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Annecy 2009, June 8 through 13th, was its usual mixed bag.  On the plus side there were lots of old and new friends to see and some fantastic special screenings.  On the other hand the majority of the short films in competition were mediocre.  Since networking and doing business has become one of the major purposes of the festival, it was definitely a success in that department.

From the moment we arrived in Annecy on Sunday afternoon we could feel the buzz of excitement as you walked down the main street.  It was a day filled with meeting and greeting, trying to get last minute tickets and preparing to get down to the business of watching film.

Monday morning the festival started off on a high note for me with A Thorn in The Mind.  Mathieu Bergeron and Yves Martel’s fascinating documentary gives us a touching and incisive look into the creative imaginations of 6 prominent animators from around the world:  Jacques Drouin form Canada, Great Britain’s Barry Purves, Pjotr Sapegin of Russia, Swiss animator Georges Schwizgebel and Raoul Servais of Belgium.  One of the most touching moments in the film was Georges talking about how satisfied he is with his life and his work.  His face beaming down at the audience was the very picture of a life well spent.

I alternately laughed and cried as I watched The Boys, another documentary screened this week.  You may not know the names Robert and Richard Sherman but you know their music.  Their combined musical genius earned each of them 2 Oscars for Mary Poppin, 1 for Best Musical Score and another for Best Song, Chim Chim Cher-ee as well as giving us the longest word in the English language, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  The rise of their careers at Disney Studio, where Walt called them simply “the boys”, their creative genius, and their eventual estrangement from each other is told in interviews and film footage with family members, Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke who worked with them on Mary Poppins, Roy Disney and many others who knew and worked with them.

Most important and moving of all was the commentary from Bob and Dick themselves.  Their sons, Jeffrey C. Sherman and Gregory V. Sherman, who wrote, directed, and produced the film brought the estranged brothers together for the first time in years to give us a touching glimpse into a past that lives on with their music in films that have delighted generations of adults and their parents.

Monday evening brought us to the official opening ceremony and screening.  The first surprise in store for us was provided by Pixar with a screening of their delightful new short Partly Cloudy.  Everyone knows that the stork delivers babies, but where does the stork get the babies from?  Animator and story board artist Peter Sohn answers this question in his directorial debut.

The opening night centerpiece, A Town Called Panic, began life as a cult favorite series of 5 minute episodes featuring toy plastic action figures.  In their first feature length film Belgian animators Vincent Patar and Stephane Aubier tell a tale of their classic characters of Cowboy and Indian wanting to give Horse a birthday present.  Of course soon it all dissolves into chaos.  The stop motion animation utilizes the plastic miniatures of our childhood which they have remolded and reformed into all sorts of bizarre positions to create a hilarious animated film.  The hundreds of figures and sets that Patar and Aubier have created were  on display upstairs at the Bonleiu Center.

Following the screening we went to a party at the lovely Hotel de Ville (“House of the City”, or City Hall) where we all enjoyed delicious food and drink along with our first chance to catch up with old friends.  From there, Nik and I went to the late night party at the La Plage restaurant for champagne and yummy hors d'oeuvres.  There are very few things lovelier than walking back from La Plage along the lake front late at night with the moon shining on the water, a fitting end to a perfect evening.

Nancy and Henry Selik celebrating the opening

This year Annecy spotlighted Germany’s contribution to the world of animation with numerous special screenings including a presentation of Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 classic The Adventures Of Prince Ahmed with live musical accompaniment.  Stuttgart’s renowned Studio Film Builder, celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, was saluted with a screening of their films, and Throwing Light On Works In The Shade  took us deep into the archives of German animation from the 1920’s to the 1960’s along with interviews with surviving witnesses of the dynamic German avant-garde film scene.

My favorite party every year is the Stuttgart Animation Festival event, and this year as the honored country they went all out.  In past years the event was a large affair but this year Filmförderung Baden-Wurttemberg was co-hosting the party, as well as the opening MIFA event and so this fete was a “petite animation reception. After a bus ride up a very curvy mountain road we arrived at the beautiful Auberge la Mageriaz.  This tranquil, cozy inn is owned by Vincent and Cathy Ferris.  In case Vincent’s name sounds familiar, he is the former manager of MIFA.  The superb French-Swabian regional food ( Swabia  covers much of Germany’s Southwestern state of Baden-Wurttemberg) was only matched by the lovely rustic country surroundings.  The food and atmosphere was totally complimented by music provided by Rolf Bachler and Nik.

