Sarah Baisley reports on her experiences at Annecy 2006 where the MIFA market showcased more excitement than the festival.
The Annecy animation festival, which ran June 5-10, 2006, along with the MIFA market (June 7-9), in Annecy, France, had lovely weather and had loads of screenings, but many festivalgoers were in search of films that impressed them. There were a few gems, but so many were just too abstract, too long, lacked story and, sometimes, execution. The MIFA market, on the other hand, was perhaps the most vibrant and well-attended in years, as attendees traversed the exhibit floor, instead of secluding themselves in the Imperial Palace bar/terrace, as exhibitors had noticeable floor traffic up to the final hour and could not pack up early.
A look at the Annecy festival first, since that is the main reason people attend, to see new works and connect with talents from all over the animation world. Also, for more on the films and the event, check out the story written by my colleague, Philippe Moins.
There was little news and sightings of more than the usual animation celebs, save for the British favorite John Coates, Canadian Marv Newland and Tim Burton, a scheduled guest of the festival. At his talk on Saturday morning accompanying the Corpse Bride screening, Burton announced he was avidly looking for a job. Later that night, he was given a lifetime achievement award, and, shortly after the event, was lined up to direct Sweeney Todd. When awarded a special Cristal award for his film achievements, Burton said he would treasure it as one of his few awards and thought the design would look good as his gravestone.
Along with the sun, it was Italian animators time to shine at the festival, during the many tributes and presentations that brought a raft of animation folk who normally never venture much outside their country to be part of the animation scene. They have lots of production experience, talent and needs to share. The opening night event featured an acknowledgement and standing ovation for Osvaldo Cavandoli, well known for his La Linea (The Line) series.
Opening night also featured the world premiere of French movie, U, directed by Gregoire Solotareff and Serge Elissale, produced by Prima Linea Prods. Most described it as quite pretty, but many found it too long.
There was little else in the way of premieres and the full-length feature competition was unexciting, with most films having been exhibited for some time already. The audience did take in its collective breath when the black-and-white French film, Renaissance, won the Cristal for Best Feature over the Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
What seemed to impress the jury the most in this and the shorts category was unusual graphics. This aspect was cited repeatedly for the winners. And the winners repeated in many categories, as the striking Tragic Story Happy Ending by Regina Pessoa won the Annecy Cristal, as well as the Cineculte Award; while Joanna Quinns hilarious short with great camera angles, Dreams and Desires - Family Ties, won the Special Jury, Audience and Fipresci Awards.
Perhaps the lack of films with a moving story and entertainment resides with the big influence of animation academia at festivals and with the budding filmmakers. While sharing a brew at the annual Holland Animation Festival party in the old part of town, students from the University of Wales said to this editor that their professors told them to not put so much emphasis on character design and to focus their efforts on making experimental films. Plus little is offered in the way of story instruction in the early part of their program.
In the real world, studios pretty much prize storytelling and good character design the most.
Exemplary student work was to be found, not so much this time in the regular student competition, but in the Les Espoirs de lAnimation interstitial competition the broadcaster sponsors each year amongst the leading four animation schools in France. Students are given a PSA-type topic. Films must be 45 to 60 seconds in length, target kids 4-14 and be created in a month. Many had outstanding design and story, and it had to be hard to narrow it down to the winners, which were announced at MIFA and broadcast on the channel. They were:
- No. 1
SpahgettiBoy, by Camille Auribault, Nicols Athane, Morgana Fraschina and Laure Fatus from ESAAT.
No. 2 Dessine-moi un heros by Johanna Bessiere from Gobelins.
No. 3 Phonky Suzie by Helene Friren from La Poudriere.
No. 4 La naze attitude by Stephanie Marguerite and Charlene Tony from EMCA.
Then again, some of the best work was done by the schools for the daily intros to the film competitions, which were much better than the professionally produced overall festival opening, which was more like a broadcast station ID. In fact, the young festival participants had a hard time inventing refrains to shout at the screen as it played like theyd done in previous years. This, however, did not diminish the enthusiasm to engineer and toss paper airplanes at the stage throughout the day.
Another great place to catch films and visit animation people was at the unauthorized but welcome second annual Annecy Plus, an unofficial screening organized by Bill Plympton, Signe Baumane and Pat Smith of films not selected for competition, in hopes of finding more entertaining shorts. Nik Phelps and the Annecy Sprocket Ensemble accompanied with music while Platform Festival kicked off its upcoming fest in Oregon by co-sponsoring the event with Cartoon Network. Planners do it mostly as a fun, social culmination to the week, since many of the works were not actually ready at the submission cutoff this year.
