Among Ventana Sur’s most buzzed titles, and a strong indicator of the heft that animation production now carries, “Unicorn Wars” from Alberto Vazquez (“Birdboy: The Forgotten Children,” “Homeless Home”), holds the unique distinction of being the first-ever non Latin American animated film to feature at the Argentine event’s Animation! Sidebar.
Having participated at several high-profile international festivals and markets since development, the blood-soaked, cotton candy fantasy feature was picked up by “I Lost My Body” sales agent Charades, which will be looking for distributors at this week’s Ventana Sur. Uniko and Abano Producións in Spain produce with Autour de Minuit and Schmuby Productions from France.
“Unicorn Wars” unspools amidst the apocalyptic war between teddy bears and unicorns who have fought from time immemorial. Teddy bear Private Bluet wants desperately to get his hands on unicorn blood for its legendary powers of preserving eternal beauty, while his brother Tubby just isn’t cut from the same cloth and can barely stomach the most benign of violence.
Variety spoke with Uniko producer Iván Miñambres and Vazquez ahead of their virtual Animation! Works in Progress presentation.
This is the first time Animation! has ever featured a work in progress that didn’t have a Latin American co-producer. How did that come to pass?
Miñambres: Last year I was giving a presentation at Ventana Sur about our trajectory in animation, the work we had done with both Alberto and on our other projects. While there, the idea was proposed that the following year if we had advanced as expected with “Unicorn Wars” – it wasn’t guaranteed at that time but now we’re thrilled with what we’ve achieved – we could introduce the project. The only holdup at that time was that there had never been a European production pitched at Animation! before. So, when we finally got the proposal, we were thrilled to accept. We’ve presented at Annecy, which is vital, but doing something in Latin America is key with this film. We share a language and having another public arena to share our work prepares us for next year’s Annecy, and a 2022 premiere. Animation projects are a marathon, so it’s important that we have these work in progress events along the way.
And what are some things you can, or hope to achieve at Ventana Sur?
Miñambres: Right now, we’re very close to fully financing the film. In terms of production, what we are looking for is the best possible distribution, as Charades has already boarded to sell the film. With “Birdboy,” Gkids did a great job distributing, especially in the U.S. This film is more ambitious though, and we want to be sure to get in front of Latin American audiences. We think that bringing this film to Ventana Sur can plant a seed so that in 2022 the movie gets the distribution it deserves in South America.
Spain has seen significant growth in recent years with big, blockbuster-style animation, “Klaus” and “Wonderpark” come to mind, but those films often have big foreign backers. “Unicorn Wars” is still fairly local, with backing from regional Spanish governments in Galicia and the Basque Country as well as independent French co-producers, but it feels as big as anything to come from Spain recently.
Miñambres: “Unicorn Wars” is an ambitious movie with a budget close to €3 million ($3.6 million) and a much larger team than on our previous productions. Our relationship with Alberto goes back more than a decade, and we’ve always worked in a very natural way. One thing is sure, we would never have considered doing this without involvement from Galicia, who have supported all of Alberto’s work. At the same time, the Basque Country has begun providing institutional support for projects that are not only Basque stories, but on projects with industrial, employment-generating capabilities and which draw international attention. I think that’s so important in building an industry there. With the ambitions we had for “Unicorn Wars,” the way we’ve done things in the past wasn’t going to be enough this time. We need our film to be seen all over the world, so having French producers is a great benefit too.
I wonder if the bigger budget and grander ambitions of this film impacted you creatively, or if you were able to maintain the creative freedom that we can see in “Birdboy” or “Homeless Home”?
Vazquez: Of course those details will still be there, but maybe in another way. That is to say, “Homeless Home” is obviously speaking about an economic and social situation specific to Galicia. But economic, social and emotional crises are global and occur everywhere. We live in a global society and I think most problems now are understood universally. Sure, there are things in “Homeless Home” you will only understand if you are from Spain or Galicia, but I think the other 95% is something more universal. “Unicorn Wars” is maybe even more universal, as it’s not set in any particular place or time. With the film, we talk about a lot of contemporary themes like the power of religion to mobilize the masses, man vs. nature, industrialization, power relations and so on. It’s fantasy, but I think, as with all my work, it reflects on society. Fantasy without referencing the real world doesn’t work, it would be too absurd. There must be one foot planted firmly in reality.