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22nd MONSTRA ANIMATED FESTIVAL OF LISBON 15 – 26 March 2023 Lisbon, Portugal

The 22nd edition of the MONSTRA Animation Festival had much to celebrate.

     The 22nd edition of the MONSTRA Animation Festival had much to celebrate. It was no coincidence that the festival declared 2023 the Year of Japan. Portugal has a strong fascination and connection with the Orient and Japan in particular; almost 5 Centuries ago Portuguese sailors were the first Westerners to sail to the coast of Japan. The Japanese were fascinated by the Portuguese because of their ships, exotic appearance, dress, language and merchandise and they depicted these foreigners in great detail in paintings and on screens.

  Another cause for celebration this year is that one hundred years ago the illustrator Joaquim Guerreiro directed O Pesadelo do Antonio Maria (The Nightmare of Antonio Maria), the first known Portuguese animated film. Exactly one hundred years after the birth of Portuguese animation, Joao Gonzalez’s Ice Merchants became the first Portuguese animation to be awarded the Leitz Cine Discovery Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival. The tender story of family love went on to become the first Portuguese film to be nominated for an Academy Award.

  Classic animated films were first made in Japan in 1910. The oldest surviving example of Japanese animation, Namakura Gatana (Blunt Sword) by Junichi Kouchi, dates back to 1917. Unfortunately, most of the earliest animated films were lost following a massive earthquake in Tokyo in 1923. The Blunt Sword was discovered by an Osaka film historian in 2007 and expanded with additional found footage in 2014.

  The program Pioneers of Japanese Animation screened the 9-minute film The Whale by Noburo Ofuji. He originally made the film in 1927 as a silent black-and-white film, using shadow puppets. He remade The Whale in 1952 inspired by the possibility to use color. For the second version, he used cutouts of transparent colored cellophane silhouettes and a multiplane camera. The Whale was the first Asian animated film shown at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953.

Nonsense Story, Vol.1: Monkey Island

  Kenzo Masaoka’s 1930 The Monkey’s Island was also part of the Pioneers of Japanese Animation program. In the 24-minute film, a baby is thrown out of a wrecked ship and drifts onto an island populated by apes. He is brought up by them, but eventually, trouble erupts and he is ostracized because he doesn’t have a tail.

  Kihachiro Kawamoto is best known as a stop-motion puppet maker. In 2003 he directed Winter Days. The 39-minute piece, which the Western World would call an “Exquisite Corpse” film, was a collaboration by poets and animators from around the world to create what is known in Japan as a Visual Renku.

  A Renku is a style of poetry specific to Japan made up of alternating three- and two-line stanzas. For the film, each poet created a verse and 35 animators from around the world animated a verse in their own style.

  Tribute was paid to Renzo and Sayoko Kinoshita, animators and founders of the Hiroshima International Animation Festival in 1985. The couple made short films at their Studio Lotus. Many of them were in the animated documentary genre such as Pica-dom, the powerful antiwar film that depicts the horrors of the bombing of Hiroshima.

  Their 1972 film Made in Japan satirizes in a non-narrative manner the “economic animal” that Japan was at that time. It also predicted the economic recession of the 1970s long before most Japanese saw what was coming.

  Renzo and Sayoko continued their message about the futility of war with The Last Air Raid Kumagaya (1993). The 29-minute film is based on historical records, interviews with witnesses/survivors, and documents belonging to survivors. It is critical of domestic propaganda.

  The multi-award-winning Japanese animator Koji Yamamura introduced a retrospective of his work. Beginning with his 2002 Oscar-nominated film Mount Head, the program took us down to his very clever 2017 Notes On Monstropedia. The film is an animated archive of imaginary monsters written by a fictitious "monsterologist" in Medieval Europe.

Mt. Head

Koji also created the fanciful festival logo and poster as well as the beautiful trailer and he organized two programs. One screening introduced the films of Japanese Masters Kihachiro Kawamoto, Tadanari Okamoto, and Taku Furukawa who used classic Japanese subject matter and style while exploring different animation techniques to tell traditional stories.

My Exercise

  Koji’s second presentation focused on the new generation of young Japanese animators. They are considered the 3rd generation of Japanese animators. The outstanding rising star is Yamamura’s student Atsushi Wada. His 3-minute film, My Exercise, featuring a chubby boy doing exercises with his dog is extremely humorous. It has had great success on the festival circuit and was subsequently turned into an animated game.

