By Ron Diamond and Jon Hofferman
The 20th annual Cartoon Forum took place September 22-25 in the beautiful town of Stavanger, Norway, capital of the coastal fjord-filled county of Rogaland. The premier European co-production forum for animation for TV and new media platforms takes place each year in a different city and affords participants the opportunity to present their project to all the key players of the animation industry. Always marked by a convivial atmosphere, the event in this milestone year had an especially positive and cohesive vibe, with attendees seemingly enjoying simply being together to share their common enthusiasm.
More than 725 broadcasters, investors, producers and distributors participated in this year's event, at which 61 projects from 19 countries – a total of 310 hours of content with a combined budget of 148 million euros -- were presented. As in previous years, the event also hosted the prestigious Cartoon Tributes, recognizing companies or personalities that have had a positive influence on the European animation industry over the last year, and the Cartoon d’Or, established in 1991 as a top annual prize for European animation.
This year’s tributes went to NRK (Best Broadcaster), Cake Entertainment (Best Investor/Distributor) and Brown Bag Films (Best Producer). Brown Bag’s selection was particularly gratifying, since CEO Cathal Gaffney is a long-time supporter of and frequent presenter at Cartoon Forum, and he and Brown Bag are becoming major players in European animation production.
The Cartoon d'Or 2009 was awarded to Irish director David O’Reilly for his innovative short film Please say something, which won the Golden Bear for Best Short Film earlier this year at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival. (Only films that have already won a major prize during the course of the year can be considered for nomination.) The film utilizes a stripped-down, yet highly complex, visual style and a nonlinear narrative structure to tell the story of “a troubled relationship between a Cat and Mouse set in the distant Future.”
The other nominees were Madagascar, carnet de voyage (Bastien Dubois), Party Animals (Merwan Chabane), Wallace & Gromit: A Matter of Loaf and Death (Nick Park), and Aston’s Stones (Uzi & Lotta Geffenblad), a sweet and gently paced film that couldn’t have been more different from the winner, demonstrating once again the striking diversity of first-rank European short animation. This year's jury was composed of directors Serge Elissalde (France), Kari Juusonen (Finland) and Tomm Moore (Ireland).
The ten projects that garnered the most interest among broadcasters, investors, producers and distributors at the meeting were Boo Boo Dolls (Germany); Granny O’Grimm (Ireland); Skybabies (UK); Kinky & Cosy (France); Me and my Robot (France); The Flying Squirrels (Spain); The Secret Life of Suckers (Spain); Copy Cut (France); Pigly (France); and Dustbunnies (UK).
While unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to see all of these, both Boo Boo Dolls and Dustbunnies were among the presentations that stood out for me.
The 52x7 Boo Boo Dolls, presented by Gerhard Hahn in his habitual wry and self-deprecating style, is based around the concept of special dolls whose appointed role is to eat the fears of children before their concerns can turn into nightmares. This clever conceit not only offers a hopeful psychological balm for troubled kids, but also has great merchandising potential.
Aimed at preschoolers, Dustbunnies (26x10) features the adventures of Snuffle and Fluff and a collection of other friendly creatures who live amidst a cornucopia of lost items under Granny’s sofa. The three first-time presenters, dressed as grannies (complete with knitting), completely won over their audience and were able to benefit from the many supportive and empathetic suggestions for ways to improve their early-stage project.
Other notable projects:
The Bus Company (26x10, Norway), which was represented by an incredibly dynamic trailer, is the work of director and producer Edmund Austigard. Whatever happens with this project, he and co-creator Elise Wedde should keep making films and keep presenting.
Girls’ Things (Spain), a tween sitcom that deals with issues associated with puberty, featured a very appealing graphic style. Like Dustbunnies, this 26x11 series benefited from its Cartoon Forum screening in garnering much valuable feedback to help the creators make it an even better product.
Finally, The Arctic Ring (13x7, UK/Estonia/Finland), one of the most interesting projects at Cartoon Forum, is also one that’s likely to have the most trouble getting funded due to its regional character. Conceived as a collection of stories that “will take you into nomads’ tents, to mountains, forests and seas, to meet bears, shamans and reindeer,” the highly imaginative production is a series that deserves to be made, and hopefully it will find the support it needs.
Next year’s edition of Cartoon Forum will take place in historic Sopron, one of the most picturesque towns in Hungary.
Ron Diamond is the president of AWN and the owner of animation production house Acme Filmworks.
Jon Hofferman is senior editor of AWN Press and a former editor of Animation World Magazine.