ANNECY, France — France’s Annecy Festival, the world’s biggest animation meet, opens its doors June 11. Here are 12 takes on this year’s edition, and the state of the animation business:
1.ANNECY BREAKS ATTENDANCE RECORDS, AGAIN
This will be the largest Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival ever. One week out, accreditations for its Intl. Animation Film Market (MIFA) were tracking 16% up vs. 2017, at 3,500. That’s the biggest attendance, and the biggest’s growth in attendance, on record, said MIFA head Mikaël Marin. Total Annecy attendance – festival guests, students and MIFA participants – was 10% up on last year’s 10,000, another historical record. Quaint, fairy-tale-like town it may be. But in numbers, Annecy is not much smaller than, say, MipTV, thanks of course to a much larger festival.
2. ANIMATION BIZ DRIVERS
So what else is new? Annecy has grown every single year since at least the turn of the decade, said Marin. Various animation biz fundamentals are in play: Bullish government support, at least to date, for animation in key established (France) and emerging (Brazil) markets; China’s transformation from service industry to distribution and co-production and investment power; the festival’s outreach to Japan; Netflix and other digital platforms’ galvanization of exports and production; the perception that animation, or family entertainment, remains one of the most resilient of cinema theater-going experiences; the bullish move into animation of near all Hollywood studios.
“Growth is a combination of a lot of factors: We have more companies and countries moving into animation, more majors producing animation,” said Marin. “There are many more sources for originating great films, content and innovative ideas and also so many more worldwide platforms to experience the content on,” added Chuck Peil, head of strategic partnerships at Reel FX Animation.
3.WAS THAT PARADISE?
But is this as good as its gets? Just last week, French culture minister Françoise Nyssen announced that France 4, France’s second biggest children’s channel, will be closed; Viacom confirmed that Cyma Zarghami was stepping down as president of Nickelodeon Group, as the channel battles ratings’ erosion; with both Disney and Comcast kicking its tires, most of Hulu’s content division was restructured.
Its unclear if France 4 will finally disappear: France’s Sfpa animation guild and CNC state-sector film-TV board are fighting a spirited campaign for its preservation: France’s animation industry has doubled its workforce (since 2004) and expenditure (since 2015), up to €344 million ($387 million), the CNC points out; in TV export terms, animation is France’s national champion, is biggest export force, Spfa argues. But, given its long production schedules and heifer budgets, animation is an industry which thrives on certainty. Disquiet has suddenly flared.
4.HOLLYWOOD’S BIGGEST PLAYS
After world premieres of all of the “Despicable Me” franchise to date, there’s no big Hollywood world premiere this year at Annecy. But Hollywood will be out in force. Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Paramount and Sony will all make major unveils. Dean DeBlois will make the the first extended presentation outside the DWA studio walls of “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” Walt Disney Animation Studios’ presentation next Friday of “Ralph Breaks the Internet” includes never-before-seen footage. Its only other public presentation was last summer’s Disney D23 Expo. Some of the main footage of Paramount Animation’s “Wonder Park” presentation was seen at cinema.com, but Annecy’s presentation will be a much deeper dive. Meanwhile, Annecy will also host a world premiere of an unfinished version of Sony Pictures Animation’s Adam Sandler-voiced “Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation,” presented by director Genndy Tarkovsky. Warner Bros. Animation’s Alison Abbate will talk an audience through a look ahead of upcoming attractions, including “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.”
Bringing its biggest delegation ever, Netflix will for the first time ever make a presentation at Annecy, moderated by Melissa Cobb, VP, Kids & Family Entertainment. Details were under wraps through Sunday at least. Kazuto Nakazawa, who directed the anime sequences of “Kill Bill: Volume 1,” and Andy Coyle, who is directing animated series “Hilda” for Netflix. As Netflix ramps up its ongoing, now five-year relationship with DreamWorks Animation, a chance to sense the tenor and save of the streaming giant’s toon ambitions.
6.WOMEN AT ANNECY
After all that’s gone down just recently – the arrest of Harvey Weinstein, the exit from Disney of John Lasseter, often thought the second most influential animator of all time – 2nd Women in Animation Summit, held June 11 at Annecy, only becomes all the more important. But Annecy itself still frames a paradox. For every year since his appointment in 2013, Annecy’s graduation film competition has had more shorts by women than men, Annecy artistic director Marcel Jean observed. That ratio flips for competition shorts: men directors outnumber women by nearly three to one. Only two long features by women – Nora Twomey’s “The Breadwinner,” Nina Paley’s “Sender Masochism” – make Annecy’s official 10-title competition cut. Clearly something happens to women animators’ careers between graduation and the time when many animators make a feature.
