Ernest-&-Celestine

Founding father of French feature animation to consult for Les Armateurs, eyes training

PARIS – Producer Didier Brunner, one of the driving forces of European feature film animation, has stepped down as president of Les Armateurs, the five-time-Oscar nommed Paris-based film/TV animation production house.

First attracting attention with Sylvain Chomet’s 1997 short “The Old Lady and the Pigeons,” the first of its Academy Award nominations, Les Armateurs, which Brunner founded in 1994, has also produced “Belleville Rendez-vous,” which scored two Oscar noms, and co-produced 2009’s “Brendan and The Secret of Kells,” which again made the final cut.

Released in the U.S. and promoted by GKids, Les Armateurs’ latest toon pic, “Ernest & Celestine” (pictured), produced with Studiocanal, scored a 100% Rotten Tomatoes critics’ rating and is in the running for the 86th Academy Awards on March 2.

Reginald de Guillebon, the owner of the Hildegarde holding company that bought up Les Armateurs in late 2011, will replace Brunner as Les Armateurs president. Brunner will be retained as an artistic consultant for Hildegarde, which also has a minority stake in Folimage, producer of the also Oscar-nommed “A Cat in Paris.”

As a consultant, Brunner will advise on screenwriting and development of the productions he initiated at Les Armateurs: feature films “French Riviera,” also co-produced with Studiocanal, the Afghanistan-set “The Swallows of Kabul” and “Marzi,” about a young girl during the fall of communism; and for TV, “Un homme est mort” and “The Long Long Holidays,” Brunner told Variety.

Brunner added that he would also like to move into training of France’s young generation of animation students. “I will not be a passive retiree,” he affirmed.

A change in Les Armateurs presidency was always on the cards since De Guillebon took over the production house in late 2011.

Brunner himself told Le Film Francais in 2012 that he imagined a “step-by-step” “sweet transition” which would see his longtime close collaborators, producer Ivan Rouveure and head of development Delphine Nicolini gradually taking over the reins of Les Armateurs.

After Brunner’s departure, Rouvere remains at Les Armateurs as a producer and has been named co-executive managing director; Nicolini will continue as director of development.

“The Armateurs team will remain loyal to a demanding and bold editorial line which has made the company successful to date,” said a Les Armateurs statement, confirming Brunner’s departure.

Les Armateurs credits also include Michel Ocelot’s – to date – Kirikou feature film trilogy, 1998’s “Kirikou and the Sorceress,” 2005’s “Kirikou and the Wild Beasts” and 2012’s “Kirikou and the Men and the Women.”

Les Armateurs ouput consolidated helped a tradition in the still-young French animation industry of exquisite, painterly 2D animation heavily influenced by the graphic design of children’s literature which at its best could have a ready audience in France and abroad. It also drew the admiration of numerous animators in Hollywood.

“My concern and hope is that Hildegarde will keep Les Armateurs’ editorial line, that there will be a continuity between now and the future, with of course new talent coming in, but always with an eye to the highest quality of programming,” Brunner said.

That hope will be shared by animation aficionados the world over.

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