Regina Guimarães, born in Porto, is a multi-faceted artist, poet and university lecturer. As well as teaching French and drama, her work develops simultaneously or alternately in several artistic fields, which are often in dialogue with each other. She is a translator, playwright, video director, screenwriter, lyricist, author of plays and children’s songs, and more. [Source: Wikipedia]


Zepe: You’ve already worked with quite a few filmmakers on short films, feature films, a film review, critical texts and so on. And you’ve recently been working with animation directors. It would be interesting to know how you construct your scripts, even though you don’t consider yourself a professional scriptwriter. You’re moving away from the standard way of working, so I’d like to ask you whether a script, even a well-crafted one, is a good starting point for an animated work.

Regina Guimarães: It’s a necessary contribution as long as the directors think it is. For a very long time, when I was making little video diaries, I was afraid to pick up a camera and film. Then one day, I said to myself “I’m no more stupid than anyone else“, and I took my camera and filmed myself, but not necessarily any less well than others. And, I think, even a little better because it’s not always very easy for me to explain what I want. So by doing it myself, I certainly do it better in the sense that, personally, I find that what I’m filming and the way I’m filming it is best suited to what I’m looking for. So to answer the question, writing for animation is only necessary insofar as the director, the artist who makes animation, does not take the road of writing, as long as he does not say to himself “I went to school, I learned to read and write, I too can write“. Animation filmmakers often have to go through bodies like juries at the Instituto do Cinema e do Audiovisual, or other institutions in other countries, places where they can get money to work. And in these places, you have to submit a standard file that looks like a template. You need training to do this sort of thing, of course. You need to know more than just how to read and write.

Zepe:  I understand that you’re developing this aspect of things, i.e. a standardised dossier so that the juries can assess it and have grounds for awarding grants.
I’m going to start with a much simpler question: have you ever written scripts for directors you don’t know? Because the Instituto do Cinema e do Audiovisual in Portugal can award writing grants without you necessarily knowing who the director will be. Or are you opposed to this idea because you think that writing is writing for someone? It’s not about writing in the air.

RG: Writing means writing for someone, of course. Even when I’m not writing scripts, even if I’m not thinking about someone in particular, I’m writing for someone because otherwise I’d just have ideas, images, situations, analogies in my head and I’d keep them in this drawer we call the brain, and I wouldn’t need to write anything down. So you’re always writing for someone. That said, sometimes it’s pragmatic. In other words, that someone can be very specific and concrete. It’s called a jury. The jury has to be able to read the project in a way that’s pleasant and not too chaotic.
But I don’t intend to do animation. So writing for a director who needs someone to write for him is a way of extending my own writing, not by trying to steal his place as author, but in the sense that all the writing related to my writing is a form of constant learning to listen. Writing is about listening. In my case, writing poetry is my nuclear writing. And I learn a lot. My lifelong schooling, so to speak, is translation, which is very important in my life, and writing for others, whether it’s for animation or live action.
It’s an extension of the obscure work I do when I write poetry. Whenever I’ve worked with directors, except with Saguenail because we know each other too well, we write a beautiful script, beautiful or not because that’s presumption on my part, and then the director often does something completely different. And that’s fine, I don’t think he’s perfectly entitled to do that because it’s his film. In fact, if I were really a co-author in the full sense of the word, it wouldn’t be possible. Everyone thinks what I’m saying is absolutely corny, I know. If animated films want to emancipate themselves as a complete art form, they must first impose the fact that to make an animated film, you don’t need to write a shoddy novel to fill I don’t know how many pages, and that there are other ways of assessing whether an artist has the qualities required to receive a certain amount of money to carry out their projects. We need to create the conditions so that young people who are just starting out can make short films with a little money so that they can practise – for everything in life, you have to practise a little. And even when the director feels the need to have a written document, which often also serves as a mediation with the other members of the team (because the other members of the team don’t have the film in their heads, so we need to know where we’re going at all times), I think the freedom lies in being able to do it without the intervention of a writing technician. Or possibly having an assistant there to scribble words on paper.
I’m not saying this against filmmakers, but you can’t imagine that a novelist, for example, who has to write a human comedy for the 21ᵉ century, would have recourse to a collaborator. There are people who do that of course, but it’s not called literature. This is the case, for example, with actors, with very famous people who use someone who knows how to write to write their life story. This is sometimes quite respectable, because some people have very important things to tell and would be incapable of telling them, of putting them down in writing. These people use a ‘ghostwriter’, don’t they, but that’s not called literature. For animation, it’s exactly the same thing, in my opinion. There’s no difference at all. It’s an extension of the obscure work I do when I write poetry. Whenever I’ve worked with directors, except with Saguenail because we know each other too well, we write a beautiful script, beautiful or not because that’s presumption on my part, and then the director often does something completely different. And that’s fine, I don’t think he’s perfectly entitled to do that because it’s his film. In fact, if I were really a co-author in the full sense of the word, it wouldn’t be possible. Everyone thinks what I’m saying is absolutely corny, I know. If animated films want to emancipate themselves as a complete art form, they must first impose the fact that to make an animated film, you don’t need to write a shoddy novel to fill I don’t know how many pages, and that there are other ways of assessing whether an artist has the qualities required to receive a certain amount of money to carry out their projects. We need to create the conditions so that young people who are just starting out can make short films with a little money so that they can practise – for everything in life, you have to practise a little. And even when the director feels the need to have a written document, which often also serves as a mediation with the other members of the team (because the other members of the team don’t have the film in their heads, so we need to know where we’re going at all times), I think the freedom lies in being able to do it without the intervention of a writing technician. Or possibly having an assistant there to scribble words on paper.
I’m not saying this against filmmakers, but you can’t imagine that a novelist, for example, who has to write a human comedy for the 21ᵉ century, would have recourse to a collaborator. There are people who do that of course, but it’s not called literature. This is the case, for example, with actors, with very famous people who use someone who knows how to write to write their life story. This is sometimes quite respectable, because some people have very important things to tell and would be incapable of telling them, of putting them down in writing. These people use a ‘ghostwriter’, don’t they, but that’s not called literature. For animation, it’s exactly the same thing, in my opinion. There’s no difference at all.

