Pas­sion Play

Un­cov­ers hid­den gems and re­cap­tures the pi­o­neer­ing spirit of Al­varo Marins’ lost The Kaiser. By Tom McLean

Animation Magazine - - International -

An­i­ma­tion has proven its ap­peal to au­di­ences world­wide with hit af­ter hit. But the his­tory of an­i­ma­tion also spans the globe and pro­duces some un­ex­pected gems for those will­ing to seek them out.

Such was the case for di­rec­tor Ed­uardo Calvet and pro­ducer Felipe Hau­rel­huk, who col­lab­o­rated on an ef­fort to bring the un­ex­pect­edly rich his­tory of an­i­ma­tion in Brazil to light in the to doc­u­men­tary fea­ture Be­tween Frames: The Art of Brazil­ian An­i­ma­tion. The pair met when they both worked in Brazil­ian tele­vi­sion, where Calvet had done a se­ries called Brazil­ian Comics. A project on an­i­ma­tion seemed an ob­vi­ous fol­low up.

Tak­ing four years to make, Be­tween Frames un­cov­ers a pas­sion for an­i­ma­tion in Brazil­ian artists that runs back nearly a hun­dred years to the na­tion’s first an­i­mated film, The Kaiser. Made in 1917 by Al­varo Marins, who used the screen name Seth, no copy of The Kaiser is known to ex­ist.

And while the film it­self is gone, Be­tween Frames cap­tures at least some of its spirit as it chron­i­cles the ef­fort by a hand­ful of mod­ern Brazil­ian an­i­ma­tors to recre­ate The Kaiser from the few sur­viv­ing de­scrip­tions of its con­tent.

“Start­ing with The Kaiser, we started to re­cover other sto­ries, es­pe­cially the early ones,” Calvet said. The film fea­tures sam­ples of work from such early Brazil­ian an­i­ma­tors, such as Luis Seel, Roberto Miller, Stil and Mauri­cio da Sousa all the way up to mod­ern an­i­ma­tors like Car­los Sal­danha.

“All of them were pas­sion­ate an­i­ma­tors,” says Calvet. “They made ba­si­cally an­i­ma­tion their lives and they are not very well rec­og­nized here in Brazil, they are not fa­mous people.”

Many of the early an­i­ma­tors were in­spired by the works of — who else? — Walt Dis­ney. One such an­i­ma­tor was Ane­lio La­tini Filho, whose Ama­zon Sym­phony, re­leased in 1951, was the first an­i­mated fea­ture film from Brazil. Made over five years — with al­most all the work done by La­tini him­self — the film fol­lows the style of Dis­ney’s Fan­ta­sia, telling folk sto­ries over or­ches­tral mu­sic.

Hau­rel­huk says his big­gest chal­lenge was dig­ging up his­tor­i­cal ma­te­rial, lo­cat­ing an­i­ma­tors and also find­ing copies of the an­i­mated movies them­selves. Though the first steps were dif­fi­cult, once found, most of the people they found were very open and happy to talk about the work. “All the an­i­ma­tors we in­ter­viewed were so nice, so gen­tle with us,” he says.

The film, made for about $35,000, cov­ers other key out­lets for an­i­ma­tion — most no­tably ad­ver­tis­ing in the 1960s and 1970s, which of­fered the clos­est thing to an an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try Brazil had in those days.

Many of the na­tion’s an­i­ma­tors were self-taught and pur­sued an­i­ma­tion for the sim­ple rea­son they loved it, says Calvet. But while an­i­mated char­ac­ters were pop­u­lar in ads and in en­ter­tain­ment, lit­tle at­ten­tion was paid to who was do­ing it and why.

One of the few prior at­tempts to doc­u­ment Bra­zlian an­i­ma­tion was a book on its his­tory writ­ten by an­i­ma­tor An­to­nio Moreno and pub­lished in the late 1970s. It was a pre­cious re­source for Calvet and Hau­rel­huk as they worked on the film.

“He’s the one that knew about the news­pa­pers that had The Kaiser in­for­ma­tion, he’s the one that talked with the fam­ily of Al­varo Marins back in the ’70s, so he’s the one that kept this story alive,” says Calvet. “With­out Moreno’s work, our work could have been done, but it was not go­ing to be so good.”

Hav­ing col­lected ma­te­rial from all over Brazil left the film­mak­ers with hun­dreds of hours of ma­te­rial to sort through. The re­cre­ation of The Kaiser short gave the movie’s story a spine to form around.

The re­ac­tion to the movie, which has been screen­ing at fes­ti­vals, has been al­most uni­formly pos­i­tive, Hau­rel­huk says. The movie has screened at the Palm Beach In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val and is slated to screen at this year’s An­necy fes­ti­val.

That par­al­lels the grow­ing suc­cess of an­i­ma­tion in Brazil, which, if it’s not quite an in­dus­try, is at least set­ting the foun­da­tions will al­low one to grow here.

“We don’t have now a sta­ble in­dus­try, but we are start­ing to build one,” says Calvet. “We have a very strong fes­ti­val in Brazil, An­ima Mundi, that is grow­ing ev­ery year. It makes a lot of young people en­joy an­i­ma­tion, so we are start­ing to have a new gen­er­a­tion of an­i­ma­tors.”

This year also marks two ma­jor 100-year an­niver­saries — one for an­i­ma­tion lovers, and one for the world at large. An­necy will be mark­ing a century since the birth of Cana­dian film­maker Nor­man McLaren with a two-part shorts pro­gram meant to show­case how the artist’s work has in­spired oth­ers through­out the 20th century up to the present day, McLaren Now: Now Dance and McLaren Now: Odd Birds. Now Dance is end-capped by the di­rec­tor’s Be­gone Dull Care and Pas De Deux; Odd Birds by Blin­kety Blank and Le Merle.

An­other duet of shorts pro­grams will honor the 100-year an­niver­sary of the on­set of World War I. An­i­mate the Great War: The Hor­ror of the Trenches in­cludes en­tries from far flung cor­ners of the globe which ex­plore the ex­pe­ri­ences of soldiers en­coun­ter­ing mod­ern war­fare for the first time. The sec­ond raft of films, The Hopes of the Ar­mistice, of­fer a wider lens with which to view the broader scope of the war and how it touched the lives of the people off the bat­tle­field — un­sur­pris­ingly, this pro­gram is made en­tirely of French and Bel­gian en­tries.

The Kaiser

Nor­man McLaren

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