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Berlin: Toons Get Boost at European Film Market

The commercial success of animated films in Europe and the growing number of international co-productions have made the European Film Market an increasingly vital platform for toon features.

Increasing competition and attractive prices have resulted in a dynamic market in Europe’s booming animation sector.

“The quality level of European animation has been excellent for a couple of years,” says Alice Buquoy, senior manager of theatrical sales and acquisitions at Munich-based Global Screen. “The quality is so good now that we also sell our animated films to distributors who only work with Disney and Pixar. But as the movies are produced with much smaller budgets, this reflects in the pricing.”

The European animation sector is growing and there is more supply and competition from independent producers, adds Julia Pahl, worldwide manager of sales and acquisitions at ARRI Media Intl.

Solveig Langeland, m.d. of Stuttgart-based sales company Sola Media, agrees. “It’s very prolific today. You see a lot of animation coming out of Germany — that was not the case five years ago. Norway is coming, they didn’t used to produce a lot of animated films. Spain obviously has had some of the biggest successes with ‘Tadeo Jones’ and ‘Capture the Flag.’ Most countries are very active.”

Productions are also up in Eastern Europe, including “Loving Vincent,” a major Polish production, and the hugely popular “Snow Queen” franchise from Russia’s Wizart Animation. It recently premiered the fourth entry in the saga inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. Ukraine’s Film.UA boasts a muscular lineup with such fantasy films as “The Stolen Princess” and “The Underwater Adventures of Sadko.”

Animation “is one of the internationally most successful German formats at the box office,” says Mariette Rissenbeek, managing director of promotional organization German Films.

German companies including Hamburg-based Ulysses, Berlin’s Akkord and Caligari Film in Munich are leading the way with top-notch productions, such as “Richard the Stork” and “Rabbit School — Guardians of the Golden Egg” (Akkord) and the upcoming “Capt’n Sharky” (Caligari).

Langeland says local animated productions have not only proven their success at the global box office, but are also probably performing better than a lot of Germany’s arthouse titles.

Sony Pictures Entertainment Deutschland has jumped into the fray with its first German animated film, “Tabaluga,” based on the little dragon character created by German rock star Peter Maffay, which it will release in December.

Germany has very strong local animation producers who know the local market but also keep the international market in focus when financing and producing films, says Pahl — adding that Germany can be a tricky market. “We have excellent animation producers but the local market — audience interest — is not that strong for independent animated films unless it’s a big brand.”

Langeland echoes the sentiment: “You need something that’s based on a book or something that you know in order to get a lot of people in the cinema.”

Recent domestic successes and upcoming films in Germany, such as “Rabbit School,” “The Little Vampire” and “Latte and the Magic Waterstone,” are all based on popular children’s books, for example. “Germans are less prone to see something that they don’t know than other Europeans,” Langeland adds. “Original stuff is not that easy. In France it’s completely different. In France you want to have something very artistic.”

Buquoy notes that some original German films perform better in neighboring countries than in their home market. “For example, ‘Ooops! Noah Is Gone…’ was a box office hit in France and in the U.K., but the German market was more difficult. Animation companies in Germany therefore depend more on the worldwide success than other European countries.”

“Europe is very heterogeneous when you look at the demand in different countries,” Langeland says.

When it comes to co-producing, however, companies are eager for cross-border collaboration.

The Belgian Tax Shelter has been instrumental for many Euro co-prods, Langeland adds. “If you look at most of them you’ll see that Belgium is involved: ‘Ooops! Noah Is Gone…,’ ‘Richard the Stork,’ the upcoming ‘Latte.’ I think there’s a hotline between Germany and Belgium for that.”

Munich-based Studio 100 Media, part of Belgium’s Studio 100 group, has a strong lineup this year that includes “Princess Emmy — The Movie,” a German-U.K.-Belgian co-production, and “Maya the Bee — The Honey Games,” an Australian-German co-production.

Attending the EFM, once primarily a platform for European arthouse films, has become vital for animation players.

“Since all the big buyers who are buying animated films are attending the EFM, the market is very significant,” says Buquoy.

Likewise for ARRI, Pahl adds: “We do not see much difference as the market is as important as the others.”

The EFM has definitely grown in importance for Sola Media. “It used to be that for animation the AFM was the best market because you didn’t really have the problem of having a festival disturbing it,” Langeland says. “But the market for animated film has increased. If you have a good project it doesn’t matter if you take it to Berlin or Cannes or the AFM — you will find your buyers and the buyers will find you.”

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