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20th MONSTRA INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION FESTIVAL AT HOME EDITION: 25 – 31 May 2020, Lisbon, Portugal

In this year’s Monstra International Animation Festival two more milestones in the history of Portuguese animation were achieved.

In this year’s Monstra International Animation Festival two more milestones in the history of Portuguese animation were achieved. Portugal has a long animation history dating back to 1923. The first milestone was when Joaquim Guerreiro created O pesadelo de Antonio Maria (Antonio Maria’s Nightmare). The film is drawn in pencil on a white background. In it, the six-time Portuguese Prime Minister (1910 to 1926) Antonia Maria Da Silva comes home and goes to bed, but instead of a peaceful sleep, he has a nightmare that an angry crowd in the street outside of his home demand an end to the food shortages and cry out for freedom from an oppressive regime.

Antonio Maria’s Nightmare

     At Monstra’s closing ceremony, the latest two in a long list of distinguished Portuguese films were added when the jury awarded the prestigious Vasco Granja Prize for the Best Portuguese Film to two films rather than the usual single selection. Tio Tomas, Contabilida de Dias (Uncle Thomas, Accounting for the Days) by Regina Pessoa and Purple Boy from Alexandre Siqueira shared the 3,000 Euro Vasco Granja Prize, named for the late Portuguese promotor of animation and comics.

     The jury was comprised of Portuguese historian Luis Salvado, British born animator Natalie Woolf, and animator and author Ulo Pikkov from Estonia. Fernando Galrito, Monstra’s Artistic Director, explained their decision by saying “Due to the high quality of the selections, the jury unanimously decided to divide the Portuguese film award between two internationally recognized titles of exceptional quality, which will certainly become milestones in the rich history of Portuguese animation.

Uncle Thomas, Accounting for the Days

     Uncle Thomas, Accounting for the Days is a personal film about Regina’s real-life Uncle Thomas, who was the person who taught her to draw, drawing on the walls of her Grandmother’s house with charcoal from the fireplace because there were no pens or pencils in Regina’s home. Uncle Thomas was a humble man who lived a simple and anonymous life, but as Regina points out, “A person does not have to be somebody to become exceptional in someone else’s life. You can read a full review of this lovely film in my Zagreb 2019 article. You can read it at:  http://awn.com/blogs/sprockets (Art and Animation Flow Seamlessly Together: Animafest Zagreb, posted 14 September 2019)

Alexandre Siqueira

     In Purple Boy, Siqueira deals with the complex themes of gender identity, politics, and the relationship between a father and son. Brazilian born Alexandre became interested in gender identity after reading Viagem Solitaira, the story of author Joao Nery, the first transsexual operated on in Brazil.

     Oscar, the purple boy, sprouts in his parent’s garden. No one knows his biological sex but he claims the

masculine gender. One day Oscar experiences an extraordinary, albeit painful, adventure in an authoritarian and oppressive world. Will he manage to have the identity recognition he desires so much?

Purple Boy

    Both Uncle Thomas, Accounting for the Days and Purple Boy are rich stories that are beautifully animated. They are stories that anyone anywhere can relate to, not just people in Portugal, as the number of international animation awards they have both received shows.  I hope that they will both receive theatrical releases so that they can reach the public at large. Sadly, that seldom happens with short animated films unless you are Pixar or Disney.

     Monstra At Home consisted of five Short Film Competition Programs, five programs of Student Films, a program of Super Shorts, another program of films two minutes and under, and the Portuguese Competition along with a competition of films for children. There was so much to see and do that you could sit in front of your screen from the time you woke up until you went to sleep. The price for the on-line edition of five Euros was well worth the cost.

     Each year Monstra, in conjunction with the Museu da Marioneta, mounts an exhibition of work by a famous puppet animator. Past tributes have included such prestigious animators as The Brothers Quay and Jose Miguel Ribeira. This year’s exhibition, Tim Burton –The Animation Puppets, opened on the 6th of February and was slated to run until April 19th, after Monstra’s original festival date of 18 – 29 March.  Unfortunately, due to the covid-19 control plan, the museum was forced to shut down and has only recently reopened. Fernando Galrito (known at Galrito) told me that after much negotiation with Warner Bros, who own the rights to most of Burton’s films, the exhibition will be extended until the 4th of October.

     The exhibition contains original drawings and puppets used in Burton’s films. There are also models, drafts, and character studies used in the production of Mars Attack (1996), Corpse Bride (2005), and Frankenweenie (2012). Burton began his career while still a student at Cal Arts. His first film Vincent (1982) paid homage to his childhood idol Vincent Price, whose influence is evident in Burton’s films.

