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5th Animation First Live and Online Festival by the French Institute/Alliance francaise: New York City, 11 – 21 February 2022

The Animator First Animation Festival presented by the French Institute/Alliance Francaise in New York City showcases the best of the French animation industry, plus a highlight of the festival was the French and American Animation School Competition. 

     The Animator First Animation Festival presented by the French Institute/Alliance Francaise in New York City showcases the best of the French animation industry, plus a highlight of the festival was the French and American Animation School Competition. It is the only animation festival in the United States to screen only French animation. This year’s program presented fifty-one United States premiers of feature-length and short animations. Along with two programs of new French short films, feature films, and special programs, a highlight of the festival is the French and American Animation School Competition.

   The French schools taking part were RUBIKA in Valenciennes; School Trades Du Cinema Animation Emca in Anguleme; Gobelins, L’Ecole de L’image in Paris; and from Avignon the Ecole des Nouvelles Images.

   The United States was represented by the California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts) in California; Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida; School of the Visual Arts in New York City; and the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.

   Each school selected five graduation films created by the class of 2022 which were grouped into two programs, one of United States films and the other program composed of French student films. Acclaimed animator Kristof Serrand (The Prince of Egypt, Kung Fu Panda) moderated the two juries composed of two students from each school. The French students selected the best American film and vice versa. The winning filmmakers received a one-on-one session with Kristof to discuss their work and receive his invaluable advice about their career paths.

Do You Hear the Crows?

   The French jury selected Do You Hear Those Crows by Ryen Goebel from Savannah College of Art and Design. The film illustrates the poem of the same name by Dalton Day. Using analog and digital techniques Goebel explored the connection between emotion and landscape hinted at in the imagery of the poem. It is a finalist for the Student Academy Awards. They also gave an honorable mention to Sofia Azpe for Pirate Lesson, also from Savannah College of Art and Design.

   The American students selected two films that tied for first place, La Fille de Potier  (The Potter's Daughter) directed by Edern Guichard from EMCA in Angouleme. It is a dark tale about the relegation of women in the history of art according to Pliny the Elder.  Louise by Constance Bertoux, Camille Bozec, Pauline Guitton, Pauline Mauviere, and Mila Monaghan from Gobelins. An honorable mention was awarded to Bertille Monagham also from EMCA for Le dernier Oeuf.

   I particularly enjoyed Louise.  The film is set at the Garnier Opera house in 1895 and contrasts the beauty of the stage sets, costumes, and dancers on stage with the dark secrets of the dancer’s real-world backstage.


   Louise, a fourteen-year-old ballerina, tries to avoid a patron that she finds odious but when a fellow dancer presses her to repay a loan, Louise knows what she has to do. The film was inspired by an art exhibition that one of the students saw titled Splendeurs et misères which depicted the various forms of prostitution in Paris from 1850 to 1910. Ballerinas were so poorly paid that they had to rely on “patrons” for support.

     The film evokes the paintings of Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec to portray the feeling of the time period but the students modernized the characters and setting. They modified the lighting and cinematographic compositions to give the film a period feel while looking very modern.

     A project that intrigued me was The Mysteries of Paris, a television series by Verionique Puybaret and Matthieu Dubois. Based on Eugène Sue’s story which was originally published in serial form in over ninety installments between 1842 and 1843 in the newspaper Journal des Débats. It became wildly popular, influencing political change and inspiring such classic novels as Les Misérables and The Count of Monte Cristo. It was one of the first serialized newspaper stories in France.

The Mysteries of Paris

     The suspenseful story centers on Rodolphe who has a noble heart and shadowy origins. Sue abounded the drawing rooms of the beau monde for the dive bars and cabarets of central Paris where the story is set. His brand of realism was more in a social worker’s or journalistic mode than the typical fictional novel. Although there had been novels about French family life prior to this serial, they had all been about genteel aristocratic families.

Puybaret and Dubois adapted the serial into forty episodes of three minutes each, bringing the original engravings to life with digitization. You can see the process that they used at:

     The festival’s special guest was Florence Miailhe. She is well known for her beautiful award-winning short films such as Au premier Dimanche d’August (On the First Sunday in August) which won the César for best short film in 2002 and Conte de quartier (Neighbourhood Tale) which received a special mention at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. In 2015 Florence was awarded a Cristal d’honneur at Annecy in recognition of her body of work.

     Her animation style is very personal, using paint, pastels, and sand directly under the camera. Miailhe’s first feature film, La Traversée (The Crossing) received its United States premiere at Animator First. The story centers on two older siblings, Kyona and Adriel, who along with the rest of their family are fleeing the pogroms in their homeland. When they become separated from their mother and father, the film tells the story of their quest from their former home country to a cousin’s home in another country. The brother and sister embark on a journey that quickly transforms them from children to adolescents as they wield their way across a continent torn apart by war. The story is told by the older sister, Kyona who is now an elderly woman. As she turns the pages of her old sketchbook, she remembers the people and events good and bad that she met during her journey.