  No retrospective of Japanese animation would be complete without a tribute to the legendary Studio Ghibli.  Miyazaki has said that Porco Rosso (1992) is not a film that he is particularly fond of. I have watched this film about the WWII flying ace Marco Pagot, better known as Porco Rosso, over and over and it is still a favorite film of mine. Along with Porco Rosso, Miyazaki’s 2008 film Ponyo was also shown.

Porco Rosso

When I think of Japanese animation abstract animation doesn’t come to mind. The Japanese Abstract Animation Panorama opened my eyes to a whole new world of film. The 16 abstract films in the program explored traditional hand-drawn animation, video composition, camera-less direct-on-film scratching, drawing or painting.

  The centerpieces of any festival are the competition programs. This year at MONSTRA there were very few surprises when it came to the awards. The juries selected excellent, strong films that for the most part have been awarded at other festivals or award ceremonies. A complete list of all of the winning films is at the end of this article.

The big winner of the festival was Joao Gonzalez with his beautiful 14-minute film Ice Merchants. Along with its Oscar nomination, the film has already won an Annie and the Leitz Cine Discovery Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. At MONSTRA the beautifully crafted film about grief, loss, memories and familial love took home the Grand Prix, the Vasco Granja Award for Best Portuguese Film, and the coveted Audience Award.

  I am a huge fan of Estonian animation. I appreciate their sense of absurdist humor, so I was delighted when Priit Tender received the MONSTRA Short Film Grand Prix for Dog Apartment. Based on the poem To Be a Dog-Apartment by Estonian surrealist poet Andres Ehin, the film is clever, witty, and yet sad in equal parts. The stop-motion puppet animation is about an aging, over-the-hill ballet dancer and his barking apartment.

Dog-Apartment (Koerkorter)

  With his dancing career over, he has been relegated to a Soviet state collective farm where he is being driven crazy by the vicious barking of the dog head in his room who demands to be fed. Every day he drives through the rain-drenched wasteland to his job at a dairy. There he performs graceful ballet moves to Swan Lake for an audience of dairy cows. The soothing music and graceful moves stimulate the cows' milk production. He is paid in sausages, which he feeds to the dog apartment to keep it calm and temporarily quiet.

  Characters also include a hatchet-headed chicken and a fish swimming in milk in a locked guitar case. Truly my sort of film.

  An important part of MONSTRA is Monstrinha, which screens films, especially for young audiences. Two programs were designed for 3- to 5-year-olds. Another screening featured animation for 6- to 9-year-olds, and finally a program of more sophisticated short films for 10- to 14-year-olds was shown. Two other screenings were designed with films to delight the entire family.

Monstrinha does not end when the festival is over. It continues year around to reach out to young people not only in Lisbon but in more than 140 other Portuguese cities as well. Through Monstrinha children are able to watch animated film and learn about making animation at hands-on workshops.

Joao Gonzales receiving the Monstrinha Grand Prix from jury members  L. To R. Catarina Ramalho, Elisa Marques, and Carla Simons

  Ice Merchants added the Monstrinha Grand Prix to its laurels. Czech Republic animator Lucie Sunkova’s lovely film Suzie in the Garden received a special mention in the Monstrinha category. Suzie is a little girl who goes with her parents to their allotment outside of their city. In the course of her explorations, she discovers a secret garden. Whose garden is it? The answer is slowly revealed as Suzie finds a lost key on the garden path.

  In talking about the film Lucie said “I see Suzie in the Garden as a dialogue with childhood. I tried to enter into the thinking of the little girl, to understand her imagination, fears, and charming childishness. I tried to create a film that would speak a language understandable to children and at the same time be able to evoke memories of moments and situations we experienced as a child.”  I enjoyed the film very much and think that she accomplished what she set out to do.

The Queen of the Foxes (La reine des renards)

  Although Swiss animator Marina Rosset’s 9-minute hand-drawn film The Queen of the Foxes was in a children’s program, it is equally touching for adults as well as children. The queen of the foxes is terribly sad. In an attempt to cheer her up and make her smile again, her worried subjects scour the city late at night, rummaging through the human’s trash cans, in search of all of the love letters that were never sent. They lay the letters full of declarations of love at the queen’s feet to show her how loved she is. In the end, the queen gets something that she didn’t even know that she was missing, a sense of well-being that knowing that you are loved gives you. The queen smiles again and life for the foxes in the forest can go back to normal. Queen of the Foxes has won numerous awards. At MONSTRA it received the Audience Award for Best Children’s Film.

