written by Heather Kenyon
Opening on April 2nd and closing on April 5th, Cartoons on the Bay debuted in their new, more post-MIPTV friendly location. Now held in the three towns of Rapallo, Santa Margherita Ligure and Portofino, the festival is just one jaw-droppingly stunning ride away from Cannes. Hugging the coast, we went past such varied sights as Monte Carlo and its harbor of yachts, vineyards, old churches and towns clinging to cliffs and tucked in private valleys with sea views. Going, we were in a bus…and that took a few hours… but on my way back to the Nice airport I was in a car and that drive, my friends, was very fast courtesy of a driver. Even including the coffee stop, I think we made record time! The festival is mainly focused in Rapallo with only one location in S. Margherita, a grand old building on a hilltop surrounded by a garden. The closing night dinner was in the world famous village of Portofino. What a place! A short drive or boat ferry brings you to this magical enclave. The program was separated into a program for professionals and one of screenings geared for the public. The Highlight! The most interesting aspect of the Professional Program was the Pink Day, or the day that focused on girls and their programming. Programming for girls is practically taboo in the States with most (all?) non-preschool networks really focusing on the boy audience. As girls leave animation earlier than boys for more relationship-focused live-action, this isn’t a surprise. However, it was fantastic to learn that this is not the case when it comes to the rest of the world and learn what experts find successful.
I especially enjoyed License Magazine’s Steven Ekstract’s discussion with Patricia De Wilde of Marathon Media (Totally Spies, Monster Buster Club) and licensing industry veteran and legend Maria Romanelli of TeamWorks. I could say it was a panel but the participants ensured a conversational tone, all the while keeping it unbelievably well-prepared and targeted. The topic was licensing and merchandising for girls. This was one of the best panels I have ever seen! I learned a tremendous amount. For instance, in regards to consumer products boys are more defined by their age, while girls are more defined by “who they are,” and how their unique style relates to a brand. Maria had put together mood boards for the main four girl age groups and took us through the subtle shifts in appeal and products as girls age. She then did a similar exercise showing us the different types of girl -- from tomboy to glamour to girlie.
“Barbie really had a stronghold on the industry,” Maria explained, “until Bratz came along and really ripped open the market.” Patricia agreed that it was Bratz that made people re-realize that the girls’ market is indeed lucrative. Plus, girls are more loyal to a brand and will evolve it to fit their evolving lifestyle. (I was an unintentional poster child for this. Hello Kitty is the champion of girls’ brands; an anomaly to be sure. I have loved it since I was six when I played with all of the tiny stationary products that I loved…now? I appeared at the festival that day wearing a stupidly expensive t-shirt bought with great glee directly from the Sanrio store.) While boys are into the core of the content, girls like to re-create it. This involves arts and crafts and being able to personalize everything from websites to clothing. “It is worth investing in your girl property,” said Patricia, “since girls are so much more faithful.”
They also discussed some areas that they thought were growing trends. “Music is suddenly very important to a lot of girls’ properties,” explained Maria.Shows like “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical” have really launched this. Sports are another growing area as well. Parents are encouraging their girls to be more active, especially with childhood obesity being such a hot topic at present. To reach today’s girls the experts encouraged us to think more like “Totally Spies,” than Snow White waiting for her prince to come. And, tying into the bigger media picture, Maria ended by saying, “Television is going to be more and more just an element of a brand,” so she encourages people to start new properties in innovative ways like on the ‘net if they cannot find a broadcast partner right away.
Other Prime Events Another fascinating report was by Dr. Maya Götz, who runs the International Central Institute for Youth and Education Television (IZI) in Germany. I had seen this presentation before at the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, but the results never cease to amaze. The report deals with gender sensitivity and equality in children’s programming. I find the results about body image to be especially incredible. The average cartoon girl has a body type that is absolutely unreachable even with cosmetic surgery. Moreover, the report deals with stereotypes on both sides – for example, is there a way to speak to boys without violence? One can get a free copy of the report by visiting: www.izi.de
I also really enjoyed on Saturday, Animation Magazine’s Ramin Zahed’s case studies of four innovative and interesting studios. Mike Young discussed Moonscoop’s new show “Quantum Cosmic Ray,” which utilizes real-world physics and boasts physicists as advisors. He also spoke about Kabillion, their ad supported VOD digital cable network, which is now attracting over one million users a week. He went on to say that kids are really the leading edge of adopting new platforms for programming and they are seeing this trend with their growth. The great thing about VOD is that Kabillion is getting instant feedback on their wide array of programming and find that only 2% of kids fast-forward through the commercials! “Yes! They find them to be entertainment. Can you believe that?” Mike said nodding and laughing at all of our surprised gasps.
Ramin also spoke to Ireland’s Barley Films and T-Rex Animation, one of Italy’s up and coming stars. T-Rex presented a project they are working on called “Dixiland.” It is an absolutely magical and dreamy show. Just lovely! “It’s a world of small creatures and we are not sure what they are doing there,” explained Andrea Zingoni, the creator. Who knows what they are doing but they were great to watch. The entire team was there and from art direction to music, they seemed very talented, new and fresh. I wish them luck getting this pre-school charmer off the ground.
Cuba – Country in Focus A timely person for me to meet was Luis A. González Nieto of Cuba’s Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC). We had a really great chat on a sunny patio about the Cuban animation industry. Cuba produced 550 minutes of animation last year and is on track to produce 600 this year. The island’s industry is fifty years old and has a work force of 250 people. They produce mostly for television, then the feature market and finally the DVD and video markets. Flash, 2D, stop-motion and traditional techniques are all used, but they are also beginning to delve into 3D. Luis was just fresh off a massive festival that they hold every February that brings the best in Caribbean and South American filmmakers to Cuba. Apparently, the last five years have been a huge advancement in the animation industry in Cuba. They have opened new studios in several new locations. They have two cinema schools as well; one is international that draws students from Latin America, Asia and even Africa. Animation is taught in the National School of the Arts so it certainly isn’t slighted compared to other forms of art. Luis also said that currently Cuba is frantically preparing to welcome 3 – 4 million visitors a year from the U.S. should the new administration lift the embargo. I hear the snorkeling is great so hope to visit soon.
Screenings One of the main things I used to enjoy at Cartoons on the Bay, however, were the animation screenings. These have been severely cut down or an importance is no longer placed on them so that the offerings appeared to be not as dynamic as previous years. There was a much smaller selection and a printed schedule was near impossible to find. I used to find the experience of sitting in a tent with a live audience of children watching television from around the world to be fascinating. What held their interest? What did they laugh at? Where did they get scared? Through the screenings I learned what children’s programming looked like from around the world. The festival does have a library where one can request to view the nominated programs, but it isn’t the same as previous years. I did stumble by accident one night into the trademark big white tent for one screening of “Ben 10: The Secret of the Omnitrix.” It was great to see it in Italian! I was never compelled or couldn’t find the other theater though.
In the past, most nights included a special screening event, complete with a “festival show,” that really was a treat and gathering point. This doesn’t really exist anymore and I think it saps the event of some of its unique and special charm. The awards show had some of these elements, but no translation was provided so many international guests either exited early or sat in a confused silence trying to guess what was happening. I think it is important if Cartoons on the Bay wants to remain an international event to always provide translation and remember what special features are going to draw international folks.
They have moved the location to be a convenient stop after MIPTV, now they need to really exploit why people would want to make that journey. As MIPCOM is preceded by MIPCOM Jr., we get our Fall dose of international programming. I used to use Cartoons on the Bay as my Spring catch-up. I hope they re-think their television and film angle, boosting screenings, while keeping compelling panels and discussions.