ANNECY, France — If the animated art and family film distribution business remains as lively as the 10th anniversary celebration of Gkids, the emblematic U.S. distributor, held at the Annecy Festival, then it will be in very good health indeed.
Not that the business’ prospects are negative at all. The Gkids 10th anni party proved something of a metaphor, for the company and the business.
First, it was held in France. The Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival was the place where Gkids could to get together the largest number of friends, reasoned Gkids founder Eric Beckman.
To celebrate, Gkids snagged the Mifa Chill-Out Lounge, Annecy Festival prime real estate, a Mifa market outhouse overlooking the town’s lake and steep-backed mountains. That in turn is a reflection of the industry position Gkids now commands at Annecy.
“When we started, we were total outsiders, my first time at Annecy we were kind of tip-toeing around, wondering what we were doing,” Beckman recalls.
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No more. Among party-goers at Annecy were Michel Ocelot, director of festival opener “Dilill at Paris” and the French cineaste who brought the flag down on Europe’s modern age animation cinema with the rousing box office success of “Kirikou and the Sorceress”; Annecy jury member Ale Abreu, director of “The Boy and the World,” an Annecy Cristal winner: Sebastian Laudenbach, director of the extraordinary, hand-drawn feminist fairy tale “The Girl Without Hands”; Masaaki Yuasa from Japan, whose “Lu Over the Wall” won last year’s Annecy Cristal, its highest award; Manuel Cristobal and Antonio Saura, Cartoon Movie best producer and distributor awardees, who presented “Buñuel in the Labyrinth of Turtles” in Annecy’s Work in Progress.
Also in attendance: DreamWorks Animation producer Bonnie Arnold, who would the following day see “How to Train your Dragon: the Hidden World” go down a storm at Annecy; Mark Osborne, director of “Little Prince,” France’s highest-grossing animation film in recent years; Michael Rose and Martin Pope, producers of “Revolting Rhymes,” best TV series at December’s European Animation Awards.
The list is much longer. From outsiders, Beckman and Dave Jesteadt, Gkids president, are now Annecy Festival lynchpins.
They have also expanded, confirming at Annecy the 2nd Animation is Film festival in Los Angeles, unspooling Oct. 19-21. Beckman launched the New York Intl. Children’s Film Festival before Gkids.
“I’d like to think that we are growing the U.S. market for a wider range of animation between Gkids and Animation Is Film. I think we’ve still got someway to go, like a hybrid model for theatrical distribution,” which would see more family-orientated films going out on broader geographic spreads,” Beckman said at the party.
That worked for “Mary and the Witch’s Flower,” which earned $2.4 million at the U.S. box office this year.
“We’re starting to move beyond platform releases towards wider simultaneous releases, and have established more direct relations with a growing fan base for animation,” Beckman added.
Gkids’ 10 Oscar nominations for films it’s distributed represent a tremendous marketing leverage for their producers in other territories worldwide.
“Over the last 10 years, my favorite experience has been to see full audiences in theaters, enjoying films from France, Brazil, the U.K. and Spain has been both a tremendous honor and really gratifying” Jesteadt enthused.
He added: “In terms of where we go from here, the biggest challenge is maybe an increasingly consolidated media market further and further in favor of large film products.”
There will always be filmmakers, producers willing to tell very unique stories in highly artistic ways and beautiful ways. “Our mission will be to take some of the commercial advantages we’ve developed over the 10 years to introduce these films to broader audiences.”