Ron Diamond reports from the 10th edition of the annual event dedicated to presenting and promoting European animated features.
The 10th annual Cartoon Movie took place March 5-7, once again bringing together producers of new movies with potential distributors and investors. The European co-production forum for animated feature films is staged every March at the Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam, Germany.
More than 500 participants from 29 countries attended this year's event, at which 48 productions were presented, including both completed works and films-in-progress. In addition, as in previous years, Cartoon Tributes, voted by the attendees, were presented to individuals or companies that have had a significant influence on the European animation industry during the past year. This year's honorees were:
Best European Director of the Year: Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud for Persepolis (France)
Best European Producer of the Year: Prima Linea Productions for Peur(s) du Noir ("Fear(s) of the Dark") (France)
Best European Distributor of the Year: Europa Distribution (Europe)
Continuing a trend that is also a measure of the event's success, Cartoon Movie again opened with a world premiere, this year the European co-production Dragon Hunters. Directed by Guillaume Ivernel and Arthur Qwak, the French/German/Luxembourgian collaboration is the whimsical tale of a little girl who enlists the help of a couple of dubious dragon hunters to rid her uncle's kingdom of the titular beast.
Nine additional completed movies were screened: Donkey Xote (Spain/Italy); Fly Me to the Moon (Belgium); Go West -- A New Adventure of Lucky Luke (France); Jungo Goes Bananas (Denmark/Latvia/Norway); Little Dodo (Germany); Mocland, the Legend of the Aloma (Spain); Nocturna (Spain); the above-mentioned Peur(s) du Noir; and The Three Robbers (Germany).
Of those I saw, the most notable were Fly Me to the Moon, Nocturna and Peur(s) du Noir. The first of these, directed by Ben Stassen and billed as "the first-ever computer animated feature film designed, created and produced in [3-D] from frame one," made wonderful use of the possibilities of 3-D technology in relating its story of the adventures of three insectoid astronauts. For its part, the long-awaited Nocturna looked gorgeous, displaying extraordinary art design in creating a magical world in which anything is possible.
Peur(s) du Noir encapsulated a different vision. This collection of six interconnected stories by six different directors, which had its premiere at Sundance, was as dark as its title. From spiders and mysterious noises, to hypodermic needles and rabid dogs, this invocation of "phobias, disgust and nightmares" was extremely effective -- perhaps too much so. While a terrific and visually arresting film, if audible audience reaction is any indication, Peur(s) du Noir may be too disturbing to receive wide distribution.
The undisputed star among the 10 featured films currently in production was Journey to Saturn from Denmark's A. Film A/S. Playing to an unprecedented overflow crowd, this wonderfully irreverent satire about an incompetent crew of astronauts who inadvertently bring about an alien invasion of Denmark and the consequent enslavement of the Danish people was extremely clever and very funny.
Also screened as works-in-progress were: A Case for Friends… How it all Began (Germany/France/Italy); Brendan and the Secret of Kells (France/Belgium/Ireland); Goat Story -- Legends of Old Prague (Czech Republic); Jasper -- The Movie (Germany/France/Romania); Memory Hotel (Germany); Niko & the Way to the Stars (Finland/Germany/Denmark/Ireland); Sunshine Barry & the Disco Worms (Denmark); The Adventures of Don Quixote (Spain); and Yona Yona Penguin (France).
There were several promising contenders among the 12 projects in development. The Blue Man (U.K.), which explores African themes and legends, was impressive in its effort to create a modern mythology while remaining true to and respectful of its source material. Producer/writer Bob Swain demonstrated a personal commitment to the film that marked it as something more than just a commercial venture.
Ooops! Noah is Gone, a German/Irish co-production about the animals that literally missed the boat, was ably represented by Ralph Christians of Magma Films. A longtime Cartoon Movie veteran, Christians is a natural storyteller whose narrative talents always make his projects sound like they should be made -- and this funny and well-conceived project is certainly deserving of funding.
Two additional films in development stood out. Why I did (not) eat my Father (France) not only boasted what was probably the strangest title of the year, but also has the potential to be a big international success. Co-produced by Didier Brunner, a producer of The Triplets of Belleville (as well as the aforementioned Brendan and the Secret of Kells), this evolutionary sitcom sports the kind of universal humor that can transcend national borders.
Likewise, The Sandman and the Lost Sand of Dreams (Germany), which is based on a long-running nightly TV program designed to send children off to sleep, is a sweet and faithful adaptation that could have international appeal. (In contrast, another German entry, 7 Dwarves -- which was featured in the concept section -- though based on a live-action comedy that's been highly successful in Germany, may not translate, especially to American audiences.)
With budgets ranging from three to nine million euros, the films included in this year's Cartoon Movie demonstrate the growing importance of animated features in the European production community. While there's no clear evidence that any of these films will be marketable in the U.S., the greater involvement recently of European-based American studios -- including Buena Vista and Warner Bros. -- is a promising sign. Moreover, experienced American producers and directors interested in working with European studios will find a warm reception.
Ron Diamond is the president of AWN and the owner of animation production house Acme Filmworks.
Jon Hofferman is the interim editor of AWN.