ANNECY — Bathed by gorgeous sun, the Annecy International Animation Film Festival and MIFA market came of age as a major industry and artistic event last week at the fairy-tale looking town nestling in the laps of the French Alps.
Takeaways from this year’s extraordinary edition, which ran June 11-17:
Annecy Blasts Attendance Records
The Annecy Festival and MIFA market smashed prior attendance figures to smithereens, recording 15,820 accreditations, 20% up on last year’s then all-time record of 13,200. That reflects “the extraordinary dynamism of the animation industry; more and more countries producing: our support of a lot of talents in emerging countries who want to come, of course; the [year-round outreach] in terms of meetings, and the official selection,” Mickaël Marin, CEO of the Festival and MIFA organizer CITIA, told Variety. “The festival was a great success, in its record numbers of attendance, exhibition booths and companies and dynamism and sensation of an extraordinary energy,” agrees Olivier Lelardoux, Blue Spirit Studio.
Global streaming services, Hollywood and international studios and indie producers sneak peeked or talked up at this year’s Festival a plethora of crafted, engaging, bold or sometimes stunning new shows, from Netflix’s anticipated “Nimona” and the alternatively exquisite and brutal “Blue Eye Samurai” to Warner Bros. Animation’s “Lord of the Rings: War of Rohirrims,” Banijay’s “Shasha & Milo,” Sony’s “Fixed” and, on another scale, enthralling art pic animated features at Annecy’s Residency, such as the handcrafted 2D, rich-colored “The Bird Kingdom.”
Yet a Contrasting Context
Yet later last year and again in early 2o23, multiple streamer animation titles, in development or production, film and TV, have been pulled or put on hold. So some execs left Annecy with mixed feelings. The Festival’s dynamism contrasted with “the state of the global economy and many studios and producers in the Western world who are battling declining orders or awaiting greenlights,” says one producer. Nobody knows how the streamers cost control will play out. For producers or studios largely dependent on streamer orders, it is a large concern.
So, Annecy’s Big Question
Annecy’s big question was often phrased as a big hope, made in reference to the most talked-about movie at Annecy, unpacked at a panel: “Across the Spider-Verse.” Annecy wound down on June 15 as the Sony Pictures Animation movie punched $426.0 million, passing “Into the Spider-Verse’s” total gross of $384 million after just 12 days of release. “”
“Right now, things like ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ are this Trojan horse – they are taking a well-known IP and using that to break artistic boundaries and move the medium forward. My hope is that the studios will take these kinds of risks also with original ideas,” Jeff Rowe, co-director of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” said at a Variety panel at Annecy. The film was the talk of Annecy, not just on panels but even in ticket office queues. So right now a lot is riding on two titles at Annecy: Netflix’s “Nimona” and Rowe’s own “Mutant Mayhem,” for Paramount-Nickelodeon movies. If they punch a large audience on Netflix or big theatrical box office for Paramount-Nickelodeon, that could help to build game-changing momentum.
An Exciting New Sandpit: Creating Something New Out of a Global Mix
“A lot of our shows are a sort of western genre – action thrillers or dramas. But the question is whether we can also create this other zone, which maybe has a L.A. writer and maybe a studio from Japan or not from the U.S. which has an influence of anime in this new form but there are also some unique things that are not really copying,” John Derderian, Netflix head of animation series, told Variety at Annecy.
Many of the most exciting shows at Annecy – “Samurai,” “Rohirrims,” “Sasha” – take this new route, and nothing excited executives more than talking about it. “Blue Eye Samurai” is”the convergence of different cultures of animation cinematography and live action cinematography. It’s anime, but not exactly anime. So it’s a new world opening up now for the animation,” says Lelardoux, whose Blue Spirit provides studio service animation on the series. “For a long time, we’ve had single cultures, primarily the U.S. and Japan. Thanks to the streamers we’ve now savoured many different cultures. Our goal is to meld our knowledge and Korean culture in a show which we then bring worldwide,” adds Benoit Di Sabatino, CEO of Banijay Kids & Family of “Shasha & Milo,” produced by Banijay-owned Zodiak Kids & Family France and South Korea’s Pingo Entertainment.
