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France’s Ankama, China’s Benlai Pictures Link for ‘Old Street’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Exquisitely drawn animated feature project a pioneering link-up between the two animation nations

PARIS — In a pioneering animation deal, France’s Ankama, whose second animated feature, “Mutafukaz,” screens at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous on Saturday, is linking to China’s Benlai Pictures to co-produce “Old Street,” an animated movie based on the Chinese comic book by Nie Jun.

Founded in 2015 and with offices in Shanghai and Beijing, Benlai Pictures is dedicated to providing high-quality animation content for both Chinese and international audiences.

The development is being put through Ankama’s production-distribution subsidiary, Planet Nemo. Made in 2D, and drawing on Nie Jun’s watercolor pictorial style, which is not that far from French-language illustrated children’s books, “Old Street” turns on the cross-generation relationship between a man and his grand-daughter, set in an old part of Beijing, which gives the story a retro attraction.

Playing off an IP which has demonstrated international appeal – the comic book has been published in France by Gallimard as “Les Conrss de al Ruelle,” and in , “Old Street” gives Ankara a project with potentially significant reach in China and international.

“We were looking for a project that speaks to a Chinese and French audience. What’s interesting about this film in China is there is a young generation today that is very much looking to revisit their roots. There is a nostalgia of old Beijing and this also speaks to a French audience,” said Ankama producer Frédéric Puech, also planet Nemo president.

The co-production deal for “Old Street” was struck by Benlai Pictures’ CEO Wang Lei and Puech who worked as an associate producer on an early stage of “Big Fish & Begonia,” an animated feature which earned $85 million in China. “Old Street” will be budgeted, like “Big Fish & Begonia,” at around $5 million.

“Ankama’s ambition is to produce a film ourselves every couple of years,” said Puech. He added: “We still want to focus on 2D so, being realistic, we are targeting lower-budgets of maybe $5m million, which is a good niche for us to be in.”

“Old Street’s” adaptation/co-production deals come as Ankama is enjoying building market tail winds. Those cuts several ways: Digital platform distribution growth for animated series, buoying Ankama’s core Young Adult production line; diversification into younger-target projects; a burgeoning film distribution business.

“Obviously, with the increasing number of digital platforms catering to a young adult/teen audience, this has opened more and more opportunities,” said Puech.

Aired on public TV channel France 3 in France since late August, “Wakfu” Season 3 will bow as a Netflix Original on Netflix worldwide from April 1. “Waku Season 4” is in preparation.

In a move which will delight fanboys (and fangirls), Ankama has also put into further development,  targeting VOD platforms, the spinoff 13 half-hour action fantasy series “Welsh & Shedar,” set in the “Dofus” and “Waku” Kromoz universe; and young super-hero epic “Blackfury,” based on the Ankama comic book, Puech said.  It has sold “Dofus,” the film and TV series, to Ellation.

A flagship kids & family animated feature, Ankama’s third movie, “Princess Dragon,” pitched at Cartoon Movie in 2017, will be distributed theatrically in France by Gebeka. Delivery is set for first quarter 2020.

Ankama’s second animated feature, “Mutafukaz,” a gritty YA social fantasy set in a deadbeats’ metropolis, has now locked distribution in France with Tamasa Distribution. Hengameh Panahi’s Celluloid Dreams handles most international territories and has closed and is closing more sales deals. Planet Nemo, Ankama’s distribution arm, has now closed directly China, with AT Films, and Japan with Parco.

As Ankama consolidates its global or international SVOD platforms dealings and boards more animated features – “Old Street” is its fourth – it is transforming into a ever-more international company which can leverage its overseas expertise and contacts, especially in Asia, into the acquisition of rights and distribution of third-party fare.

“The idea is to slowly build a sales slate and also relationships with distributors worldwide,” Puech explained. In a first move, Planet Nemo has secured global rights to children’s CGI movie “Harvie & the Magic Museum,” which will screen at Berlin’s European Film Market next month.

Produced by the Czech Republic’s Rolling Pictures and Belgium’s Grid VFX, “Harvie” has been sold to China (HCG Ent.), South Korea (Green Narae), Vietnam (Beta), Ukraine (Kinofilm), Czech Republic (CinemArt), Turkey (Fabula), and ex-Yugoslavia  (Blitz).

Released in its Czech domestic market on Aug. 31, it has proved the most successful European animated film at the box office there, topping B.O. charts on its opening weekend and with close to $1 million in cumulative box office gross.

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