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Annecy: Professionals’ Opinions

AWN managing editor Rick DeMott talks with artists, execs, teachers, historians and other festival directors about their experiences with Annecy, both artistically and professionally.

Each year thousands of animation professionals from all over the globe fly to Annecy, France to attend the Annecy International Animation Festival. Over the years, the festival has developed the reputation of being the premiere animation festival in the world. This years event, which ran from June 27, 2003, was no exception. We wanted to find out why others enjoy the festival and find it an important event to attend each year. Our pool of responses came from filmmakers, historians, festival directors, educators and execs. Here is what they had to say.

John Dilworth at work at his Stretch Films. Photo courtesy of Stretch Films.

John Dilworth, director and designer, Stretch Films

Academy Award-nominated director John R. Dilworth is the founder of New York-based Stretch Films and the creator of Cartoon Networks Courage the Cowardly Dog. The pilot for that series, The Chicken from Outer Space, was nominated for an Academy Award, an Annie Award and a CableACE Award. Dilworth has also directed such short films as The Dirty Birdy, Noodles & Nedd, Catch of the Day and The Mousochist.

My most positive Annecy moment was the restoration of hope that hand drawn animation will survive, with intensive care, with the feature film, Les Triplettes de Belleville. Also discovering new souls. It is important to me to attend the festival for the continuity of community, inspiration and contagious enthusiasm. The networking I do at the festival is all human, which includes, naturally, business interests and creative. I am mostly interested in how well people live and love within the context of their art and commerce. For me, to network is to insert myself in this net that works like the weave of a blanket. I cannot discriminate against the quality of the films. I was satisfied with my colleagues difficult selection choices seeking the best of the best. I resist judgment.

Animation historian Giannalberto Bendazzi. Photo courtesy of Giannalberto Bendazzi.

Giannalberto Bendazzi, animation historian

Italian born Bendazzi is a film critic and historian who has been studying animation since age 19. His most recent work is a book in English and French called Alexeieff Itinerary of a Master, devoted to a master of auteur and experimental short film. His best known work is Cartoons, One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation (Indiana University Press, 1994, 1995, 1999), a world history of the medium that has been in the making since 1970.

My most positive Annecy experience was realizing that my colleagues on the jury were the best group of civilized, cultivated and expert people I could hope for. They were Bill Plympton (USA), Gabor Csupo (USA), Mikhail Aldashin (Russia) and Susie Campbell (Australia). The quality of the films to award were above average, and this was my second most positive experience.

I'm a historian, and at a festival like Annecy, I can watch a good selection of every year's best animated films of the world. I attend the retrospectives. I can also meet the filmmakers. If I were a filmmaker, a distributor, a professional of any kind, I'd do the same and I'd feel enriched anyway.

The quality of the films has changed a lot during the years, and this is an extremely exciting and inspiring thing. I don't mean the level of the quality, I mean its morphology. During the seventies animators were presenting novelties: new techniques, new design approaches and new sound inventions. During the eighties the basic theme was issues (the emblem film of the eighties was nature-loving The Man Who Planted Trees by Frederick Back, Canada). Then came electronic development. But you see, when I first arrived in Annecy, in 1971, I happened to hear this comment: "This year's selection is quite weak... Do you remember how great it was the one before?". Now, 32 years later, you can hear the same thing told by almost everybody in the festival hall. And this means that, in fact, the level of the quality, despite its morphology, has always been perfectly high.

Steve Whitehouse. Caricature courtesy of Steve Whitehouse.

Steve Whitehouse, animator

Born in Toronto, Whitehouse began his career in traditional animation in 1985. He has worked on many diverse projects, mainly for TV, including: Babar, Beetlejuice, Duckman and Sam & Max. In 1999, he started the Flash animated series Mr. Man, for which he has created more than 140 shorts to date, including Interactive which garnered the Grand Prix Vivendi at the FIFI2000 (Festival International du Film de l'Internet). He is developing other properties with the collective "The Petrie Lounge." Its first film, Kunstbar, has won numerous international awards.

The most positive thing [about Annecy] is just being involved/immersed in the creative atmosphere, seeing old friends that I have not seen in years and meeting new ones! And Annecy is such a lovely town. It is important to attend the festival for meeting like-minded people, seeing what they are up to and seeing that you're not alone in the struggle to create.

