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Bill Plympton Takes Annecy Animation Fest by Storm

Cartoon vet wins kudos, markets his films, networks with colleagues and swims in the Alpine lake

Some people go on vacation in June. Bill Plympton goes to Annecy. The man dubbed the King of Indie Animation is a popular draw at the famed French animation festival, which he’s attended since 1985.

“That’s when I started discovering the potential of Annecy. As soon as my short film ‘Boomtown’ screened there, I was bombarded by people who wanted to buy it. I had no idea that I could make a living doing animated shorts. It really turned me around in terms of the power and the marketability of Annecy.”

Plympton hopes this year’s fest will focus attention on his seventh hand-animated feature “Cheatin’” (see the signed frame above) — a noir tale of infidelity that will screen in competition. He’s twice won Annecy’s feature Grand Prix — in 1998 for “I Married a Strange Person,” and in 2001 for “Mutant Aliens.”

Plympton’s fans are primed for “Cheatin’”; they flocked to his work-in-progress session about the film at last year’s Annecy. “They were lined up at 7 on a Saturday morning,” he recalls.

This year, Plympton plans to give away free drawings after “Cheatin’” screens. “I know we’re going to have 1,000 people in the audience but I’m happy to give everybody a drawing. Then I’ll be offering prints from the film for sale, which is how I finance my films.”

While he’s earned Oscar noms for his shorts “Guard Dog” and “Your Face,” New York-based Plympton doesn’t court the big studios, which he feels don’t understand adult-oriented animation. “I’m not one of those guys who makes a short so I can get a three-picture deal.”

But Plympton does plan to attend Mifa, the Intl. Animation Film Market that coincides with Annecy, to seek distribution for “Cheatin’. ” “Mifa parties always have the best food,” he laughs. “Of course, if ‘Cheatin’ wins a prize at Annecy, sales will be easier.”

Annecy has been a networking mecca for Plympton. In 2010, when he ran into “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening, it led to Plympton getting commissions to animate “The Simpsons” couch gags. Those opportunities continue. “I did another one a few months ago,” he says.

At this year’s festival, Plympton will be talking up several projects, including the “Eating and Drinking” segment he animated for Salma Hayek’s upcoming feature “The Prophet.” He’ll also build buzz for his next short, “Footprints,” and his feature collaboration with indie animator Jim Lujan — a biker comedy called “Revengeance.”

For the past eight years Plympton has co-hosted Annecy Plus, a free screening of films that didn’t make it into the official fest. Last year, they placed a screen against a prison wall, but had to find an alternative when neighbors complained about the noise.

“We’re moving the screen to a boat this time,” Plympton says. “We’re working with a festival called Annecy Off. They have the boat and they invited us to be part of their program. So Friday night will be the Annecy Plus screening with live music and free drinks. People can sit on the shore and watch.”

Plympton doesn’t always remain onshore himself. He’s known to swim regularly in the lake at Annecy. “Right where the boats are docked there’s a little stairway down to the water. I’m not supposed to swim there, but I can’t help it — it just feels so great. I swim around the little island. Sometimes I get in trouble with the police, but I don’t care!”

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