Animators and educators celebrate the diversity of animation at Anima 05, the third edition of the biennial animation festival in Cdoba, Argentina, with special guests Caroline Leaf, Giannalberto Bendazzi and Walter Tournier, among others. Greg Singer reports on the general state of animation education and production in Argentina.
Walking through the streets of Córdoba, the second largest city in Argentina, it feels like another time and place. In the stretch of a few blocks there are parrots huddling in the trees, horse-drawn carts whipped through the alleyways, and a small, brown bat dead on the morning sidewalk. Internet cafés are plentiful for the burgeoning student population, with access to La Red (the Spanish equivalent of The Net) costing little more than 50 cents an hour. There are dogs everywhere, too lean and jaunty, freely roaming alongside the humans, sleeping on the steps of the cathedral in some sort of parallel canine society.
Argentina is a beautiful blend of Spanish, Italian and native peoples. From Buenos Aires, a megapolis of 12 millions souls (once considered the Paris of South America), to the calving glaciers of Tierra del Fuego (the last jumping-off point of civilization and continent before heading to Antarctica), the whole country seems blessed, in its way.
It is not uncommon for people here to have three jobs in order to piece together a livelihood. The national economy has been depressed for the last several years. Everything is upside down, and even the stars in the inky heavens are somewhat of a novelty for my northern eyes. Yet Argentina seems the kind of place where their passion and innovation will carry them through. In the absence of a strong economy, as one person put it, we must imagine everything. For artists, there is no luxury of materials or equipment. If need be, an animator will improvise using his window as a lightbox.
Depending on whom you ask, Argentina may conjure memories of Ernetsto Che Guevara, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or animator Oscar Grillo. The animation community is small, as one might guess, which is perhaps why Argentinean-born Grillo founded Klacto Animations in London some twenty-odd years ago. (As the world is ever-becoming a smaller place, you can keep current with Grillo via his online journal, okgrillo.blogspot.com.) But as nebulous as the animation scene may be, it makes up with its determination.
Patagonik Film Group (www.patanimation.com) intends to release an animated feature every two years, building upon the success of Patoruzito (2004), a childrens story based on the 75-year-old characters of legendary Argentine comic artist Dante Quinterno. Fitting of the studios ambitions, Patoruzito tells the mythopoetic tale of a boy who fights to claim the title of chief in his Patagonian tribe.
The Universidad Nacional de Córdoba is one of the oldest universities in South America. The Centro Experimental de Animación is a research and extension branch of the universitys Department of Film and Television. Professors Alejandro González and Carmen Garzón along with a non-profit cultural organization, the Centro Cultural España-Córdoba help to organize the biennial Córdoba Animation Festival (Anima). The festival celebrates the diversity of animation and aims to fill a void in the audiovisual spectrum in Argentina. It serves as a forum to exhibit works of Latin American animators, and to strengthen the local animation community in allowing animators and educators to meet and exchange experiences.
The Córdoba Anima festival is steadily growing. In 2001, it had received 70 film submissions; in 2003, there were more than 200 submissions; and for the third edition (April 27-30, 2005), there were 700 submissions from 50 countries.
There is not much opportunity to see animated works from around the region or world, even though commercial offerings like Los Increíbles (The Incredibles) are available on DVD at the local bookstore. The Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival and the Mar del Plata International Film Festival (the Argentine version of Cannes) are two popular destinations, but still people were traveling far to Córdoba to participate and share in Anima 05. Otherwise, they said, there would be no real occasion to see the animation.
It is said that a single look is better than a hundred descriptions. No one involved in the organization of the festival is paid, and most of the festivals activities are free and open to the public. The whole affair was unassuming and intimate. The audience was fairly young, made up predominantly of student filmmakers and others who appreciate the artform. In addition to the film screenings, there were seminars and workshops, reflecting a common desire among the animators to come together to learn and support one another. As one student bravely confided in English toward the end of the festival, Im so happy. I enjoyed so much this.
El arte se refleja en tu alma dejalo ser.(Art reflects in your soul, let it be.) One of the guest lecturers at Anima 05 was Canadian animator Caroline Leaf. She spoke about the short, non-commercial animation she made during her time with the National Film Board of Canada (1972-91). Working with limited resources and exploring varied techniques, her experience was pertinent to the interests of independent filmmakers. Leaf would animate directly under the camera with her fingers using tempera paint, or cutouts, or charcoal on paper, erasing and recreating on the same surface as she filmed. She recalled making one of her films while living in Ireland in a remote windy farmhouse, for which her neighbor wrote the song.
