Building on successful collaborations across the continent in recent years, Annecy is doing its part to ensure African animators have a seat at the table of the booming global toon biz.
Last year, Annecy’s Int’l. Animation Film Market (MIFA) partnered with the African Animation Network (AAN), an open-network platform for African animators and industry associations, and Discop, the world’s largest market of African TV content, to launch the first pan-African pitching competition for animators. Two winners were selected to compete with eight other projects at the Animation du Monde pitching competition in France this year, a sign that the rising profile of African animators is being recognized internationally.
“Annecy is kind of the pinnacle of our craft,” says the AAN’s Nick Wilson. “I can’t think of any other endorsement that’s bigger than that.”
Annecy has been busily expanding its global presence, leveraging the reputation of its annual French fest – which draws participants from around 100 countries – to establish a footprint on nearly every continent. Last year at Annecy, Variety, and prestige U.S. distributor Gkids launched the first Animation Is Film event in Los Angeles, aiming to fill a gap in the U.S. market for a world-class animation festival. Next year will see the launch of the Annecy Asia Int’l. Animated Film Festival, a partnership with South Korea’s Seoul Animation Center and broadband supplier SK Broadband, to be held in Seoul.
As on its partnership with Ventana Sur’s hugely successful Animation! showcase, for Africa, Annecy is choosing a different tack. “The goal is not [only] to bring content, but to identify, meet, advise and support pan-African talents,” says Géraldine Baché, head of education and projects at MIFA.
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While acknowledging the challenges in “an immense territory with huge disparities from one country to another,” she says Annecy has been able to rely on “the expertise and network of local actors,” such as the French Institute and the AAN, to develop a long-term strategy for the continent.
The partnership with Discop and the AAN yielded unexpected results in its first edition. For the semi-finals, held at the Discop markets in Abidjan and Johannesburg, the organizers received 50 submissions that showcased the surprising depth and breadth of African talent. “We’re talking about fully developed IP here,” says Wilson. “This is not a talent search where you’re looking for great ideas. Here we’re looking for almost polished product.” He adds, “To have 50 projects from a territory that’s not known for IP development is incredible.”
The two winning projects will compete during the Animation du Monde pitch sessions, which were established in 2015 as a way to support animators in countries with limited infrastructure for production. “Mumue,” a 14-minute short film created by South Africa’s Wendy Spinks and Clea Mallinson and co-produced with Canada’s Copernicus Studios, is a coming-of-age story about an African girl from an ancient, lost tribe who possesses unique, extraordinary powers. “The Tree of Palimpsest,” an animated TV series by Togo’s Ingrid Agbo, is about a story-telling grandmother who’s called upon to settle conflicts between the children in her village.
Along with punching their tickets to Annecy, notes Baché, the winners tapped into the valuable expertise of mentors from the French fest, benefiting from workshops and mentoring sessions that helped them both fine-tune their projects and prepare their pitches. “It is important that the authors keep the soul of their project,” she says. “We do not come to colonize and force our ideas. We do prefer to suggest leads, to bring them to the solution.” She adds, “They should find it by themselves.”
Two other African projects will also be taking part in the Animation du Monde pitching competition: “Last Word,” a short film by South Africa’s Diek Grobler, about a woman who sets out to find whom she believes is the only other person to speak her dying language; and “The Cloud Boy,” by Cameroon’s Alain Ngombe Babillon, about a child who lives in the clouds and attempts to help the troubled inhabitants of the world far below him. That project was born out of special program launched in Cameroon by Annecy and local partners in 2016, highlighting a concerted drive by the French fest toward “sustainably supporting the talents of their region,” says Baché.
“To come in Jo’burg once a year and to leave is not enough,” she says, of the pitching competition at Discop. “To offer visibility to a few projects during the Annecy Int’l. Animated Film Festival and Market neither. The real strength of a long-term partnership is to strengthen links with local actors.”
To that end, the pan-African pitching competition will expand this year to include a third Discop market, in Zanzibar, as well as comic conventions in Johannesburg, Nairobi, and Lagos. “Where there’s a strong comic book community, there’s a strong animation industry,” says Wilson. “The partnerships with the comic conventions are about expanding the footprint and accessing talent on the ground in those territories.”
The AAN and its partners will also have a booth at MIFA for the first time, putting African animators in the heart of the market alongside their international peers. “That’s a dialogue that has not happened previously,” says Wilson, calling it a clear sign that “Africa is emerging.”