Ivan Maximov and Alexei Alexeev at the Stuttgart party, in the background Philippe Moins of Anima Brussels

In 2009 the festival strengthened their new policy in favor of feature films with 10 feature films in competition chosen from a field of 45 entrees, 9 shown out of competition, 3 film premieres and of course, the night time outdoor shows on the giant screen.

I had already seen Adam Elliot’s brilliant Mary and Max, Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey’s beautifully animated Brendan and the Secret of the Kells, and Coraline, Henry Selick’s modern master piece, but there were still delightful surprises such as My Dog Tulip. 

Paul and Sandra Fierlinger created a beautiful adaptation of A. J. Ackerley’s 1956 book telling of the 14 years he shared with a German Shepherd that he rescued, who he named Tulip.  The film features the voices of Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave, and Isabella Rossellini.  The Fierlingers and producer Norman Twain have created a very personal love story which is definitely an adult film, which once again proves that animation is not just for children or dog lovers.

Paul and Sandra Ferlinger

The other feature that grabbed my attention was The Story Of Mr. Sorry.  A group of 5 South Korean students from the Korean Academy of Film Arts adapted Lee Jeok’s delightfully strange story of Mr. Sorry, a professional ear wax cleaner who, due to a chance encounter with a fortune teller, finds himself shrinking and shrinking until he is small enough to climb into his customers’ ear canals.  This tale of social comment, emotional resonance and mystical fantasy answers the question “What will happen to Mr. Sorry now that he knows his clients deepest thoughts.

I was a bit surprised that $9.99 was shown out of competition, but at least Tatia Rosenthal’s Israeli/Australian co-production was screened on 3 separate occasions throughout the week.

By and large I found the 5 short film competition programs not particularly inspiring.  Of course, there were some outstanding exceptions.  I have been anxiously awaiting Latvian animator Vladimir Leschiov’s new film, and his Wings and Oars definitely did not disappoint me. The beautifully drawn film tells the tale of a pilot looking back over his past with extreme sensitive, delicate hues and superb art work.

With all of the mediocre computer animation that seems to fill festival screens lately it is a real pleasure to see a film created by an animator who practices the fire art of drawing with such skill.  With subtle touches of humor Vladimir inserted references to his past films, like the man climbing up the side of a building with a pick ax from Insomnia.  One very funny aside was naming the boat for his friend Alexi Budowsky who could be at Annecy in name only this year.

New York animator PES demonstrated how he makes pasta sauce following his mother’s receipt and using common household items such as velvet pin cushion tomatoes, a cube pulled from a Rubik cube as a garlic clove, and pick-up sticks for spaghetti.  The film is 1 minute and 45 seconds of pure delight and the audience agreed with me, awarding Spaghetti Western the Audience Award crystal.

I have watched so much bad Chinese animation lately that it was a pleasant surprise to see The Winter Solstice.  This graphically beautiful film takes us into the mind of a man as he relives scenes from his recent past as he lies dying after being shot in the head.

Of course my hands down favorite film was Ivan Maximov’s surreal The Additional Capabilities of The Snout.  I have always loved Ivan’s quirky films and so Nik and I were very honored when he asked to use Nik’s music for his latest film.

Even the short film competition seemed to have longer films with Kaspar Jancis’ wonderful Crocodile at 16 minutes, Nick Park’s most entertaining Wallace and Gromit: A Matter Of Loaf And Death running 29 minutes, and Pritt and Olga Parn’s totally delightful Life Without Gabriella Ferri at 43 minutes.  I love all three of these films very much but I hope that this is not a trend and that the 3 to 5 minute well told story film will not become a thing of the past.

Signe Baumane and Kaspar Jancis

Five uniquely different programs gave us the opportunity to discover the world of visual harmony and rhythm.  The highlight was the 2 programs devoted to the master Russian ballet choreographer  Alexander Shiryaev.  At the beginning of the 20th Century Shiryaev began filming the movements of ballet dancers on an amateur 17.5 camera.  He also made drawings of dancers movements and step sequences which he also annotated.  He then traced these drawings onto paper strips which were projected with an optical device similar to a praxinoscope.  He also made papier-mâché puppets which were wired and could be moved and filmed.

In 1995 documentary film maker and historian Viktor Bocharov used restored footage to create A Belated Premiere.  The second program, Shiryaev:  Animation and Movement was made up of recently restored films, including much of the puppet animation and the paper films.  An exhibition on the 1st floor of the Bonlieu Library presented original items from the Shiryaev archives.

The 10th birthday of Sponge Bob Square Pants was also celebrated with an exhibit at the library, along with a display of characters and sets from Henry Selick’s Coraline.

