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ANNECY INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION FESTIVAL 10 – 15 June 2019 Annecy, France The Good, the Bad, and the Really, REALLY Ugly

     Each year the size of the Annecy Festival boggles my mind as it continues to grow.  This year there were 3,139 films submitted, 93 of which were animated features.  With more than 500 films screened throughout the week and more than 12,000 attendees at the festival and the MIFA market, it was impossible to see and do everything.

     Each year the size of the Annecy Festival boggles my mind as it continues to grow.  This year there were 3,139 films submitted, 93 of which were animated features.  With more than 500 films screened throughout the week and more than 12,000 attendees at the festival and the MIFA market, it was impossible to see and do everything.

     It is important to note that a big change was made in the selection committee this year.  Until 2017 the committee was made up entirely of men, and in 2017 one woman was added to the group.  This year 3 more women took seats on the selection committee making it an equal 4 men and 4 women.  Annecy has achieved 50/50 in 2019, a year ahead of the 20/20 schedule of 2020.  Bravo!

                                                                

                                                   HONORING 102 YEARS OF JAPANESE ANIMATION

     In 1999 Japan was the first country honored at the then newly annual Annecy Festival.  Previous to 1999 it had been a bi-annual event.  After 20 years Japan has returned to the spotlight.  The country’s diverse animation history dates back to 1917 with Jun’ichi Kouchi’s The Dull Sword.  The 4-minute hand-tinted silent film was a slapstick comedy, a popular genre in the silent film era.  The film is about a samurai who is duped into buying a blunt sword.  With a minimum of title cards, the mixture of cutouts, silhouettes, and animated faces mixed with much eye-rolling and exaggerated facial expressions conveys the plot clearly.

The Dull Sword

     Treasurers of Japanese Animation From Its Origins (1917 – 1946) was curated by Japanese/French scholar, translator and critic Ilan Nguyen and animation historian Xavier Kawa-Topor in conjunction with the National Film Archive of Japan and Sochiku.  The 9 film program featured 3 films by Noburo Ofuji.  An apprentice of Jun’ichi Kouchi, Ofuji also worked in cutout and silhouette animation utilizing traditional Edo-Chiyogami paper that features designs printed on it.  He eventually became the first Japanese animator known in the West when his films were introduced abroad in the 1950s.

     After the war, Ofuji primarily worked in silhouette animation.  His films became darker, often featuring religious themes.  The 1946 A Spider’s Thread showed Buddha’s mercy towards a man in the underworld.  Two of his earlier films, The Story of Tobacco (1926) and Spring Song (1931) were also included in the program.

     The screening of early Japanese films was my favorite tribute program.  I was surprised to learn from Ilan Nguyen that Annecy no longer had any 35mm screening capability so he was not able to include some films that he would like to have shown because they are only available on 35 mm.

     A program of animation by Tadahito Mochinaga and Tadanari Okamoto was an opportunity to watch rarely seen Japanese puppet animation.  Except for Kihachiro Kawamoto, who studied under Juri Trinka and is considered to be a master, the history of Japanese puppet animation remains basically unknown in the Western World.

     Of the 13 films in Puppet Animation and Beyond, 12 were by Tadanari Okamoto.  The first film, however, was Mochinaga’s 18 minute Little Black Sambo’s Tiger Conquest based on Helen Bannerman’s 1899 series of books.  Although Bannerman’s books are considered very racist today in the Western world it is interesting to note that they were republished as late as 2015 in Japan.   Between 1956 and 1959 Mochinaga made a dozen films for which Kihachiro Kawamoto designed the puppets.  In the 1960s Mochinaga worked with Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass’ Production Company in the United States.

Like so many of the next generation of Japanese stop motion animators, Tadanari Okamoto was trained by Mochinaga.  Over a 25 year period beginning in 1964, Okamoto produced 40 films.  His films in the puppet animation program utilized a variety of stop motion techniques and materials.  His motto was “Never the same thing twice”.  For his 1972 film The Monkey and the Crab, he told the traditional folk tale using puppets hewn from blocks of wood whose bold, rough look fit the story perfectly.  Sadly the screening only played a 1-minute excerpt from the 19-minute film, but it is possible to find it online.