This kind of extemporaneous experimentation, playing with light and darkness, is evident in her films. In The Owl Who Married a Goose (1974), an Inuit legend, Leaf animated with sand, using her hands, a wooden stick, and blowing through a straw to make different textures. For The Street (1976), a story about a seven-year-old boy who impatiently covets the bedroom of his dying grandmother, Leaf animated straight ahead, without a storyboard. (The film muses, Mourning on a day so beautiful, that seems made for laughter and love, must seem very cruel to you.)
Talking about Entre deux surs (Between Two Sisters) (1990), Leaf animated by scratching on film. She had two strips of film so that she could alternate frames between them, overlapping the strips as a way to reference the previous image. Since color exists on film emulsion in layers (red, blue and yellow), she could scrape lightly on the film to remove, say, the red layer and when the film was later exposed, the remaining blue and yellow layers would yield green. With more pressure, she scraped away the other layers to create different colors, and depending on what wavelength of light she used to expose the film, she could define spaces for black, white, bright blue or yellow, as needed.
Leaf emphasized that one can tell a story with any technique, but that the method itself is a basis for how we tell it. Always, unexpected things happen, so there is an element of improvisation. She prefers non-commercial work, because she needs to know that she can go back and make changes, if she wants. Here I am today because of all those hours in a dark room, she says.
The following day, animation historian Giannalberto Bendazzi picked up the conversation on the diversity of animation. Bendazzi has devoted 30 years of his life to animation, and has received many accolades for his work, including the award for outstanding achievement in animation studies (Zagreb, Croatia, 2002). He has authored 11 books on film, among them Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation, and just recently a Spanish version of his book on Quirino Cristiani has become available. Cristiani was an Italo-Argentine cartoonist who has the distinction of creating the first animated feature, El Apóstol (1917), using cutouts. Unbeknownst to many, Cristianis satirical film about restoring morality to political life premiered a full 20 years before Walt Disneys Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
So, it was with some amusement that, in prefacing his lecture with a description of his Cartoons book, a hand should rise from the young audience and ask, Who are you? Without missing a beat, the self-effacing Bendazzi smiled and tossed his exhaustive reference work to the innocent youth a book that was otherwise well out of the price range of anyone in attendance. It was a moment of clarity and honesty.
Bendazzi went on to speak of art that is highcult, wherein the work is rare and difficult to see, but often made with no commercial pressures; the authors are pobre, pero libre impoverished, but free in spirit. Next, he explained, there is art that can be classified as masscult, with comparatively simple stories, as usually seen on television, but for which people do not generally pay to view. And lastly, midcult art is geared toward consumerism, such as most of the work of Hollywood studios.
Bendazzi then recapitulated film history, speaking of cinema pioneers like the Lumière brothers (first public projection of film in 1895), Walt Disney (Steamboat Willie in 1928) and Stephen Bosustow (one of the founding artists of UPA, who once quipped, Now that we won an Oscar, we can hire a good animator!). Concurrent with the founding of the International Animated Film Association (ASIFA) in the 1960s, animation began to have a trajectory all its own, with motivations totally different from its origins.
Some films that stood out during the festival screenings included:
Le Portefeuille (The Wallet) by Vincent Bierrewaerts (France, 2003). A man who missed a job opportunity finds a wallet on his way home. One version of himself takes the wallet, while another version of himself (represented by a different line color) continues on his way. At home, the part of the man who picked up the wallet finds a lot of money in it. Again, he divides into two parts: one goes out to spend the money; the other tries to contact the wallets owner. The story continues to ramify in this way. As the protagonist makes different choices, we glimpse a series of parallel universes, all playing out onscreen at the same time. The film is an excellent portrayal of fate (from boredom to bludgeoning) as an accumulation of small, individual moments of free will.
Little Things by Daniel Greaves (U.K., 2004) was well done and funny. It is about a dysfunctional world in which everybody has their foibles, so much so that not even a cataclysmic event can change their habitual ways.
For a Tango by Gabriele Zucchellil (United Kingdom, 2003) was a film I had seen before at Zagreb Animation Festival, and it still seems suspiciously good. It tells the brief tale of a tango duel, echoing the historical and emotional origin of the dance from immigrants to Buenos Aires.
Elvira is a stop-motion film by Juan Manuel Costa, Lorena Stricker and Gustavo Tejeda (Argentina, 2004), telling the forbidden love story of a circus, with its short owner, bitter and thin clowns, Russian tightrope walkers, a boxer who is a con expert and a trapeze artist who can fly. It was a sweet film, and the audience enjoyed it. In my mind, it was a clear example of how the audience may be forgiving of technique or aesthetics, so long as the story is worthwhile.
Lastly, Morir de Amor (Dying for Love) by Gil Alkabetz (Germany, 2004) won the grand prize for the festival, and for good reason. It is an entertaining short film about two old, caged parrots raking up memories from their past, with unexpected consequences for themselves and their owner. The film looks deceptively simple in its line drawings, but once again demonstrates that the story takes precedence in entertaining and engaging the audience.
