Animation In Cannes

by Iain Harvey

Outside the busy MIPCOM hall. All photos by Yves Coatsaliou. Courtesy of and © 1999 Reed Midem Organisation.

For two weeks each May, Cannes is the centre of the film world. At the International Film Festival, almost all of its energies are devoted to live-action, as anyone who has tried to hawk their animated feature there will have learnt. Animation long ago slipped off to hold its bi-annual (now annual) festival in Annecy. The contrast between these two French spas neatly illustrates the divide: one bold, brash, loud and self-confident, the other reserved, discreet and restrained. I'll leave you to decide which is which!

Everywhere Animation
But then, for a week in October, and similarly in April, the media world descends upon Cannes again. This time the emphasis is very much on television -- and television is a hungry beast, needing constant sustenance. At these markets, animation becomes a far more dominant force; indeed at first sight it might seem the dominant force.

Here, in the notorious bunker by the harbour, are gathered all the broadcasters, programme distributors, video companies and major production companies in the world. Everybody is here, seemingly, to sell. Presumably, there must be buyers to complete the process. Of course there are, and they dart from stand to stand, or, if more important, lodge in the lounge of a comfortable hotel or aboard one of the fancy boats moored in the harbour, to ensure that MIPCOM, together with MIP-TV in the spring, are the largest and most successful television programme markets in the world.

An animation producer descending upon the market will be greatly encouraged by the considerable visual emphasis on animation. Posters and brochures everywhere proclaim the latest animated series: "just arrived," "now available," or more optimistically "now in production." Wandering the market, TV screens at every stand seemingly run non-stop animation. Of course there are other stands and focuses of attention -- drama, documentary, natural history and sport abound -- but the overwhelming impression is the prevalence of animated productions.

A view of the multi-level
exhibition floor.

The reasons are varied and, on reflection, predictable. By its very nature, animation is the most international of all genres in its appeal. It can attract the eye quickly, whether through design or characterisation. It appeals to the child in all of us. It is relatively cheap to develop, and often cheap to run. Other television genres take time to present -- apart from sex scenes, car chases and fights, how do you present drama quickly to the international audience passing your stand? There were a surprising number of feature animations present as well.

As MIPCOM follows immediately after MIPCOM JUNIOR, there is a further natural link, as the statistics demonstrate the overwhelming dominance of animation in that more focused environment for children. At MIPCOM JUNIOR, animation, with 494 titles (itself up 21% from last year), took nearly 75% of the programmes on offer and a dominant 80% of those actually screened (i.e. viewed by potential buyers).

Increasing Difficulties
But what are the realities facing individual producers? Amidst this abundance of options, what chance do new projects have of achieving an impact? Increasingly, I suspect, the difficulties mount.

First, many of the leading European based distributors, like HIT, Itel, Em-TV, focus on their own shows, developed with their resources in-house. This is logical; if you are successful in selling a series, it is better to ensure you own and control all rights. As the aforementioned companies consolidate their position in the market, the chances of independent producers establishing their own financial package, especially on a series, diminish.

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