Gypsy Tales animation cartoon series from the perspective of contemporary Roma artists

Written by Anna Orosz

Representing Roma culture with animation is the newest innovation of sharing traditions. The story of Gypsy Tales cartoon series started in 2013 at the Kecskemétfilm Studio with the direction of Mária Horváth, who wanted to share the Roma folk traditions and show the Roma cultural values. From a post-colonialist perspective, the producer and director purpose was to collect authentic folk tales, and involve Roma artists in the working process. This innovation allows the Roma artists to represent their folk heritage, and to illustrate their tradition with their contemporary art through their knowledge, tales, drawings, paintings, and music. p1The story of Gypsy Tales (2013) cartoon series compromises three episodes; The Gypsy Woman and the Devil (2014), Kalo (2015), and Doja, the Gypsy Fairy (2015). For the realization of the three animated short movies the director cooperated with the same Roma artists; Magda Szécsi writer, illustrator, Teréz Orsós painter, József Oláh musician, and Erika Varga, the leader of Romani Design Studio.
The Gypsy Tales series received several awards: The Gypsy Woman and the Devil episode won two awards in Venice, at Cartoons on the Bay International Animation Film Festival (2015) in the category of TV series for young people, and also for Best Soundtrack. The episode of Doja, the Gypsy Fairy episode received an award at the 12th Kecskemét Animation Film Festival (2015), the special prize of the Hungarian Lutheran Church Lutheran Diakonia. In Stana, Transylvania (2016) it also received the first prize at the III. International Ethnographic Film Festival.
Ferenc Mikulás, the producer and the leader of Kecskemétfilm Studio, received a Wallenberg prize from the Raoul Wallenberg Association for starting Gypsy Tales series. He emphasizes that “one of the main purposes of the animation is to represent Hungarian Roma folk heritage and combine it with contemporary Roma art.” Mária Horváth says that “filmmaking is a duty and with Gypsy, Tales series help us to understand, learn and accept each other in a better way.
The first episode of the awarded The Gypsy Tales series, The Gypsy Woman and the Devil, illustrates a desperate mother called Vunida who is trying to get food for her starving children. On her way, she meets the devil who immediately falls in love with her as she is a beautiful woman. This animated short movie represents a touching story about a self-sacrificing mother.
The second episode, Kalo, portrays a young and handsome Roma boy who falls in love with the Queen of the water world. The handsome Roma wills to get married to the Water Queen, but it seems that this is not possible without the permission of the seaweed-haired witch. Consequently, he starts his adventurous travel with his brave horse.
The third episode Doja, presents the Gypsy Fairy coming down on a rainbow to help for their people. “Clinging to her long magical hair, they fly with her to an island, where they can settle down and build their home. But then, one day, something terrible happens”(Mediawawe).

p2According to the director, the tales of these cartoon series are reflected in Roma soul, and the lessons told in the cartoons are not portraying the Roma but, the universal values. The stories are illustrating the completeness of life, loyalty, love, wandering, the history and origin story of Roma people, humor, the important role of the family and the motherhood. In this regard, Mária Horváth says that “Roma folk tales are more emotional, realistic and abstract, and the writers like to leave open the end of the story because the viewer will think more about the tales.” If we tried to analyze her style, the director uses a variety of techniques in the series, including 2D and 3D animation. For instance, the backgrounds are plain, and the figures are represented in the space. Also, the surface of the characters and backgrounds are hand-painted even if the movement of the figures are made with 3D animation technique.
Teréz Orsós, painter, and graphic designer magical realist style, designed the visual background of the animation.

She mainly makes warm earth-colored genre-paintings about the traditions and everyday life of Roma people. The drawing style and coloring of the figures are interacting in a unique way with the viewer because she is using definite contours, expressive colors, and floating lines to represent not just everyday life, but also the dreams and desires in her paintings. The figures look like as they were carved out of wooden shapes. In her paintings, she captures the traditional Roma costumes, habits, and crafts like in the Basket-weaver (1997) and Women with basket (2001) paintings. The theme song and background music is the traditional Roma music style made by József Oláh, the leader of Parno Graszt band, and matches perfectly with the animation.
Taken together, the most remarkable aspects of this animation series is the combination of the modern techniques and contemporary Roma art accompanied by the folk tales. When I am watching Teréz Orsós’ moving paintings the impression of picturesque landscapes appears in my mind. For example, I remember still the animated starry sky, sunset, and jungle in Kalo. It is like a Chagall painting in the background, and an elaborately detailed nature, meadow flowers and traditional clothing in the foreground.
This drawing style is coupled with the 3D animation technique, when Doja, the Gypsy Fairy grows her long flowing black hair to take her people to a beautiful paradise-like island, we can feel the spatiality and materiality of the palpable swirling hair. Every time I watch it discover new visually creative ideas. A notable example is The Gypsy woman and the Devil where the faces of the kids are portrayed in the cigarette smoke of the Devil, and after that, the image of snarling wolves appears. At the end of the episode the transformation of the mother to a sour cherry tree is visually immersive and touching at the same time.

In the three tales of Magda Szécsi, we can find the bitter Roma fate motifs of traveling and wandering when they cannot climb on Doja’s magical long hair they scattered in the world, and their destiny is to find each other. In every story, in addition to the sometimes painful stories, there are playfulness, joy, and magical elements: different kinds of mysterious characters like witches, fairies, scaly creatures called Szülláks, the water queen, and the devil. In Gypsy Woman and the Devil the elements of folk traditions and superstitions also appear when the mother skips three times over her widow’s hat to be lucky and get food for her children. Moreover, when she meets with the devil, she spins around three times to protect herself.
After the successful realization and distribution of the Gypsy Tales series, two new episodes named The story of the Sun and the Moon and the Flaming little red snake, from the collection of Károly Bari, and one episode titled How did man become a Gypsy myth from the collection of Ágnes Daróczi are about to be released.

Watch the videos at:

The Gypsy Woman and the Devil (2014)

Kalo (2015)

Doja, the Gypsy Fairy (2015)

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Photos: Második Alapítvány (online), accessed: January 10, 2017.