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42nd ANNECY INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION FESTIVAL Annecy, France 11-16 June 2018

ANNECY SALUTES BRAZIL WITH A CARNIVAL OF FILMS

Unfortunately there was not enough Samba music but there were a lot of excellent Brazilian film and many animators on hand to celebrate the rich tradition of Brazilian animation.  2018 was also the 100th anniversary of the first screening of the Brazilian animated film, O Kaiser by caricaturist Alvaro Marins better known as Seth.  Although the country’s first animated feature film, Amazon Symphony by Anelio Latini Filho, was not made until 1953, the country now has a recognized standing in the animation world.

In 2013 the feature film Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury directed by Luiz Bolgnesi won the Annecy Cristal for best feature film.  The next year The Boy and the World by Brazilian Ale Abreu went on to capture the Cristal for the best feature animation as well as winning many other awards internationally, also being hnominated for an Oscar.

The program of recent short Brazilian animation showcased a wide variety of themes and styles.  The earliest film screened was the 1986 Quando os morcegos calma (When Bats Are Quiet).  The 4 minute 55 second film by Fabio Lignini is the story of a man making his way through a dark and stormy night to a spooky house where surprises await him.  The film was co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada and it won the Debut Prize at the Hiroshima Festival in 1987.  Fabio is now a Supervising Animator at DreamWorks.

There were also programs of Brazilian animated TV series as well as Commissioned works.  Between Frames – The Art of Brazilian Animation, a feature length documentary traced the history of the country’s animation from its inception in 1917 to the present.  The Boy and the World was shown at the Open Air Cinema on the lawn by the lake.  The festival screens a different animated film nightly free of charge expressly for the local audience.

Michel Ocelot introducing Dilili in Paris on opening night

The opening night film was Dilili in Paris, Michel Ocelot’s new film.  All of Michel’s films are a treat for the eyes and ears and I found this film truly magical.  Set in Belle Époque Paris, one of the major artistic heydays, the story revolves around Dilili, a young Kanak girl.  Kanak is the name of the indigenous Melanesian inhabitants of New Caledonia who, in the film, were in Paris to serve in a living diorama.

After a rash of kidnappings of young girls in Paris, Dilili, with the help of her delivery boy friend, decides to investigate.  In the course of her investigation she encounters amazing characters, many of whom were actually living during the Belle Époque such as Toulouse Lautrec and Marcel Proust.  Each person that she meets gives her clues that help her to solve the mysterious disappearances and to reunite the girls with their families.

Nancy with Michel Ocelot

Michel’s attention to detail in the architecture, store fronts, and posters of the period – even down to the street signs and light fixtures is amazing.  He has recreated the era so perfectly that as I watched the film I forgot that I was in a seat in a theatre and felt that I was on the streets of Paris during that amazing period of history.  Michel told me that the 2D and 3D figures against the photorealistic backgrounds are based on photographs that he himself had taken of Paris.

The infectious musical score was composed by Gabriel Yared who composed the music for Cold Mountain.  There is also music composed by such renowned musicians of that era as Erik Satie which adds to the authenticity of that period of history.  Diili in Paris will be in theatres in October of this year.

Nina Paley is a one woman dynamo.  As with her previous award winning feature, Sita Sings the Blues, which won the Best Feature Cristal at Annecy in 2008, Nina wrote, directed, animated, and edited her new 78 minute feature film Seder- Masochism.

Nina’s take on the meaning of the Seder and The Book of Exodus as retold by Moses, his brother Aaron, The Angle of Death, Jesus, and Nina’s father as God is outrageously hilarious.  Blending the Old Testament icons with autobiographical asides, the film is narrated by her late father who explains the story of Exodus while lamenting his daughter’s financial insecurity.  Along the way there is a sequence of animated assembly line circumcisions and a Seder plate with a revolving shank bone.

Seder Masochism scene

As if that weren’t enough, the burning bush, the Ten Commandments, the plagues, and the parting of the Red Sea are all reinvented in song and dance numbers a-la Busby Berkeley set to such recognizable songs as Moses Supposes from the 1950’s classic film Singing in the Rain to Lennon and McCartney’s Helter Skelter and Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.

Nina, a great champion of Goddesses, said that when she first began the movie she wasn’t sure which direction it would go in.  Finally she realized that the film was really about The Goddess, who is invisible in the Old Testament until according to Nina “you start to look for her and then you start recognizing her everywhere”.  Seder-Masochism pits the Great Mother in a tragic struggle against the forces of Patriarchy.

