Annecy: Didier Brunner’s Unveils Folivari’s First Slate (EXCLUSIVE)

Projects include animated Everest epic, Inca empire adventure, ‘Ernest & Celestine’ spinoff, Benjamin Renner TV specials

Didier Brunner
Courtesy of Folivari

ANNECY – Didier Brunner, one of the founding fathers of modern European animation, is teaming with Julianne Films’ Jean-Charles Ostorero to produce a 2D/CGI big screen animated feature Everest epic “The Summit of the Gods,” a celebrated manga series written and illustrated by Japan’s Jiro Taniguchi.

Currently at screenplay stage, “Summit” marks one of four animation projects at Folivari as Brunner – a producer on “Brendan and the Secret of Kells,” Michel Ocelot’s “Kirikou” trilogy, “Belleville Rendez-vous” and “Ernest & Celestine,” films that have won four Oscar nominations – advances on the first production slate at Folivari, which he launched last year. It already looks set to become of Europe’s key sources of upscale animation.

Projects span and TV: Feature “Gods”; an “Ernest & Celestine: The Collection” TV series; “The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales,” from the “Ernest & Celestine” movie writer-director Benjamin Renner; and Inca period feature “Pachamana,” to be helmed by Argentina’s Juan Antin.

Folivari is also studying development with a view to animation adaptation of “The Nazis, My Father and Me,” a novel by Cornell U faculty member Robert H. Lieberman.

The director would be Remy Schaepman, “a brilliant young artist and director from La Poudriere, the great art school in Valence,” said Brunner.

Though spanning film and TV, the projects are knit by the same production philosophy which Brunner put into practice when president of Les Armateurs, scoring five Oscar nominations: “An original universe as possible; original stories deriving from the personal vision of an auteur.”

That said, at Folivari, Brunner aims to make animation works which solves the “equation of being as artistically creative as possible but also attractive to wide audiences,” he said, citing as a successful case the France 3 co-produced “The Long, Long Holidays,” a World War II-set TV series.

Currently at screenplay stage, “The Summit of the Gods” turns on two Japanese climbers who attempt to scale Everest in winter without oxygen.

With Jean-Christophe Roger (“Allez Raconte”) attached to direct, “Summit” is the story of a great passion that drives two men to become totally crazy about high mountains and their crazy desire to attempt something that is totally impossible,” Brunner said. “Long, Long Holidays’” Guillame Mautalent and Sebastian Oursel, who wrote “Long, Long Holidays” storyline and dialogue, are penning “Summit.” A complete screenplay and provisional pilot will be ready by year-end 2015, per Brunner. “This ia a big epic story, with a highly spectacular scenario, very attractive visually because of the the nature of the Himalayaa and its setting in wild nature,” he added.

Presented at March’s Cartoon Movie in Lyon, and targeting kids demos, Antin’s “Pachamama” turns on Tepulpai, a budding 10-year-old boy shaman, who attempts to save his friend Naira from Incas, and is then kidnapped by Spanish conquistadors. An eco-themed adventure – Pachamama is a mother earth, for instance, “Pachamama” is “a kind of ‘Kirikou’ in Peru,” which will use the style, colors and music of pre-Colombian art, Brunner said. Written by Patricia Valeix, the co-scribe of “Long Way North,” which competes at Annecy, director Antin and Olivier de Bannes, “Pachamama’s” screenplay will be complete by the end of summer, Brunner added.

Both Folivari’s TV projects, the 26 13-minute-episode “Ernest & Celestine: The Collection,” and “The Big Bad Fox,” the first of Benjamin Renner’s TV specials, are near to going into production, Brunner said.

Backed by Canal Plus and pubcaster France Televisions, TV series “Ernest & Celestine: The Collection” is set up as a co-production with Stephane Roelant’s Studio 352 in Luxembourg, which will deliver backgrounds and some storyboarding. Animation will be carried out entirely at Angouleme’s Blue Spirit Studio. Series is directed by Jean-Christophe Roger and the the young Julien Chheng from scripts by Jean Regnaud, who co-penned “My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill.”

“I really wanted to have this combination of an experienced director whose work I know very well and a young one, who is a brilliant animator, and the director of some short films that I appreciated,” Brunner commented.

“Ernest and Celestine” the movie sold 982, 785 French cinema tix – about $8 million in gross box office.

That said, “We don’t want the series to be too classical,” Brunner cautioned, saying that the series aimed for a broader audience than the film, which was considered an art film in some quarters. The series will use the same watercolor style, but would mix CGI animation and 2D character design and rendering, to boost productivity.

Episodes would, however, cleave closer to Gabrielle Vincent’s original books than the feature film.

Initiating storyboarding, graphic designs, character and backgrounds in June/July, “Ernest and Celestine” will move into production in Sept./Oct. 2015.

Represented by Emmanuelle Petry’s Dandelooo, “Ernest & Celestine” has pre-sold to 20-plus territories, many in Europe. Folivari is in discussions with a potential distribution partner, per Brunner.

Sold by Superights, “The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales” adapts Benjamin Renner’s eponymous comicbooks, “The Big Bad Fox,” “A Baby To Deliver” and “A Perfect Christmas,” featuring a weedy fox, a naïve rabbit, a stupid duck and a grumpy pig. Renner will direct at least “The Big Bad Fox,” about a fix that despairs that it can’t scare a hare. “The dialogues and comedy are very realistic but the acting and characters are more caricature,” Brunner commented. Studiocanal will handle French DVD distribution and second sales after Canal Plus’ premium pay TV window, Brunner said. “Big Bad Fox” will be ready for delivery by Christmas 2016.