CANNES — The 2019 Cannes Film Festival confirmed the build in world cinema animation: Three movies, all French, played in its main sections: “The Bears’ Invasion of Sicily” and “The Swallows of Kabul,” both Directors’ Fortnight entries, and “I Lost My Body,” in Critics’ Week.
Animated movies – Studiocanal’s “Around the World,” “I Lost My Body,” a Netflix buy – proved among the Cannes Film Market’s best sellers, given their resilience as both theatrical plays and anti-churn attraction for global platforms.
There were 130 animation titles, projects and completed films at the Marché du Film this year, the same number as stereoscopic 3D titles 10 years ago, according to Jerome Paillard, Cannes Film Market executive director.
The Cannes Film Market has hosted an Annecy Goes to Cannes pix-in-post showcase since 2016. This year round, it was expanded into a fuller Animation Day with a second-part panel discussion on the production-distribution of adult audience animation.
The Oscar-nominated “Loving Vincent” and Annecy top Cristal winner “Funan” both played Annecy Goes to Cannes in the past, its moderator, Jean-Paul Commin pointed out.
This year’s five-title spread was probably the most powerful yet, underscoring the “diversity of animation and the power of its art,” Annecy Festival CEO Mikael Marin said, presenting the Animation Day with Paillard.
Two titles at least came from three of the biggest TV-movie players in Europe:“Dragonkeeper,” backed by Spain’s Movistar + and Atresmedia, and “Samsam,” co-produced and distributed and sold by Studiocanal, part of Vivendi’s Canal Plus Group. The involvement of such large players suggests the huge industry range of companies now powering up animation. Here’s a brief drill-down on the presentations:
Imagine “GoT’s” Red Keep plunked on top of the Night Watch’s Wall, and you get some sense of the scale of the fortress that was “Dragonkeeper’s” biggest visual reveal at Cannes. “A remote fortress on the very last frontier of China’s Han empire, it will be visually stunning, a huge surprise for the audience,” said “Dragonkeeper” producer Manuel Cristobal, at Spain’s Dragoia Media.
It’s also the place where the film’s feisty heroine, Ping, a slave girl, was born. The audience was regaled with a brief extract where Ping is urged to escape as the fortress troops close in.
Cristobal confirmed “Dragonkeeper’s” budget is €20 million ($22.2 million), a sweet spot for producers who can raise that sum through a mix of soft money and equity without too much reliance on pre-sales or U.S distribution.
Sold by SC Films Intl., “Dragonkeeper” is the biggest China-Spanish co-production ever, produced by Spain’s Dragoia Media, Movistar + and Atresmedia Cine and China’s China Film Animation, part of the China Film Group. The main thrust of the presentation, made by producers Cristobal and Larry Levene, Atresmedia Cine’s María Contreras and “Dragonkeeper” co-director Li Jianping, was how that co-production was creative.
“This is not a financial co-production but a real co-production that put together two narratives, two cultures. It’s a Chinese film that is going to succeed in the Chinese market and a Spanish film that can succeed in the Western world,” said Li Jianping.
To construct a story which resonates with both markets, director Ignacio Ferreras (“Wrinkles”) constructed a 200-image beat board summarizing the stories most important dramatic beats. The story can be construed as a female empowerment epic: Ping’s so humble that she thinks she doesn’t deserve a name but yet finds the courage to become a true Dragonkeeper; or a cultural legacy survival drama: Ping helps Long Danzi, the last imperial dragon to escape the fortress, and carry an egg to hatch by the sea. The movie’s palette is also fused: a clearly defined heroine, and a burnished Chinese color palette, seen in concept art shown in Cannes of, for example, the Imperial Palace.
A mindscape documentary giving a sense of place of Quebec and the St. Lawrence Islands, and structured by dialog between a young woman and man on the film’s voiceover – beautifully rendered in the extended extracts shown at Cannes – “Archipel” (“Archipelego”) won a Crilic Prize for best feature film pitch at Annecy’s Mifa market last year.
Directed by Felix Dufour-Laperrière, whose new feature, the more classical “Ville Neuve,” plays in Annecy’s Contrachamp section this June, and produced by Nicolas Dufour-Laperrière, “Archipel” combines handmade drawing on paper, paint on glass, animated objects, rotoscoping, live action, photos and 2D computer work and a swelling electronic score. All of which is at the service of sensation, such as in a memorable sequence of shadowy bodies, arms akimbo, falling slowly like desolate souls, over a black-and-white photo of old Quebec, or a section of old maps of isles in the river, real or imagined.
“Archival” “follows a trail of a young women’s psyche in imaginary islands in the St. Laurence river,” Felix Dufour-Laperrière said in Cannes. “It’s a film on what makes a territory, physical, cultural, a territory of speech, ideas, what makes a home,”
Produced by Embuscade Films, targeting young adults and adults, “Archipel” is 100% funded, set for a 2021 release, and looking for distribution and broadcaster pick-ups.
