Annecy: Melusine Boards Cartoon Saloon’s ‘Breadwinner,’ Among MIFA Deal News (EXCLUSIVE)

Gkids signals Oscar contenders as U.S., global animation energize 2015 Annecy

ANNECY – Linking two of Europe’s animation leaders, Melusine Production, producer of Annecy out-of-competition player “Extraordinary Tales,” has boarded Nora Twomey’s “The Breadwinner,” from Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon, which produced Tomm Moore’s Oscar-nommed “Song of the Sea.”

Twomey co-directed with Moore “Brendan and the Secret of the Kells,” also produced by Cartoon Saloon, which, like “Song,” scored an Academy Award nomination.

Confirmed to Variety at Annecy by Melusine’s Stephane Roelants, the deal will see Melusine taking charge of much of the animation and the backgrounds on the story of an Afghan girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to become her family’s breadwinner, after her father is imprisoned by the Taliban.

The Cartoon Saloon-Melusine deal marks business as usual for Europe’s animation industry: Melusine and Roelants’ Studio 352 already teamed with Cartoon Saloon on “Song of the Sea.” It was one of a slew of business announcements at a 2015 Annecy Festival and MIFA market edition that underscored both the vibrancy and challenges of the world’s animation production.

Attendance at MIFA, which celebrated its 30th anni, was up an extraordinary 10% on 2013 at 2,680 accreditations, reported Patrick Eveno, CEO of CITIA, the Annecy Fest’s organizer. 555 companies attended, 364 buyers.

2015 was the tale of two industries – the U.S. and France’s – with ever more eye-catching intervention from a now near global animation industry led by Spain, Annecy’s guest country, India and Japan – with a passionately attended Work in Progress of Mamoru Hosoda’s “The Boy and the Beast.”

Surging U.S. attendance – up a remarkable 60% going into the market  – saw most major animation companies in Hollywood fire of big cannons at Annecy, led by Universal-Illumination’s “Minions” world premiere, a first look at Fox-Blue Sky’s “The Peanuts Movie” first look, presentations of Disney-Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur” and “Zootropia,” DreamWorks Animation TV’s “Dragons: Race to the Edge,” released by Netflix on June 26, and one of Cartoon Network’s big new broadcast plays, “We Bare Bears.”

New York-based indie distributor Gkids, which since 2009 has scored six Best Animated Feature Oscar nominations, galvanized trading news at Annecy – and effectively marked three 2017 Academy Award contenders – announcing picks-ups for North America or the U.S. on Studiocanal’s “April and the Extraordinary World” (pictured) from Je Suis Bien Content, the BAC Films-sold “Extraordinary Tales,” from Melusine, and the Folimage-produced “Phantom Boy,” sold by Doc & Film Intl. and Lumiere Publishing.

One of the biggest world premieres at Annecy, along with the Marion Cotillard-voiced “April,” “Phantom Boy” has now closed Sweden (Folket’s Bio), U.K./Ireland (Soda Pictures), Norway (Arthouse), Switzerland (Agora), Denmark (Angel Films), Middle East (Falcon Films) and Poland (Vivarto). Italy, Portugal, Poland and several Eastern European territories are under negotiation, Lumiere’s Annemie Degryse said at Annecy.

Gkids pick-ups play off a growing awareness in the U.S. of independent animation.

“Even last year with ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’ and ‘Song of the Sea,’ lots of people knew Hayao Miyasaki, fewer people knew Isao Takahata. It was wonderful to have that film 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with glowing reviews, and people realize there’s another masterful filmmaker at Studio Ghibli,” said Gkids’ Eric Beckman.

“The blinders in people’s eyes about animation are starting to come off and they are finding themselves in a vibrant world of animation. The trend is really, really positive,” he added.

It is no coincidence that two of Gkids’ three pick-ups were lead-produced out of France.

A presentation made at Annecy by France’s CNC and UniFrance of 2014 animation stats confirmed that France remains the world’s third biggest animation powerhouse, in terms of animated feature production volumes, with 50 titles produced over 2010-14, said CNC president Frederique Bredin.

But French animation powerhouses face an ever-more competitive environment. The challenge is not only from new SVOD entrants in France, such as Netflix, which launched in France last September, but from other demands on kids’ eyeball time, such as YouTube.

“Competition is fierce, so channel operators need to stand out, and not only from traditional broadcasters,” said Mathieu Bejot, at export org TVFI.

On Thursday at Annecy, giant paybox Canal Plus announced it was tripling its investment in its kids channels, pre-school Piwi Plus and Teletoons Plus, for 7-11s, an announcement which drew applause from an audience packed with producers.

