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Yuri Norstein: Animation Is as Genuine as a Dream, An Interview

Yuri Norstein is perhaps the most respected contemporary animator in the world. Many critics, fellow animators and experts in the field of animation consider his film Tale of Tales, made in 1979, as the greatest animated film of all time. His previous films, The Heron and the Crane (1974) or Hedgehog in the Fog (1975) have also won many prizes at some highly acclaimed festivals of animation.

He has achieved this international acclaim thanks to his extraordinary way of using cut-out and a multiplane rostrum camera as well as to his mastery in creating delicate atmospheric modulation made by the use of very few colours and nuances. A dense concentration of visual events and symbols in each film frame, a skilful simulation of the effects of lighting, mist and night view and an exceptional imaginative way of story telling are just a few additional components on which Norstein built his poetic universe. Of the same importance is the content of his films, composed as they are of eastern spiritual heritage, Russian fairy-tails, oriental philosophy and European positivism and, as he put it, dreams survived from childhood.
He was born in 1941 in Andreevka, a small village near Moscow where his Byelorussian family had found refuge from the war. After several different jobs, among others he worked as a manual worker in a furniture factory, he joined the Sojuzmultifilm where he worked as an in-betweener, artistic director and animator in a number of films until he finally made his debut as director (together with A. Turin) on The 25th: The First day, a film about the October Revolution made in avant-garde manner.

His big break came when he started working with the legendary Russian animator Ivan Vano Ivanov on whose animated feature The Left-Handed he worked as the artistic director. Together with Vano he co-directed The Battle of Kerzhents (1970), an ambitious project, based on a Russian fresco painting, which was the winner of the first Zagreb Festival in 1972. That was his first international success. In the following nine years he made three more films, which have definitively established him as one of the greatest authors in the history of animated films.

In the interview by our contributor Midhat Ajanovic, Norstein speaks about Sergej Eisenstein and how he influenced his interest in filmmaking. He describes his beginnings in Sojuzmultifilm and his relationship with Ivan Vano Ivanov. Special attention is given to his life project, the animated feature based on Gogols story The Overcoat that he has been working on for almost 35 years. Norstein depicts in detail the way in which he has made all his films and explains his perception of visual story telling, computer animation and other phenomena connected with animation in the present time.
He perceives animation as a realistic media or as he put it: »a media as genuine as a dream«.

The text is accompanied by Norstein’s filmography.

Midhat Ajanović

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