With two Academy Award nominations this year and the increased overall quality of productions made in the region, Latin American animation is rapidly evolving from a technique sporadically employed in those territories to a viable alternative medium for artists to explore both local and universal stories.
“Bear Story” (“Historia de un oso”) by Chilean animator Gabriel Osorio - currently nominated in the Best Animated Short category next to works by three previously nominated filmmakers and a Pixar production - tackles one of the darkest chapter’s in his country’s history through a personal CG animated narrative about a bear who copes with loss by sharing his story using an intricate diorama with handcrafted metal figurines.
Touching and delicately textured, the story, inspired by Osorio’s grandfather’s experiences, is sophistically written to be satisfying on an emotional level and carry its historical undertones subtly. Osorio talked to us about the memories that marked his childhood making animation in Chile, and storytellers’ responsibility to give us hope.
Carlos Aguilar: I know that your grandfather inspired “Bear Story." Tell me about his story and how did it become the basis for this animated short?
Gabriel Osorio: Mi grandfather was imprisoned after the coup d’état of 1973, during Pinochet’s dictatorship, and was then exiled to England simply because he was a public official during the socialist government. When I was born my grandfather was still living in exile and I grew up with this image of a grandfather that for some reason was forbidden from returning to the country and be with his family. That marked a great part of my childhood and that somehow pushed me tell the story of this character that is forcibly separated from his family and how terrible it is to return after many years in exile and realize that nothing is like it used to be.
CA: Though the short film works perfectly for a young audience, adults will understand the political and historical nuances that are also part of the story. Why was it important for you to have these two readings within the film?
Gabriel Osorio: From the very beginning I thought of making a story that could be seen by anyone, children or adults, for that reason it was important not to be literal or focus only on the historical or political aspects, but instead create a story that could speak about feelings and emotions with which any person can identify. In that sense, it was very important for me to have these distinct levels of interpretation, because they creates the possibility for new interpretations to be generated based on the experiences of each audience member. That’s always been the type of cinema that I want to make, which creates a dialogue with the audience and leaves spaces open for interpretation.
CA: How did the idea of using a bear and his story of being separated from his family and locked away in a circus as a metaphor to talk about your country’s dark past come about?
Gabriel Osorio: I met my grandfather when I was 10-years-old and what caught my attention the most was seeing how tall and big he was. He was like a bear. I believe that the use of this particular animal comes from that and the metaphor comes from trying to find an analogy between what he lived and what our family suffered living so many years away from him. For our team it was very important to convey a message about family and the importance of families remaining together.
CA: Tell me about the two visual styles that are you used in “Bear Story.” The present has a very particular elegant design, while the metal world of the music box seems even more meticulously crafted.
Gabriel Osorio: Both visual styles were a challenge in terms of the technical aspects because it in fact required us to make two different short films. In terms of the design and the art of the film, which was done by Antonia Herrera, it was important to show the details in the world of the metallic figures. I believe that the textures and the worn out details, contribute to creating the idea that there is a story behind the objects. They support the idea of this nostalgia and the idea that things were different in the past. It was also important to reflect the hard work and affection that the bear puts into the making of those figures because for him they represent his family, his memories. This also relates to the work we did as animators.
storytelling device for the film?Gabriel Osorio: Besides my grandfather’s story, the idea of a bear as a storyteller has to do with a metaphor about our work as animators and filmmakers. Despite the fact that the bear knows his life is not like he would like it to be, he still tries to pass along a positive message of hope. I think that we as animators have the responsibility of giving hope to the new generations, to understand that injustices exist and will always exist in the world, but we can always do our part so these stories don’t happen again.
CA: “Bear Story” is entirely a visual short. Why did you decide dialogue was unnecessary for the story you were trying to tell?
Gabriel Osorio: It was a decision based mostly on my personal preferences and the nostalgia for a type of cinema that is rare these days. One of my favorite films is “City Lights” by Chaplin, and I personally believe that if you can express yourself simply with images, those ideas will stay with the viewer. It also has to do with my training in Fine Arts. I specialized in oil paintings and the use of images.
CA; “Bear Story” has connected with audiences from different nationalities and ages, even though perhaps some of them might not know of the historical context. What do you think makes it a universal tale?
Gabriel Osorio: The film has screened in many festivals around the world and it has won awards in Taiwan, Australia, the U.S., Greece, the Netherlands, etc. It’s definitely a universal story, which was always our objective. I think this is due to the fact that it’s a very human tale, very sad and nostalgic, that captivates audiences and generates empathy for the character. After every screening people always ask the same thing, “What happened to the bear’s family?” People are intrigued after watching it.
Some people in Europe have associated the short with the Russian revolution and people in Taiwan with the Japanese invasion, so even though this happened in Chile, exile is something that has happened everywhere in the world and that’s why many people see themselves reflected in the film
CA: How hard is it to make animation in Chile in terms of financing and resources?
Gabriel Osorio: Within the region, Chile stands out in terms of programs and initiatives that support the making of audiovisual works, both in film and television. In recent years these programs have opened specific opportunities for animation, which has increased the production of animated works. What’s complicated is that the resources granted by these funds are still too low for the entire production of an animated feature and one can only submit a project for consideration once a year, which means that productions that don’t get these resources are stalled.
CA: Would you say Latin American animation is going through a period of growth and greater international exposure? If so, why do you think that is?
Gabriel Osorio: Without a doubt, Latin American animation is going trough a great moment, and proof of this is that “Bear Story” is nominated for Best Animated Short and “Boy and the World” for Best Animated Feature. Added to this, animated features and animated television series are being produced in the majority of the region’s countries, which stimulates the possibilities for co-productions and opens the window for the exhibition of Latin American animated cinema in Latin America and the world.
I believe this growth is due to the specialization of professionals working in animation and an interest for the content being produced to cross borders. Projects are being developed thinking in the global market, which allows them to reach more territories and screens.
CA: What was your reaction when you found out about the Oscar nomination?
Gabriel Osorio: It was a total surprise. Although we were hopeful since we got on the shortlist, it was still a dream that seemed far away and is now a reality. Two years ago I would have never imagined we would be in this position. The best part is that the nomination is not only positive for Punkrobot as an independent animation studio, but it’s also a tremendous accomplishment for Chile and Latin American animation I general.
CA: Do you plan to make an animated feature in the near future?
Gabriel Osorio: Yes we have a couple ideas on file and we are eager to make an animated feature. We feel that having made two animated series with 40 episodes in total, besides the short film, has given us the necessary experience to achieve it. We want to continue making stories that connect on an emotional level with the audience through messages and themes that are simple and universal.
You can watch "Bear Story" as part of Shorts HD's theatrical release of the 2016 Oscar Nominated Short Films - Animation playing in cities around the country now.