Annecy's 1999 MIFA: Business is Good, But Changing...

by Christian Davin

MIFA's welcome area. © Odile Jacquot.

At first and last sight, one could make two remarks regarding Annecy's 1999 MIFA edition: terrestrial broadcasters were not easy to find and the US majors were not as heavily represented as they have been in past editions.

However, these clues well reflect the current situation which prevails in our industry. Independent producers, distributors and the small number of private investors need increased opportunities in order to meet and find the right projects and build partnerships around them. Although terrestrial broadcasters remain key for 'greenlighting' productions, they do not participate as actively as in the past to birth upstream partnerships around animated properties. Unsurprisingly, European-based cable and satellite networks tend to pay more attention to projects at an early stage in order to secure a 'seat' for future broadcasting. One of the main reasons for the terrestrial broadcasters' moderate participation resides partially in the fact that in most cases a large part of production cash comes from non-broadcasting sources (such as tax shelters, subsidies, distributor advances, equity funding, etc.) and needs to be secured beforehand. This year's MIFA seemed in a certain way like a fine rehearsal platform for Cartoon Forum which is the place where one actually meets all of the broadcasters for a challenging public pitch.

A Good Show
Overall, this year MIFA has been very constructive and most parties left with a handful of ideas, financing opportunities, etc. We can say that Europe and Canada were massively represented in Annecy this year. However, although spirits were high, everyone was aware that the game's rules have changed over the past three to four years. Today, projects are available by the hundreds and only a few of them will ever find the money to be properly funded. Therefore, a growing concern for quality, targeting new opportunities and corporate branding was on most people's agenda. Actually, broadcasters will not complain about this state of affairs since at the end of the day it will serve their purposes to display better quality programming. In turn, this means more money at risk on development, higher investments and more work to keep up with the audience's expectations.

There were a fair amount of deals made in Annecy as far as indie partnering on projects is concerned. The timing was crucial as MIFA comes as an 'ultimate stop' after MIP and before Cartoon Forum to close deals. This late Spring meeting came right on time, especially since most of the world's animation is funded with European money and MIFA is not restricted to European companies as is Cartoon Forum. Also, let's not forget that right next door to MIFA is the Festival itself, which brings a ton of artists from around the world and all the magic appeal attached to it. Animation deserves its own celebrations. Again, regardless of noticeable exceptions (BBC, RAI, France Television), there has not been much happening with terrestrial broadcasters in Annecy.

Other Topics
One of the concerns expressed at another level during this MIFA was the so-called talent exodus. A full morning session was dedicated to this subject matter and proved to be of the highest interest. It clearly came out that talent needs to travel and that somehow the European industry was offering opportunities for artists to stay on the Old Continent. Also, an emphasis was made upon the fact that feature films would sooner or later be initiated out of Europe and would therefore offer even more opportunities to find exciting and rewarding jobs. It has been recognized that the call for higher talent fees was not necessarily the main motivation of young and experienced artists. European schools were also praised for their level of training and offering worldwide opportunities to their graduates.

As American television has paved the way, there is an increased interest in animated series for young adults and families at large. Although one cannot yet count on many broadcasting opportunities for such programs in Europe, there is a growing concern on the part of producers and distributors to bring to fruition such projects geared for a different audience than only children. This is good news and hard work as these kinds of programs are fun to develop but the anticipation of future broadcasting needs remains a bit risky. At least one had the feeling in Annecy this year, that producers are more matured as they are faced with increased competition and a call for higher quality. Furthermore, young kids were well taken care of in Annecy as early school programs remain the mainstream activity of most producers.

This year's Festival offered a tribute to Japan's top animation artists and gave us a chance to see some of the finest work from this believed-to-be-remote part of the world. Needless to say that although Europeans are very eager to work in association with Japanese artists, the Nippon market remains highly confined to domestic productions adapted from published properties.

New Markets
More pragmatically, Korean, Hong Kong and Taiwanese production companies were extremely well represented at MIFA. These companies were not in Annecy to talk only about work for hire. Some of them were actually seeking to make co-production deals with European companies as this has been discussed with them over the past year or two. This is definitely a new business trend which will in some cases provide European and Canadian animation companies with significant complementary funding. Perhaps, this state of things underlines the eastward subtle movement of western animation production toward new markets.

One can expect that Annecy's MIFA will gain in attendance in the upcoming years and become the central international gathering for independent animation production in the world.

Christian Davin is founder of Alphanim, a French animation production house, and President of SPFA, a French Animation Producers Union.

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