Producer Didier Brunner, recognized as one of French animation’s founding fathers, is best known for Oscar-nominated, painterly 2D features: “The Triplets of Belleville,” “The Secret of Kells,” and “Ernest and Celestine,” to name just a few features. So“Samsam,” produced with son Damien Brunner at Paris-based Folivari and Studiocanal with animation from Mac Guff Studio, is a departure, Folivari’s first full-3D feature targeting pre-school audiences.
What it does have is an already existing IP, a base which is hugely important to European animation companies such as Folivari and Studiocanal which aim for large brand-recognition where possible.
The universe of SamSam includes books available in 11 languages with one million copies sold worldwide, and a TV series that’s broadcast in 50 territories, with an audience of 250 million, 65 million views on YouTube, and a third season coming out in 2021, according to a trailer screened at Annecy Goes to Cannes.
That same trailer suggests that what “Sam Sam” does have is a sense of fun adventure of some other recent Brunner productions, such as “The Big Bad Fox and Other Adventures.”
A tiny-tot with a red face mask and stick-up ears, Samsam just can’t wait for his super-powers to kick in: Both mom and dad are super heroes. “Samsam” sees the weeny hero set off on in his dinky flying saucer for a cosmic adventure with Mega, the only child on her planet, battling a crazed dictator who wants to stop children laughing.
Launching “Samsam” at Berlin’s European Film Market, Studiocanal had licensed 50%-60% of the world by Animation Day on May 19, Studiocanal’s Anne Cherel said at the “Samsam”presentation in Cannes. It was on track to sell out “SamSam” by year end, she added.
“BOB SPIT – WE DO NOT LIKE PEOPLE”
The feature film debut of Brazil’s Cesar Cabral, from a screenplay by Cabral and Leandro Maciel, and produced by Cabral and Ivan Melo at Sao Paulo’s Coala Filmes, “Bob Spit – We Do Not Like People” hit Annecy with the freshness of an irreverent stop-motion punk fiction – using clay, animated silicone and latex puppets and targeting 16+ young adults.
There may have been nothing quite like it at Annecy Goes to Cannes before, though one episode from “Angeli the Killer,” a TV series riff on the movie’s co-protagonist, famed Brazilian comic-book writer Angeli, screened in TV competition at the Annecy Festival last year.
The movie turns on one of Angeli’s iconic characters from the ‘80s, Bob Spit, an aging punk, with a quiff, hollowed cheeks worthy of Keith Richards, an aquiline nose and nose-ring, green complexion, neckerchief and sleeveless denim jacket. He starts the film trapped in post-apocalyptic badlands. assailed by marauding mutant ‘80s pop stars, one bearing a distinct resemblance to Elton John in the most unlikely representation of the legend at this year’s Festival.
Spit’s dire straits are. however, a correlative for the creative block and sense of living in a fallen world suffered by creator Angeli, who decides to kill off the character. But Bob Spit gets wind of the plan and decides to face his maker.
90% of the feature is shot. Coala is now looking for investors and distributors and a sales agent in order to complete post-production, Melo said at Cannes.
The story isn’t really about Angeli, Cabral added at Cannes: “It’s a story about an author, a person in crisis, with his work, with his life, with the times that he’s living in. The story could be the story of any one of us.”
What hit audiences first at Cannes ,of the multiple excerpts from“Yakari” shown in a 12-minute Making Of promo, were its vast expanses of open space – sweeping blue skies, swathes of green prairie, snowcapped mountains, or Monument Valley style rock formations. Directed by Xavier Giacometti, produced by eight companies across France, Belgium and Germany, led by Dargaud Media, and sold by Bac Films which will also distribute in France, “Yakari” is a modern reimagining of the first graphic novel in the hugely popular comic book series created by Job and Drib in 1973, both interviewed for the promo.
So, turning on Yakari, a Sioux child on the Grand Prairies in the 17th or early 18th century when the Sioux had gained horses but not yet contact with the Europeans who introduced them, “Yakari’s world is the North American continent, untouched wilderness, a hidden paradise, humans who live in harmony with nature,” Giacometti said in the promo.
A comedy-laced adventure film with strong ecological bent, “Yakari” turns on the young Sioux’s friendship with Little Thunder, the fastest and wildest mustang on the prairie. He is captured time and and again in the film against an extraordinary scenery. That involved, as for many of the most interesting animation movies now being made out of international, a fusion of 2D and 3D animation. The scenery is multi-level 2D but at layout some of it was projected into 3D volumes for camera movement.
“The movie is CGI animation, but we tried with the rendering and the final result to be as close as possible to Derib and Job’s original comic book, to keep the general spirit of 2D animation, because we like its lines, colors, and light,” Giacometti said in Cannes.
That said, “the film has a lot of values that are utterly contemporary,” said Bac Films’ David Grumbach. Not least is a revisionist view of the Sioux as peaceful folk, living off farming, hunting and fishing.