Monstra is twelve days crammed full of animation and conversation.
Monstra is twelve days crammed full of animation. Along with the international competition, shorts, features, and student films there is a super shorts competition for films three minutes and under and other special events. For me, the heart of the competition programs is the SPA Vasco Granja Award for the best Portuguese animation. Sponsored by the Portuguese Society of Authors (SPA), the award is named for Vasco Granja who was a primary promoter of Portuguese animation and comics via his show on Portuguese public television and in print.
The entire Portuguese Competition was strong, but when I saw Do Lixo (The Garbage Man) I felt sure that it was a winner. I was right. The director and scriptwriter, Laura Goncalves, not only took home the SPA Vasco Granja she was also awarded the Audience Award for the best Portuguese film as well as the Best Portuguese Film in the International Competition.
The Garbage Man takes place on a hot August afternoon. A family is gathered around a table eating lunch. Each family member has memories of Uncle Botao to relate to. His life slowly unfolds from the days of Salazar’s over-thirty-year dictatorship of Portugal to Botao’s immigration to France where he worked as a garbage man for thirty years. He is especially remembered for the times he arrived back in his native village for a visit with a van full of “garbage” that he transformed into treasures.
The eleven-minute film is an animated documentary based on interviews that Laura did with her family about her Uncle Botao. The lovely film is a combination of 2D animation and painting.
The Garbage Man was produced at BAP Animation Studio in Porto. This year BAP celebrates ten years of creating and producing lovely films. Founded in 2011 as part of Bando á Parte Production Studio, BAP Studio broke away and became BAP Collective Animation Studio.
BAP is truly a collective, with a strong core team of six people. They have been responsible for such award-winning films as David Doutel and Vasco Sa’s Fuligem (Soot) in 2012 and Agouro in 2018. Alexandra Ramires created the hauntingly beautiful Elo at BAP and Alex Siqueiras’ multi-award-winning Purple Boy was also produced there.
Thanks to their vast experience and success over the past ten years, the studio now has strong international co-production partners in several countries such as France, Croatia, and Brazil.
BAP Studio is not resting on its laurels; they have several projects in the works right now. Collective member Victor Hugo Rocha is in production on Das Pernas Altas (The Long Legged Man). The team of David Doutel and Vasco Sa are also at work on a new project.
To celebrate the studio’s tenth anniversary, Monstra presented a special tribute program beginning with Luis Soares 2012 Outro Homem Qualquer (Any Other Man) and ending with the 2020 Elo.
This year the festival’s guest country was Bulgaria. The first experiments with animation in the country began in the late 1920s. In 1948 the Department of Drawing and Puppet Animation was established as part of the nationalized Bulgarian Cinematography, the state directorate supervising all film studio productions. Independent animation began in the 1950s.
Todor Dinov, considered the father of Bulgarian animation, developed what has come to be known as the “Bulgarian Animation School”. This style was characterized by avant-garde aesthetics with borderline absurd stories. Dinov’s 1980 short film The Rain of Paris is a good example of this style of animation. In the film a street artist draws pictures on the pavement of a Paris street, asking passers-by for money. After a rain shower, all of the chalk drawings are erased and the artist begins all over again.
Here is a link to the film: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1047739388212
Animation and documentary filmmaker Gospodin Nedelchv-Dido, in a play on Dinov’s film title, paid homage to Todor Dinov in his 2003 documentary The Paris Rain of Bulgarian Animation. The fascinating portrait of the great animator was screened at Monstra.
My favorite Bulgarian screening was Mark & Verse. Pairing an animator with a poet to create animated poetry has become a popular way to make poetry more accessible to a wider audience, and from Estonia to South Africa, each collection has its own distinct character.
Bulgaria joined the list with Mark & Verse. It is a long-term project created and curated by animator Vessela Dantcheva and produced by Compote Collective. Founded in 2008, the Compote Collective is an animation company composed of twenty artists in Sofia.
The twelve short films in the program were created in a variety of animation styles. Petya Zlateva’s Tasks of the Day is beautifully drawn. Based on a poem by Stefan Ivanov, it is about a woman who is looking for an escape from solitude in the routine of daily tasks. Instead of getting her life in order, she discovers madness and chaos, which overwhelms her. Petya said that the inspiration for her film came from “the fast rhythm and unobtrusive sense of sadness in the poem”.
Tasks of the Day became Oscar qualified in 2019 when it took the top honors at the In the Palace Short Film Festival in Varna, Bulgaria. The film has stood the test of time and after the isolation during Covid it has taken on a whole new meaning.
The minute I heard the soundtrack for Love in the Time of Tourism I had a nostalgic feeling that I knew this place. It turns out that it was recorded on Olvera Street, a historic location in downtown Los Angeles. Since the 1820s when what is now California was still part of Mexico, the street was a center of community life. It remained the center until Los Angeles expanded. Today the street attracts over two million visitors a year to its restaurants and vendors’ stalls. The author of the poem, Peter Tchouhov, wrote it in “an attempt to immortalize a memory from Olvera Street”.
The animation for Love in the Time of Tourism created by Vessela Dantcheva uses bold lines filled in with bright, vibrant colors to bring the street to life. The film is full of all of the food music, and tourism on Olvera Street. I could almost smell and taste the street as I watched the film.
Sadly, I was only at the festival for four days so I missed a great deal. I did have the opportunity to see Dozens of Norths. It is the first feature-length film by the award-winning Japanese animator Koji Yamamura. He was nominated for an Oscar in 2002 for his short animation Mt. Head.
