A couple weeks ago I traveled to Portugal, to experience the first week of the 16th edition of the Monstra Lisbon Animated Film Festival — a mix of historical retrospectives, daily masterclasses, and a beautiful city that surrounds the festival bubble.
Over the course of 14 days, which is longer than any other animation festival held in a single location that I know of, Monstra welcomes a large number of visitors (over 32,000 screening admissions were sold during its 2016 edition). All ages are represented; I saw massive groups of toddlers waiting in line for the kids’ shorts programs, as well as hundreds of millennials for Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie (2015, Japan), and even an eighty-something gentleman coming to see the animated war documentary 25 April (2015, New Zealand).
All genres and kinds of animation were represented as well, from Disney to the experimental Vera Neubauer. “I have no problem with showing Disney, but I have a problem with showing only Disney,” Monstra’s artistic director Fernando Galrito told Cartoon Brew. “Everyone, and especially young people, should have the possibility to decide what they want to see. So first they should have access to everything. Only then they can decide what they like better.”
Programming with a purpose
Diversity in visitors and programming is at the core of Monstra, Galrito affirmed. Galrito makes sure that about 25% of the festival’s competition films haven’t been shown much at other festivals.
“From the news we only hear about violence and such in countries like Iran, that creates the idea with people that everything is bad there, and it’s just not true…Animation can be used to change the mentality of people. The more differences we show at the festival, the more people can become open and accepting of others.”
Exploring the city
While the festival’s programming was good, it was spread a bit thinly over the 14 days. And with numerous screenings lacking English subtitles, my festival schedule was left with a fair amount of gaps. At first this left me a bit disappointed, but on the third day, I decided to leave behind the cinema for a few hours and walk towards the historic city center.
Glimmering water, beautiful sunlight, and gorgeous architecture greeted me, and led to the realization that I had been doing Monstra all wrong those first few days. Attending talks and films is meant to be just part of the experience — enjoying Lisbon’s cityscapes and ice cream, like any self-respecting tourist, is equally important.
Focus on Italy
In his masterclass, Italian director Enzo D’Alò shared his journey adapting the story of Pinocchio for the silver screen in his 2012 film of the same title. The masterclass was part of an extensive focus on Italy, and a series surrounding Pinocchio.
While I think a voice of the new generation was lacking from the list of Italian speakers (like for example Mad Entertainment), the historical retrospectives were great. Several classic Bruno Bozzetto shorts and feature films were shown, among which was the recently restored Western West & Soda (1965) — a true gem that, while stretched out too much story-wise, is a feast to watch design-wise. Just imagine, more or less, a feature-length version of studio UPA’s Rooty Toot Toot (1951). Unfortunately, due to the lack of subtitles, I didn’t watch Bozzetto’s other features.
Another fun surprise was the internet cartoon Europe and Italy presented at Bozzetto’s shorts retrospective. With simple shapes and an oldschool Flash-vibe, it humorously points out the difference between Italy and the rest of Europe. Bozzetto spoke of the film’s minimalist design, explaining that he was most concerned about expressing the idea clearly and not becoming caught up in the visual design.
The Italian focus also included three compilations of contemporary shorts, that totaled three-and-a-half hours of work. While it’s nice to know that so many shorts have been produced in Italy in recent years, they were monotonous in tempo and style. A tighter selection would have made for a stronger viewing experience.
Discussing Virtual Reality
The festival’s main location featured a vr corner where visitors could freely try out works like Pearl and Rain or Shine. Additionally there was a panel on the subject, with speakers from leading companies like Nexus, Google, and Aardman, as well as local Portuguese companies Ground Control Studios and Impresa.
VR is considered the next big thing in the entertainment landscape, and investors worldwide are joining in to secure a piece of the (potentially huge) pie. Interestingly though all panelists foresaw a real danger in having the public interest for the medium grow too fast. Google’s Rachid El Guerrab explained, “The content users currently see — it’s not worth it yet. There’s very few nuggets here and there. So the fact that we don’t have a big audience or business model yet, it allows us to experiment.”
