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Annecy 2004: A Look Back

Philippe Moins and Don Duga give us two varying looks at Annecy 2004. Moins interviews the festivals artistic director Serge Bromberg and Duga presents us with his pictorial diary of the event.

This look back at Annecy 2004 features an introduction written by Philippe Moins as well as an interview with the festival's artistic director Serge Bromberg. In addition, Don Duga has provided a pictorial sketchbook, chronicling his journey to the event.

The Annecy Organization: At a Turning Point?

Text by Philippe Moins and Illustrations by Don Duga

The 28th Annecy Festival has passed and with it, maybe, a page of animated movie history has been turned. The festival consecrated this year the supremacy of CGI, to the point that, henceforth, it will be more and more difficult to make a true distinction between French animation competitions like Annecy and important digital art demonstrations like Imagina (the festival of the new images in Monte Carlo) or the Clermont Ferrand Festival; all three are now interested finally in the same kind of films. With this parallel, the movie hybrid will doubtlessly triumph, where the notion of animation is only part of the composition.

Of course, Annecy remains Annecy and from the obscure rooms to the terraces, thousands of things happen besides the official selection. Even with the apparent gloom of the market this year, we had the opposite success with the festival, especially in terms of attendance, with the young public in general and the attraction of retrospective ones. Other festivals develop more discreet charms, friendlier sometimes, but Annecy remains foremost precisely by its size and impact.

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Meet with Serge Bromberg

The ubiquity of Annecy's artistic director adds to the festival a human character, an identifiable strong personality that compensates somewhat its huge size. So we meet with the artistic director Serge Bromberg.

Phillipe Moins: Which were the "tops" and the "flops" of this edition?

Serge Bromberg: It is necessary to know that a festival is a little like a mayonnaise, there are several ingredients that must gel or it doesn't take. This year, I believe that the mayonnaise took and the people appeared to unanimously say it was a very good edition. There were of course small organizational problems lines were too long - which are little problems due to the attendance of the festival, which one also rejoices in. Globally, the festival was a "top." A big one to remember was the applause for Ray Harryhausen. That for me was one of the big moments of the festival. One that was a small damper on the event was the screening of Ub Iwerks' films that I find extremely good, but the event had less of an impact than I imagined it would. Same goes for the documentary on Bruce Bickford.

PM: Why did it only show one time?

SB: We got it too late and that was terrible; same thing for Ghost in the Shell II, I would have liked to shown it, but we obtained it near the end and the theater was already completely programmed. But ultimately, other than these small disappointments, and the sadness of the deaths of Jacques Rouxel and Reemerged Laloux in the same year, that was a festival highpoint.

PM: And in terms of attendance?

SB: We had a very light increase. I must acknowledge that I do not know the final figures.

PM: Where does this impression then come from, that there had been more people?

SB: Others had this impression there were even more than the last and that one constituted a record. This is a true problem for us. When one has such a big crowd, a festival loses a part of its personality, having a less individual approach to things. For example, every morning I do my meetings with the directors at the Bistro Roman where there were a 100 or more people. If I should do them in a bigger place, this would be more impersonal.

PM: Can one really talk about "grain of craziness" at Annecy, when one sees the level of the films?

SB:

I even wrote an article concerning this subject. There is tendency that we all observe, a standardization, about does the technique make the artist and not the reverse? It is true that this year the festival received an immense quantity of films that one would say were cloned definitely, but also cloned intellectually, and that is what I fear the most. Often the message was absent, some kind of lack of social, economical, political, cultural context. I have the feeling that there are people that do films just to do films.

PM: Isn't that a thought that we've heard a very a long time ago, well before all the new technologies became available?

SB: Yes and true that this tendency is not reserved to 3D films. One gets the impression to have seen a film for the thousandth time; if it's not the same film then it's copied in some small manner with little change and without true innovation. It is very difficult for the director himself to say that, but at the same time the viewpoint of the spectators makes sense. Therefore I am a little bit a "super spectator" and my outlook as artistic director is the same as all of the artistic directors of animation festivals.

PM:

Could Annecy and animation be at a turning point in history?

SB: Maybe we are at the end of history? At the Clermont Ferrand this year there was no grand prize because the members of the jury considered nothing had merited it. To come back to Annecy, all the films of the selection this year were respectable films. I spoke in my article that we did not withhold selections. On the other hand, films such as The Life from Jun-ki Kim (South Korea) or from Chris Landreth, one is happy after to have spent five or 10 minutes with those films, one learned something, one shares the experience. Same thing for the film, , from Mike Gabriel. This is a very classical film but there is a history and one feels authors are people who wish to reach the public, with a direct dialog, aiming to use animation as a language. Showing robots to the end space and the scrapings on film to infinity say nothing to a person.