Nina is a believer in Creative Commons and does not believe in the traditional copyright format.  As a result she did not bother to get the rights for any of the music.  I am afraid that this will greatly reduce the chances of a theatrical release of the film.  However it has already been shown at several festivals and won the Feature Film Audience Award at Animator in Poznan, Poland, so hopefully you will have the opportunity to see Seder-Masochism at a festival near you.  Don’t miss it!

The winner of the Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the Short Film Competition at Annecy was Weekends.  Canadian animator Trevor Jimenez’s 15 minute film is about a small boy who is shuffled between the homes of his newly divorced parents.  Beautifully drawn surreal moments mix with the domestic realities of a family broken apart.

At the Director’s Chat Jimenez said that the film, set in 1980’s Toronto, was based on his own experience of his parents’ divorce when he was a small boy.  Weekends has no dialogue, rather it uses music to portray different emotions.  His mother loved Beethoven, so he used classical piano music for scenes with her.  His father played Dire Straits’ 1985 album Brothers In Arms so he used the British band’s song Money For Nothing when he is with his father in the film.  His father was an antique dealer and the apartment where he lived was full of priceless antiques. In contrast his mother’s home looked like a normal house with an upright piano.

Trevor works at Pixar as a story artist.  He made Weekends through the studio’s co-op program which encourages employees to work on their own projects in their free time.  Along with his double wins at Annecy, his film has won major awards at several other festivals and has qualified to be in the running for an Oscar nomination.

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) consistently produces high quality films and this year is no exception.  The Oscar winning husband and wife team of Alison Snowden and David Fine have had a long relationship with the NFB and it was good to see them back at festivals with their new film Animal Behavior.

In the 14 minute hand drawn film, five animals meet weekly to discuss their inner angst in a group therapy session led by Doctor Clement, a canine psychotherapist.  When the regular group made up of Lorraine, a leech suffering from separation anxiety;  Cheryl, a praying mantis who can’t seem to keep a man; Todd, a pig with what else but an eating disorder; Jeffery, a bird with guilt issues; and Linda, an obsessive-compulsive cat, are joined by a reluctant new member of the group, everything changes.  Victor, an ape with anger management issues, does not have any empathy for the problems of the other group members and doesn’t mind telling them so. 

The film is extremely funny on the surface but underneath it deals with real problems and situations that we all run across in our daily lives.

I have never been too interested in Virtual Reality.  I have no desire to climb Mount Everest much less do it virtually but I am beginning to change my mind about VR as I have the opportunity to see it used to tell more complex and interesting stories.  Some very excellent animators are beginning to create some fascinating VR work that actually tells a story.  Last year there was Michelle and Uri Kranot’s Nothing Happens at Annecy and this year there were 11 VR projects.

I was lucky enough to get a private showing of Gymnasia.  The VR project has been created by the talented team of Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski who made the award winning film Madam Tutli Putli (2007).  The stop motion puppet and animated objects project is still in the early stages of production, but the 2 minute 30 second clip that I saw was very impressive.

Maciek Szczerbowski demonstration his new VR project to Nancy

After donning the head set I entered a surreal grade school gymnasium where a young boy is singing in a haunting, eerie voice.  The boy continued to sing and stare at me with an intense gaze as I traveled 360 degrees around the room where I experienced “the rituals of childhood – playing ball games, school lessons, and choir recitals”.  The entire experience gave me the strange feeling I had the first time I watched the ventriloquist’s dummy in William Goldman’s film Magic.  I am curious to see what direction Gymnasia is going to take and look forward to seeing the finished project. 

 The film is a collaboration between Clyde Henry Productions, the NFB, and Felix and Paul Studios.  Clyde Henry Productions is Chris and Maciek’s Production Company.  The pair have a history of working with the National Film Board of Canada but it is the first time that they have also worked with Felix and Paul Studios.  Felix and Paul Studios is a pioneer in the VR industry.

This year MIFA (International Animation Film Market) was bigger than ever with 825 exhibitors from 75 countries.  Eight countries had booths for the first time this year:  Cameroon, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Ireland, Switzerland, Hungary, and Georgia. 

