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Annecy: The Long and The Short of the Carnival by the Lake

AWM's report by French journalist and Annecy veteran Michel Roudevitch.

From the more than 260 films presented both in competition and in panorama at the 21st Annecy Festival held in the Savoy over the course of six sunny days in May, many audience members awarded their highest marks to the famous duo from Bristol, Wallace and Gromit. Their papa, Nick Park, was very busy with the preparation of his first feature-length animation. Therefore, he could only get free in time to arrive for the Awards ceremony, where he received the Public Prize, bestowed on the most famous window cleaners in the kingdom (A Close Shave).

This award was certainly not a surprise as our two comrades have already won Oscars, and been spangled with medals like superstars. But it was particularly symbolic as a tribute to the quantity and quality of puppet and clay animation that was shown, and to the blossoming of English production. Great Britain received six awards in all, including the prize for best short television series (Driving Test by Candy Guard), best television special (Famous Fred by Joanna Quinn), best advertising film (Martell: Legend by Pat Gavin), and of course, for the school presenting the best selection of student films (The Royal College of Art, London). That is almost a third of the prizes!

Lily and the Wolf by Florence Henrard won the prize for the best graduation film.

The distinction of a number of art college films bodes well for the future, with particularly fine promise from the Belgians. Lily and the Wolf by Florence Henrard (La Cambre Studio) won the prize for the Best Graduation Film. It merits, in addition to a prize for freshness, a gold medal for humor. The first version of a mermaid coming out of a wave, Florence Henrard's Out of Bath received a mention for its humor and narrative qualities at Annecy 1995.

The quality of the first time films were also remarkable. Starting with the Grand Prize, The Old Woman and the Pigeons, a comedy ironically described as "nostalgic and cruel," by the Frenchman Sylvain Chomet, who trained in the London animation studios. He evokes very well a certain Parisian atmosphere, delightfully old-fashioned, in accord with the backgrounds of Nicolas de Crécy (a longtime collaborator). The only intelligible words are bits of conversation between American tourists mixed into a very elaborate soundtrack. This counterpoint, besides being quite funny, is a passport to better international distribution. Another first film made in France, Come See, Dear!, is a quick sketch by Carole Fouquet that makes fun of an intimate phone conversation (all in English), and is justified by a presumed homage to Chas Addams.

Old Lady and The Pigeons, the Annecy 1997 Grand Prix winning film by Sylvain Chomet.

Moscow's Garri Bardine expresses himself in a delicious blend of American, French and Russian in his model animation Puss in Boots. He received a special mention "for the direction and the characters" for this film. Bardine won a Grand Prize at Annecy 1991 for his adaptation of a Perrault tale in the same style: The Grey Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood. This year, he also presented in competition an advertising film for Coca Cola called Troika Dolls. He declared with humor that he considers himself "an old animator and a young capitalist."

If old Russia made magic with the bewitching The Mermaid, painted on glass by Alexander Petrov (Special Jury Prize), one could discern the title "citizen of the world" in the flying Dutchman Paul Driessen, author of The End of the World in Four Seasons. With its eight chilling little dramas playing out simultaneously on as many areas of the screen, it deserved the International Jury Prize it received, honoring its innovative singularity. Driessen himself moves at full speed, sometimes teaching, always drawing, to the four corners of the planet.

Garri Bardine (right), director of Puss in Boots (a special jury prize winner) and Troika Dolls (commercial competition entrant), with Ron Diamond.

In the category of long television series, Duckman, an episode by Raymie Muzquiz, produced by Klasky-Csupo, won this year (Special Prize for a series of 13 to 26 minutes) over Warner Bros.' Superman. Klasky-Csupo won this prize two years ago with Aahhh!!! Real Monsters, which was in competition again this year, so while Klasky-Csupo garnered yet another award, this recognition did not make any groundbreaking progress on the television landscape. The Maxx by Greg Vanzo was also in the television competition. Other highlights of the competition were new episodes of Pinky and the Brain (Warner Brothers), a Canadian revival of Little Lulu (Cinar), a touching British "Toy Story" on cels (The Forgotten Toys by Graham Ralph, a 25-minute special), and other English (Further Adventures of Peter Rabbit from Beatrix Potter by Geoff Dunbar) and French (Tales of Broca Street from Pierre Gripari) tales. The screens were well provisioned with Polish Trolls (Film under a Frightful Title by Laszek Galyz), crazy cows (Destination Moon by the American Gordon Clark), sullen doggies (Bedlam by British Alison Snowden and David Fine), and even baby dinosaurs (Dino in the Bushes by Jean-François Bourrel) and warlike insects (an episode of the series Insektors by Georges Lacroix), these last two shows were made in France on computers using 3D modeling.

Paul Driessen's The End of the World in Four Seasons received a special jury prize.