Z: If I’m not mistaken, you say that artists might need to start writing if they really want to make films. Personally, and I’m also putting this question to the other authors here, when I draw from a feeling, a desire, even if I don’t know exactly what triggers it, I write. But when I go through the text, I filter and something gets lost in the process. It’s as if I take away the strength of the drawings to come. To explain further, even a poetic text could resolve this issue. I don’t know where you stand on that.

RG: When I work with people, I try to adopt a position that suits them. It’s not a question of cowardice, it’s a question of pragmatism. To work with someone, you have to enter their world, and their world is also their way of working, their way of being in the world, and so on. So I adapt. I don’t work in the same way with everyone. That wouldn’t be possible. Otherwise it would lead directly to a conflictual relationship. That’s not what I’m looking for in this listening exercise. So the work depends on the people involved.
If I’ve understood what you’re saying correctly, it’s that if you put ideas for a film sequence down on paper, you have the impression that it exhausts the ideas and that, when you go to make the film, there’s already an energy that’s been lost at the writing stage. Is that right?

Z: You’ve touched on a very important point: there are sometimes conflicts between scriptwriters and authors. Why is that? Because a writer isn’t sure of himself. They’re suspicious from the start. The scriptwriter has revealed something, but there’s something wrong and he or she doesn’t know how to explain it. Going through the writing process necessarily generates conflict if you’re not flexible. It’s not a question of personalities, it’s a clash between two different processes.

RG: You have to make a clear distinction between conflict, which is part of life and helps the work progress – because I believe that if there is no conflict in the work, then you’re not working – and conflict that generates discomfort.
When Saguenail edits his own films, he has a sense of time that I don’t have. He also edits my little filmed biographical sketches. I don’t do that with others, I do it with him because I’ve lived with him for 50 years, and that creates rights. It creates rights. It’s not to piss him off or to get back at him for something. Conflict is at the heart of the work, because the work of an artist consists of deliberately entering into a dialogue with ‘reality’, in inverted commas, and having to use friction to resolve the conflicts that characterise us as human beings.

Saguenail & Regina Guimarães

Z: You defend the idea of confrontation as a necessary stage in working together.

RG: Not confrontation, conflict.

Z: The question is Can a drawing be described? The conflict often comes from the fact that an image functions as a concept. It’s difficult to go from drawing to writing. A comic-strip scriptwriter often ends up producing clichés about images, when in fact they are sensitive.

Georges Sifianos: In my opinion, to write a script for animation, you have to start from the plastic and animated work. You have to think and write with the material, taking into account the technique and the visual effect you want to achieve. For example, when you’re sculpting, you can’t make the same sculpture in marble as in bronze. Marble cannot have so many parts that stand out from the mass, as can bronze. Otherwise, the sculpture becomes very fragile. The material is essential.
The basic material of live-action cinema is naturalism. Animated films can also be naturalistic, but they also have the potential for a wide range of expressions. If we ignore this potential, we will unintentionally push the script into a naturalistic vein.
For example, in Caroline Leaf’s magnificent film The Street, a dying grandmother wants to kiss her grandson, but he doesn’t want to. At one point, the grandmother grabs the boy’s left arm. This arm slides over his body and gradually becomes his right arm, before the child can free himself and leave. This can be described as I have just done, but you can’t imagine it if you don’t know what you can do with animation. It really is a very expressive cinematographic solution, specific to animation, highlighting the child’s psychology.

A second example can be seen in the films of Gil Alkabetz, but also in the films of Raimund Krumme and, in the past, in the films of Felix the cat. Gil Alkabetz often uses visual puns. You have to familiarise yourself with the spirit of this approach for a long time before you can develop ideas that follow a similar logic. The material is very important if you want to come up with a coherent script.

RG: There should be other ways of evaluating animation projects, because when we present a project, the materiality of the thing is very much absent. This has to do with the problem of the triumph of specialisation in our technocratic world, the way we look at things and the way we want them to be increasingly standardised. I totally agree with what you’re saying, except for one thing, which is that, even in live-action cinema, I think there are approaches that are not naturalistic, just as in literature there are novels that are not novelistic. I’m thinking of Gombrowicz, who can go on for pages and pages about the shivering of a hanging towel that causes nausea in the person looking at it. It’s something that seems a priori unspeakable with the means of writing.
Animation is, by definition, the antithesis of naturalism. Having said that, about this scriptwriting thing… What is a script? It’s telling a story. In that sense, animation is following the same path as cinema, i.e. it began to assimilate elements from theatre, novels and painting, and mixed them all together to create talking pictures, which tell stories in the overwhelming majority of cases. But it’s not forced. I think that, in animated cinema, there are also a lot of objects produced that are different from live-action cinema, commercially only because of the way they are made. Basically, it depends on what you want to do: if you want to make money or if you want to build something that allows you to surpass yourself.
I learnt a lot about the screenplay when I interviewed Jean-Claude Carrière for a film magazine in the 90s. Talking about his work with Luis Buñuel, he said “With Buñuel, what I do is force him to make the film he wants to make“. I don’t think there could be a better explanation of what screenwriting is in the sense that I understand it as possible writing.

Luis Buñuel & Jean-Claude Carrière

In animation, I would like to see more and more filmmakers focusing on the material they are working with, as in the example you gave. Like poetry, which works with words and which is, among other things, a movement of thought and a gesture that allows thought to be put into words, and which, among other things, in so doing, forces those who write and those who read to stop and think instead of being in a kind of permanent hurricane.
In relation to writing and image: I’ve been working for a friend who’s a kind of mad editor on an anthology of nineteenth-century French prose poems, trying to retrace the history of the prose poem and describe the way it emerged as a form of expression. The best-known example is Gaspard de la nuit, which is based on engravings by Rembrandt and Callot. These texts, which are totally connected with the engravings, start from the engravings, but do not describe the engravings, nor explain them, nor generate ad hoc stories. There can be extremely hybrid objects, which open, I would even say, break down doors. After all, once this book had influenced Baudelaire and others, the prose poem was almost as popular in the twentieth century in the Western world as the poem that was not subject to the rules of versification. It also contributed to the triumph of non-rhymed and non-metrical poetry.

