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On The Road To Annecy 2011

My flight to Geneva leaves tomorrow morning at 7:50, an ungodly hour to begin 24+ hours of delirium shuffling through airports, getting groped by stink-eyed security drones, squeezing into airline seats designed for anorexics, all the while wondering why I’m not home asleep in bed, or watching Archer reruns while sipping a delicious Kamikazee.

Opening Ceremonies at the Grand Salle in the Bonlieu. Can't wait!

By Dan Sarto

My flight to Geneva leaves tomorrow morning at 7:50, an ungodly hour to begin 24+ hours of delirium shuffling through airports, getting groped by stink-eyed security drones, squeezing into airline seats designed for anorexics, all the while wondering why I’m not home asleep in bed, or watching Archer reruns while sipping a delicious Kamikazee.

Just in the last year, while traveling to events, I’ve had my laptop perused for 30 minutes by a grim-faced soldier with a flak vest, Baretta 9mm and little sense of humor, I’ve endured strange hands on my package that weren’t my own or my wife’s, I’ve set off a metal detector with a long forgotten Bit O’Honey bar in my back pocket (at least I could dry my tears at the gate with yummy nougat).  I’ve even been engaged at a customs desk for 10 minutes of banter by a policeman who went to grade school with Andrew Stanton. I never would have guessed that “Andy was a good drawer” way back in 4th grade. No matter where I travel, my embarkation gate is always the last one in the terminal, past the mop bucket, around the corner from the dusty construction zone, right next to the kiosk that only sells overpriced vitamin water and 20 magazines with Lady Gaga or Simon Cowell on the cover.

Contrary to popular wisdom, not only is travel these days less than fun, it downright blows.

However, at least I know that after 24+ hours of travel starting in the wee hours tomorrow morning, I’ll arrive in Annecy.  Though I loathe the path, the destination is worth the hassle. 

I’ve been going to Annecy most every year since 1997.  Every time, my trip has been the same – this year will be no different.  I fly from LA to Geneva via some crowded, ill-designed European airport. I take a shuttle from Geneva to Annecy.  I spend the next 7 days rushing from one activity to the next, from early morning to late at night.  I watch tons of animation, probably 8-10 hours per day.  Some of it may even be good.  I sleep 4 hours a night.  I struggle to get decent internet access everywhere I go – each time I drop in to the press room, they’re waiting for the tech to come reset the router.  I stop at a tiny kiosk on a side street to buy a forearm-sized baguette stuffed with butter and cheese – I toss the stinky cornichons and bite into something simpler and tastier than almost anything I eat back in LA. I incur the wrath of every waiter I talk to once I tell them to please hurry as I only have 4 hours to order and eat a simple Salad Nicoise because I want to finish my meal before Haley’s Comet comes back into view.  It takes an hour each time I walk 100 yards through the Bonlieu because I stop to talk with friends I haven’t seen for years.  I discuss politics at the American Bar with drunk Russian animators who slap my shoulder and call me an elitist. A fat elitist to be precise (to them, having a belly is proof positive your lifestyle and opinions are completely fucked up). I blame the world’s problems on the EU, my fellow drinkers blame them on me, we laugh and switch the subject to bad animation, of which we can talk for hours and often do.  I wade through stacks of papers, pamphlets and books stacked on my bed, toss most in the trash, pack my bags, shuttle back to Geneva and finally, to LA. It’s the same every year and I know this year will be no different. In all my 13 years coming to Annecy, I’ve never been anywhere else in France. As the Polish sex manual says, “In – Out – Repeat.”  Such is life. 

Annecy is referred to as the “grandfather” of all animation festivals, but that really doesn’t capture the essence of what makes the festival maddening and intoxicating at the same time.  It seems to me all animation festivals in some way aspire to be Annecy, which is for the most part a good thing.  I’m not sure what Annecy aspires to be.  I will say the online ticket reservation system seems to improve each year, which shows someone involved aspires to do better each year.  Of all the festivals I attend, Annecy seems to be the one where the organizers strive to hold an event that meets their own standards of excellence, assuming everyone else will appreciate and agree with their choices, rather than try to stage an event that meets the needs and approval of sponsors, exhibitors and attendees.  It’s a tremendous feat to put on such an event, and it’s impossible to please everyone.  Annecy gets is right on most counts and makes no bones about what it is and is trying to accomplish.

I love it.  I can’t wait to complain about the selections in competition.  I can’t wait to eat an entrecote steak and frites, with fresh morel mushrooms in a light cream sauce – twice in one week.  I can’t wait to watch people getting beaned by paper airplanes as they wait for a screening to begin.  I can’t wait to sit through one MIFA presentation after another, smiling through yet another trailer of a horrific TV show you know will never, ever be sold.  I can’t wait to make myself sick eating the last bite of a tartiflette in all its volcanic splendor. I can’t wait to sit in the hallway of the Hotel du Nord at 2 am trying in vain to get an internet connection so I can post to this blog.

I haven’t left yet but I can’t wait to get home.  But more importantly, I can’t wait to get there.

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