At work at MacKinnon & Saunders studio

     The puppets on display were produced by the British studio, Mackinnon and Saunders. Burton has collaborated with them since 1995 when he commissioned them to make the Martian character for Mars Attacks. That was followed by the puppets for Corpse Bride which were built from the original concept art by Burton and Carlos Grangel. Mackinnon and Saunders received the Ub Iwerks Award for Technical Achievement at the 33rd Annie Awards for the ingenious mechanisms used in the Corpse Bride puppet heads.

     According to Galrito, “This puppetry work is overwhelming! We will be able to see the mechanisms used to animate the heads, bodies, and finally grasp that inside every image we see on the screen there is a highly complex structure allowing the animation artists to give each “actor” his or her most complex expressions and movements”.

     No one ever needs an excuse to visit Lisbon because it is such a lovely city but the Tim Burton exhibition is certainly another good reason to go there.

     One positive thing to come out of the online festivals is the convenient access to special masterclasses and interviews.  Monstra presented one every day under the heading of Training Sessions. These were conversations between Galrito and personalities from various arms of animation.

Raimund Krumme

     The presentation given by German animator Raimund Krumme was so informative that it alone was worth the five Euro price that the entire festival cost, including the films and lectures, cost. Raimund is a master of line drawing and spatial representation. To illustrate his topic, Drawing and Space in an Animated Film, he showed a Hilton commercial, Dancing Couple, which he did all in one line going from point A to point B. The short piece shows that one of the beauties of animation is that you can go far away from a realistic point but then return to it.

Dancing Couple for the Hilton Hotel

     Raimund said that he feels animation is closer to dance than theater. If you are not familiar with his film Rope Dance, do check it out because it is a perfect example of his theory about dance and animation. In the nine-minute film, two characters wage a battle in a controlled space defined by a few simple lines.  The dominant character manipulates the other one’s every move by means of a rope, while his counterpoint fights him every step of the way. He said that the film describes the relationship between him and his father.

     I appreciate the work of M.C. Escher until but Raimund’s talk I was not familiar with the works of the 18th-century Italian engraver Giovanni Battista Piranesi. He was famous for his etchings of the architecture of Rome as well as anamorphic and atmospheric prison engravings that depict impossible situations and labyrinthine structures that foreshadow much of Escher’s work. Raimund referred to Piranesi as the godfather of M. C. Escher.

The Arch Gothic  by Giovanni Batista

     He ended his presentation by saying that “Students don’t think enough about design”. I hope that there were a lot of students watching Raimund Krumme’s talk because there is much to learn from him.

     Christophe Heral, film and video game composer, is known for such film projects as the music for Benjamin Renner’s La Queue de la Souris (A Mouse’s Tail). He is equally well known for his compositions for such video games like Beyond Good and Evil produced by Ubisoft as well as Tintin and the Secret of the Unicorn, a game based on the Steven Spielberg film.

Le Voyage du Prince

     During Heral’s Monstra presentation he talked about his method of composing on his most recent film score for Jean-Francis Laguionie and Xavier Picard’s Le Voyage du Prince. In the opening scene of the film, there are monkey and bird sounds, then the music is slowly introduced. The music becomes more serious and intense as the Prince sees the Elder lying in the sand. To create the right effect, Heral began work from the animatic for the mockup of the sound before creating the finished orchestral score.

     Music for films is generally one of two things, he said. The music can be diegetic, or heard by the characters who react to it as in The Lady and the Tramp, or it can be used as background to emphasize a mood or action without the character reacting to it. He also talked about using different instruments to create different moods or to give a character a signature theme. To illustrate his point, he screened the animated short A Mouse’s Tail in its entirety. He also showed a clip of the orchestra recording the score for the Tintin video game.

     Turkish director and teacher Burak Sahin was educated as an engineer before coming to animation.  His presentation on Animation as a Way of Thinking and Educating gave sound advice for beginning students as well as serving as a reminder for professionals.

     He advised starting with a basic form, working from the inside out, and then adding onto it. To improve your style, work with a model using simple lines and shapes. Choose your key poses in such a way that they are the most impressive feature. You should also be able to show the use of energy in your character.

     Burak also advised animators to break down elements that seem complex at first into its simplest elements. He summed up by saying that you should take a concept and base your character design on that concept.

     Since Monstra’s inception 20 years ago an important part of the festival is Monstrinha. It is a festival inside a festival, aimed at children and young people. It offers them the best of international animation along with workshops. Monstrinha is a year-round project, going not just into schools in Lisbon but bringing animation to youngsters throughout Portugal. Over the years half a million children, youngsters, teachers, and families have watched movies and participated in workshops and masterclasses in Portugal and in 140 other cities on five continents.

     On the Saturday and Sunday of Monstra, a local Lisbon television station broadcast several hours of animation for young people that was curated by the festival. One block was for three to five-year-olds and another for six to nine-year-olds. The two mornings of animation ended with programing especially designed for ten to fourteen-year-olds. Unfortunately, these programs were only available in Portugal.