The short walk through old town to the Musee Chateau d’Annecy was well worth it to see the Angels and Demons exhibition, a collection  of sculptures, design boards, watercolors, and collages from the amazing world of animator and visual artist Walerian Borowczyk.

For the Videomappings: Aida, Palestine presentation Till Roeskens asked people living in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem to sketch a card of things around them.  The drawings were videoed  while they were being done along with the commentaries that went with them to give a very personal view of day to day life under extremely difficult circumstances.

The Courier Center offered an exhibit of design boards for Miyazaki’s latest feature Poyo On The Cliff.  At La Turbine you could experience an interactive exhibit for the entire family as a companion piece to the open air screening of Rattatouille on the giant screen.  La Turbine also paid tribute to the renowned German DEFA Studio for Animated Film in Dresden with an exhibit of the beautiful puppets created between 1955 and 1990 for their more than 1,500 animated films.

Along with the usual really fun programs that we have come to expect like Politically Incorrect with something to offend everyone, Are You Bothered?, a program of raw and edgy shorts and Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation, Act Up screened a program of provocative shorts to commemorate the group’s 20th anniversary.

Two of my favorite features at Annecy are the daily Shorts and Breakfast chats and Features at Noon.  Erudite festival Artistic Director Serge Bromberg, master of the early morning hot seat, interviewed the previous days short film makers.  It is always interesting to listen to animators speak about their work, techniques, and sometimes even their motivation for making their film.  Their words very seldom change my opinion of a film but it is interesting to hear an animator talk about their work.

Monica Tasciotti’s Features At Noon interview series with the previous days’ Feature Film directors usually leaves me anxious to see the film again with a new prespective.  The highlight of  the week for me was Monica’s chat with Henry Selick.  The two of them talked so comfortably that it was more of a living room conversation than a formal interview.  Henry brought 3 puppets from Coraline and talked extensively about their construction, and why his studio is in Oregon rather than Los Angeles.  He said that he has wanted to make a 3D film for a long time but was willing to wait for the right project because he didn’t want it to be just a gimmick.  Selick feels that Coraline is just as enjoyable without the glasses but that the 3D effect heightens the contrast between Coraline’s two worlds she inhabits.

While Serge sometimes seems to intimidate or badger the animator in his hot seat, Monica Tasciotti is a very gentle  and intuitive interviewer making her guest feel completely at ease.  That said, Serge often has several animators that must be given time in one hour where as Monica can devote a full half hour or more to an interview, which does make quite a difference in the ways they work.

It’s hard to believe that this is the fifth year of Annecy Plus, and once again the screening played to a packed audience at the Le Venitien Bistro.  Bill Plympton and I began Annecy Plus to present films that have been rejected by the Annecy Official Selection Committee but that we feel deserve to be seen.  It has now grown into  an “unofficial-official” Friday night event, and this year, as befits a real festival, we awarded our own statutettes.  Stuttgart producer Teymour Tehrani designed and produced the Golden Bone award for the film that the audience voted the best underdog film, and Omid Javanshad, on behalf of Welle beer manufacturers, presented the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place audience favorites each with a case of beer.

Bill Plympton and Nancy with the Golden Bone Award

The Annecy Plus band regulars, Rolf Bachler on percussion and Nik Phelps on saxophone, were joined by Annecy Selection Committee member Alexei Alexeev on guitar  to entertain the audience before and after the show and during intermissions with their melodic tunes.

After all of the audience ballots were counted the Bronze Bone was given to Divers by Paris Mavroudas for an experimental animation that was inspired by Busby Berkley, mass gymnastics, and experimental cinema of the ‘20’s and 30’s.

The Silver Bone went to Alexi Budowsky for his 3 minute 50 second flash film Royal Nightmare, the story of an evil King whose life is turned into a nightmare by a pilgrim.

The audience voted the very prestigious Golden Bone Award to Signe Baumane for Teat Beat Of Sex:  Job  which really shouldn’t need any explanation.

Annecy Plus has now grown to a point where we have a staff, so thanks go to Signe Baueman and Pat Smith who helped program, Kerri Allegretta our program designer,  Jonas Raeber who provided the projection and ED Distribution who helped sponsor Annecy Plus.

The Annecy plus Crew

Of course all of my time was not spent in the dark watching film, I always found time to be with friends in the cafes and at the numerous parties.  As the week progressed we became increasingly busy.  Our Wednesday afternoon round of parties began at the Croatian Animation Cocktail party hosted by Animafest Zagreb and the Croatian Audiovisual Center.  It was lovely to see so many friends that we had been with just the week before at Animafest Zagreb. From the Zagreb party we strolled to the Swiss Film fete which honored the 4 Swiss films and animators that were in competition at the festival.  The Swiss party is always a very fun event but this year the lovely new intimate lawn setting with good wine was the perfect place for a relaxed gathering.

