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Annecy Animation Festival: Take Two

Alain Bielik speaks with Digital Domain and visual effects supervisor Joel Hynek about bringing the fast-paced action of Stealth to the big screen.

Isnt Annecy a beautiful place to spend a week watching animation? All images courtesy of Sarah Baisley.

Isnt Annecy a beautiful place to spend a week watching animation? All images courtesy of Sarah Baisley.

What a difference a year can make. As I offer up my sophomoric observations and impressions about the much-improved Annecy, bear in mind this is only the second time this editor has attended the worlds oldest and most important animation festival, which was held June 6-11, 2005, in Annecy, France. For a more experienced account, please check out the story written by my colleague, Philippe Moins.

It looked as though the organizers had taken to heart my few criticisms, offered constructively by a seasoned festival/market veteran finding a few spoiled fruits amongst the stunning display of this international fair that growers and shoppers of animation flock to in an idyllic setting.

Gone were the long, hot lines of people waiting to get their screening tickets. This year, the organizers instituted a computerized ticket system, in which one could pre-order their picks. That worked for the most part if you actually did it and had received your security information to access the system on the Internet. Those who did not were at the mercy of computer terminals at the Bonlieu, where people encountered long lines, programming and human errors, system crashes and a limit of two choices a day. There was bound to be some problems given this was the inaugural year for a new system. It was a great relief for many.

Many new features were added to accommodate those attending the MIFA, the business market held concurrently with the festival, at the Imperial Palace Hotel. A new air duct system had been added to the often stifling tent for exhibitors, a series of big plastic channels that would suddenly inflate overhead with a rush of air shot through them. A big mixing lounge with better food was added at the end of tent, which spilled on to the landscaped grounds of the hotel where some tried to catch a few rays of sunshine. This was a much cooler festival and market, interrupted occasionally by brief showers and breezy, cold nights.

Shots from MIFA.

Shots from MIFA.

Buyers were also given a special screening lounge where they could check out DVDs from the market library and watch them unacosted in the viewing booths, much like they get to do at MIPCOM Jr. Just off the screening area was another terrace for meetings, which few availed themselves of, but was a quiet, uncrowded area to talk quietly or escape the see-and-be-seen scene in the cocktail lounge below. The bar and terrace of the Imperial Palace was officially declared a MIFA meeting area, requiring a participants badge for entrance, when many had used it in the past markets to arrange meetings without having to pay for registration or day-passes.

The MIFA crew had spent a great deal of time recruiting new exhibitors and participants, especially from the Pan-Pacific region. Their frequent complaint was about the lack of buyers coming through the exhibit area and a way to reach them. The guide listed those who registered, but without any contact information. Boxes are provided for participants, so exhibitors who did not have contact information for these people resorted to leaving messages in the boxes and cruising the bar and meetings to check out badges.

This year the protest, of sorts, came from within the festival, while last year the MIFA was shut-down for a while when utilities workers in France staged a targeted protest that cut the power to the exhibits while a French official was touring the market. A small but congenial band of animators, disappointed about having their films rejected from competition organized their own, Annecy plus, a Friday night showing of their films in a back alley of taverns.

AWN publishers Ron Diamond (far left) and Dan Sarto (far right) with the young filmmakers behind the award-winning short, Overtime.

AWN publishers Ron Diamond (far left) and Dan Sarto (far right) with the young filmmakers behind the award-winning short, Overtime.

The renegade screening was organized and promoted primarily by Pat Smith, Signe Baumane and Bill Plympton. The films were projected by Jonas Reaber while live the Improper boys provided music and creators like John Dilworth cried into his beers. Not really while I did not make it to the event, all reported it was a good gathering, where even festival artistic director Serge Bromberg was invited.

Artistic director Bromberg hosted the closing awards ceremony, sporting a Canadian Mounties uniform (in honor of the festivals tribute to Canadian animation) that called the winners to assemble on the snow-covered stage, seated on benches during the awarding of the trophies.

Room for improvements? Straighten out the bugs in the onsite ticket system. Many people were sent to the pressroom to use the computer there that needed to be reserved for the many journalists reporting from the event. Make more wireless areas for people to use their laptops (pass this on to the hotels as well). At one point, when the wireless connection would not work in the pressroom we were told it was because it was too bright outside. (OK, Ive heard of sun flares affecting the Internet but)

Think about mixing student and professional films, this would raise the bar, in most cases, of late, to the professionals. It would be nice if the big formal parties had more of a mixer element to them, besides proving ample space and nice food and overwhelmed bartenders. Some of the competitors never received their invites to the VIP gatherings at the end of the lake. Once more, there were fewer sponsored parties by exhibitors and organizations, so more people went back to their hotels earlier to get in from the climatic and sometimes social cold.

The 29th Annecy Festival was still enlightening, entertaining and enriching. It takes one out of ones local and national identity and increases ones appreciation for animators and animation around the world.

An amazing story was the similarities about the two duos of young filmmakers competing for Best Feature Film (The District! and Terkel in Trouble), knocking out incredibly entertaining films with little time and budget. I will delve into their stories, as well as a few other film observations in Part 2 of my second take on the Annecy Festival.

Sarah Baisley is the editor-in-chief of Animation World Network.