The two channels shows will offer “a universe which is familiar, with shared values, clearly differentiated from the competition, which is largely American, whose programs are mostly formatted, non-differentiated,” said Laurence Blaevoet, head of Canal Plus’ children’s channels and programs.

Meanwhile, Gallic conglom Lagardere, which owns DTT channel Gulli and pay TV feeds Tiiji and Canal J, continues to ramp up its original toon series, confirming at Annecy it had commissioned “Squish” from David Michel’s new company Cottonwood, and “Krosmaster,” from Ankama, which also unveiled a slew of new projects at Annecy, playing off its videogame and comicbook properties.

“TV production is dong well abroad, with French export TV sales climbing over five consecutive years. When you have finished programs, there are so many outlets, though international pre-sales are tougher,” Bejot noted.

Meanwhile, France Televisions, like the CNC, said it would plough more money into the development of original shows.

Switzerland’s “My Life as a Zucchini,” handled by Indie Sales, won the Gan Foundation Support for Distribution Award at Annecy’s Work in Progress.

Variety’s unofficial prize for best presentation, might go, tied, to Chris Meledandri, who received MIFA/Variety’s Animation Personality of the Year Award, for his keynote/Q & A where he explained Matthew McConaughey’s voice role as a koala legit theater owner in Illumination MacGuff’s upcoming animation movie and delivered sage advice to young animators, laced with self-deprecating humor; And Pierre Coffin who gave a delightful conference Friday, backed by timed visuals, presenting his (near always hilarious) commercials, student films and shorts, talking about how the Minions came into being, and reflecting – about with passion about his favorite comic books as a kid – he wasn’t allowed to see TV – that have proved a lifelong inspiration.

But toon business and deal announcements can these days come from anywhere in the world, both established animation powers, such as Japan, and relative newcomers from India to Latin America. For the first time, Hong Kong took a stand at Annecy’s MIFA market. “We wanted to be at Annecy because Asia is here. According to feedback from the Hong Kong exhibitors, it was a very fruitful experience,” said Michel Jourdan at the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. In multiple multifaceted announcements from around the world at 2015’s MIFA:

*“The Mango Brothers,” from Chile’s Zumbastico Studios, which was selected for MIFA’s 2014 feature film pitches, will now be co-produced out of Spain by Somuga, while snagging coin from Chile’s newly-created Animation Production Fund, Zumbastico’s Alvaro Ceppi said at Annecy. TV series “Puerto Papel” will be co-produced by Globo’s Gloob in Brazil, Argentina’s Canal Pakapaka and Colombia’s Señal Colombia, as regional toon co-production grows in Latin America, he added.

*Playing out of competition at Annecy, ”Dragons Nest: Warriors Dawn,” which is produced by Shanghai’s Mili Pictures’ Bill Borden (“Desperado”) and a Universal Pictures International release this summer in 25 territories including North America, has been sold by All Rights Entertainment to the Middle East (Gulf Films), Ex-Yugoslavia (Megacom), Russia (Paradise), South America (Latin American Theatrical Group), India (Star Films), Korea, Philippines and Indonesia (Chantal Chauzy). The sequel is now in production.

*”Ghost in the Shell,” which world premieres June 20 day-and date in Japan and Annecy, has secured distribution in France with Anime Ltd., for Italy with Dynit, and Spain/Portugal with Selecta Vision.

*Sold by Francesco at Prandoni at Japan’s Production I.G.,  “Miss Hokusai” has closed German-speaking Europe (Viz Media), Spain and Portugal (Selecta Vision) and Hong Kong (NeoFilms). Eurozoom will release it in France Sept. 2, Anime Ltd. plans a Oct./Nov. U.K. release.

*Spanish pubcaster TVE is in advanced negotiations to co-produce “Bubble Bip” with Planeta Junior.

*Germany’s Your Family Ent. will co-produce “Deena, Deena, Deena,” produced by Cosmos Maya, said its CEO Anish J.S. Mehta. Your Family will also distribute in German-speaking Europe.

* In negotiations launched at 2014’s MIFA, H. Gagnon Distribution will handle international sales on “My Child: Teenage Mutant Azanians,” an Afro-centric satirical toon TV  show produced by Nick Wilson and currently in pilot production, Wilson said.

*Catalan pubcaster TV3 is set to produce a new season of “The Three Triplets,” an iconic Spanish animation title that has sold to 130 companies. TV3 is currently in discussions with potential international co-production partners.

*Mexico’s Cinema Fantasma has sold “Revoltoso” to Poland’s Momakin. Gabriela Acosta, director general of MUV and president of the Mexican Animation Cluster, has signed a strategic collaboration accord with India’s Tiger Bells, headed by Vivek Kalyan.

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