By Dan Sarto
25 hours after leaving my comfy LA bed, I’ve arrived in Annecy. The town is quiet, but it’s the quiet before a storm brewing on the distant horizon. The calm is in direct contrast to my second flight, from DC to Geneva. Sprawled within 5 feet of my seat were not 1 but 2 families, 6 kids total, 4 parents, 1 nanny and 1 set of grandparents. Not one kid was over the age of 7. In an age of fundamental change in airline comfort, service and safety, where the indignities of modern travel begin when you undress to get through security, one thing seems perfectly clear – kids either should be confined in storage or not be allowed on planes at all. Nothing like getting woken up by a toddler pulling your arm, asking you, “Why are you so fat?” How cute. For that matter, teens should be barred from travel completely. And from the dinner table.
But I digress.
As I sat in my spacious aisle seat, getting kneed or elbowed every 45 seconds (beverage cart into the edge of my reading glasses was a new experience for 2011), I tried to make sense of the list of screenings, special programs, press conferences, receptions and party invitations I’d printed out prior to leaving town. No matter what shiny mobile device I throw at keeping a schedule, for Annecy, its pen and paper – the constant change proves too cumbersome otherwise. Plus I’m a bit of a Luddite when dealing with tiny consumer electronic devices. Maybe it’s because I have no tattoos. Or been to a rave.
Planning a week in Annecy is much like visiting an adult bookstore – too many choices, too little time, not enough stamina to put everything available to good use. Competition shorts alongside student shorts are spread across 9 screenings alone. Add in a program of commercials, a feature or 2 and you’re faced with dozens of hours of theatre time before you start adding in special programs, lectures, workshops, or multiple MIFA meetings at the Imperial Hotel downing 6 Euro bottles of water in 1 sip (i.e., they have very little water in them, but the label design is beautiful) while discussing the going licensing rate of $7.85 per minute of episodic TV animation.
Still too early to register, AWN’s President, Ron Diamond, and I walked through the old town to kill some time. Street after beautiful street, cobblestone pathways, café-lined canals, the views are spectacular. Ron and I found a nice restaurant for breakfast, with simple fare, just an omelet and glass of juice, utterly delicious. I suppose after such a long sleepless trip a dollop of cheese whiz and a Slim Jim would taste good, but my omelet, filled with jambon and gruyere, was downright sublime.
We made our way to the main festival office, got our registration packets, button-festooned festival packs, 75 pounds of catalogs, reception and press conference invites and headed to our hotel. We always stay in the same hotel – the Hotel du Nord, a stone’s throw from the main festival center, the Bonlieu. Perfectly located close by to facilitate the constant loading and unloading of backpacks, jackets, umbrellas and thousands of DVDs I’ll probably never watch, the du Nord serves as AWN HQ during the week. Quaint, cozy, with a shower so small that when I turn 180 degrees to rinse off, I must exercise tremendous precision and deliberation lest I hit the faucet handle with my rear end and either scald or freeze myself, depending upon from which direction I pirouette. Taking a shower after 3 hours of sleep can be quite an adventure under such circumstances.
Later in the evening, we met up with Don Levy of Sony Imageworks, here to among other things, support President Bob Osher and Aardman Co-Founder Peter Lord in their Tuesday presentation about the upcoming feature, Arthur Christmas. After much consternation and wrangling the GPS in Don’s phone, we found our targeted eating establishment and sat down for a nice, leisurely dinner, quite possibly the only such dinner I’ll have all week. We talked of animated features, film production, education and creative talent. A most enjoyable dinner. I ordered a truly delicious tartiflette (molten dish of potato, cream, raclette cheese, onions and lardons of bacon), a dish so heavy, so rich, so dense and so flavorful that it puts the capital K in carbohydrate. Man, it was good.
The rest of the evening was spent in preparation for Day 1 of the festival, with the first competition screenings and the opening ceremonies, which were rumored to include some rare old shorts as well as some brand new works from Pixar and Warner Bros.
All in all, a fine first day. Any day with a tartflette in it is a fine day indeed.