Updated: Mar 8
The director talks about Pre-Columbian art, character design and the 14 years it took to produce his beautiful and thoughtful homage to indigenous Andean cultures steeped in harmony with the Earth.
14 years in the making, Pachamama, Juan Antin’s animated tale about a 10-year old Andean boy’s journey to reclaim his village’s irreplaceable treasure, premieres today on Netflix. Set during the time of the Spanish Conquistadors and their South American incursions, the Cesar Award-nominated film is Antin’s homage to the indigenous cultures of the Andes, and takes its name for the concept of “Pachamama,” both an earth mother goddess figure as well as a more general concept of living in harmony with the Earth, akin to the idea of “Mother Nature.”
Pachamama tells the story of Tepulpaï, a rather mischievous young boy who lives in a remote Andes village and dreams of one day becoming a shaman. The villagers’ ceremony making offerings to Pachamama is disrupted by an Incan overlord, who confiscates their sacred golden statue. Accompanied, to his annoyance, by a friend, Naira, and her pet llama, Tepulpaï seizes on the chance to prove himself by embarking on a dangerous journey to recapture the village’s treasure.
“If you travel in South America to Argentina, Bolivia or Peru, you see that this culture, this idea of ‘Pachamama’ is very much alive,” Antin shares. “For me, it was amazing to discover. People believe that the Earth is part of us, that we are related, that we share a respect, love and gratitude for the Earth. I thought this is amazing because, today, we are living at a moment in history where solutions to problems seem to be going wrong. The planet is dying, and I said, ‘This idea is a great thing for our planet.’ I thought about making this film for children as well as for adults.”
The film is produced by Academy Award nominee Didier Brunner, an animation production veteran who has provided a deft guiding hand on some of the most memorable and thought-provoking independent animated projects of the last two decades, including Ernest and Celestine, Kirikou and the Sorceress, The Triplets of Belleville and The Secret of Kells.
But it took a bit of time, actually, many years, for the two to come together and make the film. “The film I started making years ago was much different than the film I ended up making,” Antin explains. “At first, I planned to make the film using stop-motion. So, I found a French co-producer and moved to France to make the film. We had great studios in France, Canada and Luxembourg lined up. I even made a stop-motion trailer. The thing is, the look was a little too artsy, a little too homemade, which made it very difficult to get funding. The project didn’t continue.”
For Antin, the quest for funding continued for many years. “Many producers were scared of the film because it was a very different project than they were used to,” he reveals. “I even looked for funding in Spain, until I finally understood that the Spaniards really didn’t want to fund a project where they were the bad guys. Though it’s not a huge amount of money – 7 million euros – that’s a lot of money for an independent animated film. So, ultimately, it took almost five years to find the funding.”
Things began to happen once Antin joined forces with Brunner. “Everything got very fluent in 2014 finally when Didier Brunner jumped in as a producer. From that point, it took about three years to produce the film. So, all told, it took me two years of research and writing, two more years in development, five years to find funding and three years to produce. Plus the stop-motion work. 14 years in all.”
Pachamama is a vibrant film, beautifully designed and animated using 3D character animation textured with unique, hand-drawn 2D designs set against watercolor-style hand-drawn 2D backgrounds. The bold use of color accentuates the distinctive visual style, which draws inspiration from Antin’s fascination with and extensive study of Andean culture. An Argentinian native, Antin traveled with his wife, an anthropologist doing social work with indigenous people in the northern part of the country. “I journeyed all over the north of Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. I fell in love with the culture of the Andes and Incas. It is so cool. So many people think of these ideas as history, things of the past. But this culture is very much alive today.”