For the second year in a row Women in Animation (WAI) and Les Femmes S’Animent (LFA) hosted the Women in Animation World Summit in conjunction with MIFA.  The day long symposium of panel discussions covered a wide range of topics.  Centered on this year’s theme, Inclusion, they ranged from What 50/50 Means to Male Allies to a discussion about what it takes to create an award winning film at the Conversation With Oscar Celebrated Women Directors.  The three women on that panel, Dorota Kobiela, Director of Loving Vincent; Norma Twomey, Director of The Breadwinner; and Vicky Jensen, Director of Shrek and Shark Tale, discussed their experiences and challenges on the road to creating award winning films.

Traditionally the MIFA Animation Industry Award has gone to a person who has made a great contribution to the animation industry.  For the first time the award went to an organization this year, Women in Animation.

The MIFA Campus was initiated last year to encourage students and young talent and give them an opportunity to meet and interact with some of the top names in the animation world.  For the second edition the renowned, triple Oscar winning animator Richard Williams was the patron.  Richard’s educational book The Animators Survival Kit, his 16 DVD Box Set and iPad app have trained many of today’s top animators.  At the Conversation with Richard Williams session he shared his 60 year creative journey in animation and offered artistic advice to young animators.

The day long MIFA Campus symposium offered three types of events.  Workshops with featured artists, teachers and other experts in the field of animation sharing their knowledge with the students.  The Initiatives and Schemes event presented information about residencies and talent incubators in France and abroad.  At A Chat With . . . sessions, representatives of studios talked about their work environment, job prospects, and the kind of profiles they are looking for.

Each year the MIFA Pitches presents projects that are in the first stages of development and looking for producers, distributors, and/or financers.  The projects are presented in one of four categories: Short Films, Features, TV Series, and Specials, Interactive Creations and Trans Media.

The 37 projects presented this year came from a diverse group of countries ranging from France and South Africa to Peru.  Animators from Jamaica, Guatemala, and Montenegro took part for the first time this year.  Prizes ranged from the purchase of a short film by Arte to the Folimage prize of an 8 to 12 month animation residency.  The Ciclic Award was 35,000 Euros along with a 6 month residency in Vendôme.

In a special alliance with Annecy and MIFA, Latin American feature films and TV series projects were selected to be pitched at ANIMATION! Pitching sessions 2017 in Buenos Aires.  The five winners of this session were part of a special ANIMATION! Focus program at MIFA.  At their presentation the audience was introduced to the directors and shown all or parts of the films.

Director Juaco Garin and Confite

The projects were very diverse but two really caught my eye.  The feature film Confite about a puppy and the little girl who finds him is beautifully drawn.  The second project, a television series titled What Would Jesus Do?  is all about what would have happened is Jesus hadn’t gone to heaven on the third day that he rose from the dead after his crucifixion?  You might assume that he stayed living the “glamorous life” as God’s son, but according to this pilot he didn’t.  The series purposes to follow the struggles he faces with his two best friends, The Dove and The Leper as they struggle just to pay the rent.  I am not sure exactly who this series is aimed at, but I liked the mix of cut out and traditional hand drawn animation and the part that I saw was extremely funny. 

The Estonian booth at MIFA

Annecy is not just about watching films, it is also about networking and the best place to do that is at parties.  This year in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Estonian independence and the 60th birthday of the famous Tallinn based puppet studio Nukufilms, the Estonian delegation threw a first class party.  The celebration was a beautifully catered event located in the massive old stone stables where the French Kings kept their hunting horses when they came to that region to hunt.  Annecy and the surrounding mountains were one of their favorite hunting grounds.  Along with delicious regional food and plenty of drink the grounds surrounding the party were the perfect place to sit and chat with friends.

One of the highlights of the week is always the German reception. The event was co-hosted by MFG Filmforderung Baden-Wurttemberg, The Stuttgart International Animation Festival, FMX, The Animation Production Day, German Films, The German Short Film Association, and Dok Leipzig.  Guests were bussed down the lake to a lovely restaurant where we were served a delicious buffet meal.  Tables were scattered around the lawn and lakeside making it the perfect place to relax for a couple of hours away from all the hassle and bustle of the festival.  Even the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits.

At the German reception

Each year Shelly Page hosts the DreamWorks picnic and she is the perfect hostess.  Shelly is an international talent consultant for leading animation studios such as Aardman Studios.  She knows everyone in the animation industry so the DreamWorks picnic is the place to be.  You can chat with all of the major animators and industry people while enjoying a picnic under the trees.

