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Annecy: Gkids Takes U.S. to Studiocanal’s ‘April,’ with Marion Cotillard (EXCLUSIVE)

From the producers of ‘Persepolis,’ ‘April and the Extraordinary World’ competes at this week’s Annecy Animation Festival

ANNECY, France – New York’s Gkids, the distributor of six best animated feature Oscar nominees, has acquired U.S. rights to “April and the Extraordinary World,” with Marion Cotillard as the voice of April.

Sold, co-produced and distributed by European film-TV group Studiocanal, lead-produced by Paris-based Je Suis Bien Content, the animation studio on “Persepolis,” and directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, “April” screens in competition beginning June 15 at the Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival.

Aska Yamaguchi for Studiocanal and Eric Beckman for Gkids negotiated the deal. Gkids plans an early 2016 release in both French and English-language versions.

The steampunk adventure thriller, which charts a young girl’s journey to fulfill her destiny, is inspired by one of Europe’s most celebrated graphic novelists, France’s Jacques Tardi — also a graphic designer on “April” — forefronting his signature graphic style, humor and social criticism.

An alternate history steampunk adventure set in a world where all scientists have been taken prisoner and history has come to a standstill, “April and the Extraordinary World” first unspools in a 1941 Paris, ruled by Napoleon V, which has two Eiffel Towers and cable-cars zigzagging above its soot-clod streets. There, a family of scientists, on the brink of discovering a powerful longevity serum, mysteriously disappears, leaving behind their young daughter, April (Cotillard).

Teh years later, April, now an intrepid young woman — like many of Tardi’s protagonists – sets out to find her parents, and is plunged into the center of a shadowy and far-reaching conspiracy, forced to go on the run from government agents, bicycle-powered dirigibles and cyborg rat spies.

“April” is “a critique of the world we’re living in now,” Tardi told Variety, calling it an “entertaining scientific fantasy” based on rigorous documentation.

Produced by Marc Jousset and Franck Ekinci at Je Suis Bien Content, “April” plays off a golden triple territory triangle for animation financing, being structured as a France-Canada-Belgium co-production between JSBC, Studiocanal, Kaibou Production UMT, Need Productions, Arte France Cinema, Jouror Distribution, Belgian pubcaster RTBF, Proximus and Tchack. O’Brother Distribution distributes in Belgium.

Deal marks the first high-profile U.S. distribution pact announced at 2015’s Annecy Animation Festival, set in the French Alps, which opens today. It may not be the last.

The North American theatrical distributor of Studio Ghibli’s library of films and a longtime producer of the New York International Children’s Film Festival, North America’s largest festival of film for children and teens, since 2009 Gkids has scored six animated feature Oscar nominations – second only to Disney – with “The Secret of Kells” in 2010, “A Cat in Paris” and “Chico & Rita” in 2012, “Ernest & Celestine” in 2014, and “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” and “Song of the Sea” in 2015.

Current and upcoming releases include “When Marnie Was There,” from director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Studio Ghibli; 2014 Annecy winner “Boy and the World,” by Brazilian director Ale Abreu; and “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet,” directed by Roger Allers and produced by Salma Hayek, which opens this year’s Annecy Festival.

For Gkids’ Beckman and David Jesteadt, the U.S. market is expanding for independent animation.

“Audiences are growing, and the most exciting thing for us is the growing awareness of independent animation,” Beckman said. He continued: “We have six Oscar nominations. In the old days, people would say: ‘What a crazy surprise, a film coming out of nowhere.’ Now there’s increasing recognition that smaller-budget films from other countries have a lot of entertainment and artistic value.”

Jesteadt added: “U.S. theatrical’s grown steadily. We’ve seen the best results on home video, particularly with titles that have streaming deals. As a company, we are now old enough, given the long production cycles of films, to be handling second or third films with some directors, and can take advantage of the auteurist sensibilities of the directors.”

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