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GKids’ Founder Eric Beckman Champions Independent Voices in Animation

Eric Beckman, founder and head of GKids, looks at animation in a different way than many of his contemporaries. This has made his independent distribution outfit a popular destination for filmmakers who are interested in telling complex stories with a more handmade approach to animation.

“We love what we do at GKids, and much of our passion is born out of the people we choose to work with,” says Beckman, who is receiving the Mifa & Variety Animation Personality of the Year Award at Annecy along with Gebeka Films’ Marc Bonny.

This year, the GKids slate includes “The Breadwinner” and “Birdboy: The Forgotten Children.”

Founded in 2008, GKids rose in stature in 2010 when “The Secret of Kells” received an animated feature Oscar nomination, joining the likes of studio pics “Up,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “Coraline” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

“The extraordinary success of ‘Kells’ really helped us, both with profitability and exposure,” Beckman says. “We did a guerrilla marketing campaign in Los Angeles, and we were stunned on nomination morning. You never forget your first.”

GKids followed that up two years later with nominations for “Chico and Rita” and “A Cat in Paris,” which would mark the first time that an independent distributor would receive dual Oscar nominations in the animation category in the same year. The company’s “Ernest & Celestine,” “When Marnie Was There,” “Boy and the World,” and “My Life as a Zucchini” have also all received Oscar nominations.

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GKids, an acronym for Guerrilla Kids Intl. Distribution Syndicate, is based in New York and that immediately separates it from the rest of the pack.

“I love New York. I grew up here and have ties to the city and I love the vibrancy. I’m an insomniac so it’s the perfect city,” Beckman jokes. He adds that they wanted to “capitalize on the indie film scene that was born here in the ’90s” and to keep that “sense of energy.” They’ve become the North American outlet for Studio Ghibli, which is something that Beckman is extremely proud about, having handled theatrical releases for “From Up on Poppy Hill,” “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya” and “When Marine Was There.” “We have a great relationship with them, and they are amazing filmmakers. I feel a kinship towards their work, whether it’s warranted or not, in that their films are meaningful and everlasting. You feel the passion, and informed audiences recognize that,” Beckman says.

And when discussing the future of animation, Beckman is very optimistic.

“I’m thrilled about the business both creatively and from a business side. I want to see an animated film win best picture at the Oscars. We can make films that are as photo-real as any live-action production, and we also have the ability to create a more challenging, abstract viewing experience. It’s the best of both worlds and I’m particularity excited to see where the industry takes us.”

Beckman also gave Variety a list of his favorite animated features.

“The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”

A staggering masterpiece. Isao Takahata captures all the pain and joy and tragic beauty of what it means to be alive together on this planet for a short time, the necessity and urgency of love, the impossibility of saving those you love.

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”

A near-perfect movie and after 80 years, a still-unrivaled achievement in filmmaking. There is not a wasted moment.

“Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”

Princess Nausicaa is my role model for how to be a human — she is strong and vulnerable, she kicks ass but has deep empathy, she cries about the beauty of nature. The scene where she lets Teto bite her hand says it all. (And the god warriors are also about the coolest things ever animated.)

“Yellow Submarine”

This was my favorite movie growing up. (I saw it upwards of 15 times.) I love the music, the psychedelia, all the different animation styles, the message of love, the blue meanies, the Glove.

“Kirikou and the Sorceress”

A poetic marvel. The opening scene where Kirikou demands to be born is pure genius. (This film also needs to be credited for kick-starting the resurgence in European animation, without little Kirikou, none of us would be here.)

“Sita Sings the Blues”

I am just going to quote Roger Ebert, who sums up my feelings perfectly: “I am enchanted. I am swept away. I am smiling from one end of the film to the other.” (The fact that Nina Paley made “Sita Sings the Blues” all by herself is remarkable.)

“The Secret of Kells”

Tomm Moore’s “The Secret of Kells” was the first movie GKids licensed and you never forget your first. It is an amazing film: The character of Aisling, the song “Pangur Ban,” the Viking attack on Kells … every frame is a work of art.

“The King and the Mockingbird”

The fluid surrealism reminds me a bit of Max Fleisher or Ub Iwerks: elevators are beetles attached to telescoping antennas, buildings hang like barnacles from gargantuan pillars, the King’s throne turns into a bumper car … it’s fun and inventive but has a dark undercurrent.

“Mind Game”

This film is an explosion of unconstrained expression, rapid fire associations mimic the thought process, like Masaaki Yuasa’s brain splattered onto the screen in all its goopy glory. It makes other animated films look tame. Yuasa took a budget limitation and turned it into an asset. You couldn’t make this film for twice the money.

“My Neighbor Totoro”

Ahem. In the Ghibli Museum in Japan there is a soft furry Catbus that small kids get to climb inside of. They have to take their shoes off first. I want a Catbus to climb in too! Please??? (I know this isn’t technically “my impression of the film,” but if you need to know why “Totoro” is a wonderful film you probably aren’t reading this.)

Beckman notes: Picking my favorite films is like picking my favorite food; it depends what you are in the mood for. So on a different day this could just as easily be the list: “Akira,” “The Incredibles,” “Toys in the Attic,” “Ernest & Celestine,” “Castle in the Sky,” “Dumbo,” “Paprika,” “Summer Wars,” “The Lion King,” “The White Mare.” Also, it saddens me that only one woman director is represented in this group. Women need to make more movies. Men need to step aside and let women make more movies. We are all so much more impoverished that this isn’t the case.

As told to Nick Clement

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