Editor's Notebook: Festival Matters
Today's international animation festivals traditionally started in 1960 in Annecy, France; the same time and place also saw the birth of L'Association Internationale du Film d'Animation (ASIFA), the international animator's organization which now serves as the sanctioning body for the major festivals. It is important to remember that both organizations were conceived and nurtured in a world where animation was largely a marginal activity vis-à-vis the film and television industries. For instance, in the United States, the glory days of Hollywood's Golden Age were mostly past, with the spectacle of inexpensive, Saturday morning animation threatening to take the raison d'être of animation as we knew it away.
But animation of a different sort was starting to appear around the world. Not content to produce pale imitations of Disney, a small but significant number of individuals and studios went their own ways. It was the works of these individuals and studios that found their home in festivals like Annecy and often dominated ASIFA on both an international and local level.
Today, animation is no longer a marginal activity. In the commercial world, it is fast being absorbed into the mainstream of the global entertainment industry. As such, animation is growing at a pace and breadth unheard of before. A part of this expansion is due to animation riding the coattails of a worldwide boom in film and television that has resulted from an increasing number of movie theaters and television outlets (both terrestrial and satellite); another part is due to the increasing popularity of animation, ranging from theatrical features to video games.
Some veteran observers warn of the disastrous consequences if one or more of the new feature animation operations that the Hollywood studios are building in the Disney mold collapses. However, it seems unlikely that such an event will necessarily be catastrophic. After all, the American industry survived when NBC stopped programming Saturday morning animation in 1992 without a whimper, and looks to do the same when CBS follows suit later this year.
If the market for Disney-style musical extravaganzas diminishes (as it has to a certain degree over the past few years), there is little reason not to believe that other genres will not come to the fore. After all, Toy Story, Space JamBeavis and Butt-head Do America are all basically straight comedies; in addition, the surprising success at the box office of the Beavis and Butt-head film gives the lie to the assumption that only animated features aimed at a family audience can make money. And as the following statistics that the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) proclaims, in advertising for its 1st Annual Animation & Special Effects Expo, the animation industry is a lot broader than ever. To wit, they note that:
"The Digital Visual Effects business [which uses animation technology and talent] is doubling every year. Computer Video Games account for $1 billion in sales each year. Animation Production and Distribution for television is growing at upwards of 500-900% per year. With CD-ROM capabilities, 3-D and 2-D Character Animation is becoming a multi-billion dollar market. Roughly half of the movies released in 1995 utilized digital visuals of some sort, while 90% used digitally recorded sound. This contrasts with "maybe" 10% for each category in 1993. . . . Animated Feature Film grosses exceed $2 billion over the past ten years. $17.22 billion in US revenues are generated by sale of entertainment merchandise [implying that much of it is animation-related]."
As animation becomes an integral part of the film and video industries, its destiny becomes increasingly integrated into the entertainment industry as a whole--subject to the same ups and downs, rather than going its own course.Thus, while the current boom will certainly end one day, that does not mean that the bubble will burst as it did in the US at the start of World War II or when animated commercials lost their enormous popularity at the end of the 1950s. All this has had and will continue to have its effect on festivals and ASIFA.
As noted elsewhere in this issue, festivals are getting away from their innocent beginnings as havens for personal animation and independent-minded filmmakers. While attempting to continue this tradition, commercial interests continue to "trample" on this hallowed ground. Studios (large and small) and networks now look to them as prime venues to recruit talent and find new ideas. Talent which once went into making independent films now come to festivals looking for work. This has indeed changed, to varying degrees, the very nature of the way festivals are run and financed. It has also changed ASIFA's membership. (For example, ASIFA-Hollywood, the organization's largest chapter, has seen its once strong base among fans dwindle, while at the same time its professional ranks have increased exponentially.)
The days when major festivals will be content to hew to a biannual schedule, lest they compete with other events appears to be ending. If Annecy does go to an annual schedule, will Zagreb, Stuttgart and Hiroshima be far behind?
NATPE's Animation & Special Effects Expo is scheduled for this May, in Los Angeles, the same month as Annecy. Though such conflicts would, at one time, have been disastrous for one or the other organization, this need not be the case anymore.
In addition, this March, Animation Magazine is reviving the Los Angeles Animation Celebration as part of its new World Animation Celebration. The festival, which was once a rather modest affair before it was suspended a few years back, will now be part of what looks to be an annual three-ring, Hollywood extravaganza; among other events, it will include an independently produced animation technology exposition, as well as an expanded versionof ASIFA-Hollywood's Opportunities Expo, that will include a series of Animation Industry Seminars run by Women in Animation!
Interestingly, ASIFA-Hollywood was approached by both NATPE and Animation Magazine to have its Opportunities Expo be part of their respective events. One of the reasons ASIFA-Hollywood decided to seriously consider these proposals was the fear that one or both of these organizations would start its own job fair instead. As a member of ASIFA-Hollywood's board of directors at the time, I really did not think any such thing would really come to pass, but it was not an idea that I could entirely ignore.
In the same way, festivals (and ASIFA) will have to continue to face up and adapt to a rapidly changing set of circumstances, circumstances which may or may not threaten to alter their essence or mission in life.
Harvey Deneroffharvey@awn.com Editor-In-ChiefAnimation World Magazine
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