Boles is a 12-minute Slovenian animation that proves just how inventive, detailed and touching short film can be. Inspired by Russian novelist Maxim Gorky’s Her Lover, director Špela Čadež and puppet-maker Žiga Lebar craft a miniature, stop-motion narrative of loss, loneliness and creative dysfunction, where writer Filip and his neighbour Tereza are brought together and pulled apart by a series of love letters.

Boles is one of six films which will be screening at Calvert 22 Space in London on Saturday 2 September as part of Once Upon a Time in the East: a showcase of New East short film presented by The Smalls Film Festival 2017, which is being hosted by the Calvert 22 Foundation from 1 — 5 September. Now in its twelfth year, the festival — which grew out of a video content marketplace and filmmaking community — is known for bringing together the brightest and best in short film to showcase the creativity of this often-neglected medium.

For festival producer Aleks Dimitrijević, short film remains a vital form since it allows artists “at any stage of their careers the opportunity to find and re-invent their voice as filmmakers. Directors can take their time and hone their skills rather than face the mounting pressures of a large budget and big studio expectations, saying: “this is my way to tell the story.”

Recent years, Dimitrijević says, have seen “incredible work emerge from the region,” a sign of “bold creative sensibilities brewing in the eastern Europe film industry.” Featuring work from Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia as well as Slovenia, Once Upon a Time in the East has been curated to capture a sense of these expanding horizons. Over the course of 90 minutes, viewers will experience charming animation, crime drama, a portrait of transgender life and more.

As for Čadež, she grew up with the cartoons of late Yugoslavia, eventually moving to Germany to study graphic design; after a chance exposure to the world of puppet animation, she never looked back. She has said that for the animation director, “the subject you choose should be close to you as you will spend a lot of time on it.” The intensive manual labour involved in producing these miniature miracles is worth the pain, though. In an interview with Skwigly, Čadež notes: “I love stop motion, because it gives me such a wide panel of different work areas and endless creative possibilities. Jumping from one art field to another inspires me a great deal.”

As to whether there are any parallels to be drawn between the isolated and frustrated figure of Filip in Boles and the director, painstakingly manipulating these puppet figures into life, Čadež is rueful but honest. “Regarding independent animation, it is true,” she says. “We are very lonely, [we] work in dark rooms.” In animation, as with short film, magic arises when creativity comes up against tight confines, and overcomes them.

Once Upon a Time in the East takes place at Calvert 22 Space in London from 1:30 pm – 3 pm on Saturday 2 September. For more information on the programme, visit the Calvert 22 Foundation website. Tickets are available here. For more information on The Smalls Film Festival, visit their website here.

Text: Samuel Goff