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MONSTRA: 15th Festival of Animated Film 3 to 13 March 2016, Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon Has a MONSTRA of a Festival! The 15th Monstra Festival of Animated Film took place from 3 to 13 March 2016.

As befits the world class city of Lisbon, ­­­the 15th edition of Monstra was a major international animation festival with strong International Competitions, but for me the highlight of the festival was the opportunity to see Portuguese animation.

The Vasco Granja Award is named for Vasco Granja, a television presenter noted for his important efforts to disseminate animation and comics to the Portuguese public.  The Vasco Granja Award jury selected Amelia & Duarte by Alice Guimaraes and Monica Santos for the top Portuguese award.  The 9 minute pixilation poses the question what if there was a place where we could revisit the memories of a relationship?  In this archive of memories the audience is guided through the story of Amelia and Duarte, two people that fell out of love and are trying to cope with the feelings that come after a relationship has ended.  Their loss is so deep that they try to divide, wrap, cut, tear and ultimately erase all recollections of each other.  This very clever film is a co-production between Abi Feijo of Ciclope Film in Portugal and Thomas Meyer-Herman of Studio Filmbilder in Germany.

Other films vying for the Portuguese Vasco Granja Award ranged from the humorous It Was Like That by Joanna Norgueira and Patricia Rodrigues to the poetic Our Lady of Apresentation directed by Abi Feijo, Alice Guimaraes, Laura Goncalves, and Daniela Duarte.

The puppet and 2D work It Was Like That has two flies which fly through a half open window into a dusty attic that is inhabited by surprising objects.  The artistry that the filmmakers put into the construction of the objects was intriguing and the adventures of the two flies were amusing.  The jury awarded the film an Honorable Mention.

Abi Feijo, Alice Guimaraes, Laura Concalves, and Daniela Duarte used pixilation to bring Our Lady of Apresentation to life.  The film is based on a poem written by Abi Feijo’s uncle Alvaro Feijo who was a neorealist writer.  Alvaro died in 1944 at the age of 24.  Abi, who is one of the pillars of the Portuguese animation community, is named Alvaro after his uncle (Abi is a nickname), so the film is a very personal tribute.  The jury also honored Our Lady of Apresentation with an honorable mention.

I have been an admirer of Jose Miguel Ribeiro’s work ever since I saw his beautifully animated puppet film The Suspect which won the 2000 Cartoon D’ Or.  Fragments, Jose Miguel’s new 17 minute film is totally different from much of his past    work.  The film is about how war settles in the body of people who are forced to look it straight in the eye and then how dozens of years later it still inflicts other human beings like a virus.  Fragments is based on the bitter experiences that the Portuguese suffered during the dictatorship of Antonia de Oliveira Salazar.  The repressive regime lasted until 1974 when it was overthrown by the Carnation Revolution.

The dictatorship fought long, cruel wars in its colonies to suppress independence movements and tens of thousands of Portuguese men were drafted to fight these meaningless wars.  Fragments is a timely, hard hitting animation given the current world situation which will leave more generations bitter and scared by war.  Jose Miguel Ribeiro was awarded Best Short Portuguese Film in the short film category as well as an honorable mention by the Vasco Granja jury.  Audiences tend to give their award to short, funny films so it was lovely to see the MONSTRA audience give their award to Fragments.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, Monstra organized a retrospective of countries which had formed part of what was once Yugoslavia:  Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia.  It was a unique opportunity to explore the animation histories of these countries in depth.

Bosnia has never been a significant producer of animation.  Historically, documentaries have been the country’s major film form.  During the first years of WW II primitive propaganda movies were the major output.  The animations which were occasionally produced are divided into four categories.

  1. State sponsored animation which was made with puppets and cutouts.In 1956 Zlatko Seselj, illustrator and comics artist, working for the advertising agency OZEBIH, made what is considered to be the first professional animated commercial in Bosnia.The most successful film of that era was a cutout film called Moonshine Sonata by Slobodan Jovicic which contained a strong political message about the Cold War.

  2. Cinephile animation – the only animated films during the late ‘60’s and the ‘70’s were made by members of amateur cinema clubs.

  3. Amateurs turned professionals – New professional productions began in 1984 when the company “Forum” financed A Hero.A year later Bosnia Film began producing animation, gathering together former amature filmmakers.The first major success was the 2 minute film EKG by Nedzad Begovic.The disintegration of Yugoslavia and the war against Bosnia put a temporary end to the country’s animation production.

  4. Postwar generation – In the 1990’s digitalization brought about changes in technological developments and distribution.The new techniques open to the younger generation has resulted in new quality and an unprecedented quantity of animation productions.

