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History of Portuguese Animation Cinema

Giannalberto Bendazzi reviews History of Portuguese Animation Cinema by Antio Gaio, and finds a thoughtful text.

Portuguese animation is growing rapidly, or at least with big companies hardly existing in Europe, "auteur" or "independent" animation is doing so. Until the mid-Eighties the Lusitanian flag was flown only by Mario Vasques das Neves and Artur Correia & Ricardo Netos production company Topefilme, but during the last decade the works of Abi Feijó, Regina Pessoa, Pedro Serrazina, José Miguel Ribeiro and Cristina Teixeira haven't missed an important international animation festival in the world. And, speaking of festivals, no one can fail to mention that a lovely coast village called Espinho, near Porto, has accommodated one of the best and most exciting events of the entire international calendar since 1977 -- Cinanima.

This History of Portuguese Animation Cinema is the work of the leading and most stalwart of the Cinanima organizers, Antonio Gaio. I suspect he is the living human being that has viewed more Portuguese animated films than anyone else, has met more Portuguese animation film-makers than anyone else and has devoted more spare time and free work to Portuguese animation than anyone else. Therefore, he makes the most of this privileged position by giving lasting witness to everything you wanted to know about his country and artists working frame by frame, and redresses a long overdue shortcoming, as we foreigners certainly knew very little (although not by choice!) about this subject matter until the text was released in English at the Annecy 2002 festival.

What Is In Store

When did animation get started in Portugal? In an interview released in 1988, photographer Luis Nunes stated that he had produced an animated short commercial way back in 1920. The actual animation consisted of, he maintained, some movements of a dog's head (it was that nice doggie listening to the phonograph in the His Masters Voice trademark). It might well be a lie (as Nunes was only thirteen in 1920), but it is true that their pioneering era started around this time. Over the following decades the output was poor, sporadic and amateurish, with the exception of some highlights in the field of advertising. For instance, O Melhor da Rua (The Best One of the Street), a sixty second commercial by Artur Correia, won many international awards in 1966. In 1970, Eu Quero a Lua (I Want the Moon), another short by Artur Correia, paved the road for modern Portuguese animation. Day by day and year by year new film-makers got started, the Cinanima festival opened, various international workshops gathered young enthusiasts, a great film critic by the name of Vasco Granja produced a good TV program on animation -- and above all a new life and a new reason to look forward was triggered by the return of democracy in 1974, after many decades of a fascist dictatorship.

A good half of the book is devoted to a section by the title of "Dictionary," which lists, in alphabetical order, the most important living film-makers with short biographies and complete filmographies. Here let me mention a little flaw: these filmographies are also listed in alphabetical order by the title, instead of the more useful chronological order. Be this as it may, this section is a sheer pleasure for every lover of statistics and cataloguing -- and, of course, you can bet Im among them.

Antonio's Point of View

Too humbly, Antonio Gaio states in his introduction that "making history, understanding and analyzing is much more demanding than just like or dislike. (I wanted to) make sure that this information, news and knowledge might be a good contribution to someone who wishes to complete and write later the history with the necessary rigor. The greatest edifices cant be built without the discrete and modest, though serious effort of those who built the foundations." I disagree: History of Portuguese Animation Cinema is actually a history, based on thorough viewpoints and on choices dictated by likewise thorough opinions. Gaio selected what he considered important (amateur film-making, critics, organizers, workshops, festivals) and omitted what he considered in his case irrelevant (economy, marketing, distribution, public opinion about animation, some aspects of film-making such as music). It is his history, a good one, an honest one.

Im pleased that a fair segment of the book is devoted to Abi Feijò, film-maker, producer, organizer and former ASIFA International president. Abi is a renaissance man of animation; he has given our medium a lot of momentum and deserves this recognition.

Last but not least, I praise the lay-out and the excellent illustrations (in black & white and color), some of which are rare and come from private collections. History is also made by actual documents, isnt it?

History of Portuguese Animation Cinema -- Contributions by Antonio Gaio. Nascente Cooperativa Acção Cultural / Ministerio da Cultura / Instituto do Cinema Audiovisual e Media / Cidade de Espinho (Portugal), 2002. 239 pages. ISBN: 972-95688-9-8 (25.00)

This book may be purchased by contacting the Cinanima Festival: phone: +351-22-733 13 50/1; fax: +351-22-733 13 58; email:

Giannalberto Bendazzi is an animation historian whose latest book is Alexeieff - The Itinerary of a Master.