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Netflix, ‘Dragon 3,’ ‘Ralph,’ Great Female Animators: 10 Takeaways from Annecy

Plus China, growth, first prizes at Annecy


Netflix took Annecy. It held a presentation, its first ever at Annecy, an effective coming out to the world animation industry. You could here a pin drop as Melissa Cobb, the highly popular ex-DreamWorks Animation executive, now Netflix EVP, expounded on Netflix priorities on stage. The audience warmed to Chilean Fernanda Frick’s exposition of her new series, “Raising the Bar,” now in development at Netflix, and Andy Coyle’s explanation of the varying tones and palette of “Hilda.” But the presentation and Netflix’s presence at Annecy left a question in the air. Cobb’s introduction stressed the diversity of Netflix’s lineup – from children shows, -and working the talent. Beyond Cobb and Yaram, the Netflix panel at the presentation was made up just of talent. Netflix brought a 15-strong delegation. Most was talent as well. The production community fears that Netflix is going increasingly straight to talent, then bringing on board a line producer, as it fires up its own production facilities, squeezing producers out of the equation. The E.U. looks set to impose content quotas on Netflix, which the streaming giant should be able to comply with. So the question: Will independent production quotas, in place in the U.K., France and Germany, be the next Netflix battlefront in Europe?


For TV, “Annecy has mostly been a relationship market, where you sit down and spend quality time with your channels,” said David Michel, president of Cottonwood Media and co-founder of Federation Kids & Family. In film, said Nicolas Eschbach, president of Indie Sales: “Annecy is a great place to meet with producers of animated feature films from the whole world. We are more focused on acquisitions than sales,” agreed Nicolas Eschbach. But is it now evolving? For the first time in his life, said Michel, he had back-to-back meetings all week: “There were as many American buyers as you can find at Kidscreen. Everyone was there. It’s becoming a straight sales market in addition to a festival.” “More and more buyers are attending,” Eschbach recognized. Increasingly as well, Annecy is consolidating as a co-production meet. “The economics have changed, which is partly about consolidation, also about the content arms race, that content is been driven largely by the SVOD platforms,” said Paul Robinson, the new CEO of Spain’s Imira Entertainment. “Everybody recognizes now that they have got to have a number of partners on board. Shared wisdom, shared risk, shared upside is probably the best model.”


“Annecy has always been a co-production market because it’s a relationship market,” said Michel. But, first, Annecy was a co-production market for Europe. “Then, five or six years ago, the Americans started coming in. From last year, all the big Chinese companies are at Annecy, looking to co-produce with Europe,” he notes. Shanghai-based Pearl Studios held its first presentation this year, unveiling big news, co-development with Stephen Chow on his “The Monkey King.” China is no longer a passive market; and Annecy has gone truly global.


“It’s not normal that nearly 60% of animated shorts are directed by women and are beautifully-made, but that strong ratio is not all reflected in statistics for feature films,” Florence Miailhe, director of the buzzed-up Work in Progress title “The Crossing,” said at the French festival. “Where does all that talent go? Why is it so difficult to break that ceiling?”

One important and dazzling thing at this year’s Festival was the the inventiveness and beauty of some of the women’s shorts, whether 2D animation (“Raymonde, or the Vertical Escape”) or stark black and white drawings (“Egg”), or made via the re-use of a legendary pin-screen techniques (“Embraces”). Women animation directors are also expanding their creative freedom talking with candor about female sexuality and their relationship with their bodies. One such title, Nenke Deutz’s “Bloeistraat 11,” charts how two young BGFs larky sorority is pried apart by the onset of puberty, with one taking up with the other’s brother. But women will often need help to make their first feature. Sweden’s Niki Lindroth, who won at Annecy last year with “The Burden,” a sobering take on low-income-labor anomie, was saying by Christmas that she wasn’t sure she’d find the finance for a feature.


When it came to big new Hollywood titles, 2018 was a “transition” year at Annecy, with no Illumination world premiere, “Animal Crackers” producer Nathalie Martínez observed. The big action took place in the works in progress. Nearly all the big Hollywood sneak peeks played well at Annecy. Reasons? “You are the most enthusiastic audience in the world,” said Dean DeBlois, coming on stage at Annecy. Made up of producers, directors, animation execs, studio execs, animation studio honchos, French film school students, the Annecy crowd knows just how much sweat. blood and tears, it takes to make animation. Second reason: Hollywood’s studios fire off some of their biggest and best and highest-grossing cannon at Annecy, especially in the work in progress space. Genndy Taratkovsky’s “Hotel Transylvania 3,” had Annecy tweens rolling in the aisles. “Wreck It Ralph 2” drew near-deafening laughter. But pride of place among sneak peaks must go to “How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.” The queue to catch DeBlois drill down on designs, crowd-scenes, and Hiccup-Toothless’ parting began forming at 6 am. Hiccup’s new black dragon-scale armor suit drew a collective gasp. DeBlois’ presentation received a standing O. Many in the audience were just kids themselves when the first part came out. The finale to “Hiccup’s” extended goodbye to adolescence and, in “The Hidden World,” to a kind of parenthood, promises to be an emotional ride.