Theres not so much business networking at the moment, I was occasionally meeting with people interested in Mr. Man. Unfortunately, nothing has materialized at the moment, but I am in no particular rush. [My networking is] more on an artistic/personal level, meeting the filmmakers whose work I admire, etc

It's always interesting to see what gets accepted. I find the student films to be more enjoyable as they seem less self-conscious and more daring in their approach. Generally somewhat less pretentious more art/story driven than the big "I wanna impress'em" approach that a lot of professionals seem to get caught up in, which tends to drag and becomes more interested in style than substance.

Tsvika Oren, director of the Animation Center Tel Aviv

Oren served as the animation curator for the 17th and 18th Haifa International Film Festival. He is a senior lecturer at the Bezalel Academy of Art & Design in Jerusalem, Tel Hai College Film School in N. Gallilee and Minhal Colleges Electronic Media department in Tel Aviv. He also works as a journalist, film critic and is a member of editorial board of the bi-monthly cinema magazine Cinematheque. He contributes a column in Otot, a communication & advertising monthly, as well as ASIFA Intl Quarterly. ASIFA IL Newsletter, YNet magazine, Animation World Magazine, ASIFA S.F. Monthly and Credit Magazine.

My most positive Annecy experience was verbal communication with selected people. In addition, the exciting new three dimensional drawing technology (Falling in Love Again, NFB/IMAX). Zagreb Fest and Holland Animation had wonderful casual receptions with lots of exciting people. Solweig von Kleists excellent exhibition was very cleverly arranged at the Castle space. I enjoyed Sylvain Chomets superb feature Les Triplettes de Belleville as well as the Work in progress presentation of Folimages wonderful feature, Raining Cats and Frogs.

If one has access to a similar variety, plus the same quality of animated people and films, Annecy (as well as the other five top festivals) would have no importance. Since I dont have the above mentioned available, attending at least one of these festivals a year is a must to further develop insight; get some idea of current creative achievements and tendencies; exchange knowledge, concepts and opinions; diminish ignorance; view rare important films of the past; get a fresh supply, in abundance, of creative and thought-provoking stimuli.

Annecy offers all qualities of films. There are 265 selected new films. All 1,400 sent for selection are available for viewing on video. With several hundreds of films in retrospectives and special screenings, plus many more available at the market, there is plenty to choose from to suit an individuals needs and interests.

LEAFs festival manager Sophie Trainor. Photo courtesy of London Effects and Animation Festival.

Sophie Trainor, festival manager, London Effects and Animation Festival (LEAF)

Trainor has held the post of LEAF festival manager for the last four years, following roles producing conference and events relating to telecommunications and online issues. She has a keen interest in film, cinematography and, of course, visual effects following studies in French cinema and media. Similarly, she has written industry related articles for European publications.

My most positive Annecy experience was meeting up with Bill Plympton and other U.S.-based guys that I only see rarely. I believe that Annecy is the best event for networking with the 2D animation community. In my role as manager of a festival in London, this is my prime reason for attending. In the past, the event has been more beneficial to me, as my focus is more CG and 3D projects, and there was very little relevant content of this nature this year. In the past, the question has been, why wouldn't you attend Annecy, more than why would you. Similarly, I believe that it is noticed if you are not there.

The networking that I do is almost completely business-related to the festival, looking for speakers and awards entries and also profile-raising for the festival in general. It is a great place to meet a really international audience and also high profile animation gurus who would be very hard to get in touch with otherwise.

I have attended now for three or four years and, each year, I notice that there is some amazing work. However, there is also some less interesting stuff and it means that you need to go to a lot of screenings in order to search out the really cool stuff. Also, I have noticed that some work is repeated each year, which isn't necessarily a bad thing as there must be some crossover of attendees. But for those of us who go each year, it does lessen what we look at. (Also for 2003, the conference programs were almost absent, which was a great shame).

Bob Balser. Photo courtesy of Bob Balser.

Bob Balser, animation director

Balser is best known for being an animation director on the Beatles cult classic Yellow Submarine. After Yellow Submarine, Balser opened his own production company in Barcelona, Spain, where he produced TV series like The Jackson 5, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, Peanuts for CBS, Barney for BBC and many more. His recent credits include The Triplets and Bay Dogs. Today, he spends most of his time as a consultant and teaches students around the world.

As always Annecy is a combination of positive experiences: seeing the latest films, seeing friends, networking, seeing the various exhibitions of animation historical importance, and, of course, enjoying the beauty of the Haute Savoire and eating that wonderful food. Added to this, for the past few years, (since the inauguration of MIFA) the computer programmers present their new developments, which is also interesting. This year impressed me especially because of the advances that allow a creative filmmaker to use a relatively inexpensive computer to make a broadcast quality film at home.

