You may know him as Starewicz or Starevitch, or if you’re on a first name basis, as Wladyslaw, but however you choose to identify him the filmmaker we’ll be calling Ladislas Starewitch is a towering figure in the history of motion-picture animation. His endlessly inventive, whimsical, and genuinely magical films have lost none of their power to delight and amaze, even after more than a century. Born to Polish parents in Moscow in 1882, and raised primarily in what are today Lithuania and Estonia, Starewitch made his first films in Kaunas, Lithuania, and went on to work for the early film producer Aleksandr Khanzhonkov in Moscow. Following the October Revolution in 1917, he relocated to Paris, where he would make dozens of extraordinary films from 1920 until his death in 1965.
Starewitch’s eureka moment came at the Museum of Natural History in Kaunas, where he endeavored to make a film documenting a battle between two stag beetles. When his uncooperative protagonists continually frustrated his efforts by dropping dead under the harsh glare of the stage lighting, Starewitch finally circumvented the problem by resorting to stop-motion animation. By means of wires, wax, and an extraordinary manual dexterity, he created tiny puppets out of the dead beetles, thereby securing a place in animation history as the creator of the cinema’s first work of stop-motion puppet animation. Soon the insects would be replaced by his own handcrafted puppets, and indeed Starewitch’s genius is manifest not only in his abilities as a filmmaker, but also in the exquisite craftsmanship of his puppets and sets.
Though Starewitch’s reputation is secure (thanks in part to his acknowledged influence on filmmakers including the Quay Brothers and Wes Anderson), his films are more often discussed than seen. In the hopes of remedying that, we present this extensive retrospective, featuring more than 25 of Starewitch’s films, drawn from both his Russian and French periods, all of them screening on 35mm or 16mm! That this series is possible is thanks in large part to the efforts of Starewitch’s granddaughter, Léona Béatrice Martin-Starewitch and her husband, François Martin, who have worked tirelessly to preserve, promote, and distribute the work of this key figure in the history of screen animation.
Co-presented by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. Special thanks to Mathieu Fournet & Amélie Garin-Davet (Cultural Services of the French Embassy), as well as to Léona Béatrice Martin-Starewitch & François Martin, and Yulia Belova (Gosfilmofond). With the exception of THE MAGIC CLOCK, all the prints of the films produced in France are part of the Martin-Starewitch collection.