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Annecy 2020: COVID-19 Resilience, Black Women Animators Debate, SVOD Revolution, Buzz Titles

Where it Falls
"Where it Falls" / Credit: Sun Creature

There are few festivals in the world which are more of a delight to attend than France’s Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival, nestling in a fairy tale-looking town on the edge of a lake, backed by mountain ramparts. That pleasure will be denied this year as Annecy inevitably, given COVID-19 restriction, has gone online.

Following, seven takes on this year’s event, which will lack Annecy’s customary big world premieres, from Hollywood and the world, but still host multiple industry and consumer attractions:

Annecy: COVID Resilient, Though Not COVID Immune

“Festivals’ going online is a test or demonstration of brand value. Annecy is not having a physical market, but you still really want to be associated with it, even if it’s online. You may not want to do so as much for other festivals or trade shows that are more sales events,” says David Michel, managing director of Federation Kids & Family.

So, for the biggest Hollywood event in Europe, most Hollywood majors, one way or another, have stepped up to Annecy’s plate, as the French fest goes totally online. Among its offerings this year are a Hollywood short (DreamWorks Animation’s “To: Gerard”); works in progress (Netflix’s “The Cuphead Show,” Apple’s “Wolfwalkers,” from “Song of the Sea’s” Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, just announced for Annecy), a sneak peek (Phil Lord and Chris Miller on Sony Pictures Animation’s “Connected,”), masterclasses (Dean DeBlois, Henry Selick and composer Bruno Coulais); talent panels (Cartoon Network Studios, Nickelodeon) and a panoply of presentations (led by Disney’s doc on “Frozen 2.”). Many events admittedly look back as much as forward.

No studio, naturally, is screening a new feature, as has been the wont of Universal’s Illumination Films which world premiered its “Despicable Me” movies and “Minions” at the French animation event. But Hollywood most certainly wants to be associated with an online Annecy.

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Wolfwalkers Apple

Women in Animation Focuses on Race, COVID-19

Unable to meet in person, Annecy’s annual Women in Animation (WIA) Summit has gone virtual this year, and refocused its gaze onto the two topics dominating discourse around the world: the COVID-19 pandemic and global demonstrations in support of social justice, particularly for people of color.

“The world discourse suddenly shifted when we all saw George Floyd brutally murdered by police in Minneapolis,” said WIA president Marge Dean. “We knew that we needed to pivot from our original program for the World Summit at Annecy to address the issues of work, race and solidarity.”

Through a series of panels, the summit will examine how these two phenomena have affected the animation industry, and how those impacts will be felt and should be responded to going forward.

This year’s Summit is split into two parts, each to be introduced by Dean. Part one includes two panels, “Black Women in Animation: Looking to the Future” and “Intersectionality and Solidarity.” Part two will include a short look into artist work from home workspaces from around the world and the Summit’s final panel, “Producing in a Rapidly Changing World.”

How Much is Too Much?

Through Thursday, Annecy had 6,000 accredited email accounts – and many more viewers, one suspects – from all over the world, all enjoying complete online access to the Official Selection. In such a context, how many companies will want to show completed films? The answer is a really quite a lot.

Of main competition titles, those films which have already seen commercial release, at least in their home country, or have played at other festivals or are made by directors or companies seeking wider recognition, are often playing in full.

Other Annecy Crystal contenders, including the biggest commercial bets and movies from the biggest-named directors –  “Lupin III: The First,” “Bigfoot Family,” “Calamity,” “Little Vampire” and “Sirocco” – will screen either featurettes or excerpts from the films.

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Calamity Cartoon Movie/Maybe Movies

Streaming Platforms’ Revolution

“Any story can be told in animation,” says Marc du Pontavice, producer of “I Lost My Body.” Increasingly, moreover, they are. Reason? Animation in the 18-34 target is doing “enormously well” on global streaming platforms, he says. The U.S. has produced such fare for years, of course. Potential platform sales are now looking to liberate animation in Europe and beyond. Annecy this year screens a sneak peek of France’s “Summit of the Gods,” the tale of an insane attempt to climb the South West Wall of Everest in winter without oxygen, which was conceived before the streaming explosion. But Annecy shorts now feature the pop-art toned “Friend of a Friend,” about a 30-year-old’s discovery of his bisexuality, “I, Barnabé,” about a disillusioned priest whose best friends are a bottle of wine and a weathervane chicken, and a dystopian tale of conformity, “The Town.”  Any subject is now on the table.

The Buzz

From this year’s main competition “Lupin III: The First” is the long-awaited big screen adaptation of a popular Japanese IP which found success abroad thanks to Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim; “Calamity” returns after a jam-packed WIP presentation in 2019, “Nahuel and the Magic Book” impressed at Ventana Sur’s Animation! sidebar; and Ben Stassen’s “Bigfoot Family” is the box office friendly follow-up to 2017’s “The Son of Bigfoot.”

Of TV series projects, there’s good word on Denmark’s “Where It Falls” – stunningly beautiful, if stills are anything to go by – and rambunctious French comedy “Douce”; among feature projects, adult thriller “Eugene” and “Coda,” revered Argentine auteur Juan Pablo Zaramella’s feature debut. In VR, don’t miss “The Blossom Crown,” of Works in Progress, “The Summit of the Gods,” “Sirocco and the Kingdom of the Winds,” both from France.

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Coda Annecy Festival

France

France indeed dominates Annecy, with a massive spread of 44 titles – between completed film and TV episodes, WIPs, Previews and pitches – playing out through the online Festival. UniFrance, its film export promotion board, will also host a multiple-panel, and reveal the latest statistics on production. France already backs animation muscularly via central CNC and regional government institutions. Annecy may hint at further measures or central concerns regarding the animation sector of the country with the most sophisticated film-TV support systems in the world.

Platform Quandaries

Just as in live action, platforms’ drive into production and acquisition is a game changer. It raises multiple questions, however, which look to become the table-talk, or subject of panel discussion at Annecy. Who, for example, are the winners? Will platform finance take up ad-driven linear TV’s investment slack? For France at least, “My sense of many streamers is that even though it’s early days, family content is really a big winner for them,” says Eleanor Coleman, head of animation and transmedia at Paris-based Indie Sales.

And how will France, Europe’s bastion of national film-TV protection, interpret European Commission regulation allowing it to oblige global platforms targeting France to invest a percentage of annual revenues in French shows and movies? Percentages talked about are 15% to 26% for AVODs and SVODs. They might be even higher. Several hundred million dollars of new financing is at stake. But everything is still under government arbitration. Regulation is not likely to hit the statute books until 2021.

(Pictured, top: “Where It Falls,” from Denmark’s Sun Creature)

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Phil Lord & Christopher Miller BRIAN FRIEDMAN