“Technical and stylistic norms are in their infancy,” Impresa’s Rafael Antunes added. El Guerrab agreed: “Everyone really is in the early stages where we’re all learning from each other.”
Nexus’ Luke Ritchie said, “I think all the problems that we’re seeing will be resolved by people we haven’t seen yet. It’s not going to be the high-end productions that we’ll be talking about. It’s going to be the dude in the bedroom.”
Concluding the masterclass, the panelists agreed it’s important to keep trying and learning, and exploring the possibilities and the boundaries of the medium. “If I had a technique that’d let people walk for a long time, I’m scared of what amount of content I’d have to make to keep that walk interesting.” El Guerrab explained, adding with a smile: “[If people want that] then maybe they should just get out of their house, to the streets, to see things.”
Some other noteworthy elements of the festival: The Monstra flip book that festival guests received, a live drawing performance accompanied by live music, numerous exhibits in and outside of the cinema, Acting for Animators author Ed Hooks’ manifesto regarding the importance of blinks, and lastly the fact that pretty much every screening I attended started exactly on time — that’s quite a unique experience when it comes to animation festivals.
My visit to Monstra Lisbon Animated Film Festival was inspiring and informative, but most of all it was relaxing and fun. For future visitors to make the most out of their experience, I’d recommend to attend the full festival, and alternate programs with holiday activities. And bring their appetite for ice cream.
Below are the winners of this year’s festival, announced last Saturday, March 25:
FEATURE FILM COMPETITION
Jury: Andrea Basilio, Claudia Bolshaw, Olivier Cotte, Pedro Brito, Zsuzsanna Kreif
Grand Prix MONSTRA My Life as a Zucchini – Claude Barras | France, Switzerland | 2016 | 70’
Best Film for Children and Youth Louis & Luca: The Big Cheese Race – Rasmus A. Sivertsen | Norway | 2015 | 78′
Jury Honorable Mentions Window Horses – The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming – Ann Marie Fleming | Canada | 2016 | 89’
Jury Special Prize Louise by the Shore – Jean-François Laguionie | France, Canada | 2016 | 75’
Audience Award My Life as a Zucchini – Claude Barras | France, Switzerland | 2016 | 70’
Jury: Falk Schuster, Giannalberto Bendazzi, Paula Tavares
Jury Honorable Mentions It Would Piss Me Off To Die So Yoooooung… / Chatear-me-ia Morrer Tão Joveeeeem… – Filipe Abranches | Portugal | 2016 | 16′
Final Call / Última Chamada – Sara Barbas | Portugal | 2016 | 12′
Melhor Filme Português – Prémio SPautores / Vasco Granja It is necessary that I diminish / É preciso que eu diminua – Pedro Serrazina | Portugal | 2016 | 4′
Audience Award Final Call / Última Chamada – Sara Barbas | Portugal | 2016 | 12′
SHORT FILM COMPETITION
Jury: Andrea Basílio, Andrea Martignoni, Géza M. Tóth, Irena Jukic Pranjic, Tiago Neves de Albuquerque
Grand Prix Monstra- Shorts Peripheria – David Coquard-Dassault | France | 2015 | 12′
Jury Honorable Mentions Summer’s Puke is Winter’s Delight – Sawako Kabuki | Japan | 2016 | 3′
Accidents, Blunders and Calamities – James Cunningham | New Zealand | 2015 | 5′
Best Experimental Film Squame – Nicolas Brault | Canada | 2015 | 4´
Best Portuguese Short It Would Piss Me Off To Die So Yoooooung… / Chatear-me-ia Morrer Tão Joveeeeem… – Filipe Abranches | Portugal | 2016 | 16′
Jury Special Prize Among the Black Waves – Anna Budanova | Russia | 2016 | 11′