Mexico is creating a digital database to protect its animation heritage.

Mexican animation featured prominently at this year's Annecy Film Festival.

One of the highlights of this year's festival was Annecy's Mexican Archaeology Sidebar. In cooperation with the Mexican Filmoteca UNAM, Annecy hosted a historical retrospective of Mexican animation films produced between 1935 and 1982. Although production was not constant during this period, the content was varied, and films dealing with timely political and cultural topics were regularly screened.

The program was designed to feature experimental and historical works that reflect the remarkable breadth that exists in the history of Mexican animation production.

Last year, after it was announced that Mexico would be the guest country for Annecy 2023, an initiative was launched to create a digital archive of historical Mexican animation works that could be screened at the French festival. And while this year's Annecy program has come to an end, those curating the program have more ambitious plans to continue the digitization effort, as well as to restore many works that have been neglected for decades.

The Mexican Archaeology Program is curated by visual artist Tania de Leon, and the ongoing archival initiative is headed by Ana Cruz. We spoke with both women during Annecy about this year's special curatorial sidebar, the massive efforts being implemented to preserve Mexico's animation history, and when these works will be widely available to audiences in Mexico and abroad.

Cartoon Brew: What inspired your mission to digitize these classic animation works? Ana Cruz: It was the curation of a program in Annecy that inspired us to begin work on the collection. Through this work, I realized the need to digitize some of the most important short films in our history and the importance of creating an animation collection for other programmers, researchers, and industry professionals.

Cartoon Brew: How did you decide which films to include in the selection? Tania de Leon: The most important aspect in selecting the films was diversity: I did not want to focus on only one type of animation, so I tried to choose a variety of films, both in terms of topics and techniques. First, we identified what kind of material was available, and based on that, we chose some really interesting pieces.

One of the films we chose was Paco Perico in Premiere (1935), which is one of the earliest examples of an entertainment film. And Crónicas del Caribe (1982) and La Persecusión de Pancho Villa (1978) both have political content; El Compa Clodomiro y el Capitalismo (1981) also falls into this category. Juarez (1972) is a youth-oriented portrait of the life of Benito Juarez. Another unique film is Punto, Línea y Simetría (1976), an abstract CG film that has not been shown since the 1970s. And finally, Y si eres mujer (1976), the first animated film by a Mexican woman. There are three main reasons for this film's popularity: the diversity of animation styles and genres, the availability of material, and the historical significance of the work.

Can you elaborate on the digitization process currently underway: the Filmoteca UNAM, which is responsible for the preservation and restoration of historical Mexican films, has played an important role in the digital preservation of these films, especially for the Annecy Film Festival. For now, the focus is on digitizing films, but my curatorial team recognizes the importance of restoring Mexican animated films. In the near future, we will explore the possibility of restoring these animated films, ensuring their preservation and bringing them closer to their original versions. Therefore, the digitization process undertaken by Filmoteca UNAM is crucial to the preservation and accessibility of these films, and our curatorial team will continue to work on the restoration of Mexican animation films.

How long did it take to create the database? The curatorial team has been working on this historical compilation from September 2022 to the present. Over the next six months, we will continue to work with the UNAM Film Library to create the database and diagnose which 16mm and 35mm short films are in urgent need of digitization and restoration. We plan to carry out this restoration process over the next year.

Can you see any influence from these films in the animation currently being produced in Mexico? While it may be difficult to point directly to influences from these specific films, it is important to note that political themes have been ever-present throughout the history of Mexican animation. While modern animators may not consciously draw inspiration from these particular films, we can see a broader tradition of dealing with political and cultural themes in Mexican animation. A good example of this is The Untold Stories (Mexican Animation Tribute), which was also screened in Annecy. This program showcased the enduring presence of political themes in Mexican animation and was a testament to the continued exploration of these themes by contemporary animators.

Aspects of Mexican culture can also be seen in the programs we presented. While the direct impact may be difficult to discern, there is no doubt that Mexico's rich cultural heritage permeates the work of today's animators and contributes to the unique artistic expression found in Mexican animation.

Is there a way for Mexicans to access these restored works in the future -

Cruz: Cruz: Our plan after Annecy is to find places to exhibit the restored works at national and international film festivals and embassies. One such event is the Pixelator Festival in September. Likewise, the completion of the database will facilitate access to content and information.

All of these films are treasures, but are there any that you think are of particular historical significance-

De Leon: All of the films in this selection are important, but I would like to highlight two films that make particularly unique contributions: the first is the film "Guadalupe Sánchez," which is a film about the life of the Sanchez family, Y si eres mujer (1976, pictured above), directed by Guadalupe Sánchez Sosa. This film is of special importance because it represents the work of women in animation. It is crucial to shed light on the history of Mexican animation and to make visible the contributions made by women. y si eres mujer is a reminder that women have been involved in both the animation industry and independent filmmaking, and their names and their work deserve recognition and deserves recognition and appreciation.

Another is Punto Línea y Simetría (1976) by Gerardo Lastra and Héctor Carranza. This film occupies a unique place in the selection as the first Mexican digital abstract film. Its significance lies in its exploration of abstract imagery through the use of digital technology, groundbreaking at the time; Punto Línea y Simetría introduces the innovative spirit and experimentation of Mexican animation and pushes the boundaries of artistic expression. The inclusion of this work is intended to recognize the pioneering role of digital abstract animation in Mexico and its lasting impact on the evolution of this art form.