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CINANIMA – A JEWEL IN THE ANIMATION FESTIVAL CROWN - 12- 18 November 2018, Espinho, Portugal

Cinanima celebrated its 42nd anniversary in 2018 making it one of the oldest and most prestigious animation festivals in the world.

     Cinanima celebrated its 42nd anniversary in 2018 making it one of the oldest and most prestigious animation festivals in the world.  The festival takes place in Espinho, located 2 ½ hours North of Lisbon.  It is a beautiful seaside town with wide beaches and picturesque Portuguese fishing boats.

Traditional Portuguese fishing boats

    This year 1,508 films from 69 countries were submitted to the festival with 110 films selected for the competition programs. I was extremely honoured to be a member of the International Jury for Student Films.  Along with my fellow juror’s animator/producer Irina Calado and producer Willem Thijssen, I watched 36 student films in our category.

     Maybe the fresh sea air, the fishing boats and the delicious food got us in the mood but our jury definitely felt the complex nature of tango as we watched Marta Szymanska’s Tango of Desire.  Her tango is not an erotic dance, full of desire and aggression, but a dance of sorrow and longing.  The Polish animator used paint to emphasize the flow of movement and essence most effectively.  Our jury gave Tango of Desire a Special Mention.

     Our second Special Mention went Music and Clowns, a 7 minute animated documentary about living with someone with Down Syndrome.  Animator Alex Widdowson’s brother Jamie has Down Syndrome.  In the film, Alex discusses with his parents what it is like to raise a child with this syndrome.  Using hand-drawn images and live action, he gives us a look into his brother’s world where, despite the fact that Jamie is close to non-verbal, he is funny, charming and perceptive, and sometimes frustrating.

The Student Jury (left to right) Nancy, Irina Calado, and Willem Thijssen celebrating our final jury decisions

The Student Jury (left to right) Nancy, Irina Calado, and Willem Thijssen celebrating our final jury decisions

     We awarded the International Student Film/Gaston Roch Award to Orsolya Lang from Hungary.  Her 10-minute film Off Season utilizes drawing-on-paper to capture the feeling of a small fishing village offseason.  The villagers go about their daily routines living side by side waiting for spring and the return of the tourists.  Each day seems much like the last one, but sometimes there is a special day.  It’s not easy to recognize how special the day is until after it has passed.  Off Season is about just such a day.

     One of the great pleasures at Cinanima is the opportunity to see a wide range of Portuguese animation.  There are 3 separate categories in the National Competition:  Young Portuguese Director Over 18 Years Old, Young Portuguese Director Under 18 Years Of Age, and the prestigious Antonio Gaio Award for the Best Professional Portuguese Film.  Antonio Gaio was the founder of Cinanima.  Sadly he passed away in 2015 at the age of 90, but his legacy lives on in the guise of the award named for him.

     The Antonio Gaio jury selected Agouro by David Doutel and Vasco Se as the Best Professional Portuguese Film.  The film also received a Special Mention from the International Jury in the Short Film 5 to 24 Minute category.  Agouro is a film that I especially like.  It is about relationships and choices that have to be made in life.  I’ve written about the film at length several times so I won’t go into detail about the story again but if you ever have the opportunity to see this beautiful film don’t miss it.

     The future of Portuguese animation looks bright.  The Young Directors 18 to 30 Years Old category showcased        12 films by up and coming young animators.  Several of the films dealt with contemporary issues.  The jury recognized The Voyager by Joao Gonzalez as the best film in the category.  In the film, a pianist lives alone in a big city.  He suffers from agoraphobia (an irrational fear of leaving home and of public spaces).  Eventually, he is forced to leave his house to fill a prescription, forcing him to face his greatest fears.  Trying to avoid contact with other people is impossible out in the world, and little by little he comes to the realization that he is not completely alone and is able to overcome his fears.  The Voyager deals with an all too common problem in modern society, reflecting an increasingly individualized, less community-centred way of life.

     Gonzalez composed and performed the piano music for the film’s soundtrack.  He said that he would like to have the opportunity to have the film screened live with him playing the piano accompaniment.