Festival director Fernando Galrito

     A few days after the festival I had a Skype chat with Galrito. He told me that he was very pleased with the results of the online festival. Over 8 thousand people subscribed to the online festival. In many of those households, more than one person was watching the programs so it is difficult to get an exact count of how many people viewed programs.

     Galrito and his staff are exploring the possibilities of continuing with some online programming such as informal chats with animators every few weeks. However, the main part of the festival will still be in theatres.

     Monstra is a 12-day festival with the first few days devoted to Portuguese animation.  Galrito told me that he would like to take part of the festival to a smaller town outside of Lisbon but no definite plans have been made yet.

     Galrito and his staff are to be congratulated for the wonderful job they did putting the festival online in such short notice. Apart from one set of technical problems during an interview, everything came in very clear and on time. The selection of films was excellent, it was very easy to vote for the audience awards, and the masterclasses were most informative.

     Of course, we all hope to be back at Monstra in person soon, but Monstra At Home was better than no Monstra at all. If all goes well and we are able to travel again Monstra plans a regular edition of the festival at the end of September.

     You can find out more about Monstra at:  www.monstrafestival.com

WINNING FILMS

Short Film Jury:  Daniel Gorjao, Portugal; Noel Palazzo, Spain; Marta Madureira, Portugal, Raimund Krumme, Germany, and Wiola Sowa, Poland

     Grand Prix: Short Film RTP Prize:  Freeze Frame, Soetkin Verstegen, Belgium

  

     Best Portuguese Short Film: Uncle Thomas, Accounting for the Days, Regina Pessoa, Portugal, France, Canada

     Jury Special Award:  Traces, Hugo Frassetto, France, Belgium

    

     Best Experimental Short Film:  I Don’t Know What, Thomas Renoldner, Austria

     Special Mention:  Roughhouse, Jonathan Hodgson, United Kingdom, France

     Special Mention:  Am I A Wolf?, Amir Houshang Moein, Iran

     Portuguese Competition Jury:  Luis Salvado, Portugal;Natalie Woolf, United Kingdom; and Ulo Pikkov, Estonia

     Best Portuguese SPA/Vasco Granja Award:  Co-winners

    

     Uncle Thomas, Accounting For the Days, Regina Pessoa, Portugal, France, Canada

                                                            and

     Purpleboy, Alexandre Siqueira, Portugal, France, Belgium

    Special Mention:  The Peculiar Crime of Oddball Mr. Jay, Bruno Caetano, Portugal

     Special Mention:  A Mind Song, Vier Nev, Portugal

Student Short Film Competition Jury: Burak Sahin, Germany; Laura Goncalves, Portugal; and Radostina Neykova, Bulgaria

     Best Student Short Film Dolce Gusto Award:  2.3x2.6x3.2, Jiaqi Wang, China

     Best Portuguese Student Short Film Dolce Gusto Prize:  Ode to Childhood, Joao Monteiro and Luis Vital, Portugal

     Special Jury Award:  Daughter, Daria Kashcheeva, Czech Republic

     Special Mention:  Nos, os Lentos, Jeanne Waltz, Portugal

  

     Special Mention:  Until it Turns Black, Anastasiia Falileieva, Ukraine

Student Short Film Competition, Junior Jury:  Joana Carvalho, Portugal; Sara Rebelo, Portugal; Laura Lemos, Portugal

     Best Student Short Film:  Daughter, Daria Kashcheeva, Czech Republic

     Best Portuguese Student Short Film World Academy Prize:  Cellfie, Debora Mendes, Portugal, University of Lusofona

     Special Mention:  Until it Turns Black, Anastasiia Falileieva, Ukraine, Kyiv National University

     Special Mention:  IHR, Amelie Cochet and Louis Moehrle, Switzerland, Hochschule Luzern Design and Kunst BA Animation

Supershort Film Competition Jury:  Joao Ferreira, Portugal;Priit Tender, Estonia, and Adriana Sa, Portugal

     Best Supershort:  Dots, Micky Wozny, United Kingdom

     Best Portuguese Supershort: Catarse, Margarida Roxo Neves and Tiago Gomes, Portugal

     Special Mention:  Wind, Dana Sink, United States

     Special Mention:  XYU, Donato Sansone, France

Audience Awards:

      Best Short Film:  Memorable, Bruno Collet, France

     Best Student Film:  o28, Otalia Causse, Geoffroy Collin, Louise Grardel, Antoine Marchand, Robin Merle, and Fabien Meyran, France, Supinfocom

     Best Portuguese Film:  Uncle Thomas, Accounting For the Days, Regina Pessoa, Portugal   

    

     

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