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Six teams of budding animation professionals have pitched their projects at the Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival as part of a new mentoring program for women from France and Africa launched by Les Femmes s’Animent (LFA), an organization that supports women in animation.

The aim of the initiative, entitled “A Woman’s Journey,” is to help women who want to create short animated films but are not part of, nor have access to, the animation industry. Each team consists of one author and one director who have developed a film project from scratch.

Over the past six months, they have received both remote coaching sessions with a dedicated mentor, as well as three masterclasses on directing, writing and producing, and copyright legislation.

The courses were dispensed by the likes of Anca Damian, whose latest film “The Island” is competing for this year’s Cristal Award in Annecy, and Corinne Destombes, head of development at distinguished French production house Folimage.

Three of the teams come from Africa and three from France.

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“19 Hours” Courtesy of Les Femmes s’Animent

“Incomplete Woman” by Seunghui Choi and Lucie Marchais is the semi-autobiographical story of Haemi, a young girl from South Korea who lives in France with her boyfriend. When her mother visits and finds out that her unmarried daughter is living with a man, a row breaks out. In the ensuing fight, Haemi is swallowed by a creature and travels back in time to her mother’s youth in a conservative, patriarchal South Korean society.

“This is my first foray into animation – it has allowed me to use my imagination and move between past and present,” explained Choi, who moved to France from South Korea eight years ago to study film. “I always wanted to make a film about my mother’s life, which is so different from mine.”

When she was told her project had been selected among 50 applications, Choi, who had no experience in animation, turned to Marchais, an illustrator who graduated from the prestigious French Émile Cohl art school, and works in 2D visual development.

“I’ve been wanting to get into pre-production and create my own visuals for years. There are women in animation, but most of the high-level jobs are held by men – many directors are men: the creative aspect of animation filmmaking is dominated by men. This gives me a chance to do a more creative job. It’s a great program because it’s made for women by women,” Marchais told Variety.

Their mentor was award-winning producer Erika Forzy, who also works as a talent scout. She welcomed the opportunity to help other women move forward in the industry.

“There’s a lot more awareness of talent these days,” she said. “When I started, there were hardly any female directors. A lot of people are prepared to help out today for young women to gain the confidence they need to find their place in the industry.”

She said she was proud of the work the team had achieved in helping Choi “think more visually” and was confident the project was on track to become a full-fledged film.

The initiative is supported by Netflix, Canal+, France Télévisions, Newen Studios Group, CITIA, the French Ministry of Culture, the Réunion region, and the French Embassy of Benin, and comes in addition to LFA’s ongoing mentoring program for animation professionals launched in 2018.

Eleanor Coleman, LFA co-founder, commented, “This exciting extension of our popular mentoring program is designed to give a voice to women we don’t often hear from. The support from our sponsors has been incredible and we are thrilled to provide concrete training and opportunity for women who are underrepresented in our industry.”

Below are the five other projects supported by “A Woman’s Journey” in Annecy:

“Flin” is directed by Stella Houedan and illustrated by Iris Hounkanrin from Benin. Combining 2D and stop motion, it tells the story of 16-year-old Alix, who has had to abandon her studies to take care of her ailing father. One day, she meets a man looking to recruit students for an animation course. Alix loves drawing and dreams of enrolling but the course is for boys only.

“This film is about what it’s like to be a woman in Benin, moreover a woman working in animation,” said Houedan. “Our goal is to show that women and men alike are able to show what they’re capable of if they are given the chance – we want to inspire other young people.”

“A King for My Kingdom” is a 3D short by sisters Justancia Débora Mbembo and Barbara Aude Mbembo from Gabon. It tells the story of Mia, who is crowned Queen of Allahi after her father’s death. Forced to find a king with whom to rule over her kingdom, which is plagued by sexism and misogyny, she sets out to find one who will make a change.

“We wanted to denounce gender inequality, which is still very present in Africa and around the world by creating a powerful woman who stands up for other girls and women,” said Barbara Aude.

“19 Hours” by Constance Hoarau and illustrated by Clara Vandierdonck is a 2D pop art style animation targeting an adult audience. It tells the story of Virginie, an accomplished mother and doctor who takes care of everything and everyone. One day, while preparing a family weekend away, something inside her cracks, and she finds an excuse to stay behind. She has 19 hours of peace ahead of her, but finally having time to herself becomes a source of anxiety.

“The project was born from my own experience during lockdown: like many parents with kids at home, I dreamt of just having a bit of time to myself. I wanted to talk about the pressure we put ourselves under and the need to undo this,” Hoarau said during her pitch.

“The Anti-Heroine” by mother and daughter duo Veronique and Juliette Deldin from France is a collage project born from Veronique’s need for art in her life.

“It’s called ‘The Anti-Heroine’ because I am a cleaning lady, I haven’t done anything heroic in my life, but I felt a strong need for art, be it in the form of writing, painting or collage. So this project to make a short animation film was exactly what I needed,” she told the Annecy audience. “Collage is a way of putting together the pieces of my life.”

“Malika, The Warrior” by illustrator Raïssa Kouaho and scriptwriter Melanie Adae from Ivory Coast is a short film project in 2D about Malika, a young girl who faces abuse and a forced marriage after losing her father. Armed with a fighting spirit, Malika braves these trials as she grows up to a better future, and sets out to help other young women.

“Through this story, we want to show that every woman has the right to dream. To do this she needs education and support along the way,” said Kouaho. “We are grateful to our mentor, Claude Alix (‘Marsupilami’), and the women of LFA for supporting us along our journey.”