The Monkey and the Crab

     The following year Okamoto created his 17-minute 40-second Praise to Be Small Ills taking his visual inspiration from traditional Ema votive paintings.  Ema are hung at a temple by a visitor who is asking that a wish be granted.  He used cedarwood, the material that Ema are created on, combined with drawings to create his puppets.  The story is about two hunters, one strong and the other one weak.

Praise to Be Small Ills

     The other tribute programs included a broad overview of contemporary Japanese animation, a selection of four 20 minute films by directors predicted to be at the forefront of the next generation of animators, and a program of experimental short films that employ unique forms of expression and innovative ideas.

     There was also a tribute to the wonderful Koji Yamamura.  His 2003 Mt. Head won the Grand Prix at Annecy and was nominated for an Oscar.  Koji also served on this year’s Annecy short film jury.

     Representing the current generation of Japanese young animators was a screening of Atsushi Wada’s films.  Included in the program were In a Pigs Eye which won the Excellence Award the Japan Media Arts Festival and The Great Rabbit which took home the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.  His program ended with 6 minutes of his commercial work.

In A Pig's Eye

     Talking about his drawing style Atsushi said “I draw with a propeller pencil in a fine line which keeps me from drawing bold lines.  Using moderate to light colors makes no color too prominent.  I explore the concept of “ma” or the space in between”.

                                                                     VIRTUAL REALITY

     Virtual Reality has come a long way from “climbing” Mount Everest virtually with a heavy pack on your back to telling real stories as the 9 VR projects at Annecy this year proved.  They ranged from the Scream VR to Gymanasia.  The Scream brought Edvard Munch’s thoughts to life before your eyes.  As the museum walls fade away, the painter’s demons crawl out of the canvas to submerge the viewer in the sources of the painter’s inspiration.

     Co-founder of South Africa’s Tulip and Chimney’s concept and animation studio Ree Treweek, known for her work on the 2006 award-winning animated short The Tales of How, joined forces with her brother Rick to create The Lost Botanist.  The 5 minute VR journey is based on a world that has forgotten the importance of nature which has resulted in pollution stealing the beauty of stars from the desolate space.

     The VR project that I was most excited about was Gymnasia.  It is a collaboration between those masters of stop motion Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, aka Clyde Henry Productions (Madame Tutli-Putli, 2007), Emmy Award-winning immersive entertainment studio Felix and Paul Studios; and the National Film Board of Canada. 

     As you come upon a desolate school gymnasium that is crumbling under decades of decay and disuse you enter a waking dream where ghostly apparitions from your childhood await you.  Memories of ball games, school lessons, and choir rehearsals, reminders of sights and sounds long forgotten, combined with sunlight streaming through a dust-caked window set the stage for the eerie voice of a child singing.

Gymnasia

     Gymnasia blends puppetry, stop motion, VR, and CGI, something that I have not seen before.  It was filmed in 3D 360 degree video with miniature stop motion VR cameras which gives it a very unique look.  As I got further into the 6-minute experience I wasn’t sure if I was awake or dreaming all of this, a most unsettling and yet unforgettable experience.

     I am always interested in what Veljko and Milivoj Popovic are working on.  I have been a big fan of the Croatian brother’s work ever since I saw She Who Measures in 2008 and Cyclists made in 2018 always makes me smile.  When I heard that they are now moving into the world of VR I had to go see Dislocation, their Annecy work in progress presentation.

     Dislocation is meant to put the viewer in direct contact with that most human of tragedies, the refugee crisis.  To quote Veljko “. . . the aim of the project is not to document human suffering or to inform the viewer of a historical moment.  We are taking a subject that has deeply affected us emotionally and are creating a fictional, theatrical setting, almost performance like, to deal with our emotions regarding this matter”.  The 7 minute VR project follows a central character who is hiding, crawling, or just being exhausted at the seashore, dessert, or forest in an attempt to find a new home in a safe place.

Dislocation  beach scene

     Veljko and Milivoj are currently working with Marija Scekic, a choreographer and performance artist.  She will direct the movement of the motion capture artist and do the choreography of the movement in the VR experience.  They also told me recently that they have started script adjustments on a theatrical version of the film for regular cinema screenings and are excited that Swiss animator Michaela Muller (Miramare and Airport) will collaborate on that phase of the project.

