Brazilian filmmaker Ale Abreu’s hand-drawn “Boy and the World,” his second animated feature, follows a little boy who finds his happy rural existence shattered when his father has to find work in the big city. The character design is deceptively simple and the palette colorful, but the film grows darker both visually and emotionally as the boy ventures off in search of his father. The film has been picking up awards all over the world, including top prizes at the 2014 edition of Annecy, and is on the short list of potential Oscar nominees for animated feature. Variety recently talked with Abreu about his work.
How did you come up with the idea for “Boy and the World”?
I was doing research into the development of an animadoc (an animated documentary) about the early history of Latin America. And one day in one of my notebooks I found this character I had drawn on a previous occasion. It wasn’t just something in the character that attracted me; rather it was the very simple, scribbled, almost “urgent” way in which he was drawn. There was a spirit there which captured the essence of the “Canto Latino” project in one image. I felt as if the boy were waving at me, calling me to discover his story. I put aside “Canto Latino” to find “Boy and the World.”
Talk a bit about the themes of your film.
In my view the main theme is the loss and search for a father. It is not an uncommon theme in Latin American cinema and symbolically refers to the search for a father in the sense of homeland. I asked myself during my research for “Canto Latino” how these Latin American countries, born as exploited colonies with such difficult “childhoods,” and marked by military dictatorships that served specific economic interests, came into today’s globalized world. I think the other themes unfolded from this one.
What made you decide to add the live-action sequence?
The live-action sequence came at a key moment, when the magazine and newspaper clippings we used to symbolize the outside world’s invasion of the innocence of childhood could no longer convey the feeling of suffocation with the intensity we were looking for. While we were drawing and animating, we were still exercising our creative freedom. At that moment, breaking with animation was a way to powerfully convey the impossibility of dreaming.
What has all the awards attention for the film been like for you?
When I finished the movie I did not expect such a positive reception. Both with regards to the good reviews and the awards we received, of course, it’s very good because it opens the way for the film to reach a greater and greater number of people.
How did you become an animator?
I always drew as a child, like all children do. In my case, I just never stopped drawing. At 12, I found myself in an animation course where I discovered the most independent films like Renné Laloux’s “Fantastic Planet” (France/Belgium: 1973). It was like a door had opened for me. I had definitely fallen in love with animation, for all of its artistic possibilities and decided that this was the kind of film I wanted to make. To be true to that path in a world dominated by market needs is a challenge.
What were the biggest challenges you faced making “Boy and the World”?
I think the biggest challenge in producing a film is not to lose — over the hard years of production and all the mishaps along the way — that initial motivation that filled us with energy in the first place. The reason why we made the movie. Specifically with regards to “Boy,” the biggest challenge was for me to stay true to the way that boy saw the world. I needed to let myself be guided by this character I had invented. I needed to assure that his personality would be projected onto the choices I had made. There comes a time when a director is no longer the one giving the orders in a film. He needs to just listen to the movie he’s making and to see the film that’s emerging before him.