Bob Swain and Ron Diamond traveled to Potsdam for Cartoon Movie 2005 and report back with whats hot in the European feature market.
The seventh annual Cartoon Movie attracted some 450 participants March 10-12 to the German town of Potsdam just outside Berlin. Organized by Cartoon and funded by the European Media program and various German film organizations, the event aims to expand production of European animated feature films by presenting movies at various stages of development to potential investors and distributors.
Although the quality of new projects was noticeably uneven this year, Cartoon Movie has matured into an essential spot on the calendar for attendees. For the first time, activity outside the presentation halls was every bit as important as what was happening inside. In other words, it has become a crucial meeting place for the fast-expanding animated feature sector in Europe.
We feel it was a very positive atmosphere outside of the official sessions as well as inside. This is very promising for the future. It means that not only can we produce together we can do the marketing together as well, says Cartoon president Stefan Thies of NFP Animation in Berlin.
Cartoon co-director Corinne Jenart adds, Our strategy is to help people talk to each other. We are now also doing the same for producers from the new European countries we are ensuring that people can join in. Cartoon quite rightly claims a share in the credit for overall growth in the market, with 60 films presented in previous editions now completed and 19 in production with a combined budget of 460 million. This year another 50 projects were presented with a total budget of 289 million.
Each year, three Cartoon Movie Tributes are voted by participants and awarded to individuals or organizations that have made a significant contribution to European animation. This years winners were Ralph Christians, France 3 and Piet De Rycker and Thilo Rothkirch.
Ralph Christians has been a key figure in European animation for more than a decade. Born in Germany, he gained a varied experience as a journalist and documentary filmmaker as well as running a production company in Iceland not to mention an early trial as a professional soccer player - before moving to Ireland. Thats when animation came to the fore and his company Magma Films became an essential part of the European scene. Magma specializes, above all, in scripting services and Christians award was given in recognition of his dedication to European storytelling in animation.
France 3 Cinéma received its award for co-producing an average of three full-length feature films every year. It is a subsidiary of France Télévision, a French public service channel with a particular responsibility and respect for French and European cultural diversity. Three animated films a year represents 10% of its annual budget. Films co-produced or currently in co-production include A Monkeys Tale, Babar: King of the Elephants, Belleville Rendezvous, The Boy Who Wanted to be a Bear, Piccolo and Saxo, Five Tales of Kirikou, The Sun Queen, U and Azur and Asmar. Why I Did (Not) Eat My Father, The Lion Child and Mia and the Migou are in development.
The German directing team of Piet De Rycker and Thilo Rothkirch were awarded the third Tribute for their stream of successful films. Their first film together was Tobias Totz and his Lion which notched up more than 500,000 admissions. They followed up with The Little Polar Bear 2,700,000 admissions in Germany alone and then Lauras Star which has already reached more than 1,300,000 admissions in Germany and is about to open across Europe. They are in production on Little Polar Bear II.
A fourth, posthumous, Tribute was also given this year to Alexandra Tholance, Cartoons press attaché for 15 years and a popular figure within the industry. The idea behind the Cartoon Movie Tributes had originally been hers.
Cartoon Movies opening film this year was The Magic Roundabout, produced by Films Action in France and SPZ Entertainment and Bolex Brothers Production in the U.K. The original French series became a cult hit show in the UK in the 1960s the challenge now is to sell its updated CGI characters to the rest of the world.
There were also screenings of eight other completed animation features Duck Ugly from Digital Animation Media (Ireland) and Millimages (France), Lauras Star from Rothkirch/Cartoon-Film (Germany) with Warner Bros. Film (Germany), Little Big Mouse from Dansk Tegnefilm (Denmark), Renart, The Fox from Onira Production (Luxembourg), Strings from Bald Film (Denmark), Supertramps from Irosoin (Spain), Dibulitoon Studio (Spain), Barton Films (Spain) and Euskal Telebista (Spain), Terkel in Trouble from A Film (Denmark) with Nordisk Film Production (Denmark) and The District! from SzimplaFilm Ltd./Lichthof Productions (Hungary).