The Bosnian retrospective consisted of 11 films ranging from the 1964 Moonlight Sonata to Berin Tuzlic’s 2015 I’m Running Even When I’m Not.  The films in the program by young Bosnian animators proved that the future of the country’s animation is very bright.

Croatian animation has a long, rich history.  The term “Croatian School of Animation” was coined by French journalists George Sadoul and Andre Martin at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival after watching a program of Zagreb animation.  Zagreb filmmakers continued to make internationally acclaimed films throughout the ‘60’s and ‘70’s up to the beginning of the ‘80’s.

In 1962 Dusan Vukotic was awarded an Oscar for Surogat (Ersatz), an amusing 10 minute film about a man who takes a trip to the beach and every object that he brings with him, no matter how unlikely, is inflatable.  Surogat was the first non-American short animation to win an Oscar and the only one that Croatia has ever received.

In the early 1980’s the golden age of animation waned and was reborn at the end of the 90’s when a new generation of filmmakers and independent producers brought Croatian animation back into the international spotlight.  Today, thanks to the establishment of good animation schools many young animators are creating strong films that are screened and winning awards at international festivals.

 Animafest Zagreb, the second oldest Animation Festival in the world after Annecy, was founded in 1972.  After several recent years of administrative problems due to constant changes in festival administrative staff, the once prestigious festival is back on track under the guidance of Artistic Director Daniel Suljic.  He has reclaimed its place as one of the most important festivals in the world.

The 7 programs in the Croatian retrospective gave a full overview of the country’s rich animation history.  Two of the programs were devoted to films by two of the country’s great masters, Bordo Dovnikovic and Dusan Vukotic.  Bordo is not only a world renowned animator, he is also famous for his cartoons, illustrations, comic strips, and graphic design.  An exhibit of his work in the lobby of Cinema Sao Jorge paid tribute to his long and fertile graphic career.

Borivoj Dovniković, Rastko Cirić and Vesna Dovniković

In Slovenia in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s animation was primarily created for children and most of it was puppet animation.  In the ‘70’s and ‘80’s there were no professional studios.  Marjan Mancek, one of Slovenia’s most well-known illustrators, cartoonists, and comic strip artists, who has been animating for over 30 years, remembers “If I wanted to do animation, I first had to earn a living through illustration.  I used to draw a second or two of movement only in the evening”.

Today his son Mitja is an independent experimental animator.  Animation is now alive and thriving with new talent like Spela Cadez whose puppet film Boles has won numerous international awards.

Under the direction of Igor Prassel, the Animateka Animation Festival has become an important event.  A program of contemporary Slovenian animation, a children’s program, and the Best of Animateka gave Monstra’s audience an overview of Slovenian animation.

The 1990’s was the worst period for Serbia in recent history, yet during that decade the country produced 175 animation films.  Most of these films were produced by Bikic, the first private Serbian animation studio and were very short gag films.

In 2000 Serbian animation began to branch out and feature extremely different styles, subjects, and techniques.  The 2 programs of Serbian animation focused on films made from the 1990’s and to the present.  One program was by Serbian students from the Faculty of Applied Arts in Belgrade and the Digital Animation Program of the University of Arts in Belgrade.  Both programs were founded and led by the incredibly talented Professor Rastko Ciric.  Judging from the films that I saw we can look forward to a whole new crop of creative Serbian animators.

Nik, Nancy, Rasko Ciric and Midhat Ajan

Even though there are still tensions and political problems among the former Yugoslavian countries they are united in the high quality of animation that they are producing and the exchange of creative ideas at animation festivals.

In conjunction with Monstra, the Museu da Marrioneta presented an exhibition of puppets and sets from Czech animator Jan Balej’s feature film Little From the Fish Shop.  I saw one of the sets several years ago at Annecy and was impressed with its intricate detail and design.  To be in a large room surrounded by all the sets and puppets was truly awesome.  The exhibition was interactive so that visitors could manipulate some of the puppets.

Set from Little of the Fish Shop

Little From the Fish Shop, which I have written about before, is a modern adaptation of the classic Hans Christian Anderson story The Little Mermaid.  Although it is based on a children’s tale this film is a very adult version, definitely not for children, with drugs, prostitution, and lots of delightfully sleazy characters.

Exterior of the Puppet Museum

The Puppet Museum which is located in the Convento das Bernardo is worth a visit in its own right.  There are more than 1,000 puppets from Portugal, China, Indonesia, India, Italy, and New Zealand.  Each exhibition is labeled with detailed explanations about their age, country of origin, and facts about what they were created to represent.  Entrance to the museum was free during Monstra for festival guests.