The Crossing

The film is loosely based on Miailhe’s family history and is dedicated to her grandmother who left Odessa in 1905 with her ten children to escape the pogroms. Her mother, Mireille Glodek Miailhe, who was an artist, fled Paris during World War II and worked with the resistance. The Crossing is dedicated to her.

     It took over ten years to raise the money and complete the film. A "making of" book about the film will be published.

Florence in conversation with Signe Baumane

     Animation First and Women in Animation presented a conversation with Florence conducted by the brilliant Latvian/American animator Signe Baumane. Florence started out as a painter and engraver. Signe asked her “What made you go into animation?” Miailhe explained that her mother was a well-known painter and it was hard to do the same thing that she did so she went into something close but different.

     Somehow, I missed The Bears Famous Invasion of Sicily when it was first released in 2019. The French/Italian co-production is the first feature film directed by illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti. Based on the classic 1945 Italian children’s book by Dino Buzzati, it is a story about familial love, friendship, and tolerance.

The Bear's Famous Invasion of Sicily

     When Tonio, a young prince of a bear sleuth (the name for a group of bears), is kidnapped by hunters in the Sicilian mountains, his father, the king of the bears, leads his subjects down out of the mountains to the plains that are inhabited by humans, to rescue his son. Faced with the bears’ invasion the men fight back but they can’t defeat the bears’ ingenuity and tenacity.  With the aid of a little magic, Tonio is found, but that is just the tip of the iceberg as bears and humans try to coexist.

During the first half of the film, I thought that this was a charming animation for children that is visually artistic. Then the story takes a dark turn as the bears become more like humans. Tonio loses all perspective about what responsibilities a ruler has to his subjects. The original story was thought to equate the bears to communists during World War II.

The film is produced by the same team that was behind The Red Turtle and the story was adapted by the award-winning screenwriter Thomas Bidegain (A Prophet). The hand-drawn 2D film is a beautiful mix of shape over realism taking its cue from Buzzati’s original drawings.

The Bear’s Famous Invasion of Sicily is a film that the entire family can enjoy on different levels. It could be the introduction to a dinner table discussion about power and greed.

The documentary Building Leonardo Da Vinci’s Inventions, a project by Pixar animator Jim Capobianco, gives the viewer a look into Da Vinci’s search for arts, science, and technology to improve human life.

Over 500 years after Da Vinci invented them, the machines that he designed in the 1480s have finally come to life. He left hundreds of codexes, a precursor of the modern-day book, with thousands of drawings, notes, maps, and calculations in them. Using the codexes and simulation applications on the 3DEXPERIENCE platform of Dassault Systèmes, a few of these machines have become a reality. A group of international designers worked on Da Vinci’s codexes, finding unique solutions to bring the designs to life using Dassault Systems’ innovative 3D technology.

The documentary takes a look at some of Da Vinci’s machines in action in the garden of the Chateau du Clos Luce. Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last 30 years of his life in this beautiful Loire Valley chateau, so it is only fitting that his giant machines are located there.

Among the machines are his ornithopter, and a flying machine. An aerial screw and the first helicopter were demonstrated along with a self-propelled cart and a paddleboat.

Da Vinci's self supporting bridge

  His most fascinating invention to me is the self-supporting bridge. His idea for a bridge was drastically different from the present design of semicircular arches which require ten or more piers along the span to support a long bridge. Da Vinci designed a flattened arch that would be tall enough to allow a sailboat to pass underneath it with its mast still upright and cross a wide span with a single enormous arch. Built without fasteners or joints, it is made of beams that crisscross each other like scissors, using pressure to hold each other stable.

The Chateau du Clos Luce is open to the public; along with Da Vinci’s studio and the surrounding park; where you can see his fabulous machines.

Along with the Student Competition and the feature films, there were two programs of new French short animations. A program dealing with gender and disability issues and special children’s programs were also screened. The International Artists Residency for animated films is organized by Nef Animation and the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud. Held at the Royal Abbey, the residency puts special emphasis on supporting young animators by bringing directors to the Loire Valley for one month where they can work without worrying about the outside world and concentrate on their projects. The Fontevraud Presents screening brought together six films whose directors were recipients of the residency program and worked on those projects there.

     The Animation First Festival was packed full of visual delights. It was a very busy eight days. Thank you French Institute/Alliance Francaise for allowing me to be part of the online audience. You can find out more about the festival at: