoon Network or in some commercial films use ideas from other films that are shown at festivals. By far the best animations I've ever seen have been at festivals, and I love festivals," said Gajić.
The Banja Luka 2009 International Animated Film Festival is the second of its kind. This year, it took place from Oct. 22 to Oct. 27, and was simultaneously held in three other cities: Sarajevo, Mrkonjić Grad, and Gradiška.
According to the organizers, the goal of staging such an event in four cities at once was to promote animated film in Bosnia and Herzegovina as widely as possible.
The festival opened with a retrospective of the works of Mikhail Aldashin, one of Russia's great animation artists. The selection included "About Ivan the Fool", "Bookashkies", "The Hunter", "Kele", "Nativity", "The Other Side", "Poumse," and "The History of the Russian Tsars."
"About Ivan the Fool" is based on a Russian fairy tale, "Bookashkies" tells of the hard life of kitchen insects, "Hunter" is a story of a hunter who becomes the victim of his colleagues, while "Nativity" speaks of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.
During the festival's six days the audiences had the opportunity to see over 200 animated films by Russian, French, and contemporary Chinese auteurs.
The festival's programme also included four feature-length animations, the selection of the animated film festival in the Bosnian city of Neum, and children's animations by the Zagreb Film House, such as "Cows in the Moon" (Krave na mesecu) and "The Reckless Robot" (Nestašni robot) by Duško Vukotić (1927-1998), whose film "Ersatz" won an Oscar for best animated short in 1961.
Audiences were especially interested in the screening of animated films from the Third Reich period, which were created between 1933 and 1945. This content has rarely been shown beyond German borders, and was specially prepared for the Banja Luka festival.
Two books were also presented at the festival - "On Animation" and "An Introduction to the Esthetics of Cinematographic Animation," both by Ranko Munitić (1943-2009), an eminent film theoretician in the former Yugoslavia region.
"Ranko was the most significant and greatest expert on animation in these parts, and his opinions were respected even by those who didn't like him," says Rastko Ćirić.
Animated films came to Banja Luka in the late 1960s. In 1971 the May Animated Film Festival was born, which was later transformed into the Festival of Film Art.
When the latter festival was no longer organized, the influx of animated films into Banja Luka's film theatres also ceased - until the appearance of a young group of film artists who founded the Fenix Art Association for Visual Arts.
The group staged a retrospective of the Zagreb School of Animation in 2005 in Banja Luka, and afterward organized the screenings of over 300 animated films. Last year, they finally instituted the city's International Animated Film Festival.
Sarajevo animator Berin Tuzlić believes that the art of animation is important because it is used in theatre, film, and other forms of art. Goran Dujaković, the director of the Banja Luka festival, says that this year's gathering included great world authors, and stresses that "this is the road on which the festival will continue, toward becoming a strong regional, and European, animated film festival."
"I hope that the structures that should support this festival will in the future provide more substantial support - both material and institutional - so that Bosnia-Herzegovina will have a large animated film festival," Dujaković said.