Anyone wanting to take the measure of animation trends need only look at the range of films screening at Annecy.
The yearly festival in the French countryside is attracting a broad swath of animation, from big studio releases like Universal/Illumination’s “The Secret Life of Pets” and Disney/Pixar’s “Finding Dory” to personal, indie efforts of every length and style.
This year’s festival is placing special focus on French animators, for whom Annecy is a traditional mecca.
“The French were early adopters of computer animation,” says Illumination Entertainment chief Chris Meledandri, who’ll unveil “The Secret Life of Pets” at the festival. When that film’s credits roll, the role of French artists will be apparent, and their contributions have continued to rise since Universal/Illumination purchased the Paris-based studio Mac Guff in 2011. “Mac Guff started at 100 people and today it’s at 850,” says Meledandri.
Meledandri points to significant demographic trends that show audiences for animated films are expanding beyond the parents-with-kids demo. “The appetite for animated films is growing in a manner that can support a growing talent pool. When you see the films that are being made internationally, you realize there isn’t one type of storytelling anymore.”
That’s especially evident in the types of independent animated features that have been chosen to screen in competition at Annecy. Notable among them is “Nuts!” a Sundance award-winning documentary that mixes live action and animation to relate the bizarre tale of crackpot surgeon John Romulus Brinkley. Back in 1917, Brinkley claimed he could cure impotence by grafting goat testicles onto men. Filmmaker Penny Lane, who’d previously directed the documentary “Our Nixon,” engaged various animators to visualize many crazy aspects of Brinkley’s contentious ideas.
“I don’t come from the animation field,” says Lane, who admits she’d never even heard of Annecy before submitting “Nuts!” She collaborated online with animators around the world by using Dropbox to share material, and raised $80,000 on Kickstarter to fund the effort. “We thought our subject would be click-worthy,” she laughs, and her production exemplifies how indie filmmakers can succeed using today’s tools. After Annecy, “Nuts!” will get a theatrical run and Amazon will stream the film this fall.
“Window Horses,” another indie feature, will also screen in competition at Annecy. Vancouver-based Ann Marie Fleming used the site Indiegogo to raise cash, and says, “Crowdfunding was integral to getting this film made.” Her coming-of-age film follows a young woman traveling to Iran for a poetry festival, and its “collage” style showcases artwork from Iranian, Chinese and Canadian artists. It also benefits from first-rate voice acting by a cast that includes Sandra Oh and Ellen Page.
“Window Horses” received partial funding from the National Film Board of Canada, making it the first NFB-backed feature chosen for Annecy in 20 years. It reflects NFB’s commitment to allot half its production spending to female-directed films. Fleming, who like Lane will attend Annecy, represents the rising profile of women directors in animation.
This diversity of creative sensibilities is a welcome development for the industry, says Meledandri. “The proliferation of talent, knowledge, tools and experience will lead to many different methodologies in making movies. It’s a period of explosive growth in animation, and with that will come many different styles.”
What: Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival
When: June 13-18
Where: Annecy, France
Pictured: Illumination Entertainment follows up its smash “Minions” with “The Secret Life of Pets,” which premieres at Annecy.