The latest from Europe, Heikki Jokinen recounts the news and views from Arles, France's Cartoon Forum.
Editor's Note: For more information on CARTOON, see Heikki Jokinen's article, "Europe Strikes Back," in our October issue, in which he outlines the purposes of CARTOON and its role in Europe.
Business was as usual at the eighth Cartoon Forum in Arles, France held from September 18-20. Ninety-two European broadcasters, along with 82 distributors and other financiers like video and licensing companies, came together to judge the fate of 69 new animation projects. The Cartoon Forum is the annual co-financing event of CARTOON, the European Union backed organization designed to spur on the European animation industry. CARTOON is a part of MEDIA II, a project of the European Union. This Year's Projects The proposed projects were mainly television serials for children; exceptions like feature films or television programs for adolescent or adult audiences were rare. The ideas were also often based on comics or children's books, as it is much more simple to introduce a television series, both for financiers and the audience, with familiar and well-known heroes. It helps with possible licensing, too!
The origin of projects clearly show where the stronghold of the European animation industry is: 25 out of the 69 projects were French. France was followed by the United Kingdom with 15 projects and Germany with 10 projects. The CARTOON rules favor countries with small productions, but in the real world big productions are king. Serials from countries with small animation industries that actually go into production are few and far between. The Cartoon Forum exists for business purposes, not to defend European cultural diversity.
By the end of the Cartoon Forum, producers decided that 21 projects "received sufficient interest to secure their interest in the short term." In other words, they received promises for the required money. Among these projects is the television series, The Big Knights, composed of 13-ten minutes episodes. This somewhat naively drawn, humorous series is directed by Mark Baker and Neville Astley. Au clair de la lune (Tune of the Moon) is a French-German co-production with an astonishing 104 five-minute episodes. This cute serial is a bedtime-type story for 2-5 year-old children.
Another 24 projects received enough assurances of money "to secure their financing in the medium term." Among these was a Finnish television serial by Estonian animator Priit Pärn. The absurd story called The Hare and the Wired Sock combines Pärn's fine lines with 3-D computer animation.
Not all of these projects will be completed though. Usually only 25-40% of the projects presented at the Cartoon Forum are actually finished. In most cases it takes several years.
Diversity and Growth
The Cartoon Forum exhibits another important characteristic of European animation - it isn't only traditional, cel animation. On other continents, the commercial forms of puppet and clay animation are very rare. In Europe, however, the tradition is alive and well, especially in the former socialist countries, and of course, we can't forget Aardman Animations' Wallace and Gromit.
The growth of Europe's animation industry has been very fast. Before CARTOON's start in 1988, there weren't any 26 half-hour episode series being done in Europe. Now there are several every year. The French Union of Animation Film Producers surveyed European television channels about their animation programs. Though only a few television channels replied, the results were published in Arles. One development was clear: the share of European animation on European television has grown, and Japanese animation has decreased. U.S. animation seems to have more or less kept it's position at 20-50% of most channels' programming. German channels WDR Cologne and Premiere, and Italy's RAI DUE only program 10% of their schedules with U.S. animation, but Ireland's RTE and the MegaChannel in Greece both show 80%.
Studios Over the Borders
CARTOON has succeeded in getting small European studios to work together over national borders. Many of the studio groupings established from 1989-95, during the European Union's MEDIA I program, are working fine, even without CARTOON's initial financial support. Some of these now even have contacts outside of Europe as well.
Robin Lyons of the U.K.'s Siriol Productions is partnered with La Fabrique from France, Sofidoc from Belgium and Cologne Cartoon from Germany to form the studio grouping EVA. "We were the first group. That explains the name," he says about EVA, which was started in 1989. According to Lyons, the most positive CARTOON experience is that it is easier to begin new productions. All of the ideas are discussed carefully together, which helps to evaluate the possibilities for international success. "If Germans say that some idea doesn't work there, we can make changes," Lyons says. Every studio, however, does not have to be involved in every single project completed by EVA. Partners can also be found elsewhere. "Now we are cooperating with another French studio," Lyons explains. "It is, however, recommended by our French partner." And there are still new groupings popping up. Under the MEDIA II program, which began last year, CARTOON supports six new studio groupings. These groupings are not working together, however, in a uniform way. On the contrary, they are trying to find their own work and success. Animbase is composed of studios in Greece, Italy and France, and specializes in new technology with aims to become a complete virtual studio. Fabel, which links three studios in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, works on feature films. The studios have already made a total of seven features.
One More Prize for Sylvain Chomet
The Cartoon d'Or is CARTOON's annual prize for the best animated piece. It is selected from the winners or finalists of the six European animation film festivals with which CARTOON is cooperating. The prize is 35,000 ecu, which stands for European Currency Unit, the official EU monetary unit which is generally equivalent to U.S. $1.09. The money is to be used for another production, which this time should be a suitable length for a normal television programming slot.
This year's prize was no surprise. It went to Frenchman Sylvain Chomet for his film La vieille dame et les pigeons (The Old Lady and the Pigeons). The main aim of the prize is to integrate suitable talent into the animation industry. Chomet's film and style has a clear commercial potential. The Old Lady and the Pigeons has already received the Grand Prix at the Annecy Festival and at the Los Angeles World Animation Celebration. The jury also gave a honorary mention to Ruth Lingford from the U.K for her film Death and the Mother. This film is a trip to our common myths; a strong story about a mother's sorrow and fight in the face of her child's death.
Next Stop: Licensing
CARTOON has a good reputation within MEDIA, and the Cartoon Forum has been without a doubt a success, but what plans does CARTOON have for the future? "European animation production is well developed today. Now it is time to work on licensing," says CARTOON director Corinne Jenart. "There are enough well known serials to start licensing and merchandising. We have the best animators in the world, but no licensing."
Jenart is planning the next steps. Whatever CARTOON will do, it has to be well-prepared in conjunction with professionals, she clearly states. "That's how we started the Cartoon Forum, we discussed the concept carefully with professionals." This discussion process is currently underway. Last summer CARTOON organized a licensing conference at MIFA, the market at Annecy. "I do not know yet whether we will organize something in connection with the Cartoon Forum or whether it will be something separate," Jenart says. "But if we do something, it will have to be well done from the very beginning," she underlines. "I do not want to organize an unsuccessful event."
Jenart also sees that it is important to develop the distribution of European animated features. There is a growing interest for animation in cinemas, she says. "But the main problem is distribution. We have no network for it. Take a Danish feature, it doesn't cross the border." There is European product, but it is only seen in small theaters and festivals. "This is what I want to develop," Jenart says. "But it won't be easy. Disney has a kind of monopoly. There are theaters which cannot screen animation other than Disney. Otherwise they will loose the Disney films, which are a source of secure revenue for cinemas."
Stay tuned to AWN's Animation Flash newsletter for the dates of next year's Cartoon Forum.
Heikki Jokinen is a freelance journalist and critic specializing in animation, short film and comics. He lives in Helsinki, Finland and is a board member of ASIFA-Nordic, the ASIFA regional organization for the five Nordic and three Baltic states. This Cartoon Forum is the fifth one in which he has participated.