Nancy and Jose Miguel Ribeiro

  For 16 editions of MONSTRA, the Lisbon Puppet Museum has hosted special exhibits of artwork from films presented at the festival. This year in honor of 100 years of Portuguese animation, the exhibition was A Journey into the World of Portuguese Animation Puppets. The exhibition room was full of memorabilia from past and present stop-motion films. It was a pleasure to see sets and puppets from Jose Miguel Ribeiro’s 1999 classic film The Suspect. The film, about a killer loose on a train, is one of my favorite films and its ending, ala Hitchcock, always makes me smile.


    A few years ago, the MONSTRA exhibition at the Puppet Museum was devoted to Bruno Caetano’s delightful film The Peculiar Crimes of Oddball Mr. Jay.  Bruno is a master of intricate set building. His craftsmanship and attention to detail make his sets stand out. It was lovely to see his work again included in this exhibition.


    The exhibition also featured pieces from very recent films such as the jackets and set from Monica Santos’ The Pink Jacket which was in competition at the current festival. We were also given a glimpse into the future with the paper puppets from Joana Imaginà Rio’s The Time Keepers House which premiered at this year’s MONSTRA.

  No visit to Lisbon would be complete without a visit to the Marionette Museum. Founded in 1987, it moved into its permeant home in the historic Convento das Berardas in 2001.  Built under the reign of King Joao IV, the convent is located in Lisbon’s Barrio Alto district. The museum’s original goal was to preserve the tradition of Portuguese traveling puppet theatres and operas. Over the years the museum has grown to house over 1,000 puppets, some of them dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, from around the world. The collection also now displays props and masks related to the art of puppetry.

  In honor of this year's featured country Japan, the Museo de Oriente hosted Koji Yamamura – Dozens of Drawings, an exhibition of over 50 original drawings by the renowned Japanese animator. Artwork from Koji’s 2002 Academy Award-nominated film Mount Head, feature film Dozens of Norths (2021), the multi-award-winning Franz Kafka’s Country Doctor, and the 2011 film Muybridge’s Strings were on display.

  As part of the exhibition, Koji conducted a Masterclass and also led a guided tour of the exhibition.

  Opened in 2008 in a beautiful building on Lisbon’s waterfront, the Museu de Oriente is a multicultural museum that preserves the heritage of the link between Asian countries and the Portuguese presence in the Far East. Their special exhibitions along with an extensive permanent collection is well worth a visit.

Poster for Raimund Krumme’s exhibition

  Multi-award-winning German director and professor of animation Raimund Krumme believes that animation can have all kinds of visual expressions, such as graphics, theatre, dance, or even architecture. His exhibition at the Sociedade National de Bela Artes (National Society of Fine Arts), Traces of Movement, encompassed the past and present of Krumme’s work, combining graphic research, studies, and original drawings from some of his films. He also created direct spontaneous paintings on the museum’s gallery walls. The exhibit was only up during the festival and the spontaneous paintings only existed during the exhibition.

Raimund Krumme’s spontaneous paintings

  The National Society of Fine Arts building dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. It is a valuable example of the Portuguese architectural eclecticism. Along with its special exhibitions, the Society has a wonderful permanent collection representing different periods of Portuguese art.

  My favorite exhibition, The Centenary of Portuguese Animation Cinema: 100 Years, 100 Films was held at the Portuguese Cinema Museum. The exhibition showcased over 100 images representing the rich diversity, creativity, and originality of the nation’s animators.

The Nightmare of António Maria (O Pesadelo do António Maria

  The first Portuguese animated film is credited to Joaquim Guerreiro who was a pioneer in comics as well as in animation. O Pesadelo de Antonio Maria was released on 25 January 1923. It features a caricature of Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Maria de Silva as he walks home from his office. The film was considered lost for many years but in the late 1990s, 150 of the original drawings of this animated short were rediscovered by a collector in a second-hand bookstore. In 2001 a reconstruction of the movie was made.

  The Portuguese Cinema Museum is a wonderful place to visit. Along with their revolving exhibitions, they also have a permanent interactive pre-cinema exhibition. It is a chronological journey that begins with shadow puppet shows and their relationship to cinema, passing through the magic lanterns, and all of the inventions of the 18th and 19th centuries that were animating images before the projector was invented. The museum also has an extensive film equipment collection.

Along with two screening rooms dedicated to showing classic films, the center is home to a conservation center, a movie vault, and a nitrate-safe vault. There is also a well-stocked bookstore catering to cinephiles and a restaurant with inside dining and outdoor patio service. The food is delicious and very reasonably priced.