So this simple gesture of meeting two forms of expression, an unexpected meeting because it started from a whim, has left very deep marks in the history of poetry.
I understand what you are saying. Between the images and the writing, it can be totally disappointing. This does not necessarily mean that the relationships between the written word and the moving image, the animation, are necessarily as poor, as sterile, as necrotic, I would say.

Z: So this simple gesture of meeting two forms of expression, an unexpected meeting because it started from a whim, has left very deep marks in the history of poetry.
I understand what you are saying. Between the images and the writing, it can be totally disappointing. This does not necessarily mean that the relationships between the written word and the moving image, the animation, are necessarily as poor, as sterile, as necrotic, I would say.

Siza Vieira

RG: I don’t know if you’re talking about Siza Vieira’s preparatory drawings, his architectural drawings or…

Z: Yes, his preparatory drawings, but I could also talk about those of Rodin…

RG: It’s quite an interesting story. My father knew Siza Vieira very well when he was young. Besides, we have paintings of him at home. What he wanted to do in life was become a painter. He fell back on architecture like anyone who has high enough standards to not stoop to settling for mediocrity. He told himself he wanted to do things he wouldn’t be ashamed of. So he went into another field, architecture. If one day there is a major retrospective of Siza Vieira’s plastic production, we will realize that it was the encounter with architectural drawing that completely changed his drawing. What is very interesting is that this man who draws houses and museums has never stopped drawing. It is very beautiful. Because drawing is a very liberating activity. It is a way of expressing oneself perhaps more direct than writing, that remains to be proven. But the continuous exercise of drawing maintains a connection between the hand and the brain. I don’t know if it is possible to educate children by frustrating the vocation for drawing or the practice of drawing. It is therefore, in my opinion, the encounter with architecture that changed and gave rise to his drawings. What he did at the beginning was very beautiful but it’s neo-realism in its own way – which is less conventional but it’s still neo-realism. Afterwards his drawing moved towards a form of stylization, of simplification where the gesture is totally essential. There was a very important exhibition in Porto. His first wife, who died very young, was a very great designer. This relationship between these two beings who learned together, this relationship, which involves drawing, has surely overdetermined the perpetuation of his activity as a designer. The fact that he became an architect caused his drawing to evolve.

GS: Sorry, but, just to refocus on the animation, I didn’t very well understand the relationship between drawing and writing in this example.

RG: No, it was Zepe who mentioned Vieira, about the quality of the relationship with life of this architect, very well known in Portugal and known worldwide. He continued to draw all his life. In the drawings that he has been creating for a number of years and which are not intended for his architectural practice, we feel the importance of the intersection of his initial training as a painter with the know-how acquired from the architect. And the look of the architect.

GS: There, it was an example between architecture and drawing. What about writing and drawing?

RG: This was the example given by Gaspard de la nuit. Engravings gave rise to texts, we can therefore imagine that words give rise to images. But for it to really be an artistic challenge, it would have to not be as functional as the relationship which normally exists between the writing of the screenplay, which is a technical text and which allows, as I said earlier time, communication between the various members of the team, and the work of the designer or rather the animator. Without the drawings being a kind of attempt to translate the text. And even when we translate certain texts, we are obliged to move away a little from literality otherwise we risk destroying the work of the author we are translating. This obviously requires quite serious reading to undertake this exercise. This happens a lot with poetry. They tell you that so-and-so is an immense poet, you read the translation and you say to yourself, but where is the immense poet? Because something is missing. With Saguenail, we worked in prison with prisoners, we produced The Oresteia. We did readings. The Portuguese translations of The Oresteia are indigestible. When we think that Aeschylus’ trilogy is dramatic poetry!!! It is meant to train the ears and hearts of those who listen. Translations also do this job to some extent.

William Henne: Through these interviews and these articles that we produce here around writing in animation, we are not trying to identify general laws around the specificity of writing for animation, that would be chimerical. It is not a question of defining writing for animation in opposition to writing for live action, dramatic, poetic or novelistic writing. Rather, we aim to inventory individual approaches. And besides, it ties in with what you said earlier about the dialogue, even the conflict that arises between you as a screenwriter and the directors. And in that sense, to exemplify this collaboration, do you remember a scene that had to be written where the question of animation was at stake or the aesthetics of the director were at stake?

RG: For example, I started working with a former student of Zepe, on a story she had invented. The story of the relationship that develops between a girl who has a huge head and a very small body and a man who has a very large body and a very small head. One is forced to use an artificial body that looks a bit like a diver’s equipment and the other is forced to wear a mask. At the beginning of the film, the character is walking his dog which is dying. His eye twitches. He ends up dying. We had a long discussion: once he dies, he quickly transforms into a fleshless skeleton, from which man can later make a flute. This moment is a kind of strange vanitas. This corpse became a pile of rotting flesh eaten away by worms. And I really insisted that this scene go very far. Let there be worms, then let there be flowers. It sounds a little cheesy but it’s the most lyrical moment in the film in the literal sense of the word. And it’s one of the most beautiful things about the film because it’s part of the collective memory while looking at things in reverse. It is on the side of death that there can be a moment of life. Saying that, you get the impression that I’m zen. Not at all, it’s wishful thinking. Because I am very afraid of death, I have no desire to die. But I think it is important to create an iconography that allows us to promote this unknown moment for people like me, this moment that others apparently do not fear at all.
I’m not a screenwriter who tries to impose her point of view. I happened to have discussions with Zepe. He knows pretty well what he wants. So good that, in my opinion, he would be perfectly capable of writing his screenplays if he had the time or the desire.
To give a good example, in his feature film project, I never agreed that characters be evoked by a letter. But I never managed to convince him. He is absolutely right to do as he pleases since it’s his film.

