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Africa’s burgeoning animation scene got a boost this week with the announcement of an ambitious new partnership that will pair rising talents from across the continent with one of the world’s most prestigious animation festivals.

The initiative, dubbed Annecy — MIFA Pitches Animation du Monde — will offer a pan-African pitching competition organized by the Annecy Intl. Animated Film Festival and Market, the African Animation Network (AAN), and the Discop content market.

Over the course of two competitions taking place later this year, organizers will select a pair of African animation projects to take part in Annecy’s prestigious Animation du Monde in 2018. A series of workshops and master classes during Discop’s two editions will also bring vital skills development to a continent where formal animation training is still widely lacking.

The partnership, according to AAN project manager Nick Wilson, is an encouraging sign that the acclaimed French fest is “willing to engage more with Africa, and … support and partner on various initiatives” that he says “could be massively transformative for the African animation industry.”

Annecy’s engagement with the continent dates back to 2011, when it partnered with the French Institute and South African industry bodies for the inaugural Kunjanimation toon fest in Cape Town. Since rebranding as the Cape Town Int’l. Animation Festival, the leading showcase for animation from around the continent has also served as an important bridge between African animators and professionals from across the globe.

The collaboration with the AAN, described by Wilson as an “open-network platform” for African animators and industry associations, and Discop, the continent’s largest TV content market, reflects a shared desire to develop an infrastructure that will both identify and nurture African talent, while also offering a high-profile platform to promote their work.

As producers, broadcasters, and media execs from around the world arrive for DISCOP markets in Abidjan, Ivory Coast (May 31–June 1), and Johannesburg, South Africa (Oct. 25-27), animators will have the chance to pitch their projects to industry professionals in the company of some of the biggest names in broadcasting.

“There’s going to be a lot of conversation around African animation [at Discop],” says Wilson. “They’re allowing the African animation industry to market itself to the greater broadcast industry in Africa. That’s a massive spotlight.”

Discop has already put its considerable muscle behind African animators. Last November in Johannesburg, the market hosted a pitching competition sponsored by Turner and South African industry body Animation SA. The interest from the likes of Boomerang and the Cartoon Network underscored what Discop director Patrick Zuchowicki describes as “the phenomenal momentum of the African animation industry.”

For all the material support, though, the stamp of approval from Discop and Annecy could perform an equally important role by recognizing and endorsing the tremendous strides taken by African animators in recent years.

“Having that support allows us to have very high-level conversations with broadcasters, and potentially investors,” says Wilson. “It’s an amazing ecosystem that suddenly develops out of this support and these partnerships.”