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Annecy: Denmark’s “Flee” Wins 2016 Disney Channel Prize

Danish project pitched at Mifa

ANNECY  — Animated documentary “Flee” has won the Disney Channel Prize for best new series at the Annecy Festival’s 2016 MIFA market. ”Flee” will be the second feature of Danish helmer Jonas Poher Rasmussen. It turns on an Afghan immigrant who mysteriously showed up in the Danish countryside at the age of 11. Rasmussen’s first feature, “Searching for Bill,” was selected at the 2013 Goteborg Fest. Variety talked to Danish producer Charlotte De la Gournerie.

“Flee” is a coming of age animated documentary. Could you go into more detail?

It’s the story of how people are forced from their homes and into the hands of human traffickers who take them on a journey through hostile environments and cynical bureaucracies. The narrative frame of the film is a conversation between two friends –Tobias and Amin. This sets off the different stories from Amin’s life.

How is “Flee” being financed?

Gournerie: Currently, two Danish companies are involved in ”Flee” — Final Cut For Real, a documentary production company, which was Oscar nominated for “The Act of Killing” and “The Look of Silence”– and our Sun Creature Studio, a 2D animation production company, famous for their crowdfunded fantasy series “The Reward – Tales of Alethrion.” Our project has been also financially supported by the Danish Film Institute (DFI) for development phase funding. Apart from the DFI, we’ve won support from the West Danish Film Fund, Open Workshop and ANIS, Denmark’s animation association. One of our financial challenges is the films format, a 52-minute  animation film, as the DFI subsidy for a documentary films is significantly lower than the animated fiction section.

What are the financing models in Denmark for  animation production?

Gournerie: Typically, The Danish Film Institute should be part of the financial plan, to be able to raise enough money for an animation product. Next to the DFI, there is a slew of regional funding institutions like the West Danish Film Fund, Copenhagen Film Fund, Film Fyn. Over the last 5 years, they financed “Long Way North” and “Song of the Sea.”

In terms of feature film length, a co-production needs to be established, to reach non-Danish funds, from where the money raised is to be spent in the co-producer’s country. DFI is financing Danish co-producers as a minor co-production as well. DR, one of the main broadcasters in Denmark, pre-buy films.

And the most  attractive territories for co-production?

Gournerie: For this project and in general, France is a great country to co-produce with. They have a great funding system, similar to the Danish system: They have national funds such as CNC and many regional funds as well. France has some great channels such as Arte, CanalPlus, France Télévisions where “Flee” could very readily fit into their program. Arte co-produced the great animated series “Portraits de Voyages” by Bastien Dubois and “Les Aventuriers de l’Art Moderne,” a six-part one hour docu series including animation, photos and archive footage. So there are obvious so similarities.

As a producer, do you feel there’s a growing demand for animation for adults in Europe?

There’s a growing demand from directors and from audiences to make more animation targeted at young adults. But it is still very complicated especially for TV broadcasters to pre-buy or co-produce animation for adults in Europe.

But, animated series for adults are being produced in many territories…

Gournerie: Netflix, for example,  is producing their own original animated series for adults such as “Bo Jack Horseman” and “F is for Family.” In Europe, it seems a bit more complicated for TV broadcasters. But there are some good feature films or young adults such as “Adama,” nominated this year for the César Award and the European Film Award.

I think “Flee” is a different case to “Alethrion,” since it’s a documentary using animation as a media to tell a story, I hope the broadcasters will see an important story and will understand that it is not for kids just because we are using animation as a storytelling tool.

Do you detect any trends in animation sector for adults in Europe?

Gournerie: The trends in animation for adults are clearly shown in animated short films, seen in animation film festival programs – such as that at Annecy, where the majority of the audience is 15-plus. When I watch student films, I’m amazed by its creativity. When it comes to feature films or series, it is very different. Most feature films and series are for children, as more than 90% of broadcasters and distributors are looking for animated content for that specific audience. I think France is more open towards adult content. Series like “Lastman” on France Télévision and Canal+ Plus’ “Les Kassos” are both hopefully front-runners for an international movement, stating that animation is not necessarily for children only.

“The Red Turtle” directed by Michael Dudok de Wit, won a Cannes’ “Un Certain Regard” award a month ago. It is very unusual for an animation movie to win. And the audience is young adults. Let’s see how it will be received when it is screened in the cinema.

Do you see the OTT companies as an interesting, natural  platform for this cinema?

Gournerie: OTT platforms are more and more broadcasting documentary films. I feel there is a wish for storytellers and directors to use animation more and more as a media, because of the opportunities that it holds: Everything can happen, no rules are set, gravity doesn’t need to be followed and it’s only your own imagination that limits you.

But some TV broadcasters are going this direction into their schedules. They have a long track-record and way of seeing films, and therefore are slower to adapt to new trends in animation.  That’s where OTT platforms are interesting to follow, because they’re fairly new platforms. With new initiatives come new opportunities and a more open-minded approach to their products. But many OTT companies rarely co-produce or pre-buy films; only the big cannons -Netflix, Amazon, HBO- are starting to do so, but it is not easy as an independent producer to get a film pre-bought or co-produced by these big OTT-platforms, whereas TV broadcasters are more open to work with different producers.

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