     Voices in the Wind was created by four young directors: Pero Ferreira, Elton Fortes, Feliz Lim, and Pedro Ferreira.  In the film, 3 immigrants from different countries tell compelling stories of their voyages from their homeland to their eventual settling in Portugal.  Although the animation was not particularly strong, the stories were very compelling and the young animators definitely show promise.

     In Right to Say No, Ines Delicioso tackles the issue of abusive relationships with sensitivity.  The extremely short 1-minute film is narrated by a teenage abuse victim.  I think that this film could be developed into a longer project quite successfully.  The Young Director over 18 Jury gave the film a Special Mention.

     Along with the competition screenings, there were numerous special screenings and retrospectives.  Renowned Portuguese animator Regina Pessoa curated a 2 part program titled Animation Through Women’s Eyes.  In describing her choice of films Regina wrote in the catalogue “This program reflects 3 generations of women whom I admire and respect . . . it also reflects 3 moments of my life as an author: as an apprentice, as a colleague, and now, perhaps as a veteran to the eyes of younger people”.  The program also included some of my favourite films.

     It was a delight to see Caroline Leaf’s film The Street as part of Regina’s program.  The 1976 film is as touching and beautiful today as when it was made.  Based on a short story by Mordecai Richler about his memories of growing up in Montreal Canada’s Jewish community.  Caroline used watercolour and ink to tell the story of a family that is taking care of their dying grandmother and the young son who is impatient to get the private room that he has been promised as soon as she passes away.

     Regina also included such classic films as Joanna Quinn’s Body Beautiful.  There is no way that you can keep from laughing at Beryl’s adventures as she gets revenge against her macho supervisor who continually taunts her about her weight.   At the opposite end of the spectrum is the beautiful Russian film by Anna Budanova Among the Black Waves.  Based upon an ancient Norse legend where souls of drowned people turn into seals, a hunter steals a seal-girl’s skin and she can’t turn back into an animal.  She becomes his wife but her heart is still in the sea.

     Homage was paid to the great pioneer of Serbian animation Nikola Majdak.  In a career spanning over 60 years, he worked as a director, director of photography, cameraman, editor, and animator.  His 1963 films The Soloist and The Chalk-Man were the first cartoon films made in Belgrade.  Nikola passed away in 2013 but as the 11 films screened at his retrospective show, he left behind an impressive body of work.

     Balkanima Festival producer and organizer Milan Milosavljevic selected 10 films for New Hope:  Recent Serbian Animation.  After a period in the early 2000s, when animation struggled to survive in Serbia, there was a resurgence of interest in 2013 when Ana Nedeljkova and Nikola Majdak Jr.’s Rabbitland won an award in the Generation 14+ category at the Berlinale.  Subsequently, the Film Center Serbia has established financing for the production of animated shorts.  The films in Milan’s program represent this new generation of Serbian animators.

     2018 marked the 100th anniversary of the restoration of Lithuania’s independence.  To mark this important event Valentas Askinis, Director of the Tindirindis Animation Festival in Vilnius, curated a program of 11 films.  The 1970 film Initiative by Antanas Janauskas was produced at Lietuvos Kino Studio.  It was founded in 1940 and is the oldest film production company in Lithuania.  Valentas’ program showed what a wide range of animation topics and styles the country fosters.

     A separate program of Lithuanian animation for children included animator and caricaturist Ilja Bereznickas’ 1985 The Last Christmas Gift.  Ilja has been animating for over 40 years and his films are full of wit and charm.  The Last Christmas Gift is a humorous story about how Santa discovers when he is out delivering presents that there is one gift left over. . . and so what to do with it?  The solution is guaranteed to make the entire family smile.

     The 110th anniversary of the birth of Lithuanian animation will be celebrated in 2020.  Wladyslaw Starewicz began working with film and animation in Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania.  In 1910 he filmed the first puppet animation film Lucanus Cervus thereStarewicz began another 5 animated films in Lithuania but did not complete them until after he moved to Moscow in 1912.