Nik, Nancy and Thomas Meyer-Hermann

Next we attended the Danish gathering which was on a docked boat on the lake.  The view from the top deck at sunset was breath taking and the lively gathering was definitely the place to spend the early eveing with a glass of wine, lovely food, and good conversation.

Later that evening we took a relaxed stroll around the lake to La Plage for the cocktail opening of MIFA at the lovely Brasserie du Parc de L’Imperial.  The opening of MIFA has become a major event and the evening gala party was indeed a grand affair.

Thursday afternoon began with the lawn party hosted by Finanimation, the network of Finish animation producers.  Tables set up on the lawn  outside of the  MIFA area were loaded with Finnish vodka, beer and wine as well as a tasty array of salmon and cavier treats.  This was the first opportunity I had had to see my friend Latvian producer Vilnis Kalnoellis who has a booth at MIFA.  His studio, Riga Film, produce films with such notable film makers as Signe Baumane.

From the Finnish party Nik and I strolled back to the center of town to the Wallonie Bruxelles Party.  My old pal Adam Elliot was on the Annecy Short Film competition jury and so we had had very little time to catch up on all of our adventures since we had last seen each other but this party turned out to be the first chance for a little quiet gossip session.

Chris Landreth and Nancy

The final party of the evening was hosted at the Café d’ Arts by the Dutch Film Commission.  The evening was so lovely and warm that we stayed until closing time.  It was an ideal time to have some serious chats and Chris Landreth and I had a long talk about his new project Lovecraft.  The Toronto based Oscar winner  told me that he has had a lifelong fascination with the master of Gothic horror and plans to go into production  next year on his fiction feature length animated biography of H.P. Lovecraft.

Seeing Nancy double at the Dutch party, photo courtesy of Johannes Wolters, thanks to Felix Herzog for the camera

For the first time in many years the sun shined on the festival almost every day, with rain holding off until the afternoons the first few days.  Saturday dawned warm and dry, perfect for the annual picnic and paddle boat race that Nik and I host.  A day eating and drinking in the sun with friends is the perfect way to forget about the award ceremony and although several people at the party had reason to think that they might be standing up on stage that evening, no one talked about it.

Darcy Prendergast, Nancy and Brett Thompson, president of ASIFA Atlanta

The vast amount of food that everyone brought was washed down with three cases of delicious beer which Teymour and Ovid contributed. The Annecy Plus Band, Rolf, Alexei and Nik played music, supplemented later with guitar music by Canadian composers Benoit Charest and Pierre-Yves Drapeau, while we all soaked up the sun and had fun reliving the week, talking about new projects and comparing travel plans, trying to figure out when we would all see each other again.

Joost van den Bosch working hard in the paddleboat race

After all three cases of beer had been consumed it was a very happy crew that took to the water  for the annual paddle boat race.  It was such a warm lovely day that half of the race was taken up waiting for available boats due to the number of people enjoying the pleasures of Lake Annecy. This year there seemed to be as many participants in the water as in the boats.  People jumped from boat to boat while others jumped into the lake to run interference or give their crew an extra leg up by kicking from the back of the boat.  A good time was had by all.

Darcy Prendergast in the water trying to slow us down

Far too soon it was time to get ready for the closing ceremony.  With 2 good friends, Adam Eliott  and Alexei Alexeev on juries (Adam on the Short Film Competition Jury and Alexei on the Short Film Selection Committee) I was very curious to see who the winners would be.  Each year Serge Bromberg, who emcees the closing night festivities along with Tiziana Loschi, CITIA Managing Director, arrives on stage in a novel and outrageous way.  This year, to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of man landing on the moon, Serge arrived on stage in  a “lunar golf cart” dressed in a space suit.  Tiziana wore a wonderful space age dress with a hair style to match.

Melanie Coombs, Henry Selik and Adam Elliot

It was no surprise to me when Mary and Max and Coraline were announced as co-winners of the Feature Film Crystal nor that Brendan and the Secret of the Kells  won the Audience Award.  I was also delighted  that PES was voted the Short Film Audience Award for his very cleaver Western Spaghetti and that Runaway by Canadian animator Cordell Barker garnered a Special Jury Award. Cordell, known for his delightful film The Cat Came Back, is as charming as his films.

Cordell Barker - Runaway Train!