This selection of films was more entertaining in the outdoor courtyard of the Belle Excuse Café that was packed with more than 250 people as they watched the films projected onto a blank wall outside while mingling at tables with international conversation, renewing old friendships and starting up new ones in several languages. Here brave enough students had a chance to hang out with professionals and perhaps even get an autographed drawing from the likes of Danny Antonucci or Bob Kemp, who was called, after a long layoff in Los Angeles, to move to Paris to direct the Robot Boy series for Alphanim, which sought his Ren & Stimpy comedic sensibility and U.S. production knowledge. He is a happy transplant.
Those entering the biz could also find a wealth of pros to talk to, including many active recruiters, at additional parties and picnics, such as the lawn tradition put together by DreamWorks and Nvidia. Overlapping this outing are the fun-loving annual potluck picnic and paddleboat races on the lake, loosely organized by Nik and Nancy Phelps.
Many festivals were in the party business this Annecy as the Stuttgart International Festival of Animation sent revelers on a half-hour bus ride down to another part of town for a lovely meal with leisurely, lakeside lawn chair and grass seating.
Another important aspect of Annecy is the chance to attract new talent and find out what instruction will help a prospective or returning student land the next job. Annecy offered an excellent creative focus and job fair. This place for meetings and exchanges between young talents and professionals (animation studios, distributors, etc.), offers very comprehensive information on existing courses, notably through the presence of many schools and institutions.
At the Job Forum, job offers and requests were displayed in a special area at the Imperial Palace. Demonstrations from visiting animation masters and lectures made up the agenda of daily appointments. In addition to big presentations by Disney, Pixar, Aardman Animations, Cartoon Network, Folimage and Marathon Animation, students were able to meet and watch comic strip artist/illustrator Yoshitaka Amano (Final Fantasy) demonstrate his remarkable design ability as he drew on a big sketchpad in a lecture.
Attendance and energy was up at the Imperial Palace for the MIFA market with 1,500 participants from more than 60 countries.
The show floor design was more spread out and cleverly took attendees in a path to encounter more, small booths, spilling into at a comfortable chill out area with improved food services. People were noticeably spending less time milling in the expensive bar and terrace area of the hotel and congregated in the chill out space for less cost and a better mingle space, which put them closer to exhibitors. Buyers and press could use the buyers club with its digital library to access shows, as well as catch up on screenings.
Even more organizations from countries were on hand to rally behind their animators with group booths, giving press conferences and parties to give their native animators a boost in the global market.
The Emilia-Romangna area of Italy (centering around Bologna) presented a special conference to introduce studios and freelance creators with a briefing and screening of their work, showreels and information kits on an a region prolific production and creativity that goes, for the most part, unreported.
There were many small exhibitors from Italy, emphasizing the wealth of talent and capabilities from that part of the world, many seeking co-production opportunities for their original creations.
While attending a party/presentation for Finish studios, it was announced there would be five feature films to come out of Finland in the next few years. The Emperors Secret Keisaqrin Salaisuus, the first full-length 3D animated-feature produced in Finland (produced by Helsinki filmi Oy), premieres September 2006, directed by Riina Hytia.
Once the MIFA closed and the five rounds of films in competition had screened throughout the week, there was little left to do on Saturday, leading up to the awards ceremony. Screenings were sparse, then again, this can be a good time to buy trinkets for home, particularly at the outdoor farmers market in the morning and there are plenty of good shops in this resort town.
The computerized ticket system is working the bugs out and making the process a lot easier for most. The only glitch encountered this time was the inability to exchange a ticket for the same time at a different venue. While computers said tickets were available, the exchange desk was unable to find tickets.
If festival organizers want more people to attend, they need to take a more proactive role to make sure people can transfer from planes and trains to the festival site. One entertainment lawyer was assured she had a shuttle ride from Geneva airport to Annecy, guaranteed by credit card. She arrived to find out the shuttle decided there were not enough people so she was left to find a bus or taxi. Departing Annecy for Geneva airport, a long-time school exhibitor booked two shuttles services, prepaid with a credit card. Neither shuttle driver had her on the list for pickup, so she wound up paying another $150 for a taxi to catch her plane. Sounds like this is a good part-time business to get in to.
In addition to the awards on closing night at the Bonlieu Theatre, the festival, to celebrate its 30th edition, unveiled the Annecy 2006 list of the best 100 films since the start of animation almost 100 years ago.
Sarah Baisley is the editor-in-chief of Animation World Network.