Magazine, Issue 3.4, July 1998
Annecy's First Annual
by Buzz Potamkin
Annecy this year was, je n'est sais pas--how do
you Americans put it?--you know, well, just different. It didn't feel like
Annecy (not crowded enough), it didn't work like Annecy (in other words,
it was actually efficient for the most part), and with the absence of any
unified give-away T-shirt, it didn't really look like Annecy (although,
in the ages-old European tradition of the great unwashed mass of citoyens,
it did smell like Annecy). In fact, I think anyone who entered the Bonlieu
Theater or Imperial Hotel this year was whisked away to another location,
far from those dazzling memories of yesteryear; all the way to a Festival
and MIFA that will forever be changed by becoming the centerpiece for the
creation of the Euro-Studio.
Before I left New York for this trip, I had a chance discussion with an
old friend about the Annecy he knew 25 years ago or so. An Annecy that
was a window on the quirky world of animation, an Annecy that brought together
every other year the tightly knit but loosely organized artistes d'animation
for a chaotic week of film watching, gossip and good living. (His most
vivid memory is of being crushed as the then communist--and starved for
luxuries--Eastern Europeans stampeded over him to devour the capitalist
canapes at the annual picnic on an island in Lac d'Annecy.)
That Annecy is gone.
The marketplace--MIFA (acronym for the French version
of International Market for Animated Film)--has taken over. It is MIFA
that has pushed Annecy to be an annual, even at the cost of the festival's
ASIFA International accreditation. Before I am accused of being a hidebound
conservative of the worst kind, let me say that being an annual is not
all bad. It cuts down to 12 months the time it takes me to catch up with
people who live a few blocks or a cheap phone call away, it allows me to
ascertain more quickly which of the horde of shows "in production"
one year were never actually started, and it perks up my diet with Savoyard
cooking on a more regular schedule. And, not the least, it underscores
the way in which the center of the international animation business has
moved to Europe.
| Festival director Jean-Luc Xiberras, who
spent little time at the festival due to illness, made an appearance on
the MIFA floor, where he was warmly greeted by many delegates and friends.
Photo by Ron Diamond. © AWN.|
Those of you who remember my
thoughts on Annecy `97 (AWM, 7/97) will
not be surprised to read that my thoughts on Annecy `98 reflect the continuation
of this trend to Euro-Animation. The lower-than-last-year attendance of
Americans only underscored the obvious nature of MIFA as an Euro-Event,
and the focus on co-production within Europe became the main theme of the
conversations that surrounded every table in the bar and on the terrace
(when the weather allowed) at the Imperial Hotel, not to forget the $100
a plate lunches and dinners at the haute cuisine restaurants lining
the lake between Annecy and Talloires. (However, it is ironic that these
conversations did take place predominantly in English, even among Europeans,
or at least that's true for most of those I witnessed.)
And these conversations were more to-the-point than
in previous years, as the producers and distributors present at MIFA got
down to the serious discussion of picking each others' pockets (or the
pockets of each others' governments in most cases). And there was the problem.
| This year's festival brought together
two generations of animators. Pictured: Disney legend Joe Grant with recent
Oscar winner Jan Pinkava. |
Photo by Ron Diamond. © AWN.
Here is a composite of several conversations I had with dismayed French
producers: "Our European Community market is bigger than the U.S.,
our advertisers have money to spend, but the constant contention between
our national authorities over local content and production location makes
it very difficult to mount a pan-European show. We may make a French-content
show in France, with a Spanish co-distributor providing finance, and have
it be very successful in the ratings in France, but what does that mean
to someone watching the show in Spain? Plus the Spanish may make a Spanish-content
show that rates well there, and even have an English co-producer, but what
does that do for an audience in England? Our market is big, but your market
in the States is really the only `single market,' that the press and politicians
keep promising us here. We can make a show that is a success in one
country, or even two or three, but we still have to discover how to create
a show that will be a true European show in the way that your American
shows satisfy your large market in the States."
Which brings us back to the festival, and the search
for creative content. And this year it was a search. The annualization
of the Festival may not have caused a drop in the number of entries, but
the quality was not up to the standard of last year or `95. The commercialization
of the European animation industry has removed many of the better minds
and hands from the independent film arena, and the selection this year
was the proof of that pudding. However, this trend should now reverse,
and I for one have great hopes for the Festival next year (or perhaps the
| Jean-Luc Xiberras catches up with Annick
Teninge, who was assistant director of the Annecy festival before joining
AWN as general manager in 1996. |
Photo by Ron Diamond. © AWN.
And why should that trend reverse? Most American studios were not
only absent from MIFA, they have even abandoned for the most part the frenzied
search of previous festivals for Euro-talent to fill the no longer empty
chairs in Burbank, Phoenix and Florida. There is now a chance for Euro-talent
to stay in Europe, and make shows for the home market, even to aim for
the "single market" Euro-Show that is this year's Holy Grail.
The Euro-Show is a strong contender for the future of animation.
After many years of talent loss to this side of the Atlantic, the drain
is slowing, even reversing. The Euro-Studio can now become a reality, with
strong creative and production skills honed on the past decade's experience
of sub-contracting and co-producing with North American partners. The Euro-Exhibitors,
even those owned by US media conglomerates (Nick, Fox Kids, Cartoon Network,
etc.), are responding to the possibility of a pan-European creative synthesis,
and spend a fair amount of time and energy looking for Euro-Shows. "We're
Europeans, the network is European, we program for Europeans," says
Finn Arnesen, Cartoon Network's London-based VP Programming and Development,
"and we're out there looking for cartoons that have the unique flair
and style of European humor."
Mark my words. Before too long, the creative, audience and marketing
success that gets the cover of Time and Newsweek will be
the Euro-Show. While it is not an Euro-Show (it has solely English roots),
and it isn't animated, Teletubbies isn't far off the mark. But the
next South Park may well be Parc du Sud.
A list of this year's festival winners is also included in this issue.
Buzz Potamkin is an award-winning independent producer, best known for
The Berenstain Bears and Dr. Seuss. Before he escaped L.A.
for New York, he had been president of Southern Star Prods and then executive
vice president of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons.
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