GoCritic! Industry: Portugal's BAP Studio at Animest
by Oana Darie
- Oana Darie explores Portuguese films at Animest and reports on the masterclass held by BAP Animation Studio, one of Europe's most exciting animation production companies
Portuguese animated films have been a reliable presence on the festival circuit in recent years, and they picked up top prizes at Animest this October: José Miguel Ribeiro’s Nayola [+see also:
film profile] won the Best Feature Film Award, while the Animest Trophy for Best Short Film went to Ice Merchants by Joao Gonzalez, which had previously scooped the Leitz Cine Discovery Prize at Cannes’ Critics’ Week. Laura Gonçalves, meanwhile, received a special mention for her film The Garbage Man. Gonçalves is part of BAP Animation Studio, on which Animest organised a special focus this year in order to find out how Portugal has reinvigorated its animation sector. Three filmmakers from BAP - Gonçalves, David Doutel and Vasco Sa - delivered a masterclass during which they told the story of their collective.
A group of 15 animators in Portugal, who love their work environment, are employed full-time doing nothing but making films and getting paid enough to live on. For many, it sounds like a utopia, which was the exact comment made by one particular audience member. BAP seems to have found that elusive recipe which has allowed them to carry on working together for the past ten years and reanimate the sector in Porto, a region that had no real animation scene before the collective moved in.
“We are a group of friends who like to work together”, Sa explains, and indeed, the most important aspect of their collaboration is that they strive to ensure that working on a project isn’t just tolerable or doable, but fun. The group started out in 2011 as part of Bandoaparte, a production company which didn’t have an animation component at the time. To begin with, this fruitful alliance allowed the animators in question to get on and do their thing. As recognition from festivals and the wider industry slowly became part of their reality, the group focused on how to stay together from one project to the next. Naturally, there came a time when this autonomy evolved into a need for full control of the workflow, so BAP Studio came into existence in 2018 as “a cooperative formed by a collective of directors, animators and storytellers who believe in the power of collaboration”, as they describe themselves. Gonçalves insists that they “don’t just share space, but values, interests and political stances too”.
At BAP Studio’s core is the idea of a horizontally organised collective where roles are swapped from one project to the next, based on existing individual strengths, or in order to allow its members to develop the different skills required to successfully complete projects - which they have done plenty of over the past four years.
Their ethic stems from a genuine desire to make animated films, and they don’t have to produce commercials on the side, unlike many of their colleagues who must do so in order to make a living and create what they really want to. So it’s a complex situation where a balance must be struck between securing government funding by proposing feasible and intriguing stories, and accessing co-production markets to find the right partners and fill funding gaps.
Coming from different backgrounds, the collective brings a sense of multi-disciplinarity to their working experience, and this is why, Sa stresses, “working with us is safer for people who are making their first films, someone who is starting out can draw on [our] experience and invest it in something truly meaningful”.
They have twelve shorts in their portfolio and enjoy a steady stream of outings at top-level animation film festivals, ranging from Annecy, Animafest Zagreb, Hiroshima and Anima Brussels to AnimaMundi. In addition to Ice Merchants, Cannes and Toronto also screened some of their shorts in their Panorama sections, such as Drop by Drop by Gonçalves and Alexandra Ramires (Xá).
BAP is now facing another challenge: making the transition to animated features and series. But they’re cautious: “We never apply to funds with more projects than we can actually produce”, says Doutel.
In addition to their eight short films currently in production, they also have a feature film and two series pilots on the way. This means that BAP Studio needs to grow their team, but a group keen on preserving good vibes within their work environment doesn’t take lightly to such a transformation. “We don’t want to follow a model, we want to create our own”, Doutel points out. “We genuinely believe that it’s about adding value to each other’s lives, not about expanding a company”.
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