While Netflix may be aiming to produce and animate as much as it can in-house, or so producers fear, Hollywood studios animation divisions are increasingly reaching outside. The latest to confirm this on a burgeoning slate: Paramount Animation. Of its upcoming movies, “Monster on the Hill” is set up at Reel FX Animation, which co-produces with Paramount Animation and Walden Media; a new Spongebob movie, “It’s a Wonderful Sponge,” has Montreal’s Mikros as its vendor. Can this make its movies more distinctive, and original? Excerpts from “Wonder Park,” produced out of Spain’s Ilion Animation Studios, certainly gave that impression. One sequence, of a young girl discovering an amusement park in a forest is shot like a live-action movie, with wide-angle lenses and tracking, aerial, cut-away shots, used in dynamic succession. Another, a montage of brief scenes detailing June and her Mom having great fun building amusement park rides at home, then Mom falling ill, leaving for treatment, plays like a documentary. “Animation is having to adapt to how children view movies now, We’re competing against the cell phone. If there’s any pause, just moment of boredom, specters are wondering if they have a new message,” said Maxi Valero, a co-scribe on Wise Blue Studios’ “MiBots.”


2018 Annecy was “very, very buoyant. The number of people here and the calibre of the people is very high,” said Robinson. Mia attendance rocketed up a massive 23% year-on-year in 2018. That reflects general industry growth. “We’re at an all time high: Netflix has come up and traditional broadcasters haven’t adjusted down as a consequence,”said Michel. It’s also part consequence of a dizzying new number of festival initiatives – Market Screenings, Meet the Composers, Shoot the Book Anim’ and Demo Sessions – Mifa head Mikaël Marin argued.


France’s Bac Films has sold “Funan,” Denis Do’s upcoming Khmer Rouge-set Annecy competition player, to South Korea (Green Narae), ex Yugoslavia (MCF), Spain (Alfa), Middle East (Falcon). It initiated discussions with several buyers, including from U.S., following its Annecy screening, said Gilles Sousa, Bac Films head of sales. Sales details follow a fulsome pre-sale deals announcement by CMG on Brazilian title “Noah’s Ark.” “My Life as a Zucchini” sold to 80 territories. Once very long tail, international auteur or crossover titles can now have significant sales potential, enough for prestige sales agents to handle standout propositions.


Latin America continues to grow its presence in the world of animation, evidenced by a number of Annecy deals. Two co-production agreements were made with South American production company Red Animation. On their film “Nahuel and the Magical Book,” featured at Argentina’s Ventana Sur, Peru will join Chile and Brazil as co-producing countries. Additionally, Red has boarded upcoming feature “Devil’s Vein” at an early stage of production. David Bisbano’s “Dalia and the Red Book” secured a new co-producer in Brazil’s Spirit Studio, which joins Argentina’s Vista Sur and Peru’s Golem Studios – distribution is handled by FilmSharks Intl. Uruguay’s La Suma, Argentina’s Nuts Media and Brazil’s Coala Films – represented in the Annecy TV Film competition with their series “Angeli the Killer” – have teamed on animation series “Pueblo Chico” from Uruguayan director Walter Tournier, pitched at Ventana Sur’s Animation! works in progress section. Once a laggard in animation, Latin America is catching up fast.


Annoy unveils its big prizes Saturday June 16 at an evening gala. But number of special awards have already gone down, announced Friday. The big winner was France’s “La Chute” from director Boris Labbé and produced by Sacrebleu Productions. The short took both the Fipresci Award and André-Martin Special Distinction for a French Short Film. The short starts with a light string score and kaleidoscopic visuals in a world of M.C. Escher physics and slowly devolves into a Dante-like inferno through a series of tragic events involving hell and paradise. The Gan Foundation Award for distribution, given to the best French feature project in Annecy’s Work in Progress, went to “The Swallows of Kabul” from classic European 2D eminences Les Armateurs and Mélusine Production as well as Close Up Films. Folivari’s “The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales,” on e of last year’s biggest hits at Annecy, scooped the André-Matin Award for French feature. French short went to “This Magnificent Cake!” Stop-motion “The Death, Dad & Son,” featured at My French Film Festival and Toronto, scored the Junior Jury Award for a short film; Steve Cutts “Happiness” earned the Canal+ Creative Aid award for best short.

Elsa Keslassy and Emilio Mayorga contributed to this article

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