PM: You speak of a uniformity of the films, but this is the same thing that will allow Annecy and other animation festivals to distinguish themselves. How do they keep a strong identity when one sees festivals as different as Clermont or Imagina program some of the same films as Annecy?

SB: There is an oversensitivity to be particular, but I believe there's no need to panic. The animated movie has a very serious need to reach out. I'm not talking about TV series. I'm thinking about the short and long films of independents. In those areas, clearly not enough people can view them. There isn't any true market for these kinds of films. If more than one festival will show them, the better they can penetrate. If one said, "But Cannes presented Ghost in the Shell II, why do you show it?" I reply that at Annecy the people crowded into the theater and there were 300 persons that were not able to see... because it was full.

PM: But the specificity of animation is fading away. Annecy always has the trump, its retrospectives assure diversity and specificity but is that enough?

SB: Yes, Annecy has its retrospectives and also its special programs, but Annecy also has its market. One cannot think about the cream Chantilly without seeing all there its under it. Therefore the encounter with the market seems me essential and logical. The traffic we got this year was the reflection of the economy. It is not necessary to defend it, there is an ambient gloom and all the markets were subject to the same result, which is unfortunate. People tend to hypothesize if MIFA is less important, but I believe that to walk it is necessary to have two legs. This is proven, there is a true need for a market, a lot of people would not come if there wasn't any market.

The concept of the market is done independently of the festival and inversely, but when the market is morose, the festival, after a small one, is sad as well. It is said that in the crisis periods there appears the big geniuses. Nevertheless, if there was enough money to pay all the people to do mediocre things there would be no need to innovate... I've learned there are cycles in the economy and maybe we are in a low cycle of animation.

PM: Were there spaces for experimental?

SB: Every other year there is the NPRA, the "Non-Photo Realistic Organization."

PM: Yes, but each year there is in an or two strange films saved by the selection committee, generally placed at the end of the screening. Wouldn't it be better to concentrate them at a specific place, with a special showcase?

SB: In the past there was Olio (a Canadian film), the film was non-figurative, it received a prize and it was not even an animation film but that gave rise to a little debate why not? I don't believe it is necessary to do a special section for this kind of film. This would be a ghetto, a step back. If I present that to the administrative board as an innovation, they will tell me that this is a decline. One needs to see how the selections happen. Our selection committees are independent and like to preserve the grain of craziness of each. When one doesn't have a consensus on films as those there, it is important to take the mutations.

When every committee manages its own rules, sometimes it is necessary to resort to the wild card. Sometimes there is consensus as there was this year, they decided to agree to respect and have this grain of craziness and there I support them 250%. This is nobility of the Annecy festival.

PM: The selection of the theatricals, the quality level was problematic, no?

SB: There again the question arises every year. Does one have research a lot of theatricals or does one wait for what features are submitted as one does it for the short films and therein lays a true problem. I don't want to have to be looking from right to the left to round up long features. Simply there are some certain ones that we do not want in the competition. One would not have Pixar submit , but if Pixar did, where does that leave the other styles of movies. We can only present five features, that is the rule. We saw 18 films. There again, more is the enemy of the good. We must train the producers to submit their films, but then, as the artistic director, I must juggle between what the people sent us and certain films presented out of competition.

PM: I noticed two absent from the competition, ...

SB: Yes, absolutely. It is unfortunate, the features of John François Laguionie is very interesting, but maybe there his producers had a little painful memory presenting at a previous Annecy.

PM: and the collective film Winter Days directed by Kihachiro Kawamoto, one was expecting to see it at Annecy?

SB: I regret that it did not arrive at Annecy. There are some other gaps, and there again other questions on the selection of the features or on other things, but for me the selection committees are sovereign and sometimes it is normal for me to be a conduit.

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Philippe Moins is a writer and teacher in Belgium, and also the co-director of Anima 2003.

Don Duga is an animator, director and producer of animation. From UPA to Rankin/Bass to commercials to Sesame Street to feature films, he is an industry veteran. He has storyboarded such classics as Mr. Magoo, Underdog, The Last Unicorn, Frosty the Snow Man, Mad Monster Party, Wind in the Willows and more. He is also the co-founder of Polestar Films in New York, and has been an instructor of animation at The School of Visual Arts in New York City since 1962.

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