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After Espinho, Trouble in Portugal

Another successful Cinanima Festival was underscored by the pending closure of Portugal's new Casa de Animao, a cultural institution initiated by Abi Feijand a small team of enthusiasts.

Attendees of the 2002 Cinanima Festival were characteristically friendly, but cautious about the future of animation in Portugal. All photos © Cinanima unless otherwise noted.

Attendees of the 2002 Cinanima Festival were characteristically friendly, but cautious about the future of animation in Portugal. All photos © Cinanima unless otherwise noted.

Zoya Trofimova's film Le Trop Petit Prince won the Grand Prix at the Cinanima International Animated Film Festival 2002, which took place last November in Espinho. This 26th edition of the Portuguese animation festival was a very good-natured affair, with that combination of unpretentiousness and warmth, which has always been the Espinho festival's hallmark. However the mood of Portuguese professionals was rather somber.

The jury had quite a selection of films to judge, screened in seven separate programs, and including many films of a high artistic standard and which made few concessions to the mainstream. A godsend for a jury composed of artists such as Istvan Orosz, Manuel Otero, Joao Paulo Antunes, Jiri Barta and Mark Baker. The general consensus was that this was a vintage selection and the winning films reflected this laudable standard.

The 2002 jury was comprised of (left to right): István Orosz (Hungary); Manuel Otero (France); João Antunes (Portugal/ President of the jury); Jiri Barta (Czech Republic) and Mark Baker (United Kingdom).

The 2002 jury was comprised of (left to right): István Orosz (Hungary); Manuel Otero (France); João Antunes (Portugal/ President of the jury); Jiri Barta (Czech Republic) and Mark Baker (United Kingdom).

An Obvious Grand Prix

With the Grand Prix going to the Folimage production Le Trop Petit Prince, repeating its recent success at the Annecy, Ottawa and Hiroshima festivals, the French studio once again consolidated its now dominant lead in animation festival prizewinner lists. Without detracting from the high quality of films bearing the Folimage logo (and this was a fine one!), the jury's choice probably also reflects a relative shortage of films which dare to take the viewer into truly new territories. In consolation one can tell oneself that in the tide of contemporary TV's general inanity, Trofimova's film provides a real ray of sunshine. These days perhaps that's real audacity. José Miguel Ribeiro was greeted as "local-boy-made-good" and his pre-school series As Coisas Là de Casa (Cartoon Portugal Prize) aroused great hilarity and drew loud applause.

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José Miguel Ribeiro receives the Cartoon Portugal Prize for his pre-school series As Coisas Là de Casa (Home Things). © Zeppelin Filmes.

Problems in the Profession

The Festival daily newspaper was unequivocal in its coverage of the current "famine" within Portuguese animation. At the closing night ceremony, Festival director Antonio Gaio presented a letter to the Ministry of Culture representative, written by the ASIFA Board to express its concern over the fate of animation in Portugal. Apparently all cultural budgets have suffered drastic cuts, and particularly that of ICAM, the state department offshoot which finances more or less all-Portuguese production.

With a very small domestic market and a particularly weak production capacity, Portuguese film has always been dependant on public funding.

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The threat hanging over the existence of Porto's new Casa de Animação have since confirmed that Portugal's new policy risks driving its local animation into the ground: only recently opened, the Casa de Animação is a cultural institution initiated by Abi Feijó and a small team of enthusiasts. Suddenly its future has been seriously jeopardized. In less than two years of operation, it has to its credit a number of conferences, visiting filmmakers and fine retrospectives and/or exhibitions (Swiss animation, Starewicz and Aardman). There was a real will to make Porto, the historic capital of Portuguese cinema, a new center for animation. Valence, France's Folimage and la Poudrière were probably examples it had in mind with this initiative, even though the Casa could in no way rely on the busy production schedule of a studio. Creating the Casa was a bold and difficult undertaking, but one which seemed to have the support of institutions like ICAM. Since the Casa began operations, general elections have taken place and the neo-conservative government clearly has little sympathy with the project. An appeal to the Portuguese government has been launched and Abi Feijó has, along with other artists, created "APRIL" (Regional Political Association of Local Intervention), which aims to lobby political decision-makers. At the time of writing, the Casa's management still do not know if their funding will be maintained by ICAM over the coming month. Nonetheless they envision some support from local authorities and possible sponsors, but their situation is so precarious that it makes it impossible for them to continue planning their programs. So it is clear that for Portuguese animation overall the situation is very troubled indeed.

Emails of support and questions can be sent to mail@casa-da-animacao.pt. For more information about Casa de Animação, visit www.casa-da-animacao.pt (in Portuguese).

Philippe Moins is a writer and teacher, and also the co-director of Anima 2003.

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