Dislocation  desert scene

     The project is being produced by Prime Render Studio (formerly known as lemonade3d) in co-production with Bagan Films in France.  They are also in negotiations with a Swiss production house.  Dislocation is the first VR project financed by the Croatian Audiovisual Center.  The VR project will premier in March 2020.  The planned release date for the cinema version is late 2020 or early 2021.

                                                                             THE BIG SLEEP

Bruce Bickford

     I always make it a point to start the festival on Monday morning with The Big Sleep.  The program pays tribute to our colleagues in the animation world who have passed away since the previous Annecy.  This past year 7 important faces of animation were bid us farewell.  The independent animator Bruce Bickford left this planet on 28 April 2019.  He was represented at The Big Sleep by his 2minute 40-second film Attila.

Roger Mainwood

     British animator and director Roger Mainwood left us on 20 September 2018.  He began his career at the Halas and Batchelor studio animating on the German band Kraftwerk’s video clip Autobahn.  He also worked on the British classics The Snowman and Father Christmas which were based on Raymond Brigg’s books as well as on Where the Wind Blows (1986), the feature film directed by Jimmy Murakami with a screenplay written by Briggs.  In 2017 Roger made his directorial debut for cinema with Ethel and Ernest.  The film was adapted from Briggs’ tender graphic novel about his parents.

Børge Ring

     The legendary Danish-born Dutch animator Børge Ring needs no introduction.  After working in the industry for many years he turned to directing in 1978.  His first film, Oh My Darling, was nominated for an Oscar.  In 1984 he did win the Oscar for Anna and Bella.  Børge passed away on 29 December 2018 at the age of 97.

John Schnepp

     Jon Schnepp, best known for directing 34 episodes of Metalocalypse about the adventures of the global hit death metal band Dethklok, passed away on 19 July 2018.  He was honored with a screening of a 12-minute excerpt Metalocalypse, The Curse of Dethklok.

Marek Serafinski

     Polish animator, director, and producer Marek Serafinski frequently referred to social themes in his films giving them a surrealistic, grotesque form that merged absurd situational comedy with tragedy.  His 1990 film, La Course, won the Grand Prix in Leipzig and a Special Award at Annecy.  In 2004 he established Serafinski Studio. Annecy paid tribute to Serafinski with a screening of Rok (Year) made shortly after his death by his wife Malgorzata Bosek-Serafinska.  The 11-minute film, dedicated to the memory of her husband, is a graphic and sound diary created from waste paper collected from everyday life.  They are labels, tickets, and cigarette packages from one chain smoker.  Marek passed away on 12 February 2017.

Will Vinton

     The name Will Vinton and stop motion go hand in hand.  Founding his own studio, he directed Rip Van Winkle in 1978 along with several other short films.  In 1985 he took on the herculean task of a feature film, The Adventures of Mark Twain.  Active in the advertising world, Vinton literally put the California raisin industry on the map with his famous advertisement of Claymation raisins dancing to Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine.  Will passed away on 4 October 2018.

Rosto

     The renowned Dutch animator, musician, and innovator Rosto passed away on 7 March 2019.  I am not going to write a long piece about him because I wrote a lengthy obituary on my blog shortly after his death.  I will say that he was a one of a kind genius – scriptwriter, director, animator, and art director of his own work to name just a few of his talents.  He was also the heart of his music group The Wreckers.  Most of all he was a generous giver of his talents and time to his many friends.  I feel fortunate to count myself among them and I miss Rosto.

     Tonight, when you look up in the sky, remember that there are 7 more great animators shining up there.

                                                                                 MIFA

     All of the screenings and events do not take place around the festival center, the Bonlieu.  MIFA, the festival market arm, is like another world.  This year MIFA set a record attendance with 4,100 badge holders from 82 countries.  Cypress, Costa Rica, and Jamaica were represented for the first time.  It used to take me half a day to go through MIFA but now I find myself spending more and more of my time there since so many events are held there.  The National Film Board of Canada has even moved its press conference from the Bonlieu to the very large MIFA pavilion.

Michael Fukushima, Executive Producer at National Film Board of Canada and Animation Historian Michael Fukushima, Executive Producer at National Film Board of Canada and Animation Historian Giannalberto Bendazzi  at the NFB press conference at the NFB press conference

     Along with the masterclasses, conferences, and studio focuses, MIFA pitches have become an important part of the festival.  Projects selected for the pitches must be unpublished and in the first phase of development.  They are divided into 5 categories:  feature films, short films, TV series and specials, interactive creations and transmedia, and in 2015 Animation du Monde which targets projects from countries where animation is an emerging art form was added.  Of the 498 projects submitted this year only 37 were selected so the competition was quite strong.  The selected pitches received free MIFA accreditation and a one day workshop led by animation experts to learn pitching skills. They also had their project seen by potential co-producers and financial investors who are in the audience.  19 awards ranging from cash prizes and post-production resources to animation residencies were up for grabs.

