Anim'est fest draws biz pros, cartoon lovers

BUCHAREST — Romania’s Anim’est film festival drew 150 film professionals from around the world and 22,000 ticket buyers, but the biggest winner of the event may be the Eastern European animation business.

While films from Estonia, Germany and Russia took the top prizes, the growing competitiveness and quality of Eastern European animation was underscored by the increased number of Western toon reps who made the trek to the fest, according to fest organizer and spokesman Toma Peiu.

“The notable thing about this year’s fest was that we had more industry guests than ever before,” says Peiu, citing a visitor’s list that included the U.K.-based Framestore, Denmark’s the Animation Workshop and Shane Acker, creator of the visual effects for “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” (2003) and director of animated feature “9.”

Peiu says the fest’s selection of 436 films for screening underscored the growing diversity of the animation market, which at Anim’est included genres ranging from puppets to hand drawing to full-computer animation. Conspicuously absent was traditional child-oriented cartoon animation.

“Animation is now a language,” says Romanian filmmaker Anca Damian, whose full-length feature “Crulic: The Path to Beyond” opened the festival. “It’s for young people, but not only for children.”

Distributors agree, citing a growing market for cartoons for grown-ups. “Animation for adults is on the rise,” says distributor Jan Naszewski, head of Warsaw-based New Europe Film Sales. “The message the market is telling us is that (this kind of film) is needed.”

Animation’s expanding appeal is partly due to its growing sophistication, and the role it is playing in live action films.

“The genre is covering a much broader range than ever before,” says Peiu, noting that such blockbusters as “Avatar” and the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films use almost as much CGI as a traditional animated feature.

Peiu says that increased demand for animation in everything from feature films to TV commercials is a boon for Eastern European animators, who are picking up work from Western animation houses.

Filmmakers are crediting the fest for building local appreciation for animation, particularly through crowd-pleasing fare like Creepy Animation Night, which featured horror toons from around the world.

“One thing that Anim’est has succeeded in doing is gathering together a young and enthusiastic audience,” says Damian. “The cinemas (during the fest) were full of people. My film was premiered in the biggest hall in Romania. … We like to complain that viewers don’t come to the cinemas anymore, but (Anim’est) brought people in.”

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