Several workshops were held during the festival.  Montreal based master of camera-less film Steven Woloshen introduced his participants to the joys of creating handmade abstract films.  Ever since Steven burst upon the scene in the early ‘80’s he has used just about every material known to man to create images on film and he is still discovering new techniques.

Steven Woloshen showing his latest camera-less film to student competition juror Paola Bristot

In his workshop he told some of the tricks of his trade and then participants got busy creating their own pieces of film by scratching, using ink and paint directly on film, collaging directly on the surface of clear leader, black leader or previously shot film.  Steven’s workshops are always fun and you leave having learned a lot.  There was also a retrospective screening of Steven’s work.

Amsterdam based Jose Volk works on 16 and 35 mm glass film strips by scratching, painting, or adjusting colored film on the physical film strip.  In Jose’s glass-film workshop participants made a camera less 16mm film in one day.

Master classes gave students and professionals alike the opportunity to get inside tips from masters of animation.  Bill Plympton, king of indie animation, screened short films, drew and gave his tricks of the trade on how to succeed as an independent animator.  Bill is tireless when it comes to meeting his fans and everyone who attended his very crowded master class came away with a personal drawing by him.

Hungarian animator Aron Gauder’s master class focused on making low budget animation in Eastern Europe.  He knows what he is talking about because his first Hungarian feature film The District won the feature Cristal at Annecy in 2005.  Aron’s insights on financing, team building, technical details, and working within the political system were invaluable to anyone who is considering filming in Eastern Europe.

Portugal is the home of Fado, a form of singing traditionally associated with the bars and cafes of Lisbon.  Renowned for its expressive and deep melancholic sound, Fado dates back to the early 19th century.  Monstra and Fado are natural partners and on opening night two films inspired by Fado were presented with live voice, guitar and contrabass accompaniment.  The films were commissioned by the festival from two animators of different generations. 

José Xavier was inspired by one of the most important voices of Fado, Alfredo Marceneiro, for his dramatic story O Fadim II, and Aude Fauconnier, a young Belgian student studying in Portugal, created a beautiful film inspired by one of the most emblematic pieces of Portuguese guitar music Verdes Anos.

Nancy with Aude Fauconnier and Pierre Yves Drapeau

For Jazz and Animation the action moved to the Hot Club De Portugal where a group played live music to jazz related animations.  James Tancill of Lafayette, Louisiana paid homage to New Orleans jazz with his Preservation Hall Hot 4: St. James Infirmary.  His film is an animated romp in the style of Max Fleisher set against a background of New Orleans characters and institutions.  Jazz That Nobody Asked For by Rune and Esben Fisker from Denmark was an ode to all of those unwanted songs that have nowhere to go.

On another evening Monstra partnered with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to present a program of music related animation with live music performed by a group of students.  The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is an international foundation based in Portugal whose aims are to promote and support the arts, social welfare, education, and science.

Festival director Fernando Galrito and Nancy

The 10 days of Monstra was an amazing event full of wonderful film, special events, and of course friends old and new.  Fernando Galrito (known to everyone as Galrito) and his staff did an amazing job of putting on a first class festival, not just for the international guests but also taking animation out to the residents of Lisbon.  The festival head quarters and main screenings were held in the 3 screening rooms of the historic Sao Jorge Cinema built in 1947.  Screening and events also took place in 32 cinemas, 61 schools and 12 universities across the city.

Festival theater Cinima Sao Jorge

Monstra University held sessions at universities in Lisbon and the nearby community of Caldas da Rainha.  The programs of films by students from around the world were designed to give Portuguese students the opportunity to discover what students throughout Europe are creating.  Guest universities were ULU Zagreb, Croatia, New Gorica in Slovenia, Faculty of Applied Arts in Belgrade, Serbia, and the Animation Workshop in Copenhagen, Denmark.

This year Monstra inaugurated a Bike-In which was held before the festival.  City residents toured Lisbon on their bikes and at the end of the ride they were treated to a screening featuring bike related animations.

Throughout the year Monstra takes animation to the local school children.  This year the festival will also visit 10 cities in Portugal with programs for adults and children.

A very big thank you goes to Galrito and the Lisbon Chamber of Commerce who invited me to be part of Monstra this year.  I also owe a debt of gratitude to the festival staff and volunteers who were always there to answer questions and worked so hard to make Monstra such a great festival this year.

