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Latin American Animation In Havana

by Léa Zagury

For the past twenty years, The Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano (International Festival of New Latin American Cinema) in Havana has been one of the most important venues for Latin American filmmakers. It's the major event where filmmakers, producers, actors and writers meet to present their work and exchange ideas. Cubans, who are avid moviegoers, pack the theaters during the festival, providing a passionate and enthusiastic environment.

Leonardo Perez Garcia (left), the director of La Hormiguita Mata. All photos © and courtesy of Léa Zagury.
This Year's Best Works
Although this is not solely an animation event, it's a wonderful opportunity to see the most recent animation production from Latin America. The Festival tries to be an exception to other major film festivals where animation is practically ignored. Since its creation, the Festival has been promoting Latin American animation by giving it an important place in its venue. Animation is considered a separate category, with three awards for the best animated works.

In 1998, the film Jonas e Lisa, directed by Brazilian Daniel Schorr and Canadian Zabele Coté received the "Coral for Best Animation." The second award went to Largo es el Camino al Cielo, a Mexican production by José Angel Garcia Moreno. Pronto Saldremos del Problema, a computer-animated film by Jorge Ramirez Suárez, also from Mexico, was awarded with the third prize.

Cuba was represented in competition by films from the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry or ICAIC: En La Tierra de Chan
, Filminuto 41 and Filminuto 42, all directed by Mario Rives, La Bella Durmiendo, directed by the Unicornio Group, and La Hormiguita Mata by Leonardo Perez Garcia. The last two films were first films by an emerging new generation of Cuban animators.

Looking Through the Decades
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the festival included in its special programs a retrospective of Cuban animation from 1960 to 1997, with 41 films made by ICAIC's animation department. The works represented the evolution of styles, subjects and techniques in the history of Cuban animation, which is certainly linked to the economical, political and social events of the last 39 years.

In this retrospective, the `60s were represented by works with great regard for aesthetics and experimentation, like the first film produced by ICAIC, El Maná (1960), directed by Jesús de Armas, with drawings influenced by the UPA (United Productions of America) style. Later in the same decade, Cuban productions were influenced in many ways by animated films from Eastern Europe, as seen in El Poeta y la Muñeca (1967), directed by Tulio Raggi.

In the beginning of the `70s, Cuban animators incorporated elements of documentary films into their productions. A few years later, this production technique was directed toward educating children. A good example is Elpídio Valdés (1979), by Juan Padrón, which is the first Cuban animated feature, based on a series of shorts about a heroic soldier who helped Cuba win its independence from the Spaniards.

ICAIC animators at the drawing board and pencil test machines.
The `80s were the golden age of Cuban animation with 15 animated films being produced every year. Many of these received awards at international film festivals, like Filminuto 1 (1980), also directed by Padrón, which is the first of a very successful and internationally recognized series of "gags" that are still being produced to this day. Vampiros en la Havana (1985), again by Padrón, a feature animated film, is a funny parody of gangster movies with elements of other genres such as musicals, horror and suspense.

In the `90s, Cuba still undergoes economic hardships. Since native animation production is reduced, Cuba is establishing co-productions with other countries, often offering services like Asia does for the Saturday morning U.S. animation market. To this day, however, Cuban animation survives despite the economic embargo, and the tradition to experiment is still alive in young Cuban animators, who are always seeking the chance to explore with new themes and modern aesthetics.

There aren't any schools of animation in Cuba. The international film and television school San Antonio de Los Baños, founded by Nobel Prize writer Gabriel Garcia Márquez, only offers sporadic animation workshops. The ICAIC offers a few more opportunities for talented young artists who want to intern and learn animation. There, some beautiful and interesting works are being done with the use of computers, clay and drawn animation in intriguing styles, somewhat free of mainstream concerns and commercial animation.

For information about the next Festival Internacional del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano contact:
Festival director: Alfredo Guevara
Calle 23, No 1155,
Vedado, Havana
10600, Cuba
Tel: +53-7 34169/36072
Fax: +53-7 334 273/ 333 048

Léa Zagury is an independent animator. She is also one of the co-directors and co-founders of Brazil's Anima Mundi International Animation Festival, established in 1993.

Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.