I was very pleased with all of the awards until we got to the Annecy Gran Prix Crystal, and Slaves by Hanna Heilborn and David Aronowitsch was named the winner. The film is based on a 2003 interview with 2 children aged 9 and 15 who were taken by the government sponsored militia in Sudan and used as slaves.  Undeniably this is an important issue that deserves all the attention that it can get.  Slaves  certainly was a perfect choice for the UNICEF Award which it received at the festival, but it was definitely not the best animated film at Annecy this year.  A complete list of winners appears at the end of the article.

One of the big topics of conversation at the closing night party was the top award.  Should the Annecy Crystal be given as a political statement or should it be based upon the quality of the work?  I personally believe that the Crystal should be awarded to the best film not only for its story but for the quality of its animation. I was not alone in thinking that the jury voted with its heart and not its head.

The last official  event at Annecy was the closing night party at La Plage.  It is always a bittersweet time when you realize that you will not see so many good friends again for quite a while.  There were many congratulations for winners and hugs and kisses of good bye.  It was a long lovely evening.  I had not seen Adam Elliot since he had visited us in San Francisco on his way to the Oscars, or his producer Melanie Coombs since Annecy 5 years ago, so we had a lot of catching up to do.  Adam had been kept very busy as a juror and this was a chance for a really good talk.

As the last conga line snaked through the few remaining guests Nik and I left the party with Adam and Melanie to be driven back to the center of town in their VIP car.  After more hugs and kisses we headed off to our apartment full of happy memories of a wonderful week.

I am very happy to note that this year, unlike in the past few years, there were no attacks on festival participants that I heard of.  It had become quite a problem the last few years, and I am delighted that the festival and city seem to have managed to control the muggings that were definitely casting a black cloud over the festival.

Over the years I have watched the festival change and grow from a celebration of short independent animation into a big money marketplace where feature films are slowly but surely becoming the star of the show.  Major deals are made at MIFA.  At first I resented the changes but I have come to accept them. As an industry we do need one major event a year that is all about business.  This allows other festivals to retain their character as celebrations of animation as a great form of art.  I applaud MIFA and hope that it will continue to grow and foster the animation industry.

Annecy 2009 . . . It was a very good year!


Feature Film Awards

Jury:  Karen Byot, France; Bob Osher, USA; Thomas Haegele, Germany

Mary and Max  - Adam Elliot, Australia


Coraline – Henry Selick, USA

Audience Award for Best Feature

Brendan and the Secret of Kells – Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey, Ireland and Belgium

Short Film Awards

Jury:  Marguerite Abouet, France; Justine de Lagausie, France; Benoit Charest, Canada; Adam Eliot, Australia; Anbdreas Hykade, Germanby

The Annecy Crystal

Slaves – Hanna Heilborn and David Aronowitsch, Sweden

Special Jury Award

Runaway – Cordell Barker, Canada

Jean-Luc Xiberras Award for a First Film

The Man in the Blue Gordini ­– Jean Christophe Lie, France

Special Distinction Awards

Please Say Something­ – David Oreilly, Germany and Ireland

Sacem Award for Origional Music

Chick –Michal Socha, Poland

Audience Award

Western Spaghetti­ – PES, USA

TV and Commissioned Films

Jury:  Maria Laura Moure, Argentina; Julien Borde, France; Thomas Szabo, France

Crystal for Best TV Production

Log Jam “The Log”, “The Rain”, “The Moon”, “The Snake” – Alexey Alexeev, Hungary

Special Award for a TV Series

Pat et Stan “Jour de Bain” – Pierre Coffin, Marco Allard, France

Best TV Special

Lost and Found – Philip Hunt, Great Britain

Educational, Scientific or Industrial Film Award

How to Destroy the World “Rubbish” – Pete Bishop, Great Britain

Best Music Video

Flogging Molly “Float” – Karni and Saul, Great Britain

Graduation Film Awards

Jury:  Marie-Pierre Journet, France; Jungo Maruta, Japan; Henry Selick, USA

Best Graduation Film

For Sock’s Sake – Carlo Vogele, France

Special Jury Award

EX-E.T. – Benoit Bargeton, Yannick Lasfas, Remy Froment, Nicolas Garcia, France

Special Distinction

The Soliloquist – Kuang Pei Ma, Taiwan

Junior Jury Award for a Short Film

The Man in the Blue Gordini – Jean-Christophe Lie, France

Junior Jury Award for a Graduation Film

Shrug – Alina Constantin – Norway, France


Slaves – Hanna Heilborn, David Aronowitsch, Sweden

Fipresci Award

The Employment – Santiago Grasso, Argentina

Prix “Canal+ Creative Aid Award for a Short Film

Madagascar, Carnet de Voyage – Bastien Dubois, France