Several films were also presented that are in production or post-production Fimfarum 2 from MAUR Film (Czech Republic), Gisaku from Filmax Animation (Spain), Lotte From Gadgetville from Eesti Joonisfilm (Estonia) and Rija Films (Latvia), The Ugly Duckling and Me from A Film (Denmark), Magma Films (Ireland) and Futurikon (France) and Spirit of the Forest and Midsummer Dream, both from Dygra Films (Spain) and Appia Filmes (Portugal).
The Ugly Duckling and Me is typical of the way Cartoon Movie works at its best being presented this year for the third time. In 2003 it was pitched as a concept, last year it was in development and this year in production. Each time, fresh elements of a deal have been added. The CGI movie (budgeted at 6 million), and a TV series to follow (8 million), develop the ugly duckling story into a sophisticated family comedy with the addition of Ratso the Rat as Uglys adoptive father.
Gisaku is trailed as the first Spanish anime film and is set for release this year together with presentations at Expo 2005 in Japan part of its budget was covered by the State body responsible for Spains presence there. Its just the latest in an impressive slate of animated features from Filmax with El Cid about to open in the U.S. with 600 prints after good results throughout Europe and Donkey Xote and Nocturna both now in production.
But perhaps the most interesting section of Cartoon Movie comes with the shorter back-to-back presentations of projects that are still at the concept stage. These are the pitches that will either be picked up and grow into movies over the next couple of years or wither away and die. But which is which? Here are some of the best.
Bug Muldoon is a co-production between Magma Films in Ireland and Ulysses and Europool in Germany. Its the tale of a private eye beetle faced with the ultimate test the survival of all the insects in the garden lies in his hands. Also presented by Magma this time together with Danish partner A Film was Hugo. Based on the existing international TV and videogame character, the ugly little troll is now getting a 3D makeover as a secret agent.
A Film was also presenting Journey to Saturn a low-budget (2.5 million) CGI movie using the same technology as the companys current hit Terkel in Trouble. Based on a Danish comic strip, it is aimed at an audience of 10 years and over.
Animation festival favorite Phil Mulloy presented a feature concept called Cottonhead together with German co-producer Thomas Meyer-Herman from Studio Film Bilder. The budget is set at just 2 million for this modern adult fairy tale rather more if the preferred casting of Tom Waits works out.
Icelandic CGI studio Caoz was presenting an ambitious project based on stories of the Viking warrior God Thor the budget has been set at a relatively high 16.7 million.
German studio Hahn Film presented Malmi a charming CGI snowman character. For the first time this year, more than 50% of all projects presented were for CGI. Another German 3D project was Backyard Heroes from Kandor Graphics a group of singularly unattractive animals a skunk, raccoon, armadillo, porcupine, opossum and squirrel who turn superhero to gain a little respect.
A number of British projects included the intriguing dreamworld fantasy of Gone! from Ink Animations in Scotland. My Team Animation presented The Ministry a view of Heaven as a huge bureaucracy running the Universe and Stardust Pictures a long-time service company on DreamWorks movies presented an adult comicbook style adaptation of the classic horror yarn Jekyll & Hyde.
Iqbal, Tale of a Fearless Child from Italian studio Gertie received some serious interest. Adapted from a successful book, it deals with a tragic story of child slavery in the carpet industry of Pakistan. Already supported by UNICEF and with a Canadian partner putting up 20% of the 8 million budget, the producers were looking for European co-production partners.
Probably the most technically demanding concept presented was I.T. The Intra Terrestrials from 109 Films Production in France. Designed as a stereoscopic 70mm photorealistic CGI project for Imax cinemas it explores the fascinating possibility of communication between humans and ants.
Bob Swain is an animation scriptwriter based in the U.K.
Ron Diamond is the president of AWN and the owner of animation production house, Acme Filmworks.