Annecy 2010: Celebrating 50 Years
I took the train to Annecy full of excitement and great expectations for the 50th Anniversary of the festival. According to the festival press release, they were expecting 6,700 participants from 66 countries, 1,647 companies crowding into MIFA, 300 journalists and 230 international buyers. For a festival to pull off such a grand event with minimum problems would be a miracle indeed. When people tried to get tickets for events, however, it felt like there were twice as many people in attendance.
The first hint of trouble came when there was no invitation to the opening night ceremony or the party. I was looking forward to seeing the opening night film, The Illusionist, but was told that this year no journalists had been given tickets because they were just too many people and 150 seats had been relegated to non-industry VIPs (which translates to money people). Journalists were told that there was no problem: our names had been placed on a request list and we should just keep checking back with the press office to get our passes. To make it even worse, two hours before the ceremony we were finally told that there was no possibility for us to get tickets. I finally managed to get a ticket from my friend and fellow journalist Olivier Cotte, who had gotten two tickets from someone who actually didn't want to see the film. Both Olivier and I wasted a good part of Monday afternoon looking for tickets instead of seeing films.
However, The Illusionist was well worth all of the time and trouble that went into getting the ticket. The film is based on an unproduced script that the great French film star Jacques Tati wrote in the 1950s as a personal letter to his estranged illegitimate daughter Helga Marie-Jean Schiel. The plot revolves around a struggling illusionist whose travels take him to an isolated Scottish community where he meets a young lady who believes that he is a real magician. The film isn't a romance, but rather it centers on the relationship between a father and his daughter. Several people told me that they thought that the ending was very sad, but I interpreted it as a hopeful prospect for new beginnings for both of the main characters.
The 2010 British-French co-production was directed by Sylvain Chomet and has the same soft nostalgic look as The Triplets of Belleville , but with a bit darker edge to it. A cameo appearance by Jaques Tati via black-and-white footage on a television screen was a lovely touch, as was the photo of the girl as a child, which is a reproduction of an actual photo of Tati's daughter.
I didn't manage to score a ticket to the opening night party, but it turned out that most of the interesting people didn't either. The place to be that evening was a table at the corner café. A continuous parade of people joined Nik and I at our table and filled us in on what they had been doing. Neither Nik nor Jacqueline Zeitz, the animated films program director at Dok Leipzig Documentary Festival, got to see The Illusionst, so she kept him company talking film and music over wine. Jacqueline was particularly upset about not seeing the film since she had come specifically to see it for consideration for her festival.
After the film, I joined them at the café, and was delighted to catch up with Heather Kenyon, who is now vice president for project development and sales at Starz Animation, a wing of Film Roman in Burbank, California. South Korean animator Woonki Kim, who we first met at KROK several years ago, sat down to talk about his new TV series Fuss Farm, an episode of which was in the TV competition. The proud father also showed us an adorable video of his young baby dancing away to music.
Once again this year feature films took center stage with seven films in the official competition and six out of competition. Another six films were premieres, including Shrek Forever After and the new 3-D versions of Toy Story and Toy Story 2. I don't watch too many feature films at Annecy because I know that I will have an opportunity to see them at other festivals. I am very glad, though, that I did choose to see Piercing 1. Director Liu Jian's film is China's first independent feature. If this film had been made in any other country, it wouldn't have been quite so interesting, but this story by and about someone who is living through the radical changes that are taking place in China now gives a fascinating look into a rather dystopian world. Due to the financial crisis, many Chinese factories were forced to close in late 2008. Like many unemployed young people left destitute in a big city, the main character, Zhang Xiaojun, has lost his job and becomes involved in shady activities while longing to return to his village to become a farmer.
Liu Jian studied classical Chinese painting and became a novelist after his studies. His first film, Piercing 1, is based on his novel, and he financed it by selling his house in China. He plans to make a trilogy, with Piercing 2 and 3, which will focus on different characters in drastic situations in contemporary China.
There is little hope that this very relevant film will ever be shown commercially in China, but it is being distributed by HAFF (Holland Animation Film Festival). Incidentally, Piercing 1 won the Best Feature Film award at the prestigious I Castelli Animati Festival in Italy.