ANIMATION IN AZERBAIJAN
Azerbaijan has a rich animation heritage reaching as far back as the 1930s. When looking back at Azerbaijani animations it’s evident there are two phases of production. The first began in 1933, when Azerbaijanfilm Studio began preparatory work with materials imported from Moscow. The first fully animated film was produced in 1935 called “Misfortune of Abbas”.
Unfortunately, the beginning of the war placed a stop in Azerbaijanfilm Studios ability to produce further animation work and the necessary facilities were not provided to the studio until 1965, when the first animation workshop in the studio was opened.
‘Jirtdan’, a short film about a folktale bearing the same name, was completed in 1969. This began a much awaited second phase, commonly recognised as the golden period of animated filmmaking in Azerbaijan. Recently, the 50th anniversary of Azerbaijani animation was celebrated during the second ANIMAFILM International Animation Festival in October 2019. This anniversary marked the release of ‘Jirtdan’ and the glorious golden period that followed. Over 30 animated films were produced at Azerbaijanfilm Studio in the 1970s alone. Many other popular films about Jirtdan were made and remained a favourite of Azerbaijanis, for decades this story has been deeply embedded in the culture and remains a favourite of children today. However, out of all of these wonderful films, our 1969 animation of Jirtdan was since forgotten and not screened for many years.
‘Jirtdan’ is one of the most beloved Azerbaijani folktales. The word Jirtdan means tiny or dwarf in Azerbaijani. The tale is about a child, much smaller than other children his age, who instead finds his strength in intelligence and cunning. Despite his small stature, he is victorious in beating the div and leading himself and his brothers to safety.
The ‘div’ is a quintessential folktale villain. Huge, hairy and disposed to eating children, he is an embodiment of evil. In Azerbaijan’s very own David and Goliath style parable, Jirtdan’s heroism challenges children to use wit and cunning instead of force. It is the story of the underdog, and the unexpected heroism of the vulnerable, which every culture has a version of. Another tale from the western canon ‘Jirtdan’ has parallels with is ‘Hansel and Gretel’. Famously, a brother and sister manage to outsmart a witch who intends to eat them and find their way out of the forest.
These tales are kept alive through the generations by oral tradition. Variations to these tales, such as our animated film, can immortalise this beloved story and with our new restoration, allow its legacy to remain in culture.