Vincent Gilot: Is the writing work the same for a feature film, a series or for a short film which can be more of a gesture like poetry? In a short film, the author can take charge of everything. A short film is a shorter work, it is more an artistic gesture than a deployment.
Another question: in your script work, did the idea come before the image? or the director proposed images before the writing work?
There is then obviously a back and forth between the director and the screenwriter.

RG: I must point out that it has now been perhaps 5-6 years since I found myself, thanks to Zepe, linked to the world of animation. With animated film directors, it’s very recent. I had absolutely no training in this area. My knowledge in this area is from things that Zepe introduced me to: Alkabetz, Caroline Leaf, etc. I didn’t know anything at all.

Gil Alkabetz

During these years I wrote a few short films, two feature films and a series. I was invited to write a second series. So my skills are very limited. I can only speak from the perspective of what I experienced. Which is really very incomplete for theorizing about anything.
I can say that I never started from an idea or an image of my authority, that is to say that I in no way suggested to the directors to make this or that film, on this or that subject or from this or that image. The writing was always at the service of the directors’ projects. Directors don’t always have such organized, complete, articulated ideas about what they want to do. Zepe is the first one I worked with. He showed me his films. And he even showed me drawings for films that weren’t made. The first job I did for him actually was in an emergency situation and I was absolutely irresponsible when I took that job. Then he got into a relationship and he had already talked to me a lot about what he wanted to do. I have no feeling of ownership over the films I write for. It is a work of listening which enriches my other forms of writing, which also forces me to have a slightly different look at the world, which embraces other points of view. And I find that working for someone else is a very beautiful practice. Ce que dit la bouche d’ombre of Victor Hugo.

VG: Ce que dit la bouche d’ombre is a metaphor for inspiration.

RG: I obviously know that some people don’t see things like that at all. They want to be Hollywood-style screenwriters, and want to do things as they are done in the United States, which are part of the history of standard commercial cinema or who write based on great novels whose rights have been bought by this or that company. such company.
I recently worked from an extremely complex novel by a recently deceased Portuguese novelist. It wasn’t animation. It was incredibly difficult work, but it also taught me things.
My answer seems to have disappointed you…

VG: No, it’s very interesting. There’s just the question of whether there was a difference for you between a short film, a series or a feature film.

RG: There is much to be said about considering that various bodies – public opinion, critics, producers, etc. – have compared to the short film and the feature film. It’s as if the short film was a poor relation to everything else. I don’t see things like that. I don’t see why someone who says what he has to say, to show, to draw, to make people dream in 10 minutes, or even less, would be less entitled to our admiration and our curiosity. Spreading over two hours of film as if we were covering the length of a football match, my companion would say, that doesn’t make sense to me. You can write an extremely complex short film and a completely frivolous feature film. Every project has its difficulties and, in every project, we make mistakes, due to lack of deeper reflection. It has nothing to do with duration.

Z: Koji Yamamura recently made a film practically alone with three or four people. He said that, for the script, he let things happen on their own as you can sometimes do for a short film. When we already have a structure, a guiding text, we build in a more calculated way. Basically we can start with a detail. 

Pléthore de nords de Koji Yamamura 

Sifianos was talking about Caroline Leaf and Raimund Krumme who he really likes and who everyone likes. It’s always cinema threads. That is to say, everything that Caroline Leaf does in The Street, which I love, is to adapt, with the freedom that animated painting allows, solutions that come from cinema : blur, framing, zoom, tracking shot, in short and largely audiovisual language. At Raimund Krumme, there is only a neutral space which will be reframed and transformed thanks to a few subterfuges. But it is always attached to the cinematographic image. This is not a criticism, it is an observation.

Crossroads de Raimund Krumme

There is always a talk of guilt from directors who cannot free themselves from conventional cinema. They still manage to distort the system like Driessen and create other subsystems. I recently started working on a short film. I start with free drawings. I will continue to improvise, to scribble, then arrive at a common line between details which develop a little randomly. I don’t feel at all concerned about how to construct a scenario in the classic way. I want the drawing to reveal itself through lines, graphics and confrontations. Regarding my current experience in feature films, I work with an editor, who is also a screenwriter. It’s completely different. We don’t start with a detail here. He had to be well informed to be able to get into the project: understanding not only the film system and delving into a mass of information, from graphics to animated movement, from the specifics of the storyboard to the dialogues.
The only way to do a job of this magnitude is to provide an enormous amount of information.
On the other hand, Yamamura made his feature film based on principles from short films or experimentation. It’s rare to find long works constructed with this principle. Unfortunately it is practically impossible to finance feature films with such principles. I don’t know how you position yourself in relation to commissions, competitions and forms for financing works.

RG: The people with whom I had the opportunity to work, except with Saguenail, use state aid and to do so, need to have written documents that obey rules determined in advance. Would a director who had the idea of a totally abstract film (in the sense of “abstract painting”) have to fill in, in the application form, the frame with the description of the characters or the note on the setting? If it is a film without words and without music, would he have to fill in the note on the music? I don’t blame them, the decision-makers, because it’s very complicated. When you choose to make animation your profession and your livelihood, you obviously see yourself trapped in a system that requires making enormous concessions. And if we decide not to do so, we quickly understand that we will not have access to state money. And that’s normal because we’re looking for public money and public money goes through juries, and juries, in general, even when they are made up of educated people. Except that they have an idea of cinema in live action or animation which is completely, I am not going to say reactionary but at the same time naive and very not open. They need dialogue, a plot, etc.
In relation to Vincent Gillot’s question, when people make a feature film, they ask for a fairly considerable amount of money. And this amount of money is not enough to make the feature film. So there is then a hunting championship for additional funding. And since they still need a lot of money and Portugal is a peripheral country, it is quite difficult for a director from a country like Portugal – the  competition is immense – to find this money. And sometimes abroad the film commissions are even more conventional and squarer than the juries of the ICA (Instituto do Cinema e do Audiovisual), here in Portugal. The ICA itself was born from a revolution and it still remains a cult idea of freedom of expression and auteur cinema. It might disappear but it’s still there. I don’t think this is the trend in Europe. The evolution of institutions which provide public aid to artists is moving towards something more and more square. And besides, at all levels, this has created situations that are, in my opinion, totally abnormal: it is no longer with the artist that we speak, it is with his agent, that is to say someone ‘one whose specialty is mediation and translation into the language of cultural policy and cultural industry, of what the director wants to do.