     The MIFA Campus has also become a major event.  Formed in 2017, it invites students and young professionals starting out in the industry to take part in sessions given by seasoned professionals.  The sessions are designed to help them gain knowledge and find out about training programs and residencies, meet with studio recruiters, and learn how to move into the animation market.  This year Nora Twomey of Breadwinner fame was the mentor for the MIFA Campus, becoming the first woman to do so.  The previous two mentors were Guillermo del Toro and Richard Williams.

                                                                                  BUMMERS

     Now that I have talked about the good stuff at Annecy this year, a bit about the bad stuff.  With over 12,000 animation people there representing everything from independent animators, producers and studio heads to journalists, there just aren’t enough theater seats and screening room space, so getting tickets for what you want to see has become very difficult and frustrating.  Also, the city of Annecy isn’t equipped to handle 12,000 people at one time so finding a place to stay is becoming harder and harder and increasingly expensive.  Unfortunately, I don’t really see any solution to these problems because Annecy is the largest festival and animation market in the world and everyone wants to be there.

     Now for the Really REALLY UGLY!  Playmobile the Movie was the festival opening night “spectacle”!

Playmobile, the Movie

     With all of the wonderful feature films out there, not to mention the beautiful animation from this year’s featured country, how could the festival insult the intelligence of its audience of animation professionals by showing us a film that lacks any wit, charm, or spark?  The sappy, sentimental separated sibling’s story was basically one long product placement for Playmobile. 

     The movie is obviously aimed at small children, but it is so bad that I wouldn’t show it to a six-year-old.  It would insult their intelligence.  I have never seen an opening night audience at Annecy get up and leave in the middle of a film, but they did leave in droves this year.  I realize Annecy is about business and money, but there are much better commercial movies out there that are at least watchable.  Rotten Tomatoes gave Playmobile the Movie barely one star (24%).

                                                                       THE SOCIAL SCENE

    Now back to the Good! There are always a lot of social events at Annecy.  One of my favorites every year is the German party.  The event is co-hosted by MDG Filmforderug Baden Wurttemberg, The Stuttgart International Trickfilm Festival, FMX, The Animation Production Day, German Films, The German Short Film Association, and Dok Leipzig.   The party takes place at a lovely restaurant down the lake with a sumptuous buffet and tables scattered around the green lawn overlooking the lake.  It is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the festival and catch up on the latest news with friends.

The German picnic

     Each year I look forward to Shelly Page’s picnic.  Shelly is an animation talent consultant and knows everyone.  This year Tom and Pat Sito were at Annecy and Shelly’s picnic was the perfect place for a chat with them.  Tom was at the festival to promote his latest book Eat, Drink, Animate – An Animator’s Cookbook featuring receipts from luminaries of the animation community along with lots of photos and stories.  You can read a full review of the book elsewhere on my blog. 

With Vilnis Kalnaellis, Bill Plympton, Pat Seto, Reinis Kalnaellis, and Tom Seta at Shelly's picnic

     The Cartoon Network party at MIFA was held via the new platform out over the lake.  The VIP area was the place on Thursday to run into everyone over yummy food and drink.  The platform over the lake was very impressive.  It was 1,500m square with a 300 seat conference room. 

The Cartoon Network party

Champagne flowed at the Nordic brunch, The Ukrainian party featured vodka in the park, the Belgian reception had love desserts and wine, and the Croatian celebration had live music courtesy of Nik, The Popovic Brothers, and Zagreb Festival director Daniel Suljic playing and that was just a few of the many parties we attended during the week.

Nik, Daniel Suljic, and the Popovic Brothers playing at the Croatian party

     The big event on Saturday, aside from the awards ceremony, of course, was our picnic.  As always there were copious amounts of food and drink.  The Squiggly rounders game, which was initiated at the picnic years ago by Joanna Quinn, was hosted this year by animator and British Olympic volleyball team member Katie Aaron and Karrot Studio (Sarah & Duck, etc.) founder Jamie Badminton.  The trophy awarded to the most valuable rounders team play was donated by Joanna Quinn.  Joanna says that she hopes to finish her latest film in the Beryl series in time to submit it to Annecy in 2020 and be at the picnic to officiate herself next year.