I look forward to visiting Monstra again.  You can read more about the festival and find out how to submit your film at:


MONSTRINHA Competition
Jury: Tânia Baixinho, Acácio Carreira, António Ramos

Jury Honorable Mentions

Family Program: ENTRE TEMPOS | BETWEEN TIMES – Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata, Netherlands, USA
3 – 6: MORPHIUM – Linus Stetter, Germany
7 – 12: UM DOIS, ÁRVORE | ONE, TWO, TREE – Yulia Aronova, France
+ de 13: GUIDA – Rosana Urbes, Brazil

Monstrinha Audience Award
Family Program: DJI. DEATH SAILS, Dmitri Voloshin, Moldova
3 – 6: COUNTING SHEEP – Fritz Standaert, France, Belgium
7 – 12:  HOLA LLAMIGO – Christina Chang, Charlie Parisi, USA
+13:  RAPSODIE EN ROSE – Bram Mondy,  Belgium

Best Film Monstrinha
THE STORY OF PERCIVAL PILTS – Jeanette Goodey, John Lewis, Australia

PEANUT Competition

Bronze Peanut
MY DEAR GNOME – Emmanuelle Leleu, Julien Hazebroucq, France

Silver Peanut

Golden Peanut
OTTO – Salvatore Murgia, Dario Imgrogno, Italy

STUDENTS Competition
Jury: Paola Bristot, Abi Feijó, Daniel Suljic

Jury Honorable Mentions

WITHIN – Natália Azevedo Andrade, Portugal
AFTERNOON CLASS – Seoro Oh, South Korea
LIFE SMARTPHONE – Xie Chenglin, China
FOX FEARS – Miyo Sato, Japan

Audience Award
AFTERNOON CLASS – Seoro Oh, South Korea

Best Portuguese Student Film
SKEIN – Linnea Lidegran, Portugal

Best Student Film
EDMOND– Nina Gantz, United Kingdom

SUPER-SHORTS Competition
Jury: Isabel Baraona, Jose Vonk, Hemant Sharda, Jan Balej, Milen Alempijevic

Jury Honorable Mentions
OTTO – Salvatore Murgia, Dario Imbrogno, Italy
AT FIRST SIGHT – Pedro Allevato, United Kingdom

Best Portuguese Super-Short 
FRRT FRTT FRT FRRTT – Aude Bario, Barbara Meuli, Portugal, Switzerland

Best International Super-Short

FEATURE FILM Competition
Jury: Andrea Basílio, Aron Gauder, Maitt Laas, Nuno Saraiva, Pierre Yves Drapeau

Audience Award
APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD – Christian Demares, Franck Ekinci, France

Best Film for Children and Youth
PHANTOM BOY – Alan Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli, France

Best SoundTrack
APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD – Christian Demares, Franck Ekinci, France

 Jury Special Prize
LITTLE FROM THE FISH SHOP – Jan Balej, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany

Grand Prix MONSTRA
WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE – Hiromasa Yonebayashi , Japan

SHORT FILM Competition
Jury: Andrea Basílio, Natália Luiza, Darko Masnec, Filipe Alçada, Mihai Mitrica

Jury Honorable Mentions
SPLINTERTIME – Rosto, Netherlands, Belgium
IN THE DISTANCE – Florian Grolig, Germany
THE MASTER – Riho Unt, Estonia

Audience Award
ONE, TWO, TREE – Yulia Aronova, France

Best Experimental Film
VEIL – Yoriko Mizushiri, Japan

Jury Special Prize
UNDER YOUR FINGERS – Marie-Christine Courtès, France

Best Portuguese Short
ESTILHAÇOS | FRAGMENTS – José Miguel Ribeiro, Portugal

Grand Prix MONSTRA
SUNDAY LUNCH  – Céline Devaux, France

PORTUGUESE Competition
Jury: Iva Ciric, António Torrado, Steven Woloshen

Jury Honorable Mentions
ESTILHAÇOS | FRAGMENTS – José Miguel Ribeiro, Portugal
PRONTO, ERA ASSIM | IT WAS LIKE THAT – Joana Nogueira, Patrícia Rodrigues, Portugal
NOSSA SENHORA DA APRESENTAÇÃO | OUR LADY OF APRESENTATION –  Alice Guimarães, Daniela Duarte, Laura Gonçalves, Abi Feijó, Portugal

Audience Award
ESTILHAÇOS | FRAGMENTS – José Miguel Ribeiro, Portugal

Best Portuguese Film – SPA / Vasco Granja Award
AMÉLIA & DUARTE –  Alice Guimarães, Mónica Santos, Portugal