Z: At the ICA, juries are often not very sensitive to artistic expression. They want an alibi for his choices.
Then comes the need for the theme. You lived like me in the sixties and you know well that it was never like this: I have never seen so much concern for self-justification through a theme or a cause. Sometimes it touches on schizophrenia from which few truly authentic things come out. What’s more, it’s not a really political approach, it’s prefabricated.

RG: It is obviously impossible to ignore it. The problem is that the ICA has entered into a logic of accepting lobbying. From the moment we enter into this, we expose ourselves not only to the influences that come from what we call industry, but also to the oscillations of public opinion. That is to say, if, at a moment, this or that subject seems to be much more urgent, or much more important than all the others, it becomes a priority. A few years ago, for example, the juries which award grants to theater companies said this extraordinary thing, namely that, if theater companies with community theater practices would see their projects valued. And suddenly, in a country where there were very rarely community theater projects, there is an explosion of these practices to obtain money. Two or three years later, theater productions that contained LGBT issues were favored. I am totally in favor of the demands of the LGBT community, but why would people who have never been deeply interested in these issues be brought in by the force of a lobby which is in fact a ghost in public opinion.
As for the strictly historical question of what I know about Portuguese cinema, there have not always been lobbies, we previously had a very elitist idea of cinema. That is to say that there were a certain number of people who had access to subsidies in a much more direct way. That said, among these people there were indeed filmmakers who did things of rare beauty and to imagine that they obtained the means to do these improbable things with the help of the State, it seems pretty crazy. It existed. A film project like Mi Caso of Oliveira that would be presented to a film commission in a normal country will not have any money. Even a film like The Island of Love by Paulo Rocha which took almost 15 years to be finished…. I am not a nationalist but I am very proud to have lived at the same time as these people who did these things .

What happened is also called democracy, which means that these masters have aged and are almost all dead now. And even before they died, other people massively arrived at the cinema with the advent of digital cinema. Because obviously, at all levels, access to equipment is much simpler. I remember when Saguenail made a feature film in 16mm in the 70s, we were up to our necks in debt. It was the cross and the banner. For poor filmmakers who worked with film, I remember that we had to pay the Portuguese laboratory in advance for the development of the film. Things have changed today. However, there are still people in Portugal who practice free cinema. Perhaps at the moment I don’t see any personality comparable to a Manoel de Oliveira who never did anything other than what he wanted. But this person, either they exist, or they will exist and will assert themselves. I’m not nostalgic. On the other hand, the system, as Zepe very well underlined, has changed because the principle of lobbying does not broaden the horizon of juries, on the contrary, it restricts it to a certain idea of cinema.

Z: How would you define the idea of an animated documentary? How would you, if asked, write a treatment or written approach in this format?

RG: The first time we heard about it, it seemed absolutely crazy to me, I must say. But, in fact, the very genre we call documentary is something both multifaceted and much closer to fiction cinema than we think. Because even the first film that has been called a documentary and about which the term has become generalized, as far as I know, is Nanouk the Eskimo, is completely staged. It’s a fiction. The only thing is that it’s a fiction filmed in a natural setting with natural actors. They are not Nanuk’s family but they are people who live in this place and who therefore have a way of standing in front of the camera that is completely different from professional actors. There is a difference between working in natural settings and with studio settings. There is a difference between working with people who are not specialists in representation, people who represent themselves and people who play. 

The documentary is often presented as something very realistic. Now there is a connection with what we do in the theater, that is to say rehearsals. Documentary cinema is not reportorial cinema. I learned that Misère au Borinage, which is a reference film, was filmed well after all the events that the film relates. So if we realize that the documentary is a construction in exactly the same way as live-action fiction cinema, we begin to understand that if someone takes the trouble to record sounds that are not completely made in the studio and which are collected in specific places – both voices, testimonies as well as sounds of nature or even silences which are different depending on the places where we are – if we take the trouble to draw from nature, not necessarily in a realistic way, yes, I think that there can be documentary animated cinema, if we accept the idea that a documentary is not a report. It’s not taken on the spot.

Misère Au Borinage d’Henri Storck

Z: Let me give two examples that everyone knows. There are Aardman films, like Creature comfort which take place in a zoo, where the animals talk like in a report and there is another, Sales pitch (a conversation pieces) – where a man tries to sell a vacuum cleaner at the entrance to a house. The voice of the dialogues was recorded before, and we animated on this voice in stop motion. This is an example of an animated documentary approach. But, is it really one?

Sales pitch (a conversation pieces) de Peter Lord & Dave Sproxton

Another approach is to use animation to create scenes that are not possible in live action, such as graphic interventions, subjective passages or effects in post-production.
I consider that this does not justify that we can designate these two approaches as being part of animated documentary, it is animation. I’m looking somewhere for a thread, a process, an exception that justifies the fact that it can be designated as an animated documentary. There is a feature film, Waking life, which adopts a different style for each moment of the story. These are interviews with several characters about life and dreams. Initially it was a live action work which was subsequently rotoscoped, and in a very interesting way. In this case, the graphic form greatly contributed to conveying the content of each sequence. More than anything, we look at animation and its potential. Other times it is barely illustrative, we easily forget that it is another form of language. And, after all, you know, documentary is much more esteemed among members of juries, journalists and academics than animation.