For anyone interested in animation, the Annecy Festival probably has the fullest range of exposure to the best commercial film market products, such as films for sales, educational and scientific use; TV series, as well as personal films, using every conceivable technique. There are also student films, which allow us to see where the new animators are going. For those whose interest enters the business area, there is the chance to see and buy many new products before they are presented in the large film markets.

At this point in my career, I'm mainly interested in consulting and teaching. Annecy gives me the opportunity to make contact with various schools, and extend my contacts with acquaintances in a very constructive and valuable way.

There are so many programs at Annecy that anyone's taste can be satisfied. Annecy has grown so large and important that four categories have been established: Short & Feature, Student & Graduation, TV & Commissioned and Internet. The four pre-selection juries had to look at more than 1,000 films, and select what they considered the best in each category to be placed in competition. It is a very difficult job, because, of course, the viewer will be dependent on the taste and concerns of the jury members. This year, I was very pleased to see that the quality was generally very high, and most people we talked to were very impressed with a larger percentage of films than in recent years.

Cartoon Saloon co-founder Tomm Moore, animator Fabrice Ziolkowski and Paul Young (Pictured left to right). Photo courtesy of Cartoon Saloon.

Paul Young, co-founder and joint managing director, Cartoon Saloon

Young serves as producer on the Saloon's in-house projects and those in development. As an artist, he has scripted and storyboarded six episodes of a series in development, Ruairí. He designed and drew a 40-page comic book An Toraíocht, as well as numerous illustration and cartooning projects for commercial clients. While he was still in school, he created the Television sketch series Barstool that was broadcast in October/November 1998 as part of @ LAST TV on RTE. Paul worked as a character designer and layout artist with Brown Bag films on the production. Before setting up The Cartoon Saloon with Tomm Moore in Ireland, he completed numerous illustration and cartooning jobs as a freelancer including contributing to a young persons guide to the Amsterdam treaty, funded by the EU and published by The National Youth Agency in Britain.

Its hard to pinpoint the most positive experience I've had in Annecy, because every time I come back I feel better for it in general, I get to meet some very interesting people and show them what we do... that, and the weather was great and we got to go swimming. This year I would say meeting two very talented animators, Diane Le Feyer and Laurence Peguy, who had just finished college in France was one of the highlights. Their work was just fantastic, and they wanted to come to Ireland and work with us, so it was good news for Cartoon Saloon. They'll arrive next week to start work on a project! I know the highlight for Nora Twomey was seeing Belleville Rendez-vous. She was the only one of our group to manage to get a ticket in to see Sylvain Chomets film at the time. I got to see it at a previous screening in Cannes. Its definitely my animation highlight of the year.

Obviously, Annecy is a good place to go and talk about your projects and to meet with the people who can help you make your feature film or TV series. But while Ross Murray and myself scrubbed ourselves up a bit and did the producer thing at MIFA, the others from the studio where just relaxing and taking in some animation, comics, sun and swimming. So it was a great week out for a studio overall.

In contrast to MIPCOM or MIP-TV, MIFA is a great way to meet both the business and the artistic side of the animation industry. Two Cartoon Saloon directors were there, Nora Twomey and Tomm Moore, to meet with students and look at portfolios. I found out which broadcasters and producers I would like to meet a few weeks before the market and arranged some appointments over the first two days, leaving a day or so to arranged more when I'm there. The size of the market is intimate enough that you can arrange to meet someone if you really want to. Even had a few hours to work on our feature film script for Brendan and the Secret of Kells while supping back some wine by the lake. Pure class.

Unfortunately, this year I only saw a couple of screening sessions as I was very busy in the market, but we had a film called From Darkness in competition and the shorts that where in the same session where wonderful. Its amazing to see so much animation at one time and realize there are still a lot of people making short films. Its harder and harder to see shorts on television anymore, so Annecy is one of the best places to see what other people are doing. It also helps in the "we're not alone" type of feeling you get when you're in the middle of a production, you know, there are other fruitcakes out there too. Of course, everyone has to see Belleville Rendez-vous, and I'm not just saying that because we're co-producing our feature with Les Armateurs.

At the end of the day, Annecy is a great way to meet interesting people from all over the world and have a drink I hate to be living up to the Irishman stereotype, but lets face it free booze is always good thing

Rick DeMott is managing editor of Animation World Network. Previously, he served as the production coordinator for sound production house BadaBing BadaBoom Productions and animation firm Perky Pickle Studios. Prior to that position, he served as associate editor of AWN.

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