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Annecy Cultivates an Animated Conversation

One of the most prestigious events of its kind, and undoubtedly the oldest, France’s Annecy Intl. Animated Film Festival is set to once again become the temporary international capital of cartoons from June 11-16. Whittled down from more than 3,000 entries, the festival’s official selection boasts more than 200 features and shorts hailing from the world over, with the directors of competition films vying to join past winners including Wes Anderson, Hayao Miyazaki and Bill Plympton. But perhaps just as important, the festival, which notched a milestone last year with 10,000 accredited attendees, provides a state-of-the-art summit of artists and execs from all across the variegated walks of animated film.

Annecy’s feature competition slate boasts a range of crowd-pleasers (such as Nora Twomey’s “The Breadwinner” and Mamoru Hosoda’s “Mirai”) and more left-field entries such as Nina Paley’s “Seder-Masochism” and Santiago Caicedo’s “Virus Tropical.” None of the major studios have any films in competition, but the number of major features with presences at Annecy serves as testament to the festival’s pull within the animation community. Pixar will give “The Incredibles 2” its French premiere; DreamWorks will present its first glimpse at footage from “How to Train Your Dragon 3”; Paramount will host a Studio Focus section on the making of “Wonder Park”; Sony Pictures Animation will be in town with work-in-progress screenings of “Hotel Transylvania 3” and “Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse”; and Disney will arrive with footage from “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2.”

“It’s hard to draw a direct connection” between a successful launch at Annecy and general release buzz, says DreamWorks Animation head Chris deFaria, “but you do know that if you win at Annecy — and I don’t mean win in competition, but in terms of the audience embracing the film — if you can do that there, it just gives you confidence. You come away with broader shoulders and a little more swagger.

“The thing that’s important for us is that animation, more than any other genre, relies on a community that’s dedicated to it really embracing something,” deFaria says. “And I think that the feedback that we get from Annecy projects is extraordinarily valuable in determining whether we’ve created something that the animation die-hards are going to embrace. That knowledge really strengthens and clarifies our marketing efforts, and also is a source of pride to the animators.”

Aside from “Dragon,” DreamWorks is also looking to make a splash for its nascent shorts program, with its first two finished projects — “Bird Karma” and “Bilby” — opening and closing the fest, respectively.

Shorts of a different kind are on the agenda for Google, which will bring four of its Google Spotlight Stories projects to join the plethora of VR and augmented reality offerings on display at the fest’s VR@Annecy spotlight section.

“I’ve been going to Annecy for double-digits,” says Google Spotlight Stories executive producer Karen Dufilho. “It’s such a celebration of craft and storytelling, in a community that understands it.” She emphasizes the openness that both the festival itself and the audience have shown toward more experimental projects: “It’s very democratized; we’re all walking around on the same sidewalks together, there’s no us and them.”

Of course, the festival is host to more than just competitions and studios hawking their wares. For the second year, advocacy orgs Women in Animation and Les Femmes s’Animent will present the Women in Animation World Summit on June 11. The first summit, held last year, managed to attract a crowd of 250 despite being held in a room sans air-conditioning in the sweltering, humid French heat, recalls WIA president Marge Dean.

“It was encouraging to see the number of people who showed up and sat in an un-air-conditioned room and sweated like crazy, but stuck it out because the panels were so engaging and the information we were sharing were things they were hungry for,” Dean says. “There were people from the major studios who came and stayed all day.”

Dean predicts this year’s panel NextGen World View, moderated by Walt Disney Studios’ VP of Multicultural Audience Engagement Julie Ann Crommett, will offer a particularly relevant discussion of the animation industry’s challenges in inclusion and intersectionality. While women have begun to make their presences felt in animation schools in recent years — with CalArts’ animation program a staggering 75% female — Dean notes that this younger, more female generation has yet to see itself reflected in commensurate numbers within the industry itself.

“I think the important lesson is that this isn’t something that’s going to change by evolution,” she says. “It’s not something that’s just going to happen because there are more students coming out, because that assumes there isn’t an unconscious bias at play. So we have to have an intentionality to make a difference.”

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