Eric Beckman, Marc Bonny Receive Variety & Mifa 2017 Animation Personality of the Year Award

The world’s animation industry pays tribute at a select seated dinner to two distributors of exquisite independent animated features

ANNECY, France — Guillermo del Toro, DreamWorks Animation’s Chris DeFaria and Bonnie Arnold and Sony Pictures Animation’s Kristine Belson were among guests at a seated dinner at Annecy’s lake-side Imperial Palace on Tuesday night to celebrate this year’s recipients of the 2017 Mifa & Variety Animation Personality of the Year Award: Eric Beckman, founder of New York’s Gkids, and Marc Bonny, founder of France’s Gebeka Films.

The choice of Beckman and Bonny was hardly made a chance affair. As Bonny remarked, accepting his award, the two are in many ways cousins.

Launched in 2008 but really taking off when David Jesteadt joined the company, Beckman said in his acceptance speech, Gkids is the only independent distributor to have won an Academy Award animated feature nomination. In fact, as a trailer suggested, the films it has distributed in the U.S. have won nine, taking in the Studio Ghibli films, Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey’s “The Secret of Kells,” “A Cat in Paris,” “Chico & Rita,” “Ernest and Celestine” and “My Life as a Zucchini.”

It is no coincidence that Gkids’ second release, “Azur & Asmar,” was by the same French director, Michel Ocelot, whose debut, “Kirikou and the Sorceress,” was Gebeka Films’ second release and first big hit in France. Or that one of Gebeka Films’ early successes – Hayao Miyazaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro,” is a highlight of the Studio Ghibli collection, acquired by Gkids for North American theatrical distribution in 2011.

The awards were preceded by two sizzle reels of acquisitions at both the distribution houses. “The images speak for themselves,” said Mickael Marin, head of Annecy’s MIFA market.

“The prizes also praise your ambition, he added. addressing Beckman and Bonny. “Each one of your productions have been able to affect audiences positively, with your distribution strategies and ambitious editorial line which gives free rein to unique cinema works.”

“It’s really signifiant the two honorees are not only involved in production but especially distribution,” added

Peter Debruge, Variety chief film critic.

“Before Gkids’ launch there really wasn’t a distributor in the U.S. for quality auteur-driven animation films,” he added, recalling Hayao Miyazaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro” had to be distributed in the U.S. by Troma Films.

“It was thanks to the DreamWorks and Pixar revolution, that the market for hand-drawn animation really exploded. Gkids’ nine Oscar nominations have proven what a loss it would have been if Gkids had not stepped in.”

Accepting his award, Beckman recognized the special importance of Annecy for the promotion and export of the upscale international independent animated movies which have become Gkids’ hallmark.

We started coming to Annecy seven years ago. I’d look around  and there would be a poster of my film, and, well, there’s another poster and I’d look around and say, wow, there’s [the distinguished French animation director] Jean-François Laguioini having coffee,” he recalled.

“What a wonderful crazy place this is. So it is like the one place in the world where I’m semi-famous and I enjoy coming here,” Beckman joked.

“France’s market is different to the U.S. There’s a real appreciation for small, hand-made auteur-driven films and some of their existence owes to Marc’s involvement,” said Debruge. “A lot of films which fall into the hands of Gkids have passed through your hands first so you are to be equally commended,” Debruge told Bonny.

Also in attendance at the awards dinner for the Variety & Mifa Animation Personality of the Year awards dinner: David Jesteadt, upped to Gkids president this January; Melissa Cobb, COO of Oriental DreamWorks; Jana Day, head of recruitment at Sony Pictures Animation; Jason Sadler, a lead character designer at Blue Sky Studios; and Deb Stone, its manager of recruiting and talent development.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • 45 Seconds of Laughter

    Film Review: '45 Seconds of Laughter'

    “Everyone is worth more than their worst act,” said Roman Catholic sister and anti-death penalty advocate Helen Prejean, and it’s with these words that “45 Seconds of Laughter” closes. It’s an apt sentiment on which to leave Tim Robbins’ sincerely felt documentary study of the therapeutic acting workshops run by his own theater company in [...]

  • Julie Andrews

    Julie Andrews Selected for AFI's Life Achievement Award

    The American Film Institute Board of Trustees has selected Julie Andrews as the recipient of the 48th AFI Life Achievement Award. The award will be presented to Andrews on April 25 in Los Angeles. The ceremony will be telecast on TNT. “Julie Andrews is practically perfect in every way,” said Kathleen Kennedy, chair of the [...]

  • 4127_D001_00007_RC Phyllis Logan stars as Mrs.

    'Downton Abbey' to Dominate Box Office Weekend With $30 Million

    The feature film version of “Downton Abbey” is heading for an impressive $30 million opening weekend at 3,079 sites for an easy victory at the North American box office, early estimates showed Friday. The launch of Brad Pitt’s space drama “Ad Astra” will land in second with about $20 million, while Sylvester Stallone’s action-thriller “Rambo: [...]

  • BETWEEN TWO FERNS, 2019, PH_0027.RAF

    Film Review: 'Between Two Ferns: The Movie'

    If you’re a fan of “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis,” the fake public-access talk show that Zach Galifianakis has been hosting online, for three to six minutes a pop, over the last 10 years, then you’ll probably like “Between Two Ferns: The Movie,” the snark-lite 82-minute road movie that Galifianakis and his director and [...]

  • The Irishman

    Martin Scorsese, Frances McDormand, Donald Sutherland Join Lineup of France's Lumiere Festival

    Martin Scorsese’s eagerly awaited Netflix movie “The Irishman” wasn’t completed on time to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival, but Thierry Fremaux, Cannes’s topper, managed to pin down the high-profile movie and Scorsese himself for the upcoming Lumiere festival in Lyon next month. Dedicated to heritage movies, the Lumiere festival was created 10 years [...]

  • 'Aladdin' Star Mena Massoud Calls for

    'Aladdin' Star Mena Massoud Calls for a Broader Diversity of Storytelling in Movies and TV

    The star of “Aladdin,” Egyptian-Canadian actor Mena Massoud, called for a greater diversity of storytelling in movies and television when he spoke at the glamorous opening ceremony Thursday of the 3rd edition of Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival. Massoud, whose credits include Amazon’s “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” and Hulu’s “Reprisal,” lauded “the power of art” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content