The official synopsis of the film is “North is everywhere solitary. Here is all North. This is a record of the people I met in the North. However, my memory is fragmented and does not get the point at all. Now I’m starting to wonder if my efforts came to nothing. I’m just getting the occasional recognition of the existence of the world through the dull pain changes shape little by little”.
Ab out the film the filmmaker says “with this film, I hope to explore the invisible source of anxiety and suffering while depicting the absurdity and sadness of human existence, to finally make people feel even a little bit of hope for the real world”.
I have watched the film twice and I guess that is what I saw but I’m really not sure. The narrative which is only displayed in written form on the screen didn’t give me much information about what the images on the screen meant. The film is visually stunning, which is what I would expect from a film by Koji because he is a master of the drawn image. It is based on his illustrations that were serialized on the cover of the monthly literary magazine Bubgu-Kai from 2012 to 2014.
The first time that I watched the film I sat back and drank in the beautiful images, music, and sound design. There is no dialogue but written text which stayed on the screen long enough that you can comfortably read it. During the second viewing, I concentrated on the text. The music also added a lot to the feel of the film for me. For it, Koji used the music of the Dutch bandleader, composer, arranger, and sax player Willem Breuker (1944 – 2010).
I don’t think this is a film for everyone. I found the beautiful film very Zen but some people that I talked to found it very slow. If you expect a plot that is laid out for you and fast-paced action this is not the film for you; however, if you sit back, relax and let the beautiful images carry you away you should find it a very enjoyable seventy minutes.
Dozens of Norths is just beginning its festival tour. It has already been awarded the Special Jury Award for Feature Films at the Eighth New Chitose Airport International Animation Festival located in Hokkaido, Japan. It also garnered an Excellence Award at the Japan Media Arts Festival.
Lisbon is a beautiful city with many wonderful attractions. Ponte de Abril Bridge was built by the American Bridge Company which also constructed the Golden Gate Bridge and you can’t miss the similarities to the famous San Francisco landmark. The city also boasts one of the biggest and best flea markets in the world. It is also home to some of the best food in the world and, of course, there is fado, a style of Portuguese singing that is famous for its expressive and melancholy character.
The city is also home to the Museu da Marioneta (The Marinette Museum). Portugal has a long tradition of puppet theatre. The museum has the largest collection of Portuguese-made puppets in the world as well as an extensive assemblage of marionettes and masks from all over the world. Located in the historic Convento das Bernardas which was founded in 1653, the museum is a place that should not be missed when you visit Lisbon. You can watch a video about the museum on their website: https://www.museudamarioneta.pt/
For the last fifteen years, Monstra and the museum have partnered to organize a special exhibition during the festival. This year’s presentation was On the Other Side of the Camera, My Grandfather’s Demons. The exhibition featured sets, props, and characters from Portuguese animator Diogo Carvalho’s upcoming eighty-minute feature film My Grandfather’s Demons. This will be the first Portuguese feature-length stop motion puppet film.
It is the story of Rosa, a successful professional working in a big city. The sudden death of her grandfather brings her back to the isolated house where she was raised. Full of anxiety, stress, and remorse she decides to rebuild the ruined house and fields that she has inherited. As she gradually learns her grandfather’s secrets, she also confronts her own demons.
The exhibition featured many of the intricate sets created for the film including a large detailed diorama of the house and the surrounding hillside. There was also a making-of video. The story takes place in the Tras-os-montes region of Portugal with rolling hills and dry plateaus. It is obvious that a great deal of research went into the creation of the sets. The look and texture of the terra cotta house, the landscape, and the vegetation seem so real that if they had not been miniatures, it would have been easy to mistake them for the real thing.
My Grandfather’s Demons is slated for release in mid-2022. I am looking forward to seeing how the sets transfer to the big screen.
A second exhibition was mounted at the Sociedade National De Belas-Artes. It contained more than two hundred works by Great Britain’s master of drawing Joanna Quin and Bulgarian Anri Koulev.
Joanna’s section featured almost one hundred original drawings from all eight of her films. Beginning with her 1986 raucous comedy Girl’s Night Out, which first introduced us to Joanna’s endearing character Beryl, the exhibition was an amazing collection of the brilliant animator's work. There was also a video with a larger-than-life Joanna talking about her work.
Anri Koulev is a director and illustrator. His work was represented by a retrospective of six dozen of his drawings ranging in topic from politics and erotica to animation.
A third part of the exhibition was a tribute to BAP Studio’s anniversary. It contained original artwork from eight of the studio’s films.
This year the café at the cinema was closed so the nearby Cinemateca Portugesa restaurant became the new festival café. I can’t believe that in all of the years I have been visiting Lisbon I have never discovered the Cinemateca. It is a real treasure. Founded in the early 1950s, it promotes the conservation and knowledge of cinematographic history. The cinema has two screening rooms showing prints of classic films. The building also has a Museum of Cinema which contains an impressive collection of antique cinema equipment. There is a bookstore and a restaurant that serves delicious food and drink at a very reasonable price.
I would like to thank Vitor Carrico press and PR manager at Turismo de Lisbon for arranging my visit to the festival. I also thank production manager Priscila Carvalho for all of her assistance in making my trip run smoothly. As always my stay at the Hotel Flordia was delightful and perfect for any movie buff with each room named after a different movie star and original movie posters in each room.
The next MONSTRA will be held 16 – 27 March 2023
You can learn more about the festival at: monstrafestival.com