Two decades ago, there was hardly a Brazilian animation industry to speak of. Ten years back, a small handful of stalwart directors were struggling to gain international notoriety and impact TV, festivals and box offices domestically and abroad with low budgets and a lot of hard work. Today, Brazilian animation is thriving on all fronts, and in some cases, is even outpacing live-action in budget and ambition.
In 1951, Brazil’s first-ever animated feature, “Amazon Symphony,” was released; since that time 43 other toon features have joined its ranks. One feature every year-and-a-half is hardly anything to write home about, but according to Marta Machado of Brazilian animation house Otto Desenhos, 19 of those pictures have come in the last five years, and another 25 features are currently in production.
The clearest indicator of Brazil’s ascendance as an international animation force came in 2013 when Annecy, one of the world’s most important animation festivals and markets, awarded its Cristal for best animated feature to Luiz Bolognesi’s “Rio 2096 – A Story of Love and Fury.” That arrival was further cemented the following year when Ale Abreu’s “Boy and the World” made it back-to-back Cristals for Brazil, and scored an Oscar nomination.
Brazilian film-TV agency Ancine has been a financial engine driving much of the growth in Brazilian cinema over the last decade. It is not the only public-sector finance, however.
“A lot of the growth has come from a combination of federal help as well as, especially in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, strong regional support,” according to Fabiano Gullane, a producer on animated feature “Noah’s Ark.” “An arsenal of incentives at our disposal that have made a difference.”
The economic impact a strong animation industry has on a territory can motivate governments — federal and regional — to incentivize work.
“Most institutions,” explains Leila Bourdoukan, former executive manager at Cinema do Brasil, “the culture secretaries, Brazil’s minister of culture and the state governments, have specific supports for animation. Animation is a labor-intensive activity which provides work for young people.”
According to Bourdoukan, the choice to produce was key to growth. Director Luiz Bolognesi agrees.
“One thing we did differently from other animation territories was that we decided not to act as a service industry, but as producers,” he says. “We chose to tell our stories in our very South American way, and it came like a breath of fresh air to the industry. We took the risk, and we won.”
The biggest Brazilian film to hit Cannes this year — indeed, one of the highest-budgeted Brazilian movies ever — is the in-production “Noah’s Ark,” a retelling of the Biblical story to the strains of bossa nova, produced by Gullane and Walter Salles. Pic, based on the songs by “The Girl From Ipanema” lyricist Vinicius de Moraes, is being sold by Edward Noeltner’s Cinema Management Group (CMG).
In the run-up to Cannes, “Noah’s Ark” has closed brisk pre-sales in Russia, China, much of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, among other territories.
Brazil is not, however, all about big budgets and mainstream marketability, or auteur-driven arthouse indie pics. Brazilian animation today represents many different genres and is aimed at different demographics. The lines between are beginning to blur.
Case in point: Gustavo Steinberg’s “Tito and the Birds.” A film with animation styling inspired by impressionist paintings, “Tito” follows a 10-year-old boy who teams with local pigeons to battle a fear pandemic. It has been picked up by Paris-based Indie Sales, the sales agent on major European animation features such as “My Life as a Zucchini” and “Another Day of Life,” which plays out of competition at Cannes.
According to Indie Sales marketing and festivals manager Martin Gondre, their experiences on “Zucchini,” which sold in 80-plus territories, show that auteur-driven animation — when paired with the right budget, commercial potential and a targeted audience — has strong international commercial potential.
This year, Brazilian animation auteur Otto Guerra will finally see the release of a film he has been working on for more than two decades, “City of Pirates.” A madcap film-within-a-film featuring a mix of the cartoonist and his characters, it will premiere as an Annecy fest Midnight Special.
“The Foreigner” is one of the most exciting early-stage products on the international animation stage, seeing Cristal winners Bolognesi and Abreu teaming to direct and produce, respectively. Set to be presented at this year’s Annecy Mifa Pitches, the film follows 13-year-old Helena who, in 1936, is kidnapped by the indigenous Yanomami in Amazonia. She lives with them for 20 years but never overcomes the daily struggle to reconcile the differences between her Catholic faith and the mystical cosmology of the Yanomami.