Nik playing with Milivoj and Veljko Popovic at our picnic

     Rain had been threatening all during the picnic.  When it came time for the traditional paddleboat race which signals the official end of our picnic, the wind was beginning to come up and dark clouds were looming.  A few people were able to get boats, but unfortunately, most of the boat concessions closed down. We had a very small race this year.  As the racing competitors came around the island and back to the dock it was obvious that a big storm was about to settle in and rain it did.  With everyone’s help, we had everything cleaned up by the time it started to sprinkle. Luckily we had a full afternoon of picnic before the rain.

     I want to thank Laurence Ythier, Head of Media Relations, her staff, and the press room volunteers for being so helpful and making my job much easier.  You can read more about this year’s festival and find out about submitting your film to the 2020 edition at www.annecy.org

     The 2020 edition will take place 15 to 20 June and submissions are now being accepted.


Festival Awards

Feature films   

  • Crystal of the feature film

    I lost my body

    I lost my body

  • Mention of the jury

    Buñuel in the laberinto de las tortugas

    Buñuel in the laberinto de las tortugas

  • Public Prize / First

    I lost my body

    I lost my body

  • Contrechamp Award

    Away

    Away

  Short films   

  • Crystal of the short film

    Memorable

    Memorable

  • Jury Prize

    Tio Tomás - A contabilidade dos dias

    Tio Tomás - A contabilidade dos dias

  • Jury Mention Equal - Special Mention for Social Reach

    My Generation

    My Generation

  • Jury Mention Equal - Special Mention for the Power of the Screenplay

    Drive

    Drive

  • "Jean-Luc Xiberras" Prize for the first work

    deszcz

    deszcz

  • Audience Award

    Memorable

    Memorable

  • "Off-Limits" film award

    Dont know what

    Dont know what

  TV and control films   

  • Crystal for a TV production

    Panic in the village "Agricultural Fair"

    Panic in the village

  • Jury Prize for a TV series

    The Perfume of Iraq "The Cowboy of Fallujah"

    The Perfume of Iraq

  • Jury Prize for a special TV

    The good life

    The good life

  • Crystal for a control film

    Ted-Ed "Accents"

    Ted-Ed

  • Jury Prize

    #TakeOnHistory "Wimbledon"

    #TakeOnHistory

  Graduation films   

  • Crystal of the graduation film

    Dcera

    Dcera

  • Jury Prize

    Rules of Play

    Rules of Play

  • Mention of the jury

    These Things in My Head - Side A

    These Things in My Head - Side A

  VR   

  • Crystal of the best VR work

    Gloomy Eyes

    Gloomy Eyes

  Special prices   

  • Annecy City Award

    Son of the Sea

    Son of the Sea

  • Mention André-Martin for a French short film

    flow

    flow

  • André-Martin Award for a French short film

    My jukebox

    My jukebox

  • André-Martin Award for a French feature film

    The lawsuit against Mandela and the others

    The lawsuit against Mandela and the others

  • Vimeo Staff Pick Award

    A Year Along the Geostationary Orbit

    A Year Along the Geostationary Orbit

  • Gan Foundation Prize for Dissemination

    Josep

    Josep

  • Prize for the best original music, with the support of SACEM, in the short films category

    Tio Tomás - A contabilidade dos dias

    Tio Tomás - A contabilidade dos dias

  • Prize for the best original music, with the support of SACEM, in the feature film category

    Buñuel in the laberinto de las tortugas

    Buñuel in the laberinto de las tortugas

  • FIPRESCI Award

    Tadpole

    Tadpole

  • CANAL + Young Audience Award

    Big Wolf & Little Wolf

    Big Wolf & Little Wolf

  • Young Audience Award

    Sarkan

    Sarkan

  • Junior Jury Award for a graduation film

    Dcera

    Dcera

  • Junior Jury Award for a short film

    Memorable

    Memorable

  • Festival Festivals Award - Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region / In partnership with Digital Lights & Short Wick

    Girl in the Hallway

    Girl in the Hallway

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