International Puppet Theatre Festival

PIF is an international puppet festival of largely professional puppet theatre groups. It is also a festival for any puppeteer or theatrician who uses puppetry as a means of artistic expression. Until now more than 970 theatres from all continents have participated. The festival is for both adults and children. PIF has been held each year since 1968, so the festival has long tradition behind it. It is usually held in the third week of September. PIF host city is Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.

The PIF was launched curiously. Young and enthusiastic Esperanto promoters gathered at the Student Esperanto Club had been trying since 1967 to organize some cultural events at which Esperanto would be the official language of communication. The most successful was the international puppet theatre festival (Pupteatra Internacia Festivalo) in Esperanto, hence the abbreviation PIF), with four professional and one amateur theatre performing. It was held from 6 to 8 July, 1968 despite an extremely meagre budget. Since then it has been organized every year and sometimes in different towns, thus becoming more than the amateur organization could bear. This is why members of the Esperanto club founded a professional institution – the International Cultural Centre (now Culture Centre Travno) – which became the organizer of PIF in 1972.

PIF has always been open to all forms of puppet expression, puppet techniques, genres, and themes. In the early years, only one requirement – that all plays be performed in Esperanto. However, very soon puppet theatre proved to be stronger than Esperanto and puppets started speaking the national languages of their animators. Above all, they spoke the universal language of puppets understandable by everyone. The Esperanto part of the festival continues to exist, giving a special flavor to the festival and acknowledging gratitude for the enthusiasm and persistence of the founders of PIF.

PIF did not stay in Zagreb. It has traveled to Sisak, Varazdin, Karlovac, Pula, and Ljubljana in Slovenia, as well as to the far north on two occasions when it went to Tromsø in Norway, Zagreb’s twin town.  Unfortunately, the geographic distance was too great for the meetings held in 1978 and 1981 to become a permanent form of cooperation. 

In 56 years of the festival, more than 950 theatres from more than 55 countries from all continents have taken part. For five to seven days very different plays are performed – from traditional to completely new modern experimental shows – for children and adults. The plays are performed in numerous theatre halls, as well as in the streets and squares of Zagreb. They are observed by two juries: the children’s which observes all plays for children and chooses the best according to their taste, and an international jury of experts which follows all the performances at the festival and presents the main festival prize for the best play in its entirety, while also giving prizes for individual achievements. Since 1988 the main prize of the PIF has been named after the great man of the Croatian puppet theatre Milan Cecuk – the writer, actor, puppeteer, journalist, theoretician, and historian of the puppet theatre and one of the founders of the PIF.

Along with the festival, special seminars are offered on the making of puppets and animation. Puppet exhibitions are also organized, as well as projections of puppetry films, promotions, and puppet exhibitions. The festival is opened by the mascot PIFko, a giant puppet who leads a merry procession of puppets and puppeteers.

The PIF’s worst moments were during the aggressive war against Croatia. Before the war the organisers had to try very hard to choose the best twenty out of some hundred theatres applying. In 1991 only a third of the planned programme remained. Organizers and audiences alike will always remember with gratitude the Swiss group Pannalal’s Puppets and three Slovenian puppet theatres that preserved the PIF’s international character by their courageous arrival in Zagreb in the middle of the war.

The main thrust of the PIF is to raise the level of puppet expression in all fields of the Festival. Keeping up with the contemporary tendencies in puppetry, not forgetting the tradition and peculiarity of different puppetry schools, is our guiding idea and requires constant organizational and program-based inquiry and improvement. PIF’s mission is to point at some new achievements and views on puppetry art to professional puppetry creators, as well as to audiences and puppetry lovers.