Jury members Buba, Joanna Quinn, and Les Mills at lunch at the Portuguese Cinema Museum

Festival guests stay at the historic Hotel California. Each room is named after a different movie or director. The rooms are decorated with classic movie posters of the film or star the room is named after. This year we stayed with German director Wim Wenders and posters from Paris Texas. In previous years Nik and I have slept in the Taxi Driver room with Travis Bickel looking down at us and in the Steve McQueen room along with a The Great Escape movie poster. When you enter the elevator, you are greeted by a life-sized photo of either Audrey Hepburn or Humphrey Bogart. The hotel is a place for any cinema buff to feel right at home.

Nancy and Humphrey

  Along with all of the films and exhibitions, MONSTRA also had 13 presentations by noted members of the film community. Among those speaking were Michael Dudok De Wit, Jose Miguel Ribeiro, Martin Smatana, Maya Yonesho, and Radostina  Neykova.

Nancy with Martin Smatana and his puppets from THE KITE

  My favorite presentation was Joan Gratz’s The Journey from High Art to Cat Videos. She compared her pioneering clay painting technique, which she used in her 1992 Academy Award-winning film Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase with her recent mixed media cat videos. That’s right, cat videos! It was one of the funniest animation presentations I have ever seen. It defies words!

Joan Gratz with images from MONA LISA DESCENDING A STAIRCASE

  Over the 12 days, Festival Director Fernando Galrito created an amazing, memorable tribute not only to 100 years of Portuguese animation but to animation worldwide. It took a 200-page catalog to showcase all the competition films, special presentations, exhibitions, and special events. The 2023 Edition of MONSTRA was quite an achievement.

An animated Signe Baumane with Festival Director Fernando Galrito

A warm thank you goes out to Galrito and his wonderful, hard-working staff. A special thank you goes to Rui Pereira, Production and Program Coordinator, for taking care of all of the details of my visit.

  I also must give a special thank you to Vitor Carrico of the Lisbon Tourist Office for making my trip to his beautiful city for the festival possible.

  After this year’s spectacular festival, I can’t imagine what Galrito will do to top the 2023 edition but I am looking forward to seeing what he will have in store for us next year.  In 2024 MONSTRA will be held between 7 – 17 March. The guest country will be Ireland and Tomm Moore is already hard at work preparing the illustration for the poster.

  You can learn more about MONSTRA 2023 and how your film can be submitted for the 2024 edition at:

The Monstra awards




Jury: Carla Simões, Catarina Ramalho and Elisa Marques


“Ice Merchants”, João Gonzalez, 2022 (PT)

One painting per frame and a striking soundtrack serving a mysterious story, which seduced us for its inventiveness. A film of unavoidable beauty, which we cannot resist.


“Suzie no Jardim” [Suzie in the Garden], Lucie Sunková, 2022 (CZ)

“Suzie in the Garden” is an animated painting in vibrant colours where all children want to live and make them live. A tender film about taking steps into the unknown and overcoming fears with arguments – aesthetic and narrative – to educe audiences of all ages.

“Em Nome das Plantas” [In The Name of Plants], Hervé Bressaud, 2022 (FR)

The film “In The Name of Plants” stands out for its experimental character (a combination of a real image and a cartoon) and for its unusual theme: the plants by the side of any road or path, which almost nobody sees. Rare in animation cinema aimed at younger audiences, the combination of these ingredients is done in a very seductive way and therefore worthy of mention.


“A Rainha das Raposas” [The Queen of the Foxes], Marina Rosset, 2022 (CH)


Jury: João Prates, Nöel Palazzo and Ioana Nicoară


“M2”, Ana Martin, Bela Tagliabue, Paola Bellato, 2021 (AR)

For the strong connection between the visual choices and the subject matter and rising timeless questions that project the particular into the universal.


Sponsored by Ageas Seguros (750 €)

“Era Uma Vez Uma Nêspera” [Loquats Poem], Leonor Silva, 2022 (PT)

For its surrealistic approach to cinematography and suave poetic narrative.


“PLSTC”, Laen Sanches, 2022 (FR)

For showing there’s plenty of room for experimentation in the super shorts format through the tight connection between music, strong imagery and relevant issues.


Senior Jury: Andrea Perri, Maya Yonesho and Sandra de Almeida

Junior Jury: high school students from António Arroio, Casa Pia de Lisboa, Francisco Simões and D. Dinis


Senior Jury: “Com amor, Pai” [Love, Dad], Diana Cam Van Nguyen, 2021 (CZ)

An honest autobiographical film in which the director opens a door into her emotions. With the careful use of different techniques, her feelings and struggles are recreated in our own minds.