7.WOMEN ANIMATION DIRECTORS: QUALITY, IF NOT QUANTITY
The smallish number of films by women at Annecy is most certainly not by festival design. And, if in quantity, women directors hardly dominate the Festival, the quality of their work is hardly to be doubted. Variety will profile 10 buzzed-up shorts at Annecy this year. Five are from women directors. Their number could easily have been ten. For example, and in no particular order: Alison Snowden (“Animal Behaviour”), Justine Vuylsteker (“Embrace,” with an extraordinary use of pinscreen), Sarah Van den Boom (“Raymonde , or the Vertical Escape”), Anca Damian (“The Call”), Nienke Deutz (“Bloeistraat 11”), Martina Scarpelli (“Egg”), Marta Pajek (“Impossible Figures and Other Stories III), Stacey Steers (“Edge of Alchemy”), Shelby Hadden (“Tightly Wound”), Elyse Kelly (“Johnny’s Home”).
8.A NEW FEMALE FRANKNESS
“It’s important to be in the vanguard of gender change,” said Annecy Festival artistic director Marcel Jean. On Annecy’s own path towards parity, Jean will sign a gender equality charter on Tuesday; WIA receives an Annecy Festival industry award, also on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, one of the building trends seen at this year’s festival in its short formats at least, as Jean observes, is an exploration, made by women and also men, of female physical sensibility, whether recounting daydreams of physical intimacy (“Embrace”), remembrance of a dead husband (“Vibrato,” from “The Girl Without Hands’” Sebastian Laudenbach), the frustrated solitude of a 60-year-old spinster (“Raymonde”), or an old nun’s fraying mind, a sexually-tinged mental mulch of childhood memory, fantasy and dream (Estonian animator Riho Unt’s “Maria and the 7 Dwarfs”).
And they explore with, when it comes to female directors, what looks like a new frankness. Rocío Alvarez’s “Simbiosis Carnal” celebrates female desire: Motherhood is associated with entrapment. Scarpelli’s black and white “Egg” narrates, with febrile Edgar Allen Poe-ish obsession, a woman’s battle with anorexia, Shelby Hadden’s “Tightly Wound” the torment of chronic pelvic pain. “Sexuality and the relationship between a woman and her body is at the heart of expression of often young female animation filmmakers,” said Jean. He added: “Animation is a great medium to talk about these kinds of matters. You can’t really make an explicit film on a subject like vaginismus, as Hadden does, in live action. It would be a bit too up front.”
9.A PROGRESS TEST
“Depending on the [Hollywood] film studio, traditional ways of making movies or collaborating with animation studios are evolving including an earlier and more meaningful involvement in the overall creative process” said Peil, at Reel FX Animation, the animation studio on Warner Bros. Animation’s’ “Scooby” which developed and is now co-producing “Monster on the Hill” with Paramount Animation and Walden Media.
“It’s all about elevating the quality of film and tapping into the wealth of creative and production value animation studios bring to the table. I think you’re going to see more of that over the next few years,” Peil added. In this sense, “Paramount Animation’s “Wonder Park” looks like a new litmus test for just how much creativity animation studios – in this case Spain’s Ilion Animation Studios – can bring to the table. There’s certainly an “immense benefit” for animation studios that partner with Hollywood’s majors: “These studios are acquiring a lot of experience and developing a lot of talent which over the course of time will spread out to other, smaller studios. Wherever one of this big productions is developed it is the central point of a much larger ecosystem,” said Ilion founder Ignacio Perez Dolset.
Half of Annecy’s competition films this year have an obvious political dimension. That’s no coincidence. Animation is a good medium to talk to a different public, and highly practical. “‘The Breadwinner’ tells a story about Afghanistan to a very large audience, using animation. ‘The Wall’ would be almost impossible to make in live action. Last year’s ‘Tehran Taboo’ was certainly impossible to shoot in contemporary Iran. Since the end of the ‘60s, with cinema verité, documentary has been stuck, in close latin to reality. Animation allows documentary filmmakers a new language. a new syntax,” said Annecy artistic director Marcel Jean.
11.RAISING THE VR BAR
Virtual Reality will be more to the fore at both Annecy and MIFA. “It was much more difficult for us to make a selection of VR movies this year,” said Marin, saying close to 80 VR movies were received this year. VR storytelling and technology have both improved notably, he added. One potential highlight: Google Spotlight Stories, partners once more on VR@Annecy, who will have news to share at their early Wednesday evening panel.
The subject of Annecy’s 2018 country tribute, and a prime example of the explosion of animation outside the U.S, Europe and Japan. 80 professionals, representing 50 companies will attend. Brazil made 44 movies since 1951, it now has 25 in production, according to Marta Machado, at Brazilian animation house Otto Desenhos. One key to that growth has been not only muscular but also stable state financial support, whose bedrock is TV quotas for national content since 2012 and strong backing from Brazil’s Audiovisual Sector Fund. As much of the animation world gets animation finance jitters, Brazil, the newish kid on the kid toon block, has held strong.