Dios están todas partes, pero atiende en Buenos Aires.(God is everywhere, but his office is in Buenos Aires.) Walter Tournier is a well-known animator from Uruguay (www.tournieranimation.com). Having originally studied architecture and archaeology, he is a self-taught animator working primarily in stop motion. He has lectured throughout South America and Europe and made several animation films, including: Caribbean Christmas (2001), El Jefe y el Carpintero (2000) and Nuestro Pequeño Paraíso (Our Little Paradise) (1984), the latter of which was among 84 films selected for Annecy Animation Festivals One Hundred Years of Film Animation (2000).
Before visiting Anima 05, Tournier traveled to Buenos Aires to find a 2mm screw for his puppets, because he couldnt get it anywhere else. While it may not be the easiest or most glamorous life, he says that it is possible to live on non-commercial, non-advertising animation. He appreciates the festival in Córdoba, because it gathers animators together and makes possible some kind of animation community in Latin America. Its also helpful, he says, to be able to see what the rest of the world is creating.
A film he made a few years ago, A Pesar de Todo (In Spite of Everything) (2003), won several Latin American awards, but had been rejected from 45 other festivals. Tournier says that animation from developing countries is difficult to get in the festival market and distribution channels. Though, he recalls, a few years ago the animated feature Mercano el Marciano by Juan Antín (Argentina, 2002) was awarded the jurys special mention at Annecy 2002.
Mercano is purportedly the first independent Argentine animated feature in 30 years. The film follows Mercano, an adorable alien who lives happily on Mars until his dog is killed by a sonar wave sent from Earth. Seeking revenge, he sets course for Earth, crashlanding in Argentina. Stranded in Buenos Aires, the lonely Martian wanders through a city that has been devastated by poverty, violence and uncertainty. Antín uses humor and irony to illuminate the realities of his native country through the eyes of an outsider.
Pablo Rodríguez Jáuregui (www.asterisco.org/prj), a member of the Anima 05 jury, is a freelance animator from Santa Fe, Argentina, whose short films have screened and won awards at festivals in Argentina, Austria, Germany, Spain, England, Brazil and Cuba. When he was 14, Jáuregui started experimenting with super 8mm film, because it was the only material available to him.
By the time he reached 17, he was pursuing a film career at the State School of Film and TV in Rosario, where he was introduced to a self-trained, experimental animator in his seventies, Luis Bras, who had made over a dozen independent films in the style of Norman McLaren (using objects and scratch on film). Bras and McLaren actually met at a festival of experimental film in Córdoba in 1966. In 1993, Bras went to work at the NFB on scholarship, which was one of the few places that genuinely appreciated his work.
For Jáuregui, working on 16mm film was out of the question, because it was simply too expensive. However, in 1991, using his Amiga Commodore, he was able to experiment with mixed media techniques, animating a couple of seconds at a time. The following year, there was a national contest to get in touch with Argentine animators, and from this he was able to begin working with Carlos Loiseau (aka, Caloi). A comic artist and fan of animation, Caloi had created a state-owned network television show called Caloi en su Tinta, which supported and promoted a lot of fledgling animators during its 10-year run. The show played for an hour every week, showcasing non-commercial animation, including international work. (Animators from abroad, such as Bill Plympton and Barry Purves, are often surprised they are so well known in Argentina.)
Jáuregui says that big production companies exploit many animators these days, because Argentina is considered to be cheap labor. Many of the young people who get involved with studios in Buenos Aires are learning the hard way about being squashed and stretched.
As the world is increasingly flat, the prospect of globalization supposedly allows for a more level playing field. Javier Mrad is co-founder and creative director of Medialuna (www.medialuna.tv), a production company in Buenos Aires, who lectured at Anima 05 on broadcast design and interactive television. With a wry, affable smile, he says that the problem with Argentina right now is that the money is in the bank. Not in a good way, of course.
Along with his partners, Eduardo Maraggi and Javier Salazar, Medialuna has won the most regional awards for motion graphics. The studio invariably has positive feedback on its work, with clients including MTV, TNT, Nickelodeon, FOX, VH1, Warner Channel, AXN and Cartoon Network. Mrad suggests that there are only two or three design companies in Buenos Aires that can do quality commercial animation work, such as Bitt Animation & Visual Effects and HookUp Animation. (See the Animation Industry Database for a complete list of studios in Argentina.) There are a lot of artistic animators, he says, but not many industry animators.
After the collapse of the economy, there were months of chaos and no clients. Mrad thought, Well, if everything can disappear, we might as well do what we love. He found that, because of the exchange rate, they could rebuild, and so began Banzai Films (www.medialuna.tv/banzaifilms). Supported through the work of Medialuna, Banzai designs low-budget series for network consideration.
