Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury, winner of Annecy’s top prize, is among the more adult and arty Oscar contenders for best animated feature. Mixing ideology with fantasy, Rio traces the history of Brazil through six centuries of colonization, slavery, and war through the love story between an immortal warrior and his reincarnated soulmate. First-time director Luiz Bolognesi discusses the making of his $2.5 million Brazilian feature in the following email exchange.
Bill Desowitz: Talk about embracing fantasy and social resistance in an animated feature, and structuring it around colonization, slavery, military control, and the dystopian future.
Luiz Bolognesi: Animation is capable to go beyond superego defense strategies and touch deep human being contents as no other art expression. It can be used only for profits or to make us think different. Both events are not excluding, I agree. I saw Bambi when I was four- years-old. It was my first experience with cinema. For the very first time in my life I was told that my parents would die and human being — as hunters — would be the evil. It was the most subversive experience of my life. Rio 2096, a story of love and fury tries to be loyal to two traditions of good animation: the capacity of revealing that evil is us and the power of giving mass audience the chance to face its real image at the mirror. We are the result of facts, not speech. We are the result of what our antecedents and we did. We, white people of America, from south and north, are genocides, even if western films tried to tell the opposite. I structured Rio 2096 to make audience think about it. Not forgetting Shakespeare when he says human adventure is an experience of sound and fury. I think he was trying to say love and fury and didn’t take the best word.
BD: Talk about the research process and working with history and anthropology students. What did you dig up that proved useful?
LB: I studied anthropology at Sao Paulo University for five years and it gave me the toolbox I use for working on cinema. I decided to tell the history of America from the viewpoint of the American people, I mean the American civilizations that were here before European people have arrived. So I invited a group of five university students of anthropology, history and psychology to work with me in a long term research. We worked hard and the most interesting aspect we dug up was to build a narrative based on Indians mythology. It works very well. As Hollywood dramas come from Greek mythology structure, we decided to build our dramatic arc on American civilization mythology, even if we knew we were going to do a pop film.
BD: At what point did you decided to tell the story from the POV of the Tupinamba? Were you surprised to learn that there are parallels to the Native Americans?
LB: The history of America is the history of a genocide that didn’t end yet, the genocide of American civilizations. We talk a lot about holocaust and it is very important having it alive in mind, but we ignore the genocide of America’s people. They are alive, trying to survive with their culture and we continue to kill them slowly, in a systematic way, as Nazis. Instead of making a melodrama with the subject, I thought it would be more honest and efficient go deeper and I decided to build a pop epic feature about a Tupinamba warrior, from the people who lived in Rio de Janeiro before French and Portuguese have arrived. Telling the history of Tupinambas of Rio de Janeiro, I am also telling a little bit the history of Lenape or Iroquois people from New York.
BD: The great thing about animation is that there are no boundaries. You could time travel and go effortlessly back and forth between a 16th century war to Rio in 2096 with space ships and draw interesting visual and thematic parallels. What was that like as director, let alone a first-time feature director?
LB: Hell and paradise at the same time since it was the first time for almost everyone in the cast team. I have worked as screenwriter for several features from different directors, but it was my first time as director. We felt like flying in a plane and having to read the manual to fly at the same time. It was really hard and dangerous, but at the same time it made us very instinctive and passionate. Nobody in the cast was doing a job. Everybody worked as an author with a lot of responsibility, since may be nobody in the team would know more about what he was doing than himself. It brings a lot of commitment and it is very important for the success of any odyssey. I loved to work with such an engaged and talented group.
BD: And yet at its heart, this is an immortal love story.
LB: It may sounds very stupid, I know, but I believe in love. As any important feeling and expression, it has been vulgarized a lot but what can we do? I don’t feel capable to tell any story if it is not about love, even if it is an epic tragedy. Love for me is the most sophisticated form that one can give for his desire, may be the only faith is remarkable on human being. The hero of Rio 2096 is a loser. Such a big loser that he cannot even commit suicide, because he was forbidden to do that by Munha, the Tupinamba most loved God. He sees the
genocide of his people and is killed several times. But he comes up again and again and continues to fight, even if he knows he will ever lose — like Sísifo — only because of the beautiful eyes of Janaina, a Tupinamba Indian girl. I believe it is what really moves history.
BD: What was it like coming up with the look and design: riffing on your love of anime, graphic novels, Heavy Metal and Latin American history and mythology?
LB: It was a big and fascinating adventure. Initially I decided to work with a character style developed by Fabio Moon e Gabriel Ba, very famous and talented twin brothers from Brazil who work on graphic novels. But as our budget was under two million dollars we were not capable to develop that. The cast of animators would need a lot of time to get hands for that. So we did what was possible. Since I was sure it should be hand made, because I want the characters to have soul, and I could find a cast of young Brazilians animators who had made jobs for Disney style, we took it. We call this “cultural anthropophagy.” We get external influences and transform it deeply by ruminating it. Since I am 12, I love — this is the perfect use of the term — graphic novels. These special kind of comics opened my mind and impressed in my soul the possibility of telling great stories with fantasy and sophisticated colors and figures. That has been our aim all the time.
BD: Talk about going for an expressionistic style with art director Anna Caiado as opposed to the prevailing naturalism we see in most American animated features.
LB: The beautiful backgrounds — very realistic and full of details but at the same time extra valued on density and colors — was a present of God Munha to me. He gave me the chance to work with Anna Caiado, the art director and biggest talent of the film in my opinion. She worked all the time with references from graphic novels like Frank Miller, Moebius, Bilal, and others, but with a personal style and a lot of iconography research.
BD: How was the animation team assembled and where?
LB: The team came directly from schools. Bruno Monteiro, the animation director, was the most experienced of them that naturally became the leader because the team used to ask his opinion for everything. So, he was not the animation director in the beginning, but he took the place since he was much more engaged with the film than his own chief. World don’t need chiefs. We need engaged, talented leaders.
BD: Why did you choose to hand animate on paper with digital cleanup and compositing instead of going the paperless digital route? What kind of software did you use? And why did you prefer animating on threes and fours?
LB: I decided to work on hand animate because the animators work as authors in every little scene and it brings real soul for characters. Our choice was animate on threes and fours because it was better linked to our budget and communicates well with anime style, what was one of our biggest influences.
BD: Talk about the color palette and acting style and the voice talent of Selton Mello and Camila Pitanga and Rodrigo Santoro.
LB: The color palette was inspired in graphic novel style, with the predominance of only one color for each sequence. At the same time, even if the film is structured in four episodes, we see among them the ripening of the protagonist from youngness to maturity, so we worked with the concept of the four stations of the year for each episode: autumn, winter, spring, and summer.About acting, I knew that to tell a strong story with real taste of an epic tragedy needs great actors. As the Bible, in an animation in the beginning it is the verb. For my luck, Rodrigo, Selton, and Camila accepted my invitation.
BD: Looking back, what is the takeaway for you about working in animation and pushing narrative and stylistic boundaries.
LB: Looking back makes me feel the same the protagonist in the film: we cannot desist. We shall try our best and be radical when we are looking for our aim. We have been working in this film for six years, more four previous years of research and screenplay. I mostly heard it was crazy and no value work but here we are. People watching it all over the world, respectful attention from USA critics and the unimaginable award of best feature at Annecy 2013.