A Shout-Out for Chris Meledandri
In 2010, Pierre Coffin stood on the terrace of Annecy’s Hotel Imperiale in the late afternoon on the day when “Despicable Me,” his feature film debut, was due to world premiere and reflected that in a few hours he’d know if he had what it takes to be a film director. Produced by Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment, “Despicable Me” played to a rousing reception at Annecy and went on to gross $543.2 million worldwide. It broke in Hollywood’s habit of world premiering big animation plays at Annecy, many from Illumination. On June 14, Meledandri was presented with Annecy’s Golden Ticket Lifetime Award. “The collaboration between Illumination and Annecy has been a determining factor in the Festival’s recent development,” said Marcel Jean, Annecy’s artistic director. Rarely have awards been so deserved.
Annecy’s Oscar Frontrunner
This year, one short leads the pack: the sexually charged “27,” from Hungary’s Flora Anna Buda, director of Berlinale 2019 Teddy Award winner “Entopia.” Produced by Miyu Productions – behind so much that’s exciting coming out of France these days – and Hungary’s Boddah, the 2D film turns on the sexual fantasies of Alice, 27, who has been forced to move home to her parent’s place, “27” won a Cannes Festival Palme d’Or, and on Saturday Annecy’s Cristal for best short. “It’s just incredible that a woman director, Anna Buda, topped a short film category which also had live action shorts,” Coleman enthuses about the Cannes win.
New Market Drivers
Major broadcasters, the BBC and France Télévisions, were talking up their streaming services at Annecy. These used to be treated more as a complement to their linear offering. But now it’s increasingly the other way round: 2023 may be the year of the pivot. Terrestrial broadcasters especially are really starting to focus on their SVOD platforms as a key part of their business and revenue streams. Already at the Cannes Festival, such streaming services were creating a new ancillary for theatrical film distributors. They are now making a decisive impact on the animation business as well.
A Sector Still of Many Moving Parts
“We are not quite after the post-COVID period, with the streamers’ reorganisation and restructuring of the market, but my sensation is that we are ending that. We’re beginning to see the start of a new cycle,” says Benoit Di Sabatino, CEO of Banijay Kids & Family. The reorganisation is also yielding new market opportunities. Warner Bros. Animation and DC are opening up to partner producers in international, yielding one of the big hits at Annecy: “Aztec Batman,“ made in partnership with Mexican powerhouse Anima Estudios and Chatrone. At Annecy, a studio focus announced the first DC title to be made out of Europe: “Beast Boy: Lone Wolf.”
Could the Center of Innovation Swing to International?
“The level of MIFA feature film pitches was just extraordinary,” says Eleanor Coleman, at Blue Spirit Studio, citing “Heirloom,” from India’s Upamanyu Bhattacharyya, and “Mfinda,” as well as the gorgeous ground-breaking musical “Ogresse,” and the top prize winner “Le Petit Cavale” (“On The Run”). She also predicted that African sci-fi anthology “Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire,” presented at Annecy by Disney and South Africa’s Triggerfish, will make “such a boost to non-Western animation.”It’s a first stepping stone to creating a truly diverse offer,” says Coleman.
Mexico’s “Aztec Batman” was one standout in Annecy’s Works in Progress this year, sluiced by Meso-American mythology and a sense of realism. So Batman himself has “No big jaw, no big shoulders. Slimmer. A little less Schwarzenegger, a little more Bruce Lee,” director Juan Meza-León said at what Variety described as a “riotous” presentation at Annecy.
Adding a Contrechamp competition in 2018, Annecy’s feature film official selection is far better equipped to underscore innovation, whether from “singular approaches to animation” in the official feature film competition, Marcel Jean argues – instancing “Sirocco,” “Mars Express,” “Four Souls of Coyote,” China’s “Art College 1994,” and Japan’s “The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes” and “Lonely Castle in the Mirror” – as well as “experimental or exploratory films” in Contrechamp, he adds.