Vera Neubauer and Nancy

Vera Neubauer and Nancy

     With such an amazing pool of talent on the Cinanima festival juries, there were a remarkable number of high-quality workshops and master classes.  International Jury member Vera Neubauer’s work in a variety of mediums from crocheting and drawing to experimenting with everyday objects and live actors have earned her 2 BAFTAs and numerous other awards.  Women in Animation has called this British animator “ . . . the terrorist branch of the art form, the Red Brigade of animated film” and any master class that she gives is sure to be not only instructive but fun as well.  At Cinnanima her Form and Content session dealt with how form, technique, and style influence content. 

Riho Unt

Riho Unt

     Estonian animator Riho Unt has created 2 of my favourite films, the 2005 Brothers Bearheart and The Master (2015) which won Riho a Crystal in Annecy.  Brothers Bearheart is a delightful tale about 3 bears - Henry, Vincent, and August; three artists who appear in Paris after their mother, an artist, is shot by a hunter in the forest while she is out painting.  But, it is not just any hunter - he is the Russian painter Ivan Shishkin.  When they discover that Shishkin not only killed their mother but signed his name to her painting, the 3 bears go on an odyssey to right this wrong.  The three heroes of the film are based on the 3 bear cubs from the painting Morning In A Pine Forest by Ivan Shishkin which is in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.  Brothers Bearheart never fails to make me smile when I watch this puppet animation, which I do frequently.

Brothers Bearheart

Brothers Bearheart

     The Master, based on Estonian author Friedebert Tuglos’ short story Popi and Huhuu, is a painful reminder that war does not just have a profound effect on those who are fighting but on innocent animals as well.  The puppets and sets are so beautifully constructed that it is easy to forget that they are not real as you sink deeper and deeper into the catastrophic events on screen.  Riho is currently in production on his new film The Wings, another period piece based on the Estonian writer Eduard Bornhohe’s inventor character Jaan, who has a desire to fly.

The Wings

The Wings

    At  Riho’s masterclass, Fantasies From The Past, he expressed his belief that to feel the present better, we have to look back to the past.  He believes that there is always something exciting in the past to take with us into the present in order to fantasize about the future.  Using Brothers Bearheart and The Master as examples, he said that this was how those films were born, both being set in the Paris of the 20th century.

The Master

The Master

     Willem Thjssen is one of the most respected producer/directors in animation.  In 1985 he received his first Oscar for his work as director of A Greek Tragedy.  For Michael Dudok de Wit’s acclaimed Father and Daughter, Willem garnered another Oscar, along with a BAFTA, as the producer of the film.  Father and Daughter also won the Annecy Grand Prix.  Recently he has been connected with The Monster of Nix by Rosto and Hisko Hulsing’s Junkyard.

Nancy with Willem Thijssen and his partner Christine Slabbinck

Nancy with Willem Thijssen and his partner Christine Slabbinck

     For Willem’s masterclass, The Production of Short Animated Films, he introduced a selection of short films that he had produced, giving each one an introduction about the production side of animation.

     I was invited to give a presentation at the University of Porto in Porto during the festival.  The title of my presentation was The Unsung Women Heros in Animation.  I talked about the lack of respect that pioneering women in animation received from the earliest days of animation up to the 1980s.  I also discussed how the situation has changed in some ways, but still stays the same as far as the glass ceiling for most women in the industry today is concerned and what can be done to change this situation so that women can receive equal pay and recognition.

At the University of Porto for my master class

At the University of Porto for my master class

     In 2018, Portugal lost 3 of its pioneer animators:  Servais Tiago (born 1925), Artur Correia (1932), and Alvaro Patricio (1947).  Tiago began his career in the 1940s creating children’s comics.  In 1943, after 4 years of work he completed Automania.  He used cutout animation which he then put on a 3 level multiplane and filmed it with a Pathe-Baby, the then popular 9.5 mm home camera.  Automania was shown widely abroad.

     He then went to work for Kapa Studios, where he created animated commercials for Lisbon theatres.  In 1973 he co-founded MovieCine, a company that lasted for 20 years.  Servais Tiago received the Antonio Maria Prize at Cinanima in 2003 to honour his career in animation, especially in the advertising sector.