There are several aspects in my opinion. First the question related to discussing and criticizing. We are at a time when the idea of discussing, criticizing and exchanging possibly very sincere, and not necessarily very sympathetic, remarks about a work is completely not on the agenda, of course. You have public sessions where all kinds of artistic objects are presented which are supposed to end with debates and in fact, in terms of debate, we say Now it’s the debate, are there any questions ? And we do it in such a way that the public, who is not that stupid, understands that there is no question of discussing anything. And if someone dares to say something that is not in keeping with the times or is simply a little ingenuous, they are looked at in such a way that they will never again open their mouth in this kind of way. situation.
The same goes for the critical question. There are very few people who practice the profession of critic. Criticism has become something very close to propaganda for films. There is obviously a prior selection, at the media level, of the films we talk about and those we don’t talk about. And when we look at the magazines that are considered important and serious and when we read the articles on films that we have seen, we understand to what extent writing on cinema, which has had its moments of glory, is become shitty. And it even spreads false information. Some people sometimes don’t even bother to verify information. This is a problem that does not pertain to animation or documentary. The French filmmakers who made “more conventional” cinema, in quotes, at the time of the New Wave, were insulted and it was published in the newspapers without problem. They attacked very important and very recognized directors in a very violent way. Today that would be totally unthinkable. 6/7 years ago I translated the articles written by João César Monteiro who was both a film critic and filmmaker. He started with criticism. And the film reviews he published in newspapers during the Salazar era would be unthinkable today. This would be immediately censored not by the political police but by the editorial staff of the newspaper.

Suddenly there was a fashion for documentaries. For a very long time, Portuguese film buffs were unaware of the little documentary work that existed in Portugal. In the 90s, there was Pedro Sena Nunes who, out of school, had great success with this film he made about the village that financed its own bridge. And above all there was the cinema of Pedro Costa who abandoned so-called fiction cinema to make so-called documentary cinema in digital media. This corresponds to an international phenomenon. We sometimes have the impression that the documentary is an extension of the television reality show. That is to say that people made a film about their grandfather, their grandmother, exactly as there are programs on television which are supposed to move the public because they tell stories, which are exceptional because they are extremely strange people and have unusual lives, or because there is such an almost obscene degree of intimacy with these people that it makes people cry.

O sangue de Pedro Costa

There is perhaps more of a difference between cinema that has a lot of resources and cinema that is made with very little. I see more of a difference between traditional cinema and industrial cinema from an economic point of view. But I can’t deny that filmmakers who make what we call documentaries and who therefore work with elements of reality that are not as easily accommodated as in the configuration of a professional team where the actors are trained to obey the director, I can’t deny that there is still a difference. Calling it a genre… doesn’t interest me much.

Z: Let’s forget about gender issues for the moment. If someone comes to you and says Regina, I want to make an animated documentary, I don’t want to make a fiction film and my theme revolves around covid or whatever… you say OK, covid, why not? How do you approach the question? Are these the same questions as for fiction?

RG: In general, people who want to make a fiction film don’t come up with a proposal as meaningless as “I’m going to make a film about covid“. If someone tells me they want to make an animated documentary about covid, I ask them what they want to talk about, what they want to show. You don’t make films with themes. With themes you can possibly have a discussion between the pupils in a class. And then some. Making a film about covid means nothing to me. Depending on the answer the person gives me or the way they react to my refusal, at first I’ll see whether they actually want to make a film about covid and whether it’s just a question of clumsiness… or whether it’s really someone who’s going to make a film about covid in the same way as they might make one about tuberculosis, or global warming or anything else. If that person manages to talk about it in a more subjective way and back it up with images, with obsessions even, I’d say, I might consider the proposal. But if it’s just a film about covid…

Z: Do you think you can imagine working on an animated documentary in the knowledge that, as the production progresses, it may deviate from the starting point at any moment? You animate and then you change your mind and decide to go for another angle? Can you admit that probably everything can be cut and reassembled in the end? 


There are filmmakers who work with elements taken directly from ‘reality’, even if, as soon as they start shooting, it’s already fiction. The term ‘documentary’ is a direct evolution of this documentary trend. The proof is that when we attended Doc Screen for years, which was not a documentary festival but a seminar on documentary, there were guest directors and their films always had a fictional dimension. It wasn’t pure documentary.
There’s this absolutely marvellous film that I discovered recently called The Movement of Things (O Movimento das coisas) by Manuela Serra, made in 1985, after the revolution, about life in the north of Portugal and the changes that were taking place in this rural environment. It’s a film about how women cope in this context. There’s obviously as much fiction as documentary because it’s made with the people on the spot and with a very small crew. It’s a different way of working. But the label is of little importance to me, both in the field of the so-called ‘real’ image and in animation. It’s like saying ‘poetry cinema’. Someone explain to me what ‘poetry cinema’ is. Or these studies at the University of Porto, which draw comparisons between the figures of poetic rhetoric and cinematographic rhetoric. To hell with them all! Let’s not close any doors. Let’s not keep inventing boxes and boxes and boxes that make it more and more impossible to have a direct relationship with the work. Because we’re completely influenced by these categorisations.

WH: I agree with you when you criticise the studies carried out on the rhetorical methods that are sometimes applied to images in general and to moving images in particular.
Zepe has described two ways in which animated documentaries work: that of Aardman’s Conversation Pieces, where a soundtrack is reinterpreted, and that’s more a question of a discrepancy between the sound and the image, in other words a commentary on the soundtrack. That would be a first mode of operation.

Conversation pieces de Peter Lord & Dave Sproxton

Animation then fulfils a re-enactment function found in Winsor McCay’s The sinking of Lusitania, which describes an event through drawings, an event that no one was able to witness. It is therefore a reconstitution, and this is probably the function most frequently used in animated documentaries.

And then there is a third function, which is more of an expressive function, which the means of animation allow in order to develop a point of view, as when a director of a creative documentary but sets up an artificial and creative device in his film, so a way of circumscribing ‘reality’ by another means, but which strikes the imagination of the spectator.
When writing an animated film, is taking into account the graphics, aesthetics or visual device of an animated director comparable to the constraints we might set ourselves in playwriting, where, for example, we might limit the number of characters or locations, or comparable to the formal constraints we set ourselves in poetry?

