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An Animation Adventure in the Limits of the Amazon Rainforest

Wilson Lazaretti discusses Nleo de Cinema de Animao de Campinas' experiences teaching animation to Amazon Rainforest natives.

Indigenous children and adults animating in the National Park of Xingu. Photo courtesy of Wilson Lazaretti.

Núcleo de Cinema de Animação de Campinas' experiences in animation began in 1975 in the city of Campinas, in São Paulo, Brazil. First, we started with animation classes designed for children, but later we grew into an animation educational center especially for children, located at the University of Campinas. We consider ourselves to be "field" animators, because rather than working indoors on animation desks, we use Brazil as our studio ... and a huge research lab.

In 1984, we launched ourselves into what would become a very frustrating venture. Believing we could join our values and philosophies with animation, we set out to produce a 75 minute animated feature film about the Mato Grosso wetlands (Pantanal Matogrossense). The film told tales of the land's history, conquest and ecology. The project, however, was never finished due to a lack of financing. Nevertheless, it opened several doors to excellent professional opportunities. These doors would eventually lead us to the Amazon.

Instructors Maurício Squarisi, Ney Carrasco and Wilson Lazaretti travel by off-road vehicle and boat to get to some villages. Photos courtesy of Wilson Lazaretti.

Into the Amazon

In 1991, we created an animation workshop for the indigenous children of São Gabriel da Cachoeira in the Amazon State. It was our first workshop with Indian children and was awarded a gold medal during the 35th Annual Broadcasting Awards in New York. The experience was like giving a workshop in another country. Compared to other societies, the children act differently and have a different relationship to adults. The adults regard their children as being very important because they represent the future and the children realize this and feel the importance as a result. Thirty-five children from ages 9-12 from about 20 different tribes (ethnicities) participated in this workshop. The children speak at least three languages: their native tongue, nnheengatu, a common language among the tribes, and Portuguese. We went on to produce ten animation workshops in the Amazon region over the course of four years.

Our organization is composed of three people: Edson Pereira, Maurício Squarisi and myself. When we go do a workshop, we usually carry thirty bags of equipment and supplies. In order to get to the villages we have to first take a three hour flight into the rainforest from Manaus, the capital of the Amazon State in north Brazil. In the small village of São Gabriel da Cachoeira we set up the studio inside a church. The electricity ran with such fluctuations in intensity that we had to re-shoot all of the 4,000 drawings again in São Paulo in 35 mm. We bring four light boxes, pens, pencils, paper, a 16 mm projector, a Paillard Bolex 16 mm camera, black and white film and a small development laboratory with us. We shoot all of our animation in black and white 16 mm so that the children can see the entire animation process. We also usually make a lot of tests to better the animation. I am sure that the children who have participated have a certain understanding of the animation process, because the art of animation is universal.

Storyboard drawings are pinned to a tree. Photo courtesy of Wilson Lazaretti.

Our Films

One of the most fascinating workshops took place at the National Park of Xingu, an indigenous reservation, in July 1995, when animator Maurício Squarisi, musician Ney Carrasco and myself worked directly with indigenous adolescents and adults to create the film Kamenâ. This project was made possible through the São Paulo School of Medicine, which in the last 30 years has been offering courses on western medicine to the native people. They especially wish to educate about and prevent "white men's illnesses" which have been brought to the region. It's important to note that the doctors in this federal project are well aware of their duties and completely respect the indigenous medicine.

As a result, the film Kamenâ is about the relationship between western and indigenous medicine. The story unfolds from the time prior to the arrival of the white man until today. It tells the journey from the time the tribe lived in harmony, through the conflicts generated by the white man's intrusion, and finally, the ultimate peaceful relationship that has been attained by both. The film is of great value to the Indians, because currently it's shown in all of the villages of the Xingú National Park, and constantly generates discussions regarding the ways in which the white men's illnesses can threaten Indians.

In February, 1998, I worked on an animation workshop in the state of Acre, where the main subject was AIDS. The result was an animated film produced by 24 Indigenous teachers. This project was sponsored by the Indigenous Work Center of São Paulo (Centro de Trabalho Indigenista de São Paulo) and the Department of Health of Brasilia (Ministério da Saúde de Brasília-DF).

A Window into the Culture

The animation workshops with indigenous people lead us to a better understanding of their ways of living and philosophy of life, which is very different from ours which is generally ruled by material goods. Our language is very broad, embracing many subjects and ideas, whereas their language is very particular and direct. I have learned that the Indian as a romantic mythological being does not exist. Underneath the different ethnicity, he or she is another human being with all the faults and virtues that exist within all of the human race.

A young animator at work.Photo courtesy of Wilson Lazaretti.

The native peoples' drawings are extremely direct and clear, and when asked to do a certain design they don't hesitate in trying. For example, the sentence, "I don't know how to draw this," is not part of their jargon. Also, I have never heard an Indian say, "See, how well my child draws?" While for us drawing well is considered a virtue, for them any drawing is just an act of expression.

The best information and ideas that I share with my students at the University of Campinas is what I have learned away from the animation desk. I think that learning can be accomplished by looking at the stars rather than in text books. In other words, I'd say I have learned more about cinema by admiring Picasso's "Guernica" than in a classroom.

Translated from Portugese by Alejandro Gedeon.

Wilson Lazaretti is an animator, workshop leader and animation teacher at the Núcleo de Cinema de Animação de Campinas and Campinas State University in São Paulo, Brazil.

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