Hungary: A Rising Star
Doubled in feature competition titles, Annecy can now take note of new production forces. One this year was Hungary: “4 Souls of Coyote” walked off with Annecy’s Jury Prize; “27” won its best short Cristal, the second year running Hungary has taken that plaudit, after 2022’s ‘Amok’ by Balázs Turai. In all, Hungary had four titles in official competition or Contrechamp, more than the U.S. or Japan. “We noticed Hungary’s strength back in 2016 and 2017 in Annecy’s graduation film section. What we’re seeing today is the result of that,” says Jean. “We’re going to see more interesting content from Eastern Europe,” Coleman predicts.
France, Spain, Catalonia: The New Ebullience
“One of the things that we’re really excited about is the amount of talent in Europe, that’s just getting better and better,” Sam Register, president, Warner Bros. Animation, Cartoon Network Studios and Hanna-Barbera Studios Europe, told Variety at Annecy.
One example: French broadcasters Canal+, France Télévisions and Gulli have presented their animation lineups for years at Annecy. Traditionally, titles have been largely solid plays with one or two standouts.
No more. This year round, all three operators invited slates brimming with invention and class, such as, just in the case of Canal+, “Ki & Hi,” based on a best-selling manga from France’s Top-5 YouTuber Kevin Tran and billed as the very first Japanese-style anime comedy series targeting 6-10s.
Spain, and more especially Catalonia, have animation scenes scenes that are exploding. It no coincidence that France, Spain’s central government and Catalonia have all established special support mechanisms for animation, France’s as part of its multi-billion dollar 2030 program. Money talks.
Anime is now like a “second language” for animators outside Japan, David Jesteadt, Gkids CEO, told Variety. The biggest animation title at Annecy this year, was anime: “Rohirrims.” Gkids itself announced just before Annecy that it was joining NLite to produce “Mfinda,” billed as a first Afro-anime film, and during Annecy the acquisition for North America of the music-driven anime feature “Blue Giant.” Anime influence can appear in the most unlikely places. In one scene in DC’s “My Adventures With Superman,” – a charming and inclusive romcom riff on the IP featuring a fresh-faced Clark, an Asian-American Lois and Black Jimmy Olsen, sneak peeked at Annecy – Clark in Superman garb jumps into his flat via a back window as Lois rings at the front-door. The view outside seen through the window sports the serene natural tones of anime. The whole series in fact has an anime cast.
Guillermo del Toro confirmed at Annecy that his stop-motion project with Netflix, “The Buried Giant,” will take another four or even five years and that he’s co-writing a Mexican stop-motion feature for director Karla Castañeda (“The Waterwheel”). Jorge R. Gutiérrez announced a new limited series with Netflix, drawing on the Meso-American culture of “Maya and the Three.” As for the Mexican tribute, “it was as if Jorge and also our Beloved ‘Book of Life’ exploded with joy…spattering throughout the fest. Such incredible young talent emerging there,” said Chuck Peil at Reel FX Animation Studios. Variety profiled 10 emerging Mexican talents, but it could have included a score or more.
Annecy Rejigs the Animation Market Calendar?
“We have Mipcom, the key event of the year, and Kidscreen, Annecy and Cartoon Forum – almost one major animation event every three months. Given the level of Annecy, the question is whether MipTV might not be so much of a must-attend for those in the animation business as it used to be, especially as companies are becoming more selective and watching budgets, but maybe things will change again in the future,” says David Michel, president of Cottonwood Media, a subsidiary of Federation Studios. He was not the only executive at Annecy to voice this sentiment.
Annecy’s opening ceremony, with a show of solidarity and communal defiance three days after a crazed knife attack in Annecy. Anything to do with Guillermo del Toro, who came for the Mexico tribute as guest country of honor, and delivered a master class which had its audience in stitches at which he declared that he would shoot two more action films and then just make stop-motion. The festival’s biggest risk bet, however, says Marin, was Le Campus, a new dedicated training venue near the Impérial Palace. It worked very well. One of Marin’s main memories of Annecy 2023 was seeing young people, students, happy, happy to meet people happy, to see films, talking together with this energy I thought to myself: “O.K. It’s already a great industry and tomorrow it will be even better.”
Marta Balaga contributed to this article.
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