RG: Let’s take the example of the number of characters in theatre and animation. You might think that working with lots of characters gives you enormous freedom. Freer because it’s more expensive than working with a few characters. I don’t think so. Because the very thing that theatre has built up in terms of freedom is to say Here’s a tree and there’s a forest. I think it’s the same for animation. It can’t be translated in such a simplistic way.

Z: Creating in animation is closer to theatre than cinema. Animation doesn’t need cinema. It needs theatre and music, but not “cinema”.


There is something special about theatre that I don’t think should be overlooked: it’s presence. When I took my university students – who were literature students, alas! – to see a play by Marivaux – which isn’t even a twentieth-century play – put on by an average company, they were flabbergasted, they’d never seen anything like it. It was the first time they’d ever set foot in a theatre…
If Zepe says that animation is closer to theatre than to film, I bow my head and say Here’s someone who is radical and who is trying to establish a relationship between two forms of expression that don’t have the same history and don’t use the same means, but which perhaps have some expressive solutions in common.

Z: Would you protect a system of state funding that doesn’t favour genres but rather works? 

RG: The response will inevitably be a political one. We can’t respond proactively because there are operating methods and traditions at work and I don’t know if we should create commissions for all forms of cinematographic expression. I’m not even talking about the visual arts. There would be poor parents and rich parents in an even more violent way. It’s no coincidence that people organised themselves into unions when they had to defend themselves. People who didn’t make art, but who worked for the bosses. This division – which is very artificial in my view – makes it possible to define groups so that these groups can organise to defend their interests.
I’ve been working in the film industry for a very long time and I’m totally incapable of evaluating a budget. That seems to me to be a much more pressing problem than anything else. Because I can always say anything to a commissioning jury, because the jury will in any case base itself on a written document, which it will like more or less, and will not be interested in the actual material dimension of the production, which is the most important thing. At the Portuguese Film Institute, for example, before submitting projects to a jury that is not specialised in these matters, the files should be examined by people who know their stuff. In the case of feature films, for example, in Portugal there are standard film subsidies that you can apply for either for a feature film shot at home with friends (which could be a masterpiece, that’s not the point), or for a historical film that requires you to make I don’t know how many costumes and sets. You can get the same subsidy for both, it’s totally crazy!
What’s more, even though we talk a lot about cross-disciplinarity, I think that in terms of audiences there have never been so few cross-disciplinary audiences. Since the Batalha, the municipal cinema, opened, we’ve realised that there’s still a sizeable group of cinema-goers, but they’re not architects. There are more cinema-going doctors than cinema-going architects, which is a bit strange. People who go to see dance don’t necessarily go to the theatre, even though they are both performing arts. And people who love the new circus may not go to see animated films.
I think we’re still a long way from a cross-disciplinary approach, as far as audiences are concerned…

GS: In my opinion, you have to start with the raw material of animation. It is very rich and variable in forms and expressions. The raw material of cinema is much more focused on naturalism. As in the example I gave earlier of marble and bronze, each material requires different thinking. We don’t think the same thing with plastic and another material. To write a screenplay, you have to start, in my opinion, by knowing the language of this material. This is the difficulty that animated cinema poses because in principle, we do not know its language. And, in this case, for the screenplay, for the writing, we cannot put words on the material, we must try to speak with the material and not with words.


I once asked Regina what the difference is between cinema and animation. Not just on a technical level, but rather in terms of events. And she told me that in animation, there is no improvisation, that is to say that we design, we plan, we cut, we do. There is no chance, no unexpected. And in cinema no, there is a scene to do, a wall that must fall, an actor who is not there, something that is wrong: we have to manage and the result depends on all that.
So when you say that you have to know the material and follow the direction of the material, shouldn’t you rather contradict the material to be able to make a work in animation? What is chance in animation?

WH: The constraint.

Z: Right.


When I talk about “thinking with the material”, I of course include constraint. You have to fight against the material when you sculpt a raw stone. But at the same time, there are features: if you try, for example, to make thin fingers out of marble, they are likely to break. The material must be taken into account. You cannot say the same thing with one material as with another.
I think that the material of cinema, in live action, screams loud and clear from the beginning, from the first image, that it is naturalism, even if there are exceptions. (We can take abstract or blurry photos…) Nevertheless, its most important testimony is the “that-has-been-there”. It is a testimony which attests that what is presented on the screen was in front of the camera and really existed. When I make a pencil line here, or a watercolor line, it says something else.

Z: It’s difficult to answer the distinction you make for fiction, when you talk about naturalism. Is all cinema and classical painting so close to natural?

GS: Of course. If you take a painting that is part of classicism and an abstract painting, it’s something completely different.

Z: Before, were impressionist paintings seen as natural?

VG: The appearance of tin tubes for oil painting allowed impressionist painters to leave their workshops to paint landscapes “on the ground”. What we didn’t do before. We had to paint in the studio. So the material really provided something different in artistic production and even in the vision that painters allowed themselves and that they could not afford before when working only in the studio.

Z: Maybe the materials. But there are other factors that are added, as in cinema: sensations, diffuse movements, unusual points of view…

VG: When we did frescoes, we would not have obtained an impressionist rendering. These are the materials that allowed the advent of impressionism.

Z: Whatever the degree of naturalism or the rendering of the materials, painters and filmmakers know that their primary source is not the natural. This can be seen in Reynaud, Méliès, Cohl and even McCay: they all imply a degree of reverie, volatility, and, in Cohl himself, illegibility, in their images. Whether captured or animated images, naturalness is often neglected.

VG:  There are of course differences from one director to another, there is an element of subjectivity.
As far as impressionism is concerned, it developed at a historically determined moment and it oriented the interest of painting in things that were neglected before: the fugitive side for example.

GS: Even in the freest forms of expression such as animated cinema, there can be a lot of academicism. There is always the possibility of treating materials, no matter how extravagant, in an academic manner. I totally agree with the idea that the material overdetermines a lot of things. But in fiction cinema, when you talk about demolishing a wall, Zepe, if we don’t have the means to demolish this wall and you shouldn’t miss a day of filming because the production isn’t going to give you one more day, one thing happens: we have to move forward. And we move forward according to what is imposed. In literature – writing does not require much funding – some authors have argued – and they were not fools – that constraint is a way of increasing freedom. I don’t think it’s specific to literature. A precise form, the sonnet for example, allowed the advent of the expression of things that poetry had not addressed before. This is not to say that we should all start writing sonnets, of course. The members of Oulipo were not a bunch of jokers playing writing games. They discovered things while practicing this constrained writing.



