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Anima Mundi: Art Critics and Children Agree!

Gene Deitch continues with the story of his work with Jamison Handy and JHO.

This young girl seems to be enjoying her time at Anima Mundi. All photos courtesy of Philippe Moins.

If theres one animation festival that succeeds in attracting a really enormous audience, it must be Anima Mundi in Brazil. This year they broke their own record with 88,000 admissions over a 15-day period. This edition ran from July 11-29, first in Rio de Janeiro and then in Sao Paulo.

The first thing that strikes you upon arrival at the festival is the extraordinary youthfulness of the audience. Anima Mundi is a popular event that, in both cities, attracts an enormous number of teenagers and children to screenings, workshops offering opportunities to try their hand at making animation, and the animated chats. These encounters with professional animators are extremely successful, enabling audiences to talk with foreign filmmakers about their work. This years lineup included Janet Perlman, Phil Mulloy, Doug Sweetland from Pixar, Koji Yamamura and Arnaldo Galvao, who were inundated with questions. 

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Young adults (left) at work in one of the workshops. Filmmaker Philip Mulloy (right) was a guest of the animated chats in Rio.

When asked to explain what attracts such enormous numbers of young people, filmmaker Marcos Magalhaes, who is also one of the festivals four co-organizers, cites both low ticket prices and the festivals work over a period of several years to encourage young audiences to discover animation, and to demystify the process of animation filmmaking through the workshops. The festival also has a hugely effective marketing strategy, supported by the festivals sponsors, making Anima Mundi a recognizable and highly visible brand, both in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. On the streets in Copacabana you see bus shelters sporting the festival logo, whilst in Sao Paulo huge advertising billboards carry the Anima Mundi logo. Apparently there is good print and broadcast media coverage, even if this has not yet led to any television programming that happens outside the festival period.

The result of this activism on behalf of animation is a high number of entries. This year, the festival received 500 films from 39 different countries, from which they selected 300+ for competition, and around 60 of these were Brazilian. A hugely impressive number, no doubt rather too many, as even the festival organizers seemed to feel. Doubtless more rigorous selection would make the programs more interesting, but apparently the Brazilian public does not mind since the films are offered such an exhaustive panorama of world production.

Anima Mundis approach to organizing their competition is quite different from that of any other festival. There is no jury, with prizes being chosen by the audience and local professionals, through a kind of representative voting system. The audience votes at every screening, as they do at Annecy. What is truly original in Anima Mundis case is that several prizes are awarded (i.e. first, second and third in each category: shorts, video, childrens, etc.), reflecting the votes cast. In addition, audiences in each city award their own prizes. In effect, the results in both Rio and Sao Paolo tend to be pretty similar. The drawback of any audience award is that voting generally favors funny and playful films, although the selection provides a wide range of other kinds of animation.

The prizes awarded by the professionals are not chosen by an international jury but by around 80 Brazilian professionals, who are invited to attend screenings and vote on their choices. This system has the merit of closely involving local professionals in the festival, since, according to Marcos Magalhaes, the total number of people directly involved in making animation in the whole of Brazil amounts to around a hundred. So a good majority of them have a great opportunity to check out all that is happening on the international scene.

In fact, the prizes awarded by the Brazilian professionals are not that different from those voted by the local public. The Russian filmmakers Mlikhail Aldashin and Konstantin Bronzit are the darlings of the public as much as they are of the professionals. Clearly, humorous films are the most popular. Brazil also has a tradition of model animation, of which there were several impressive examples at this years fest. Finally, there is also a competition for Internet animation, again with prizes awarded by the public and by professionals.

The main entrance to the event.

Anima Mundi rightly styles itself as the biggest festival of its kind in the Americas, so it is regrettable to see how few foreign animation professionals attend the event. No doubt the geographical location makes it difficult for professionals to justify the trip, despite the attractions of Rio, the wonderful welcome visitors receive and the festivals infectious enthusiasm. However this doesnt seem to particularly worry the organizers, at least for now.

Yet animation in Latin America, although embryonic, most certainly has enormous future potential. Anima Mundis official selection included two feature films from South America: Mercano el Marciano from Juan Antin, Argentina, and the Chilean, Ogu & Mamapato in Rapa Nui, directed by Alejandro Rojas. Both films demonstrate how the development of computer technology has enabled countries to start producing feature films for the first time. Some opt to take the well-worn route of imitating North American models, others are trying something more original.

(from right to left) Arndt, Pixars Doug Sweetland and his girlfriend, Carolina Rojas and Andrea from Anima Mundi.

What of Brazilian production in this context? Young animators are obviously using Flash a great deal and plan to work in advertising, but more ambitious projects seem difficult to get off the ground. Yet there are no less than three feature film projects in development in Brazil, as well as a TV series. Until now, with no real industry to speak of, the situation in Brazil is basically pretty similar that obtaining in Germany and France some 20 years ago. But there is a real sense of things changing, with a strong possibility of a real animation school being set up at the Catholic University in Rio. For some time now, filmmakers have been able to submit projects to a competition organized by Petrobras, which finances four animation projects every year.

Having recently formed an association to represent themselves, Brazilian professionals will certainly be campaigning for the government and major national companies to develop their support for Brazilian animation. In Anima Mundi, they have an undeniably effective tool to make their presence felt.

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

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