For the second time in its history, Chile is in the running for an Oscar for animated shorts. Bestiedirected by Hugo Covarrubias and produced by Tevo Diaz, uses stop-motion animation to portray the dark and evil spirit of Íngrid Olderöck, a woman responsible for torture and human rights abuses during the Chilean dictatorship of the 70s and 80s.
This nomination is the latest step in what has been an exciting time for the country’s animation industry, which is gaining recognition on the world stage: Los Huésos won the Venice Film Festival in 2021 and Nahuel and the magic book was nominated at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, a prestigious French film festival, for best feature film. In fact, Chile have been nominated for Annecy three years in a row now. In 2016, the country received its first Oscar for bear story.
But this growth did not happen overnight. “I wouldn’t call it a boom, because it seems unexpected,” said Germán Acuña, director of Nahuel and the magic book. “I think what is happening with Chilean animation is sustained growth that results from several factors related to the professionalization of the animation sector.”
In the 90s, the advent of new technologies helped make the animation industry in Latin America more accessible. It used to be that hand-drawn animation could be expensive and time-consuming, but modern technologies such as CGI and the Internet have reduced production and distribution costs.
“So instead of having all these frames and all the cameras and inking departments, you had one tool to do it all. So it became much more accessible,” said animation expert Oslavia Linares and Latin American visual artist. . And the more animation was produced, the more it was distributed. Cable networks quickly made animation more prominent in the region, shaping public taste.
Around the same time, Chile was undergoing a political transition that resulted in more stability in the art world, Linares says. The end of the Pinochet dictatorship and the transition to democracy in the 90s provided directors and creators with more favorable and peaceful conditions for making art. Linares says the impact of this trend can be seen across Latin America: countries that have more democratic and stable governments tend to be those with larger arts scenes, thanks to more government funding. .
That’s not the only way the country’s politics have been linked to its animation industry: Chile’s political past has been a recurring topic in the country’s animation. bear storywhich won the Oscar in 2016, was an allegory of military dictatorship and Los Huésos is about an exhumation of two controversial figures in the country’s history.
“Among other things, what we wanted was to explore our wounds, wounds that the dictatorship has clearly left in this country. But instead of trying to close them, we want to cross them, try to cross their edges to try to make them finally crack a part of ourselves and try to understand them before closing them,” Covarrubias said.
To do this, however, Chilean animators have had to work with an audience that continues to believe that animation is just for kids. Historically, says Linares, animation has been understood as cinema’s younger brother – often the “ugly duckling”. But, for Covarrubias, “it is very attractive to be able to tell deep, psychological and existential stories through a medium that is widely prejudiced on a global scale”.
There is now a growing infrastructure to support Chilean animation. There are nearly ten animation schools that have played a significant role in nurturing the next generation of artists. Chilean animators also continue to participate in film festivals abroad, which gives them the opportunity to network with other artists and distribute their films internationally. In the early 2010s, the creation of ChileMonos, one of the biggest animation film festivals in Latin America, allowed creatives from the industry to exhibit their work. In 2013, the creation of Animachi, an animation guild, gave Chilean filmmakers the opportunity to work together on the distribution, advice and awareness of their films.
And of course, bear story winning the Oscar in 2016 inspired a new generation of artists to aspire to be on the biggest stage in the world.
“[Chile] had other nominations, but it was very motivating to know that the first Oscar was an animated film,” said Covarrubias, director of Bestie“That’s when we realized there was global potential and it resulted in the spirit we have now.”
Despite their growth, however, filmmakers and animators in Chile are still struggling with low budgets. Covarrubias said that it is complicated to obtain private funding when it touches on such controversial political issues, and that the public funds available are low and very competitive.
“Our biggest challenge right now is helping the Chilean government understand that animation has the potential to support social and economic growth,” Acuña said.
Even then, Chilean animators strive to distinguish themselves from their foreign counterparts. They do not seek to be the Disney or Pixar of Latin America, but rather to create their own identity, in search of the most poetic ways of telling the stories of their country.