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Women Rule at This Year’s Annecy Animation Festival

Even successful animation pros have admitted that sometimes they’ve felt relegated to “the kids’ table” on the awards circuit. But that doesn’t happen at Annecy, the world’s longest-running festival for animated films. At the French festival, legends like “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening attract rock star attention, while studio execs scout talent and directors unveil upcoming films.

“Annecy holds a special place,” says DreamWorks co-president and producer Bonnie Arnold, who premiered “How to Train Your Dragon 2” there last year. “There’s no greater pleasure than to see the response of your peers in animation.”

This year, Arnold will sit on the short film jury, which she expects will give her a glimpse of emerging talent. “So often, shorts become the launching pad for the animation directors of the future,” she says. Her role also makes Arnold part of Annecy history; for the first time in the festival’s 55-year run, the juries are comprised entirely of women.

That matters greatly to Marge Dean, co-president of Women in Animation. “Women are over half of the students in animation schools, yet they’re only 21% of the creative workforce,” she says. “We’re trying to rectify that.”

Along with WIA co-president Kristy Scanlan and Arnold, Dean will participate in an Annecy panel addressing this issue, where they’ll share results of a pilot program that paired experienced female mentors with up-and-coming talent.

“We’ll be opening that program up for a larger group this fall,” Scanlan says. By presenting a blueprint for what works, they’re hoping to inspire similar efforts among WIA chapters in Canada, Ireland, England, India and, especially, France, which, Scanlan notes, “will have a huge presence at Annecy.”

Dean, who’s also on the festival’s feature film jury, believes that Annecy’s focus on women this year reflects the zeitgeist. “People call us all the time and say they want to create content for girls, and they are rightfully looking at women as being a great source for that content.”

A prime example of that is the festival’s selection of the Disney XD series “Star vs. the Forces of Evil,” above, screening in competition in the television category. Created by 29-year-old Daron Nefcy, “Star” follows the adventures of a gutsy teen girl, and it’s in production for a second season.

Nefcy, whose website proclaims “I’m a girl and I draw stuff,” gets the kind of online feedback that makes her hope more women in the Internet age will pursue animation.

“My crew is more than half female,” she says. “And it’s their first job.”

Q&A sessions with such artists as Nefcy are traditions that Annecy is celebrated for, and several studio talents will be in the spotlight this year. Pixar director Peter Sohn will preview some of “The Good Dinosaur,” while Blue Sky director Steve Martino will sneak “The Peanuts Movie.” (It’s probably no accident that Martino will unveil Snoopy’s girlfriend at Annecy — she’s a French poodle named Fifi.)

Aardman will be there as well to reveal some of its “Shaun the Sheep” movie, while Disney will share glimpses of “Zootopia.” Director Genndy Tartakovsky will tease his upcoming “Hotel Transylvania 2” from Sony Pictures Animation.

And nobody will be able to miss the presence of Illumination Studios, which will underscore its importance in the European animation industry by sending more than 50 people to Annecy. Along with a keynote address from studio founder Chris Meledandri, Illumination will screen its summer release, “Minions,” the latest in its “Despicable Me” franchise.

Looking at the festival’s lineup, Arnold likens its importance to being on Broadway, saying, “If you can play at Annecy, you can play anywhere!”

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