ANNECY, France — 20 years ago, this Dec. 19, with “Kirikou and the Sorceress,” director Michel Ocelot and producer Didier Brunner brought the flag down on the modern age of movie animation in Europe.
Sold by SC Films, “Pachamama,” to be unveiled Thursday at an Annecy Festival Music and Animated Movies presentation, shows Brunner remaining true to his principles but not to a style. It comes as Folivari, the Paris-based production house he launched in 2014, also underscores just how much Europe’s animation industry has flourished, despite headwinds.
“Every production has its own personality and originality,” says Brunner. Washed through by the world view and aesthetics of indigenous South American, “Pachamama” harks back in some ways to “Kirikou.” But it is chalk and cheese, however, compared to the near photo-realism of “The Summit of the Gods,” an Everest-set epic, or the mellow water colors of “The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales,” a stereotype-busting barnyard caper, among recent or upcoming Folivari projects.
The story’s industrial cast is, however, typical Brunner. For the producer, “Pachamama” follows on Benjamin Renner’s “The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales,” and “Ernest & Celestine,” produced by Brunner out of his former shingle, Les Armateurs.
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“The Big Bad Fox” won Cesar and Lumière Awards this year for best animated feature. It has also grossed $8.2 million worldwide.
Released by Studiocanal over Christmas 2012 in France, “Ernest & Celestine” earned around $9.5 million in France alone. No Studiocanal total-animation movie has grossed more since.
Set on the cusp of Francisco Pizarro’s invasion of Peru from 1532, “Pachamama” targets five-to-eight year olds, said Brunner. But it weighs in as a thought-through, exquisitely artistic family film aimed at broader audiences, a classic adventure quest and rights of passage tale, however young the hero. This allows tykes a fun deep dive into the culture, nature and landscapes of the Andes altiplano both just before and during the Spanish Conquest and indeed to a large degree today. Variety has had access to the film’s trailer.
Directed by Argentina’s Juan Antin, “Pachamama” turns on Tepulpaï, a mischievous 10 year-old living in a village nestling in Peru’s altiplano, its high plateau, who dreams of becoming a shaman. When an Inca overlord confiscates the villagers’ sacred statue, the Huaca, by way of paying taxes, Tepulpaï sees the chance to show his metal, stealing away to retrieve the Huaca joined, whether he likes it on not, by friend Naira. Meanwhile, Pizarro invades Peru.
Antin’s credits include 2002’s “Mercano the Martian,” about a dweeb alien landing in Buenos Aires, described by Variety as “a slyly political, frequently antic take on the classic paranoid scenario of a Martian invasion of Earth.” Just as one sympathies lie in “Mercano” with the Martian, a victim of a hard-nosed capitalist Corporation, “Pachamama,” Antin has insisted, is the first animation feature to portray the Spanish Conquest from the point of view of the invaded.
It also draws on two large sources of inspiration, said Brunner:
“Cultural identity builds personality,” he added, commenting that “for this film, it was strategic for the director to take inspiration from the culture and the art of the indigenous populations of Peru and Bolivia.”
Increasingly realistic in Europe’s Renaissance, indigenous representation of the world is more symbolic, Brunner argued. Using 3D CGI for characters but, importantly, 2D for most of the backgrounds, “Pachamama” enrolls the flattened multi-level perspectives of indigenous art.
“We wanted to keep the volume and rendering of the background design and a lot of perspective in the backgrounds, via a multi-level design,” Brunner commented.
The film’ score was composed by Baroque music specialist Pierre Hamon, using ancient water flutes, some from the real period, as well as tambourin and condor feathers. At the Annecy presentation, Hamon will display and play some of the ancient instruments he used.
“Pachamama” portrays a world in harmony: the Huaca, representing Pachamama, a world mother who protects the indigenous communities, encouraging good harvests, is essential to preserve that balance. Dressed is condor feathers, the village shaman is at one with nature and communes with ancestors. Many of the film’s frames take in the earth, the sky, and the sun or stars: a whole cosmology.
Secondly, Brunner said, “Pachamama’s” rich, dark, soft hues draw on the “incredible palette of the forest and high mountains of Peru and the Andean Cordillera.” (Just think of the remarkable Vinicunca, or Montaña de Siete Colores outside Cuzco.)
To be released in French theaters by Haut et Court Distribution in December 2018, “Pachamama” also underscores just how far Europe’s animation industry has come in the last 20 years. Before “Kirikou,” Brunner produced one animated feature in six years. In just 2018, Folivari has five animated features in production: “Pachamama”; the “Stinky Dog” TV series, directed by Davy Durand, Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar (“A Town Called Panic”); “The Summit of the Gods,” from Jirō Taniguchi’s manga, a co-production with Julianne Films, directed by Patrick Imbert; “Samsam,” a movie directed by Tanguy de Kermel and made by Macguff Ligne France and Belgium; and “My Family and the Wolf,” from Adrian Garcia (Headless), Folivari’s very first hybrid film, with 1o% animation.
Fost Studio, Folivari’s new animation studio, will now allow it to experiment with further styles, and retain much of its crème de la crème 2D animation talent.
For the record, the song in the trailer addresses Pachamama herself. The lyrics run something like this: “Sowing seeds of light in hearts, roots in the earth, branches up to the sky, Mother Earth, I thank all my ancestors, the moon, the stars, all the universe. Pachamama, Mother Earth, forgive man. We are the new earth.”
Written by Antín, Patricia Valeix, Olivier de Bannes and Nathalie Hertzberg, “Pachamama” is produced by Folivari
02B Films, Doghouse Films and Kaibou Productions, in co-production with Haut et Court distribution and Blue Spirit Studio.