Talent forum, film school screenings among big draws

ANNECY, France — Scouts in the toon biz have known for years that the shores of the turquoise-hued Lake Annecy are one of the best places to unearth new animation talent.

And last week, during the French city’s 30th Intl Animation Festival attended by special guest Tim Burton, studio suits were again eagerly checking out the latest crop of dreadlocked art students hoping to break in to the biz.

On the main festival front, Annecy’s selection of five competition features held no great surprises — with Europics “Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit,” “Asterix and the Vikings,” and “Renaissance” competing with the Asian offerings, “xxxHOLIC: A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Origin — Spirits of the Past.”

Artistic director Serge Bromberg scored kudos for his out-of-competition lineup. Program included the world preem of “Monster House,” Sony’s first foray into 3D animation, and “Cars,” which Annecy attendees were able to see several hours ahead of U.S. audiences.

For the Hollywood contingent, the new talent forum, and a packed program of film school screenings were clearly the big draw.

“Annecy is the one festival in the world where you can identify animation talents. It’s No. 1,” says Dreamworks’ European rep Shelly Page, an Annecy habitue attending this year with colleagues John Tarnoff, in charge of show development; Kristoff Serrand, animation senior on “Over the Hedge”; and Cassidy Curtis, senior animator on “Madagascar.”

Some 50% of DreamWorks Los Angeles based animators are non-Americans, and another handful of foreign newcomers joined the team after meetings at last year’s fest, Page says.

The many companies hiring for specific projects this year included France’s Attitude Studios, which begins work this week on Focus Features’ first 3D animation pic “9,” and Folimages, another Gallic company, a quarter of its way through “Mia and the Migou,” helmer/producer Jacques Remy Girerd’s follow-up to “Raining Cats and Frogs.”

“I’ve met more people here in one day than I do in Paris in six months,” said screenwriter/director Pascal Stervinou.

Under the same roof — of Annecy’s lakeside Imperial Hotel — films and TV shows changed hands and production deals were mulled within the framework of the main MIFA animation mart.

This being animation, the crowd sipping cocktails on the terrace all looked to be 25 at the oldest — and dressed distinctly scruffier than the folk usually encountered at industry marts.

Organizers estimated participants at around 5,000-6,000 attendees for the fest and mart combined, with a 40% increase in exhibiting companies to some 150.

“We’ve made efforts to make the market more attractive to participants,” asserts managing director Michael Marin. “And the animation sector is also in better shape than it was two or three years ago.”

New MIFA initiatives included a buyer-friendly digital videotheque along the lines of rival mart MIPCOM Jr.’s.

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