With Or Without A Computer

New computer technology remained at the forefront, introducing us into a post-impressionist landscape of autumn colors for the glory of Martell cognac, which was already mentioned among the British prize-winners, and in other advertising entries like, Fantôme's Smarties and Snickers by ILM. Computers also played a part to various degrees in four of the six feature-length animations in competition. James and the Giant Peach by the American Henry Selick won the prize in this category. Freely adapted from the book of the same name by Roald Dahl, the film combined live-action characters with puppets in its opening and closing, and used computer graphics for dazzle in an ocean sequence. Based on the story by Gianni Rodari, The Blue Arrow by Italian Enzo d'Alo is a "Toy Story" in traditional animation for the very young. This film however used 2D computer graphics well to create a charming confusion of wheeled vehicles or airport traffic as it happens in the urban milieu. The World is a Big Chelm by Albert Kaminski is a French/German/Hungarian co-production inspired by various tales of I.B. Singer. One sequence, the destruction of a village by a golem, utilized computer compositing without any undue clash, thereby combining drawn characters with 3D computer graphics. Computer generated cockroaches made themselves at home, along with some key casting of real roaches, in the tenement Joe's Apartment by John Payson. If we are to believe Liquid TV's press releases then according to the director, this film is autobiographical! Was that also the case with two feature-length road-trips made with cel animation? Werner--Eat My Dust by German Michael Schaack, the second screen adaptation of a comic book by Brösel, features a motorcycle trip in a rural landscape, fueled by beer, which gets a little repetitious by the end. The frightful, dirty and mean libidinous adolescents of Mike Judge's (Beavis and Butt-Head Do America) manage all possible calamities in 77 minutes, with the apparent complicity of many spectators, even President Clinton!

James and the Giant Peach director Henry Selick beams with his Grand Prix award for Best Animated Feature Film.

Perspectives and Retrospectives

In various places around the festival or out in the town, special shows lure you to (re)discover someone's work, either in a gallery show or projection. This year, homage was paid to Renzo Kinoshita, the famous animator who died recently and was one of the pillars of the Hiroshima Festival (Peace and Love), a testimony to his times with ascerbic humor. The Frenkel brothers, pioneers of animation in Egypt were also on display, as was Stephen Bosustow (the owner of UPA), Fedor Khitruk (the grand old man of Russian animation), and Andrei Khrzanovski, who screened a preliminary version of A Long Voyage, a collaboration with Tonino Guerra that was based on the caricatures drawn by Federico Fellini. Also Raoul Servais from Ostende, the maker of Taxandria, added the premiere of a new flight, Moths.

Annecy Without End

I haven't even mentioned meeting the Hungarian Ferenc Cako, the Czech Bretislav Pojar, the Canadians Jacques Drouin and Pierre Hébert, the Polish Piotr Kamler, nor even the large Bororama (works of Borowczyk which are on display at the Castle Museum until September)... It is humanly impossible to attend all the multiple discussions, panels, lectures, round tables, expositions, homages and retrospectives. This superabundance is perhaps necessary to respond to the diverse demands of the festival audience which grows larger all the time, but just how far can it go? This festival in Savoy has come a long way from the great canonical jousts of the 1960s, and it has inspired dozens of "emulations" all over the world -- not just other festivals but many variations and developments beyond the hopes and dreams of the founders of Annecy.

The Blue Arrow by Enzo d'Aló.

However, there is the question of organizing this festival every year. This might not be the best decision considering the difficulty of getting new, good, films and getting these films in only a one year turnaround. Even after two years, you can't help but feel a sense of déjà vu, of repetition that seems to celebrate the same films forever. Not to minimize the merits of Wallace and Gromit, or to complain that some other films mentioned above, Puss in Boots by Bardine and The End of the World by Driessen, were already seen at Annecy 1995. (These two films were completed too late to be included in competition, but were projected at night on a giant screen beside the lake.) You can't blame serving them up again -- their absence would have been cruelly missed this year!

Since the appearance of MIFA in 1985, the festival has had two poles of attraction. Now, the festival and the market cannot exist without eachother. The implant of an international marketplace in the heart of the festival is supposed to preserve the creative geniuses of the "cultural ghetto" by bringing them a healthy commercial counterpoint. This tendency toward the quantitative, will it be equaled with the qualitative? Will the sheer amount of events be pared down for the best? It's important not to forget that in the long run -- and Disney is always there to remind us -- quality pays!

rovdevitchannecy08.jpg The awards ceremony, from left to right: John Payson (Joe's Apartment), Paul Driessen (The End of the World in Four Seasons), Nick Park (A Close Shave), Candy Guard (Pond Life), Gil Alkabetz (Rubicon), and Hans Spillaert (Under the Waxing Moon).

Michel Roudevitch is a freelance journalist who has been attending the Annecy festival since its' inception. He writes for a number of French magazines and newspapers, including Liberation, Positif, and Le Technicien du Film.