Like the art form it celebrates, the Annecy International Animated Film Festival has been growing creatively and commercially by leaps and bounds — increasingly attracting attention from Hollywood’s expanding roster of animation studios.
Annecy artistic director Marcel Jean says the number of festival goers has nearly doubled since 2013 to 11,700 in 2018. The number of projects has also soared, prompting the addition this year of a competition called Contrechamps for lower-budget, indie feature films.
And while the Mifa market at the Imperial Palace drew nearly 3,800 badge-holders last year, an annual increase of 22 percent, it’s the festival’s appreciation of and openness to the creativity of animation that draws an influential audience too tempting for studios to pass up.
“It’s really about the art of animation there, not so much about the business of animation,” says Melissa Cobb, VP of kids and family at Netflix, which is officially attending the festival for the second time this year. ”People really do want to know how you created that amazing image.”
Attention from the studios began to ramp up around 2010, with the arrival of Illumination, says Jean. And recruitment is at the heart of studios’ concerns. ”In Annecy, one in four festival-goers is an animation student,” he says. “And they are usually the best in the world. It is important for studios to promote themselves to these candidates.”
Professionals from around the world as well as journalists also are major components of the audience, making Annecy an increasingly essential fest for studios to announce projects, offer first-looks, and network.
“This is a valuable audience for the studios because they are multipliers, because they are players in the industry who have the ability to recognize the quality and value of the work,” says Jean.
”I can’t think of a better place to share animation news [than] with an audience with a true love of the craft,” says Kristine Belson, president of Sony Pictures Animation, which will use the festival to trumpet its slate and two new studio initiatives designed to build on the success of Oscar winner “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.”
DreamWorks Animation will be giving sneak peaks at “Abominable,” its co-production with China-based Pearl Studio (formerly Oriental DreamWorks), the sequel “Trolls World Tour,” and presenting some of the television series produced via its robust partnership with Netflix. It also will debut a new short, “Marooned.”
Studio president Margie Cohn says the glut of content being produced makes Annecy an essential stop for finding and attracting talent. “For us, Annecy is a place to attract talent and to demonstrate what we value at DreamWorks,” she says.
It will be hard to ignore the presence of Netflix, which will present a work in progress session for its first original animated feature, “Klaus.” Written and directed by popular Spanish animator Sergio Pablos, “Klaus” tells a tale of young Santa Claus and is set to debut this holiday season.
“[The session] will focus on what I think is something uniquely interesting to the Annecy audience, which is some of the really incredible techniques that they developed inside his studio to create the really spectacular look of the movie,” says Cobb.
Netflix stands in a unique position among studios, developing animated features and television series in multiple genres from traditional family fare to anime to adult-oriented comedy for global audiences. Among the projects it will tout are ”The Willoughbys,“ a feature directed by Kris Pearn; an original series from Japanese creators Hitoshi Mogi, called ”Dino Girl Gauko“; and “Mama K’s Team 4,” a superhero series from African creator Malenga Mulendema.
“We’re really quite interested in what’s happening in the animation scene there, and the level of talent and artistry in Africa and finding a way to really bring that to a global stage,” says Cobb. “We are at Annecy because we are really looking for those great creators.”
On the short-film side, Warner Bros. will debut new Looney Tunes shorts with the opening night feature, “Playmobil: The Movie,” while Disney will present selections from its new Short Circuit experimental program. “The festival is driven by a deep sense of experimentation and artistry and that is exactly what this program represents for Disney Animation,” says Ann Le Cam, Disney Animation’s senior VP, talent and studio planning.
Disney also will be giving a first look at ”Frozen 2“ and an early screening of Pixar’s ”Toy Story 4.”
It’s hard to underestimate the appeal of Annecy itself. Founded in the 13th century, the city is nestled on the north shore of a crystalline lake in the French Alps, about an hour’s drive south of Geneva. Its historic canals lined with restaurants and pubs, Annecy invites fest goers to eat, drink, talk and relax with people they might otherwise have a hard time landing a formal meeting with.
”The magic of Annecy is really almost the negative space in between events and formal meetings,” says industry and festival veteran Mike Moon, who heads up adult animation at Netflix. “You’ve got such a small, controlled environment that just forces — because the location is so small and that central hub of Annecy is so quaint — it just forces lots of spontaneous happenings and conversations.“
More formal social events include a daylong pre-fest summit hosted by Women in Animation and Les Femme s’Animent. This year’s fest will include a panel of women heads of animation studios, including Warner Animation Group’s Allison Abbate, Fox/Blue Sky Studio’s Andrea Miloro, Nickelodeon’s Ramsey Naito, as well as Belson, Cobb and Cohn.
“It’s a great place to galvanize around things that are important to the industry, from a creative and artistic standpoint,” says Cohn.
While studio attention helps attract attendees and attention, Jean says the festival itself remains dedicated to the art form above all. For example, no American studios have films in the main feature competition or the Contretemps section.
“Even as major studios are more and more present, we are programming more and more experimental films,” says Jean. “We welcome more independent filmmakers than ever in the history of the event. The essence of the Annecy festival remains the same.”