Junior Jury: “Diplomacia do Eclipse” [Diplomatie de l’Éclipse], Cesar Luton, Achille Pasquier, Selim Lallaoui, Clemence Bailly, Axel Mechin, 2022 (FR)

An intriguing and enigmatic story that makes excellent use of 3D animation and combines harmonious and coherent visuals with admirable sound design.


Sponsored by Ageas Seguros (500 €)

“A Semente que Palpita” [The Beating Seed], Alice Carmo, Laura Pires, Marta Ribeiro, Tiago Pimenta, 2022 (PT)

Junior Jury: This film stood out for the exceptional way in which it treated its concept, both visually, with the colours that complement each other, and in terms of sound, the way it accompanies the action.

Senior Jury: This film invites us into its universe, portraying the mystery and beauty of life. The combination of imagery and sounds leads us into a world of hope and harmony.


Senior Jury: “Recursos Humanos” [Human Resources], Isaac Wenzek, Titouan Tillier, Trindad Plass Caussade, 2022 (FR)

A film where the attention to detail in the animation and art direction, and also the skillfully realistic camera moves, brings us a strong social message depicted with apparent lightness and irony.

Junior Jury: “Raízes” [Roots], Maddalena Brozzi, Sara Moschini, Laura Cagnoni, 2022 (IT)

The film left us a big mark for the way the directors fluidly executed the animation. The elements used and represented translated a symbolic charge that helps in understanding the theme.


“Com amor, Pai” [Love, Dad], Diana Cam Van Nguyen, 2021 (CZ)



“Baratas” [Cockroaches], Adel Khan Farooq, 2022 (NO)


“Bizarros Peixes das Fossas Abissais” [Bizarre Fish From the Abyssal Zone], Marcelo Marão, 2023 (BR)


Jury: Joan Gratz, JP Simões, Lucija Mrzljak, Monika Łuszpak-Skiba and Paulo Silva

MONSTRA RTP2 GRAND PRIX – FEATURE FILM (5000 € in television rights)

“Guerras de Unicórnios” [Unicorn Wars], Alberto Vázquez, 2022 (ES/FR)

For mixing genres in an unexpected and powerful manner and developing amusing and shocking characters in a beautifully designed world.


“Nayola”, José Miguel Ribeiro, 2022 (PT)

The music and effects track reinforces the sense of place and story in this compelling narrative.


“Os Demónios do Meu Avô” [“My Grandfather’s Demons”], Nuno Beato, 2022 (PT)

A young woman’s journey through contemporary stress, past mysteries and sorrows, to a hopeful future. An optimistic film, as rare as a unicorn.


“Perlimps”, Alê Abreu, 2022 (BR)

Child-like dialogue and beautifully composed backgrounds contrast to a world of conflict.


“Nayola”, José Miguel Ribeiro, 2022 (PT)


Jury: Iolanda Ferreira, Joanna Quinn, Ligia Soare, Margit “Buba” Antauer and Martin Smatana

MONSTRA RTP 2 GRAND PRIX – SHORT FILM (1500 € in television rights)

“Apartamento de Cão” [Dog-Apartment], Priit Tender, 2022 (EE)

An absurdist film where abnormality becomes normal – barking sinks and fish in milk. Unforgettable!


“Ice Merchants”, João Gonzalez, 2022 (PT)

A beautifully constructed film that manages to say so much without words — a film about family, daily struggles and the inevitable force of nature.


“Carta para um Porco” [Letter to a Pig], Tal Kantor, 2022 (FR/IL)

A mesmerizing and visually stunning exploration of a complex and emotional subject that continues to challenge generation after generation.


“A Sombra das Borboletas” [Shadow of the Butterflies], Sofia El Khyari, 2022 (FR)

A delicately haunting film with beautiful poetic imagery – almost a dancing painting.


“Ice Merchants”, João Gonzalez, 2022 (PT)


Jury: Florence Miailhe, Les Mills and Pandora da Cunha Telles

SPA / VASCO GRANJA AWARD (2500 € for the production of the winner’s next film)

“Ice Merchants”, João Gonzalez, 2022 (PT)

The strong relationship between a father and a son in a fragile and threatening universe where everything can fall apart, expressed by animation and graphics that take this sense of vertigo further. Essentially, this is a film about the fragility of existence.


“Ana Morphose”, João Rodrigues, 2023 (PT)

An ode to books and the imaginary world we are invited to witness. The animation dives us in a surrealistic trip with vivid dreamlike images.


“Ice Merchants”, João Gonzalez, 2022 (PT)