by Gwyneth Christoffel
Without a doubt, I can say my time spent at the Four River Film Festival in Karlovac, Croatia, was one the best experiences I have had in my life. I was extremely fortunate to attend the festival with the support of the University of Advancing Technology.
My newest animated film, The Last Leaf, was screened at the Four River Film Festival. The Last Leaf is about a cute little caterpillar who runs into big trouble trying to get the last delicious leaf on a tall tree. I began the film in November 2013 and finished at the end of January 2014. This was my first go at traditional animation, so I learned a lot during the process.
I fell in love with Karlovac as soon as I stepped off the bus. Even though I had just endured fourteen hours of flying and an hour bus ride, I was excited to get started. A festival volunteer picked me up at the bus station and took me to the base for the festival: the Zorin Dom Theater. The dorm building, which would be my home for the next few days, was a five minute walk away. After settling in and claiming my bottom bunk I headed back to Zorin Dom. As a part of a group of young filmmakers, I took part in some introduction activities and then we made our way to the River Kupa for the opening ceremonies.
Karlovac is known as “the town on four rivers”. Each night, we would attend an outdoor screening on one of the rivers: Kupa, Dobra, Koranam or Mrežinica. The mosquitos and chilly weather didn't stop us from having a great time while we watched the ceremonies. An introduction to the staff and jury members of the festival was followed by a warm welcome from the mayor of Karlovac. After watching a few films, each of us lit a lantern and sent it into the sky to officially begin the festival. This definitely appropriate for the festival's slogan for 2014: “Why keep your talent in the dark?”
After a sleep we were all ready to tackle the first full day of the festival. Three screenings preceded a night on the River Korana. The filmmakers whose films were screened that day got the chance to strut their stuff on the yellow (not red!) carpet. We watched some more films and then gathered around to cheer on Croatia as they won their FIFA game against Cameroon!
Our next day began much like the one before. A couple of screenings took place at Zorin Dom. Each of us then had the opportunity to choose a workshop or lecture to attend for the afternoon. Being an animation lover, I chose “Documentary Animation”. Lead by two filmmakers from Sweden, a group of us learned how documentaries can be effectively driven with just audio and animated visuals. Our teachers had interviewed citizens of Karlovac the day before, asking the question, “What is a utopia?” We were split into five groups and each group was given a thirty second section of audio. It was our task to create a stop motion to illustrate our clip. The three hours of workshop time sped by and then we had to hop on a bus for the river Dobra. This time we socialized, viewed another screening and even had a small birthday celebration for a couple of the filmmakers! By the time we got back to our dorm room we were all exhausted. It had been quite a long day!
When I woke up the next day I had mixed feelings. I was happy because I was having so much fun with my new friends, sad because my time at the festival was almost over, but also nervous because The Last Leaf would be screening that morning! I am happy to say that the screening went incredibly well. The audience laughed in all the right places and I was given some touching compliments. I also got the chance to speak on stage after the screening and answer a couple of questions about my film. The afternoon continued with us splitting off to continue our workshops from the day before. My group finished our section for the documentary animation. I cannot wait to see the final product!
The Closing Ceremony was that night, but due to the rainy weather, we were not able to visit the river Mrežinica. Instead, we sat in the comfy chairs of the Zorin Dom Theater and cheered on our fellow filmmakers who received awards. To end the night, we celebrated and enjoyed each other's company. Just like myself, I think everyone was trying to ignore the fact that our time together was almost at an end.
In the morning I made my way to the Zagreb airport to prepare myself for a 23 hour travel day back to Arizona. This opportunity given to me by the Four River Film Festival and UAT has taught me so much. I learned about myself by traveling to Europe on my own, I learned new techniques from watching my peers' films, but I think the main lesson I learned was about networking. It is an extremely valuable skill for a filmmaker (or any other professional) to acquire. I know now that introducing yourself to as many people as possible, committing to conversation and handing out business cards can go a long way. I now have contacts from over 10 countries with whom I could possibly work in the future. I have already been asked to create animated titles for a fellow filmmaker's upcoming short film!
I am very thankful for the opportunity to attend the Four River Film Festival in Karlovac, Croatia. The trip is definitely something that I will never forget!