Ever since the 1960s, animators from the world over have assembled in the Alpine French city of Annecy to celebrate animated film. Initially a biannual event, the Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival switched to a once-a-year gathering back in 1998, and continued thus until last year, when the pandemic forced the festival to go online only.
Now back for a 60th anniversary observance, Annecy will present a full-sized lineup of official competition films, works-in-progress, TV content and showcases from June 13-19. With travel restrictions keeping the fest from resuming at its usual capacity, artistic director Marcel Jean says Annecy is striving to present a “hybrid” festival. Some offerings will be restricted to in-person attendees, and others available online.
“When we began to work concretely on the festival last November, we already had in mind the idea of a hybrid festival,” Jean says. “A lot of people told us that we were too optimistic, but we had faith in the situation. By February it became clear that it would be complicated to have, on site, people from all around the world in June. But for festivalgoers from France and Europe, we were very confident that these people would have the possibility to come.”
The feature film competition mixes world premieres with award-winners from other festivals, including the Sundance-laurelled “Flee” by director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, as well as regional hits such as Japan’s “Poupelle of Chimney Town,” directed by Yusuke Hirota, and Wei Li and Teng Cheng’s Chinese hit “Jiang Ziya: The Legend of Deification.” The TV competition includes such American series as “Animaniacs” and “Disenchanted,” as well as series from Poland, France, Russia, Singapore and Japan.
Although Jean notes that the features submissions were down somewhat this year, “The quality level was really high. At the beginning, my expectation was that we would receive less films and the quality would not be as good as usual, so my goal was to have like eight features in competition and eight features in the [emerging filmmakers spotlight] Contrechamp section. At the end of the day, I was unable to do that because what we received was too strong. We have 11 features in competition, which is more than 2020 and 2019. And we have nine in Contrechamp. So it’s really a full selection this year, and I’m very proud of that.”
The Works in Progress section, one of Annecy’s most sui generis offerings, has in the past seen in-depth discussions of eventual Oscar nominees ranging from “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” to “Wolfwalkers” and “Ernest & Celestine,” as well as Alex Kronemer’s 2021 competition feature “Lamya’s Poem,” which played Annecy as a work-in-progress back in 2020. Notably, all but one of the films in the section are European this edition, a necessary step, Jean says, in order to keep the section entirely in-person.
“Works in Progress is a format very specific to Annecy,” Jean says. “So when we decided to do a hybrid event this year, we wanted to keep it onsite, because it was the only way to respect the format. When we decided to do that onsite, it forces us to focus on European projects, because it’s too risky to do projects from around the world.”
But that section is the only one with a specifically local focus. As usual, U.S. animation powerhouses including DreamWorks, Disney, Pixar and Netflix will bring major new work to preview, while master classes and keynotes cover a wide range of territories and styles. Of particular note this year is the spotlight on African animation: a special award will be presented to South African studio Triggerfish, 21 projects from across the continent will be given a spotlight at the festival’s Mifa market, and a discussion will be streamed with South African animator William Kentridge.
Despite all the challenges of mounting a hybrid festival, Jean points to the latter as an example of the sort of venture that wouldn’t have been possible without it.
“It’s very, very hard to have an artist like [Kentridge] in a festival like ours,” he says, “because his agenda is usually booked many years in advance, so the fact it was possible to do something online with him this year made it possible. We have to use these [circumstances] as something to open new opportunities.”