     Artur Correia began his career as a graphic artist and illustrator in 1947.  The following year his 60-second film, O melhor da rua (The Best of the Street) was the first Portuguese film to win Best Commercial at the Venice Film Festival.  It went on to be the first Portuguese animated film to win an award at Annecy.

     By early 1973, Correia directed and co-directed commercials as well as the film I Want The Moon which won several international festival awards.  In the same year, he co-founded Topefilme which produced commercials and commissioned films as well as children’s television series.  By the 1990s commissions had drastically decreased and the studio was forced to close in 1994.  After that Correia turned to teaching and creating comic books such as his 2003 Happy History of Portugal.

     Last but not least, Alvaro Patricio started as a graphic designer at Exito Advertising Agency in 1964 where he discovered animation.  After creating several publicity campaign films there, he moved to Madrid to work at Moro Creatives where he continued to make films.  He returned to Portugal in 1980 to become part of the RTP Staff where he created generic character designs that have become an iconic part of Portuguese daily life as openers for popular television programs.  He also left his mark on several publications using his pen to create cartoons about social and political criticisms that were often censored by the government.

     All 3 of these pioneering directors paved the way for a more democratic society during difficult political times using their work to fight against censorship.  The festival honoured their work with an exhibition of their graphic works in the festival theatre lobby.

Exhibition of Servais Tiago, Artur Correia, and Alvaro Patricio's work

Exhibition of Servais Tiago, Artur Correia, and Alvaro Patricio's work

     Brazilian animator, professor, and researcher Elaine Gordeeff launched her book Aesthetic Interferences: The Stop Motion Technique in Animation Narrative at Cinanmia.   The first part of her book is devoted to a brief overview of the development of stop motion animation.  This is followed by chapters on the aesthetic and narrative aspects of stop motion versus live action cinema.

 Of particular interest is the in-depth discussion of 5 films that the author has selected because she feels that “these shorts stand out for their beauty, technical quality, and for the message they convey”.  The 5 films are Neighbors, Norman McLaren (1952); Cinema From A Window, Quia Rodrigues (1999); The Old Man and the Sea, Alexander Petrov (1999); Adagio, Garri Bardin (2000); and Aria, Piotr Sapegin (2001).  I highly recommend Aesthetic Interferences: The Stop Motion Technique in Animation Narrative to anyone working in the field of animation.  Even though it was originally written as a scholarly treaty, the author has edited this edition so that anyone who wants to learn more about stop motion animation as an art form will learn a great deal from reading it.

     Cinanima was so packed full of film programs, workshops, and master classes that there is no way that I can write about everything.  It is definitely a festival that any filmmaker can be proud to have their film selected to be screened at.

The City Hall reception

The City Hall reception

     Of course, it was not all work.  The jury members were invited to a reception at Espinho City Hall to meet Mayor Pinto Moreira where we were treated to delicious Port wine and local delicacies.  We were also invited on an excursion to Pocas Port Cellars where we learned about the production of Port, the features that distinguish it, and how to properly taste this unique wine which is only found in Portugal.  We all had the opportunity to sample and compare several types and ages of Port.  Pocas Port Wine Cellars is an independent family business founded in 1918 and has a truly impressive wine cellar.

At the Pocas Port Wine Cellar

At the Pocas Port Wine Cellar

     Cristina Lima, the backbone of the festival and a wonderful hostess, did everything possible to make my visit to Cinanima memorable. From the beautiful hotel suite with a balcony overlooking the ocean to the many delicious restaurant meals that Cristina arranged for the juries, my week as a jury member is full of lovely memories.  I can’t thank Cristina and her marvellous staff enough for their generous hospitality.

With festival organizers Cristina Lima and Pedro Perez

With festival organizers Cristina Lima and Pedro Perez

     You can learn more about Cinanima 2018 and how to submit your film for the 2019 edition at:

L to R -  Vasco Sa and David Doutel at their studio in Porto

L to R - Vasco Sa and David Doutel at their studio in Porto

     After we left Espinho we took the train to Porto for a visit with Vasco Sa and David Doutel at their studio.  The pair who created Soot in 2014 and the beautifully haunting Agouro which is currently winning awards at international festivals are now at work on their first feature film.  It was impressive to see their very detailed storyboard for Agouro and meet their talented crew of animators.  Although their feature film is in a very early stage, from what I saw of the storyboard it looks like it will be another beautiful film.  We were treated to a lovely, relaxing lunch with Vasco, David, and their crew at a restaurant near their studio before heading off to Lisbon for a couple of days.

