Annecy 2009 Opens!

Here we are at last! Welcome to the most fantastic, most exciting and I think "the" animation festival of them all. The 33rd edition of Annecy Festival began today, as always with the great welcome at festival centre Bonlieu next to the big, wonderful lake with the wonderful view on the French Alps.

Director Henry Selick, Madhouse Producer Jungo Maruta and Marie-Pierre Journet are the Jury Members for Graduation Films at Annecy 2009

written by Johannes Wolters

Here we are at last! Welcome to the most fantastic, most exciting and I think "the" animation festival of them all. The 33rd edition of Annecy Festival began today, as always with the great welcome at festival centre Bonlieu next to the big, wonderful lake with the wonderful view on the French Alps. It's like Casablanca, where everybody comes to “Rick´s.” Here at Bonlieu you can meet all the people of Animationland during the one week, when the old town of Annecy with its old French charm becomes once again “Animatorsland”. More... Between all the “Hellos” and “How are you, what did you do in the last year?” you have to manage to get all your tickets, you have to make up your mind about a few last minute changes, but with the help of the marvellous team behind Festival-Chefs Patrick Eveno, Tiziano Loschi, Dominique Puthod and the wonderful Jack of all Trades Serge Bromberg, who again did a excellent job as the artistic director of the Festival, you know it will be a great week. Like Serge wrote in the editorial of the Annecy festival catalogue, “Because animation is made of these worlds where there is neither gravity nor limits to the imagination and dreams. For one week long, you will be able to discover the riches from faraway horizons and take a trip deep into the heart of laughter and emotions. You can forget about the heaviness of daily life and you won´t even need a spacesuit to take a tour around planet Animation.”

And in terms of global financial crisis Patrick Eveno and Dominique Puthod state in their foreword, “Together we have recently had several spectacular years, marked by the global dynamic expansion of the animation sector. Now in 2009 we are facing a more difficult period, but we are convinced that creativity and the quest for excellence will allow us to overcome these difficulties and satisfy those people for whom culture, images and animation remain a means of sparking the imagination.”

The opening show of the festival on Monday evening showed the wide diversity of animation. First Serge showed us the very first animated film ever produced, a film recently discovered animated by a Russian dance star named Alexander Shiryaev years before Emile Cohl did his famous drawings. Shiryaev tried to capture the dance movements of his ballet and his own, so he first drew the key poses and built up some kind of early storyboard. Then he traced those drawings onto paper strips, which could be projected with an optical device like the praxinoscope. More then 100 years later one of this strips were screened at the grand sale at the Bonlieu and cheered by the impressed animators of today.

A shot from Partly Cloudy

After that it was Pixar-time. Director Peter Sohn presented the latest Pixar short film “Partly Cloudy”, which will be shown in front of “Up”. Both films will be honoured with a making of session on Friday hosted by Sohn and "Up" Co-director Bob Peterson, an event everybody wants to attend. “Partly Cloudy” is once again a hilarious masterpiece of storytelling concentrating on one important question: Where do babies come from? And please note: this short film alone is worth going to cinema. The feature film of the opening night was “Panique Au Village – A Town called Panic” directed by Vincent Patar and Stéphane Aubier. They transferred their prize-winning TV series onto the big screen and they managed to keep the unique childish charm and the playful, almost surreal and breathless tone alive. The big applause afterwards indicates a sure hit at the box office.

During the day I managed to see TV-Competition No. 1, which led me into dark depression, but afterwards I was rewarded by seeing “Brendan and the Secret of Kells” which is a truly amazing movie and my favorite in the feature film competition so far. The team did a stunning job. The strong story about the origins of the famous “Book of Kells,” a book containing the four gospels, written and illuminated around the year 800 AD is beautifully designed, recreating the style of the famous paintings within the book. This film is a must see!

Chris Landreth (right) and animator Spela Cadez,

Biggest surprise of the day was the Out of Competition-Program No 1, where you could see Chris Landreth's amazing new short film “The Spine”. The quality of this particular program was so excellent, that either the real competition programs are of gigantic quality or the pre-selection jury had developed a special taste, which we will discover in the next days. Anyway, check out films like “The Surprise Demise of Francis Cooper´s Mother” by Felix Massie, “Dog With Electric Collar” by Steve Baker or “Melvin” by Magnus Holmgren , you won´t be disappointed. There was the very clever “Der Da Vinci Time Code” by Gil Alkabetz, “The Royal Nightmare” by Alex Rudovsky and the truly hilarious “Photograph of Jesus” by Laurie Hill. The program closed with the remarkable “Varmints” directed by Marc Craste and produced by Studio AKA. This 24 minute-film was far more entertaining than most feature films from Europe I have seen in the last decade. So all in all it was a very promising first day of the Annecy festival.

A shot from The Spine