The Cartoon Forum: More Advancements for Europe

by Marie Beardmore

1998 Cartoon Forum Catalog cover.

This was my first Cartoon Forum and something I'd been looking forward to attending for a long time. It didn't disappoint. Nestled in the Cyclades, the picturesque Greek island of Syros proved a perfect host for this, the ninth, Forum. For those who've never attended, Cartoon Forum is a four-day event organized by the Media Program Cartoon to facilitate the co-production of animation projects. It's unique in that it brings producers together with distributors and broadcasters offering them not only the chance to find funding but also get invaluable feedback from broadcasters, and more often than not, secure broadcasting partners. This is done through presentations which take the format of a screening and brief talk about the project, followed by feed back from the floor.

Presented Programming
The day starts with the croissant show where all 600 participants gather for a coffee and croissant and to see previews of the day's films. This year 70 projects were screened and presented to a record 600 participants. In case you're wondering, there are not 600 people at each screening; there are usually three screenings at the same time and then there's no compulsion to attend so people may have other meetings, decide to review their own presentation or simply take a breather. Of the 70 projects presented, 43, including Ethelbert the Tiger from Link Entertainment, Les Mars Brothers from France Animation, and Lisa from Happy Life, were assured of finalizing their budgets, with 20 out of the 43 (126 program hours) receiving guarantees of full finance in the short term, representing a total of 85,816607 ECU. Twenty-three other projects, including Penny Dreadful (Allegro Animation) and Pigeon Man (Millimages), have, at least according to their producers, an equally good chance of raising their finance within the next two years.

We may be returning to Greece soon...So enamored with the animation industry is Syros that the mayor has announced from now on it will host an annual animation event!

The success of an event like Cartoon depends on a workable structure so producers can get maximum benefit from the time they're allocated. Presentations are structured over half an hour which is time enough to outline the show, screen a brief pilot and then allow questions and comments from the floor.

Of all the shows presented, my personal favorite has to be 240, The First Hero of the Third Millennium, from Cromosoma. It's set on earth in 2020 AD where, following a drop in birth rates, a powerful multinational company launches a new product on the waiting world: 240, the first genetically engineered child. Delivered in an easy-open vacuum-packed container, the child has an IQ of 240, genius level, but is something of a couch potato. Another favorite was Sheeep from Hit Entertainment and produced by Ginger Baker through Grand Slamm Films, the producers of Kipper. Based on the book Sheep in Wolves Clothing by Satoshi Kitamura, it promises to be a delightful series based on the adventures of three young sheep, Hubert, Georgina and Gogol, who with the help of their cousin, a private detective by the name of Elliot Bah, solve mysteries, help out other animals and, in time honored tradition, have adventures where they try and escape from their adversary, the wolf.

The most successful of the business meetings were Planet Persheid from GUM Studios in Germany, and Mouth and Trousers from Cosgrove Hall Films in the U.K. Presentations of Mouth and Trousers and Grizzly Tales from Honeycomb Animation/Elephant (UK) attracted the highest number of investors and confirmed the market's interest in British creativity. French projects also scored highly with 14 of them confident in raising their budgets relatively soon. Plus, three French programs tied in fourth place in terms of audience attendance -- La Prophétie des Grenouilles (Folimage), Carnard à l'Extreme (Alphanim), and Crazy Cruise (Goldvision).

Of all the shows presented, a favorite was 240, The First Hero of the Third Millennium, from Cromosoma. © Cromosoma.

Other Announcements
At Syros, Cartoon also filled its role as industry platform announcing that there would be a Cartoon Forum for feature films to galvanize that sector of the industry. The event will bring together investors specifically interested in the theatrical market and will probably take place in Germany, Italy, or France, all of whom have offered to play host to the event which is likely to take place next year.

The other big announcement was the establishment of the European Federation of Animation Producers which was proposed by the four European syndicates and producers associations of France (SPFA), Spain (AEPA), Cartoon Italia (Italy), and PACT (UK). Each of these organizations has and is separately organizing to promote its country's animation industry, but sees the need for a Europe wide alliance to provide a cohesive structure and platform to address issues that are of concern to European producers, such as the issue of subsidy. For the first year this will be headed up by Paco Rodriguez, president of the Spanish producers association, AEPA.

The Golden Cartoon
The finale of Cartoon was the awarding of the Cartoon d'Or which went to Folimage's L'Enfant au Grelot (Charlie's Christmas). It's a double blessing for Folimage who had previously won the coveted award for The Monk and the Fish in 1995. L'Enfant au Grelot, a 26-minute film made by Jacques-Rémy Girerd, recounts the story of Charlie, a little orphan found by a Jacques Tati-like postman, who discovers he is the son of Father Christmas. A graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts (Lyon), Rémy Girerd created the Folimage studio in 1984 with a small group of like minded people. He's an author, director and producer of shorts and TV series and a member of the Academie des Arts et Techniques du Cinema. His illustrious career has included several awards; in 1988 he was awarded the César for Le Petit Cirque de Toutes les Coleurs, and now, ten years after directing children's short films, he's venturing into longer films like L'Enfant au Grelot. Currently, he's working on the script for a feature film The Frog's Prophecy, a project which gives a modern perspective to the Biblical story of the flood.

L'Enfant au Grelot / Charlie's Christmas by Jacques-Remy Girerd. © Folimage.

Charlie's Christmas was up against stiff competition for the Cartoon d'Or with one of the most favored contenders being Piet Kroon's T.R.A.N.S.I.T.; made on cels and with pencil on paper, the film presents a classic Twenties love tragedy as a puzzle for the audience to unravel. Also up for the award was Joanna Quinn's Famous Fred which, amongst other prizes, won the BAFTA Children's Award, the 1996 Best Animation Prize and the Grand Prize for Best TV Special at the Annecy Festival 1997. Meanwhile Charlie's Christmas, which won the prize for Best Film for Young People at the Stuttgart Festival and the prize for the Best TV Special at the Annecy Festival 1998, is being theatrically released in France and Belgium starting on October 14, 1998.

Future Changes?
Next year's event will be held at Cordoba in Spain. It will be interesting to see if there is any bending on the rigid exclusion of North American broadcasters. At this year's event both ITEL's chief executive Andrew MacBean and Charlie Caminada, Hit's sales director, made a case for opening up the event not just to North American broadcasters but to broadcasters globally. While everyone understands the caution by which such change should be approached it seems that there is a growing call to open up the event, on a controlled basis, and that if European producers hope to secure carriage across the Atlantic, there is a need to allow non-European broadcasters at least the opportunity of observing how European prouducers operate. The argument against is a genuine concern that once the event is opened up it will be swamped by non-European cash rich players. Let's hope that somehow a workable compromise can be reached. Watch this space.

P.S. So enamored with the animation industry is Syros that the mayor has announced from now on it will host an annual animation event!

Marie Beardmore is a London-based freelance journalist who specializes inwriting about the international animation industry. She is also developing her own animation projects which include a children's series for 4-9 year-olds and an animated sitcom.

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