     In Lisbon, my fellow Cinanima juror Irina Caldo invited us to visit her at studio ate ao Fim do Mundo Studio where she is director and coordinator of the production company’s animation department.  The studio, whose name means End of the World, was founded in 1998 and works in many different areas including television and film production, broadcast design, visual FX, motion design, digital media, education, and music as well as animation.

     Irina gave Nik and me a tour of the various departments in their impressive multi-story building ending with the animation department.  Although the department works on various types of projects from children’s television to animated feature films, Irina’s true love as a producer and animator is animated documentaries.

Visit to the animation department of ate ao Fim do Mundo Studio

Visit to the animation department of ate ao Fim do Mundo Studio

     She has produced such Ani-Docs as Viewfinder by Filipe Carvalho about intimate conversations with war journalists and photojournalists who choose to report history in real time from the most dangerous places in the world.  Irina also directed Mother’s Love, an animated short about love pushed to the limits. I was impressed with ate ao Fim do Mundo and give a thank you to Irinda for taking the time to give us such a thorough and interesting tour.

          Portugal is a country that I love to visit.  It is full of delicious food, lovely generous people, and home to wonderful, creative animators. I am already looking forward to my next visit.


International Short Film Jury Members:  Pedro Serrazina, Portugal; Riho Unt, Estonia; Vera Neubauer, United Kingdom

     Grand Prix – Obon, Andre Hormann and  SAMO (Anna Bergmann), Germany

     Jury’s Special Award – The Call, Anca Damian, Romania

     Best Short Film Up To 5 Minutes – The Lost Garden, Natalia Chernysheva, France

     Best Short Film 5 to 24 Minutes – Flowing Through Wonder, Joanna Lurie, France

     Special Mention – Agouro, David Doutel and Vasco Sa, Portugal

     Special Mention – Egg, Martina Scarpelli, France

     Special Mention – Panta Rhei, Wouter Bogaerts, Belgium

     Best Short Film 24 to 50 Minutes – This Magnificant Cake, Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roels, Belgium

International Feature Film Jury:  Jacques-Remy Girerd, France Nuno Amorim, Portugal; Tunde Vollenbroek, The     Netherlands

     No Feature Film Award

     Special Mention – Virus Tropical, Santiago Caicedo, Columbia

International Student Jury:  Irina Calado, Portugal; Willem Thijssen, The Netherlands; Nancy Denney-Phelps, Belgium

     Gaston Roch Student Award – Off Season, Orsolya Lang, Hungary

     Special Mention – Music and Clowns, Alex Widdowson, United Kingdom

     Special Mention – Tango of Longing, Marta Szymanska, Poland

Young Portuguese Director Jury:  Antonio Moreira, Portugal; Patricia Rodrigues, Portugal; Tiago M. Araujo, Portugal

     Young Portuguese Director Over 18 Years Old – The Voyager, Joao Gonzalez, Portugal

     Special Mention – Right To Say No, Ines Delicioso, Portugal

Young Portuguese Director Under 18 Years Old – Harmos, Coletivo de jovens e criancas de Abrantes, Portugal

     Special Mention – Haunting Shadows, Alunos do 7 ano do Agrupamentode Escolas Lousada Este – Caide de Rei, Portugal

     Special Mention – Nuno and the Mermaid, Criancas das oficinas da ANILUPA de Associacao de Ludotecas do Porto, alunos da turma 4A da EB do Viso, Portugal

Antonio Gaio Award Jury: Joana Imaginario, Portugal; Paulo Patricio, Portugal; Ricardo Blanco, Portuugal

     Antonino Gaio Award joint winners – Agouro, David Doutel and Vasco Sa, Portugal


     4 States of Matter, Miguel Pires de Matos, Portugal

Audience Award – This Magnificant Cake, Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roels, Belgium