Sayoko Kinoshita doing Shakey Shakey

The Hiroshima Festival party held in the Bonlieu café is always good silly fun.  Along with delicious food and plentiful drink Sayoko Kinoshita, the very vibrant co-founder and director of the Hiroshima International Animation Festival, holds a raffle called Shakey-Shakey which is what everyone chants as Sayoko shakes the box after every drawing.

Celebrating with the Greek delagation at MIFA

Not to be outdone by anyone, Nordic Animation treated us to their annual Champagne Breakfast at their MIFA booth and the Greek Animation team had the champagne flowing and lots of delicious food at their MIFA reception.

Jonas Raeber with 50 bottles for 50 years of the Swiss Film Group

A very special once in a life time party was hosted by Jonas Raeber of Swampfilms.  The celebration in honor of 50 years of the Swiss Film Group was billed as 50 bottles for 50 years.  Jonas ringed the inside of the dry fountain behind the Bonleiu with 50 bottles of very nice red wine and wonderful Swiss cheese.  While the Annecy Plus band, Nik on soprano and Rolf Bächler from Switzerland  on his mini-snare drum, serenaded the guests, Jonas opened the bottles and the guests proceeded to toast Swiss animation and drink red wine while nibbling some cheese.  The Swiss delegation also hosted a formal reception on another day at the Hotel Splendid.

Over the years the picnic that Nik and I host has become the place to be on Saturday afternoon at Annecy. Everyone brings something to eat or drink to share and we all sit on the lawn near the big tree at the edge of the lake and talk and relax after a very busy week.  There is always an amazing array of food and drink.  Once again this year the Spanish contingent brought a Spanish ham with the carving machine, there is usually Russian vodka and caviar and lots of wonderful French pastries. For a few hours professionals and students relax sitting next to each other and enjoy each other’s company.  Music is provided by Nik and Rolf and anyone else who has brought an instrument. 

Our picnic

Carving Iberian ham

Several years ago Joanna Quinn organized the first Rounders game at the picnic.  Since she has not been at Annecy for a few years because she has been hard at work on her new film about Beryl, Joanna has turned the game over to the good folks at Skwigly Online Animation Magazine.  After all these years I still do not understand the rules of Rounders but Jamie Badminton of Karrot animation in London and Rounders referee Katie Steed know all of the rules and get the players off and running.  Katie is not only an animator she is also an Olympic Volleyball champion.  Joanna still provides the trophy, which goes to the most valuable player on the winning team.

The rounders game

The big event of the picnic is the paddleboat race.  It is quite funny to see animators who have been partying all afternoon take to the water in paddleboats and race furiously to make it around the island in Lake Annecy and back to the starting line.  There are no rules except that you must go around the island and back to the starting line to win.  People have been known to jump from boat to boat and when it is hot enough, even get in the water to slow opponents boats down.  All the while the spectators and judges are cheering the racers on.  Competition for the honor of winning the race is so stiff that it is rumored that some people even have their computers hooked up to stationary bicycles so they can train all year long.

The paddleboat race

Twin brothers Veljko and Milivoj Popoviĉ from Croatia were absolutely sure that they were going to win the race this year.  They were quite sad when they lost, but at the closing ceremony that evening their delightful film Biciklisti (Cyclists) won a Cristal Jury Distinction Award.  They said in their acceptance speech from the stage “This afternoon we were very unhappy that we did not win the paddle boat race at Nik and Nancy’s picnic but winning this award makes up for it”.  The Award also means that Cyclists is now eligible to enter the Annies and Oscar races.  

Veljko and Milivoj Popoviĉ receiving their award on closing night

The entire point of the picnic is that everyone is welcome.  All that is required is that everyone from small children to the oldest personcomes and has fun. If you are at Annecy next year be sure to save Saturday for the picnic.

I would like to thank Laurence Ythier, Head of Media Relations and her staff for all of their hard work to make sure I am alerted to important events and news each day of the festival.  I also want to thank all of the volunteers who are always so helpful.

View of Annecy from the castle

Next year Annecy will be held from 10-15 June.  You can find out more about this year’s festival and when submissions for the 2019 edition will open at:  www.annecy.org

A complete list of all of the winning films is at https://www.annecy.org/festival/awards

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