When we talk about constraints, that includes the question of possibilities. It is a set. Marble imposes constraints and it also has possibilities. Copper is not the same. Language is the same. If I write in French or if I write in Greek, I will not write the same thing.
We cannot place a scenario on a pictorial or sculptural material to create animation. This must be done in parallel. The reflection emerges from the material and the material can be the plastic aspect, but also the mixed verbal aspect. I’m trying to define a more tightly articulated coherence. I prefer not to call on a scriptwriter if he risks putting an inappropriate scenario on a watercolor or a drawing, when he does not know how these materials work.

RG: I don’t know what you say about an author like Stan Brakhage. Is it animation? Is this live-action cinema? What is it?

Stan Brakhage

Z: It’s not that interesting whether it’s animation or not. What’s interesting to me is the fact that he doesn’t deal with things on a narrative or dramaturgical level, there’s no way. Nor does he treat them on a plane or space, even ambiguous: as in Blinkity blank by Norman McLaren, or Free Radicals by Len Lye. In Brakhage, we lose the notion of space, scale, subject, and even the kinetic rhythm of the images. It is an unidentified object, a flow. This is someone who often works with chance.

Free Radicals de Len Lye

RG: Brakhage’s cinema, animation or not, helps me think. Like certain impressionist paintings, besides the pleasure of seeing them. These are places where enjoyment is not contradictory with thought.

Z: In the sense that the public strongly participates?

RG: In the sense that a parenthesis opens where thought can flourish.

Z: I’m talking about the relationship of Brakhage’s films with the viewer,  even of each of these  films at each screening. Faced with the flow of images, we go beyond the screen, we enter the subliminal, we experience a state of suspension in the face of chaos.

RG: Sifianos says that it is difficult or impossible for a screenwriter to start writing a film of which he is unaware of the technical, material, concrete implementation. And that poses a real problem because then there has to be a learning period for the screenwriter – which schools will not be able to put in place. It is rather thanks to the patience and generosity of the director that he can take the measure of what he will be confronted with. Zepe, who doesn’t necessarily have a very easy temperament, showed me a lot of films that I didn’t know and it completely transformed my vision of animation. We must not forget that, for a normal viewer, animation is not author’s animated cinema, but a whole pile of totally naturalistic crap or worse, with which we poison the heads of children and adults Also.
All this to say that learning with the person for whom you have to work is perhaps part of the answer to this question of adequacy.
I knew a painter, Ângelo de Sousa, an abstract minimalist, who worked a lot with color and transparency and who, at a certain moment, for reasons of age, had assistants, who were obviously specialists in his work and who understand absolutely everything it talks about. They are not simple performers. It’s a bit the same thing. The screenwriter is an assistant specialized in a particular field.

GS: If we take a film like McLaren’s Neighbors, which is a very good film, but based on a trivial dramatic plot, could we rewrite this film to possibly improve it?

RG: It’s difficult to answer. My heart balances. This simplicity is funny. These guys with their identical gardens fighting over a flower coming out of the ground that they each want to own. This simplicity allows us to think. Children will tell you that there is one who wants beauty for himself. I find it wonderful. In its simplicity, the film leaves a lot of room for the thoughts of spectators, including the youngest. Would improving it make it more complex? Is it affecting the nature of the material with which it is made?

Z: That would be counterfeiting, right?

Les voisins de Norman McLaren

RG: For example, should these two characters have grimaces on their faces to accentuate their anger and this negative energy which unfolds in a totally wild way? It shows children that they are becoming monsters, beasts that want to devour each other. Watching this film, children say incredible things. We have done several cinema programs for children (what we call “young audiences”) and we have often shown Neighbors

GS: Do we agree that the story, the plot, is simple? If it didn’t have animation effects like flying and other formal elements of animation, if it only told the story of two neighbors who claim a flower, hit each other and kill each other, it wouldn’t have not really of interest.

RG: Indeed, the interest of this film is not its plot. The scenario is not the ultimate object. It is a technical object – and this is not a negative word – which has a very precise function. The screenplay cannot achieve what the film must do. And sometimes a simple story can serve as the basis for a complex film, which remains simple because the plot is simple, but which is complex because it develops this plot in a sophisticated way.

GS: I can give an example of improvement. At school, we did an exercise of this type working on The Bridge on the River Kwai. In this film, there is suspense, while the saboteurs plant the explosives. At one point, the train arrives, it plunges headlong, and is destroyed. We discussed this scene a lot with the students and finally, we said to ourselves that to prolong the suspense, we could propose another scenario: the train could cross the bridge almost entirely. The explosion could take place as the last carriages passed, which would cause the train to plunge backwards. Ultimately, this solution, which prolongs the suspense, is better, in my opinion.

What “bothers” me, if I may say so, is that McLaren’s scenario is somewhat childish. If we want to target adults, we still have to give them more sophisticated food. I often have the same reaction with opera libretti, which are often very simple.


RG: It provokes a lot of thought, including on another area where I practice writing, namely songs. I have also written modern opera librettos but this is a little different. The songs are quite special. There are songs that are extremely complex from the point of view of their writing, which even require knowledge of literature. And there are others that have none of that and are still brilliantly written. They are disconcertingly simple and precisely this simplicity offers the listener this space for reverie and thought, which very explained and very complex things steal from them. I don’t know if adults don’t like Neighbors, I think they do. I find it good like that. And I don’t like it out of snobbery or sophistication. I like the childish tone to express what we do for love. This simplicity can be extraordinary in its extreme sincerity and even in excess.
It’s very interesting to discuss it with people who make films, because the important thing obviously is the result. That’s not the storyline. This is the way the film is made afterwards.