Philippe Moins reports back from Annecy about the festival and the coming of age of animation.
Animation is often accused of being superficial or completely juvenile. In this respect, the message sent by the Annecy festivals jury this year seems quite clear awarding the Cristal for Best Feature Film to the Hungarian film The District! (Nyócker!), directed by Aron Gauder is a way of saying: it is time for animation to stop ignoring real life, although that doesnt necessarily mean that humor or style are excluded. The District! is a hip-hop style account of the rivalry between Hungarians and Romanies in the suburbs of Budapest.
In organizing the retrospectives of films inspired by the Holocaust or politically incorrect and programming the highly revealing Italian film reportage Pop (Pace of Peace), about a difficult project designed to promote cooperation between young Israelis and Palestinians, Serge Bromberg seems to be saying that, after almost 50 years, (the first Annecy Festival was actually held in Cannes, in 1956), the long held reputation of animation as a perpetual adolescent is no longer valid. To confirm this, we heard a lot less of le lapin! le lapin! (the rabbit) chanted by the students, although the paper airplanes they toss toward the stage had been upgraded, with new more powerful models seemingly developed especially for the occasion.
But then what can one say about the opening night featuring Brombergs deadpan intro about non-narrative films, followed by a lampoon short that delighted an audience that had come to see Madagascar and for whom it was really quite unnecessary to reinforce its belief that all abstract films were tedious.
But then thats what Annecy is all about, a totally mixed bag.
The shorts in competition were generally felt to be of a high standard, even if, among others, Bill Plympton was offended that his film was relegated to the Panorama. Perhaps hell take consolation from the fact that such cruel exclusions sometimes allow opportunities for new filmmakers, most of them unknowns, to take the spotlight.
Next to such newcomers, Gil Alkabetz cuts the figure of an old master, which should not obscure his formidable talent. Morir de amor is a jewel of simplicity and intelligence, the kind of animation film that seductively confirms the specificity of the medium. That the jury didnt choose to recognize this is of course its right, but there is no doubt that Morir de amor will go on to make a strong impression at other festivals and one hopes, beyond.
The tall, somewhat melancholic figure of John Canemaker made quite a presence at the festival. He moved us to tears with his film/confession, The Moon and the Son, about his difficult relationship with a choleric father, caught in the grip of the Mafia. Rarely has a film of this kind been so successfully achieved.
The Audience Award to Fliegenpflicht Für Quadrat Köpfe (Bow Tie Duty for Squareheads) by Stefan Flint Müller proved the publics clairvoyance, in terms of this highly impressive film, stuffed with ideas, bubbling with energy unbridled imagination. It also received the Jurys Special Award.
For the first time at Annecy, the selection of feature films was not an embarrassment, and some of the films even challenged the beliefs of those who usually claim the superiority of animated shorts over features. This too is a development, in terms of maturity, that is worth stressing.
The only fly in the ointment was the continued absence of films from countries such as Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, those former beacons of animation production in the past. This was all the more noticeable since another country where the animation dauteur was born I mean Canadian animation was highlighted this year.
In terms of the lectures, the one given by Peter Lord and David Sproxton provoked a mixed response. The diversification and partial conversion to 3D of the Aardman Studio, although understandable from an economic point of view, did however give the impression that the Aardman touch is and remains confined their clay animation.
Obviously everyone was expecting a preview from the next Wallace and Gromit. And what we saw was certainly appetizing, seeming closer to a comedy with a touch of the absurd than the parodies of live action films that have hitherto been the norm. Nobody really understood why the Blue Sky briefing was the first part of this session, becoming like the guest star of a highly anticipated show.
The Annecy audience grows bigger and bigger every year. Seeing the crowds at all the screenings, from the most mainstream to the most demanding, seeing so many people pressing around the festival boutique to buy books and DVDs that are sometimes impossible to find elsewhere, it is clear that animation culture is no longer confined to a small circle of aficionados. And even if that sometimes has its irritating aspects, it is exactly as it should be.
Philippe Moins is writer and teacher in Belgium, and also co-director of the Brussels Animation Festival ANIMA.