Portuguese Animation Shines as Annecy Country of Honor

For good reason, Portugal is this year’s Country of Honor at the Annecy Animation Festival. A decade ago, new government financing structures were put in place that have helped create a young and vibrant industry that has earned critical and awards praise around the world, including the country’s first-ever Oscar nomination.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Portugal’s burgeoning animation scene is its incredible diversity. Local artists are competing in the biggest festivals around the world with traditional 2D animated work, stellar stop-motion, mixed-media titles and, increasingly, sharp CG animation of a quality that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

According to Fernando Galrito, artistic director of Monstra Festival, “In my opinion, the absence of a strong ‘aesthetic school’ imposing plastic guidelines, technical, aesthetic, or narrative rules, allowed for a variety of artistic approaches and creative freedom that led to a great conceptual diversity.”

He continues, “The strong link to a cultural tradition that unites the oral, the poetic, and a certain apparent naivety makes these films peculiar and unique in a world increasingly characterized by uniformity through globalized media, contributing to the creation of films with a clearly identifiable Portuguese soul.”

Regular collaborators Laura Gonçalves and Alexandra Ramires have worked together on a string of high-profile award-winning titles, including Gonçalves “The Garbage Man,” which won the grand prize at Zagreb, and Ramires’ “Tie,” which competed at Zagreb and Toronto on the way to a Portuguese Film Academy Sophia Award for best animated short. Their latest collaboration, “Percebes,” screens in this year’s short film competition at Annecy.

According to the duo, the largest contributing factor to Portugal’s emerging industry is “Collective structures of auteurs who also produce their films.”  Gonçalves and Ramires, for example, are part of BAP – Animation Studios, an organization of leading Portuguese animation professionals whose names often appear in the credits of each other’s work.

Another example can be found at Cola Animation, a Portuguese-baseed international co-op that backs auteur animation production. The organization’s ranks include standout artists such as Vier Nev, whose upcoming project “The Dance of the Fanchonos,” is participating at this year’s MIFA, and João Gonzalez, director of the Oscar-nominated and Cannes Critics’ Week-winning animated short “Ice Merchants.” Also at Cola, debut filmmaker Diogo Costa is working on “The Hunt,” a first-of-its-kind (for Portugal) CG-animated horror short that further emphasizes the adventurous nature of the country’s creators.

“The 21st century brought more animation schools, new studios and a new wave of directors emerged,” says Galrito. “They maintained the same quality of narrative, aesthetics, and technique as in previous periods, also winning awards all over the world.”

Sardinha em Lata is one of the region’s leading animation production companies in both artistic and commercial terms and one of the few companies currently capable of getting an animated feature film into production. Examples include the 2022 Annecy competition player “My Grandfather’s Demons” and the promising upcoming project “The Day Ewan McGregor Introduced Me to His Parents.”

Elaborating on the more practical factors fueling this generation of Portuguese animation, Gonçalves and Ramires explained, “Our main funding source, ICA, has added regulations to safeguard new artists that receive support each year, as well as the creative freedom of what we do.”

Foreign funding opportunities are fewer in Portugal than in other territories with more established industries. While companies like Netflix, Warner Bros. Discovery and Amazon have ordered originals and commissioned service work from studios in France, Spain and the U.K., Portugal doesn’t have that kind of relationship with the big global distirbutors.

“Unfortunately, we have not felt the impact of big global platforms,” says Diogo Carvalho, lead producer at Sardinha em Lata. “From what I know, they haven’t produced or acquired a single Portuguese animated title.”

So, where do Portuguese artists go to find financing when they want to get a project off the ground? Carvalho says, “The path must be finding the funding you can get and looking for co-producers. Once you have those things in place, you can apply for European funds to finalize a production budget.

A decade ago, Portugal’s Instituto do Cinema e do Audiovisual (ICA) launched a new funding scheme for audiovisual productions, including animation. This scheme has led to greater involvement with foreign partners, and it’s no coincidence that the art form has seen impressive growth in the ten years since.

A group of Portuguese professionals, including Carvalho, ICA advisor Nuno Fonseca, Creative Europe executive coordinator Susana Costa Pereira and “Nayola” director-producer José Miguel Ribeiro will host a discussion in Annecy to talk about the recent history of public funding for animation in Portugal. Topics will include legal frameworks, Portuguese co-production and funding.

International co-productions that spend at least €500,000 ($540,000) in Portugal can receive cash rebates of up to 25-30% of their expenditures. The percentage is based on a “cultural test” focused on the project’s characteristics. Rebates cap at €1.5 million ($1.6 million). Funds are managed by the Portuguese Film and Audiovisual Institute (ICA), the Tourism Board, and the Portugal Film Commission.

Gonçalves and Ramires say they’ve seen the benefits of attracting foreign investment through the cash rebate plan. “There has been more co-production, which has brought learning experiences. There are more schools graduating more people who specialize in animation. Recent funding for animated features, as well as increased support for short films, has created more opportunities. Creating opportunities for creators creates opportunities to build structures and technical teams,” they argue.

Some grey clouds continue to loom over Portugal’s still-young industry. According to Carvalho, most artists still can’t make a living on just the wages paid by local productions. “With only the film institute and public broadcasters investing in productions, budgets are still too low and it can be difficult to finance sufficient manpower.”

That said, after the rise in remote work during the pandemic, more and more Portuguese artists are able to split their time between local work and remote gigs for foreign productions. “Working remotely became more common, and professionals now have the opportunity to work on better-paying projects abroad without having to leave the country, providing them with much better economic conditions,” Carvalho added.

There is an added benefit to the rise of remote work as well, in that local animators who work remotely on big-budget foreign projects learn skills they can utilize when working on domestic projects.

Bolstered by an ambitious new generation of well-trained and educated animation talent that is now receiving the backing they need to match that ambition, Portugal’s animation industry is on the rise and deserving of extra focus at this year’s Annecy Animation Festival.

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