Six-day fest included sneak peeks of latest shorts

Joann Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux’s “The Rabbi’s Cat” won the feature Crystal at the Annecy Animation Film Festival on Saturday.

Set in a Sephardic Jewish household in 1920s Algiers, pic focuses on a talking feline interested in religion. “Cat” was judged by many to be one of the most striking French animation debuts in recent years.

Another singular feature, the Fuji TV Network-produced “Colorful,” from Keiichi Hara, took the audience award.

A second-chance drama about a soul reborn in the body of a junior high-schooler, “Colorful” was reckoned the best of a large but underwhelming Asian presence in competition.

Another high-concept piece, “Big Bang Big Boom” from Italian artist Blu, which used wall paintings to chronicle the evolution of life, won the special jury award.

A Variety 2010 Annecy Up Next choice, Patrick Jean’s “Pixels” won the Annecy Crystal best short nod.

Fest’s first short plaudit went to Kamil Polak’s ambitious CG-animated “The Lost Town of Switez,” the tale of God’s revenge on two warring medieval peoples.

In TV series awards, Gaul’s Method Animation scooped a special award for retro 3D comedy “Little Nick, at Playtime We Fight”; Germany’s Studio Soi was Annecy’s TV Special winner for fairytale “Princess’ Painting.”

What this year’s Annecy Festival lacked was a high-profile world premiere — such as 2010’s heavyweight double-whammy of “Despicable Me” and “Sammy’s Adventures” — endowing the festival with a sense of major discovery.

That said, the 51st festival and Annecy’s three-day Mifa mart struck up a frenetic pace of industry presentations and announcements.

Highlights included world exclusive sneak-peek previews of latest shorts from Pixar (“La Luna”), Disney (“The Ballad of Nessie”) and Warner Bros. (“Coyote Falls,” “Rabid River”).

Sam Register, Warner Bros. Animation’s exec VP of creative affairs, announced that WBA will produce a series of theatrical Looney Tunes shorts, using the voice of the late Mel Blanc.

Walt Disney Animation Studios came onboard to back the Annecy YouTube short competition, won by Peter Lowey’s “Sidewalk Scribble.”

Aardman Animations founder Peter Lord and Sony Pictures Digital Prods.’ prexy Bob Osher co-presented Aardman’s latest feature, “Arthur Christmas.”

Skedded for November release, the action-packed 3D CG Santa family comedy, looks like Aardman’s biggest play to date for family auds.

The largest Annecy buzz came from bigger productions — Anglo-American, European and Japanese — previewed as works in progress.

Unveiling a completed trailer and a two-minute 3D sneak peek of his passion project, “A Monster in Paris,” French animation helmer Bibo Bergeron (“Shark Tale”) drew warm applause from a jam-packed audience. Gallic pop rock singer Matthieu Chedid, who composed the toon’s contempo original score, treated attendees with two songs performed unplugged. Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp rolls out the toon Oct. 19 in Gaul.

Co-director Mathias Malzieu performed songs from another EuropaCorp production, stop-motion “The Boy With a Cuckoo-Clock Heart,” again met with enthusiastic response.

From France’s Les Armateurs and StudioCanal, the delicate watercolor-style palette of 2D “Ernest and Celestine” also charmed audiences.

“Captain Harlock” creator Leiji Matsumoto received a standing ovation at the work-in-progress presentation of Toei Animation’s “Space Pirate — Captain Harlock,” a 3D reboot of the action adventure franchise from Shinji Aramaki (“Appleseed: Ex Machina”).

Also at Annecy, Japan’s Bandai Namco announced a Blu-ray Sony PlayStation 3 exclusive this fall: “Tekken Hybrid,” a combo of its animated martial arts movie, “Tekken: Blood Vengeance,” plus a HD version of 2000 vidgame “Tekken Tag Tournament.”

Live action and animation combos, often linked with docus, was one market trend at the fest, This was seen in Argentina’s “Eva de la Argentina” and France’s “Approved for Adoption,” both in Annecy’s Work in Progress strand.

Another was the ever-stronger drive into well-known or fast-burgeoning brands: Toei’s “Harlock,” Alphanim’s “Calimero” and, also from France, 3D TV skein “Sammy’s Adventure,” co-developed by Jeremy Zag, Ben Stassen’s NWave and StudioCanal.

Fest underscored the continuing vibrancy of France’s animation scene.

In major moves, Forge Animation unveiled the $26 million 3D epic fantasy feature “Windwalkers,” with Jan Kounen (“Dobermann”) set to direct. Sfar announced his next toon feature, “Little Vampire,” co-produced, distributed and sold by StudioCanal.

Gallic pubcaster France Televisions made good on its status as Europe’s biggest broadcast investor in animation, announcing it would increase commissioned programming hours, and create a slot dedicated to toons aimed at teens and young adults on its France 4 channel.

Running June 8-10, Annecy’s Mifa mart saw an 8% rise in attendance to around 2,300 participants, said managing director Mickael Marin.

The fest’s next steps, he added, will be to increase presence from U.S. broadcast networks, as well as territories such as Hong Kong and Taiwan and toon feature film industries around the world.

The 2011 winners:

ANNECY CRYSTAL – FEATURE

“The Rabbi’s Cat,” (Joann Sfar, Antoine Delesvaux, France)

AUDIENCE AWARD

“Colorful,” (Keiichi Hara, Japan)

ANNECY CRYSTAL – TV PRODUCTION

“The Amazing World Of Gumball, The Quest,” (Mic Graves and Ben Bocquelet, U.K., France)

SPECIAL AWARD, TV SERIES

“Little Nick, At Playtime We Fight,” (Arnaud Bouron, France, Luxembourg and India)

TV SPECIAL

“Princess’ Painting,” (Johannes Weiland, Klaus Morschheuser, Germany)

SPECIAL JURY AWARD

“Big Bang Big Boom,” (Blu, Italy)

FIRST FILM

“The Lost Town of Switez” (Kamil Polak, Poland-France-Canada- Switzerland-Denmark)

SPECIAL MENTION

“Paths of Hate,” (Damian Nenow, Poland)

SACEM AWARD, ORIGINAL MUSIC

“Maska,” (Quay Brothers, Poland )

AUDIENCE AWARD

“Luminaris,” (Juan Pablo Zaramella, Argentina)

EDUCATIONAL, SCIENTIFIC OR INDUSTRIAL FILM AWARD

“How to Feed the World,'” (Denis Van Waerebeke, France)

ADVERTISING OR PROMOTIONAL FILM AWARD

Canal J, “Royaume de Gnagnagna,” (Olivier Jeannel, France)

MUSIC VIDEO AWARD

Charlie Winston, “I Own You,” (Romain Chassaing, France)

BEST GRADUATION FILM:

“Plato,” (Leonard Cohen, ENSAD, France)

SPECIAL JURY AWARD

“Trois Petits Points,” (Lucrece Andreae, Alice Dieudonne, Tracy Nowocien, Florient Parrot, Ornelie Prioul, Remy Schaepman, Gobelins, France)

SPECIAL MENTION

“The Eagleman Stag,” (Mikey Please, Royal College of Art, U.K.)

JUNIOR JURY AWARD, GRADUATION FILM

“Plato,” (Leonard Cohen, ENSAD, France)

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