Mrad says, Its not that we cant [produce our own properties]. We will. In our own time and way. While he has been offered jobs in other countries for more money, Mrad has consistently turned them down. He has a charmed life, and prefers to remain in Argentina. Presenting experimental software in Athens, Greece I wouldnt be doing this if I was from a First World country, Mrad explains. In Argentina, even though people do not have all of the latest technological tools at their disposal, they can invent and create their own.
Mrad remembers an anthropologist once articulating a fundamental difference between aboriginals and modern urbanites, in that aboriginals are full people cooks, weapons makers, actors, teachers. This is the same spirit of the Argentine people, to overcome adversity through the power of their imagination. Mrad jokes that if you drop him into a jungle, hell fashion a twig into something useful, whereas the typical westerner, not knowing the local language, would die.
Las barricadas cierran calles pero abren caminos.(The barricades close streets, but open ways.) The academic tradition with regards to animation is still being born in Argentina. Higher education remains free for students of state-owned universities which is somewhat of a radical notion in and of itself. Though the faculty salaries are low, there is an occasional solidarity movement to try to remedy the inequity. In 1982, Rodolfo Sáenz Valiente, a guest lecturer at this years Anima festival, founded the Animation School of the Instituto de Arte Cinematográfico in the city of Avellaneda.
At the National University of Córdoba, there are approximately 180 students who pass through the film program each year. With 50 persons to a classroom, one 20" TV, VCR player, overhead projector, blackboard and chalk, this is how they learn. There are no books, per se, as most of the materials are only available in English, so the students make do with photocopies of important information. Of the 35 classes offered in the film program, only one has to do with animation; and of the 180 students each year, maybe 20-30 will pursue it.
There is no career curriculum specific to animation, though. Over the next few years, it is likely that one will need to be made. Carmen Garzón and Alejandro González, organizers of the Anima festival, are professors with the Centro Experimentalde Animación (CEA) of the National University of Córdoba. Admittance to the CEA is on an invitation-only basis, open to film, visual arts and music majors. The CEA is essentially a production and research group for continuing education, where students are introduced to the historical and aesthetic foundations of animation. The professors do not teach how to animate, so much as open a door to the artform. Students are encouraged to explore the range of animation: its techniques, theory and themes. As many students are not comfortable with drawing, but familiar with lighting and set design, stop-motion animation tends to be a popular means of expression.
As for teaching kids and young adults about animated filmmaking, there is Taller de Cine El Mate, an open-doors school operating in Buenos Aires since 1987, founded by Irene Blei and Lucía Cano. Blei, director of the youth outreach program, was one of this years Anima festival jury members. She says that the goal of the cinema workshop is to broaden childrens minds and to enrich their universe. Without a camera, just using paper and optical toys, children can have insight into their own experience, connecting their brain to their hands and emotions.
Blei says, Taking care of the environment; smoking; childrens rights. Its better to have kids come to their own understanding of these subjects. They wont have respect for something just because they are told. Students must discover for themselves. As such, Blei sees her work more as a facilitator than a teacher. She feels that she learns as much from her students as they do from her.
The cinema workshop is open from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, with about 100 kids (ages 8-15) coming regularly. This is in addition to the children that the program reaches in visiting schools (3,600 children in three months, for example, during August-October 2004). Using zoetropes, kinematoscopes, paper and pencil, a video camera and scanner, Blei teaches the abstractions of extremes and in-betweens. Then, as students freely create, there is a spontaneous discovery of animation principles. As they think and plan their work, the children realize that animation involves more than just moving lines, but keeping images on model in relation to weight and volume.
With a teaching position at the state-owned University of Buenos Aires, Blei also trains young professionals and educators in animation, video techniques and how to teach these skills to children. Prioritizing sensitive responses and perceptive intelligence, her work concentrates on developing methods for art and creativity to break through notions of formal education.
In hearing Blei share her work at the festival, one of the attending filmmakers commented, Its very interesting. Its magic and very important to children. The circular metaphor of the zoetrope seems appropriate: passing along learning, round and round it goes. The joy of animation continues.
Albert Einstein once observed that imagination is more important than knowledge. In Argentina, the love of animation carries them forward. The fortitude, perseverance and maturation of their animation community rests on the patient understanding that they must walk before they run. Despite the hard times that have befallen the country in recent years, no one can take away the peoples dreams. As a friend there advised, Dream the impossible.
Greg Singer is an animation welfare advocate, eating in Los Angeles.
Special thanks to the festival organizers, staff and volunteers for their wonderful hospitality. For more information on Anima 05, please visit the festivals official website (www.animafestival.com.ar).
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