Discoveries: The Italian Flavor By Luís Salvado

in 30th Annecy International Animated Film Festival

by Luis Salvado

Every year, in the beginning of June, the French city of Annecy becomes the most important place on the planet as far as animated cinema is concerned. The town is home to the most celebrated animation film festival in the world that celebrated its 30th edition and its 50th year in 2006. As the largest of its kind the Annecy Film Festival is a treasure trove of discoveries waiting to be found but has such a dimension and variety of offerings that it’s impossible to see everything: exhibitions, conferences, presentations, films in the official competitions, previews and retrospectives.

Italian animation was the guest of honor with two Italian films in competition and the retrospective with some of the best films in the history of Italian animation like the exceptional shorts by classic filmmakers like Bruno Bozzetto, Guido Manuli and Emanuele Luzzati, a selection of movies from the new generation of Italian animators. There also was a special for animation buffs and historians with restored versions of the first two feature length Italian animated films in color and released in 1949: The Rose of Baghdad (La Rosa di Bagdad) by Anton Gino Domeneghini, and The Dynamite Brothers (I Fratelli Dinamite) by Nino Pagot. Osvaldo Cavandoli, director of the delightful series The Line (La Linea), was a special guest of the festival, and received such a huge standing ovation in the opening ceremony that he couldn’t suppress a few tears.

Another exceptional retrospective was called “When the Animation Meets the Living” and dealt with films in which technology enabled a true connection between live action and animation. It was a true succession of marvels from the early days with from The Haunted Hotel (1907) by pioneer James Stuart Blackton to the new possibilities of computer imagery like academy award winner Ryan by Chris Landreth, not forgetting masterworks of Norman McLaren, Max Fleischer and Raoul Servais with techniques like pixilation or rotoscopy.

In the special previews two movies stood out heads and shoulders above the rest: the European preview of the sensational Cars, another classic from Pixar directed by the maestro himself, John Lasseter, and the brilliant French movie Azur and Asmar (Azur et Asmar) by Michel Ocelot, director of the animated hit Kirikou and the Sorceress (Kirikou et la sorcière). Visually absolutely stunning, both pictures are serious eulogies for tolerance and understanding for our fellow men and for our own way of life.

In a festival filled with events and the possibilities to rub elbows with giants (Tim Burton was there to receive a career award as were comics legends Quino and Moebius), the official selection continues to be the heart of the festival. As usual the films were as varied in tone and content as they were in visuals and techniques. It’s symbolic that the first film in competition was Tears in the Wind (Hiroshi) by Bretislav Pojar, a man who won the prize for best short film in Annecy in 1972, 34 years ago. Seasoned animator Joanna Quinn was also back at Annecy after winning the special jury prize in 1987 with the hilarious Dreams and Desires — Family Ties about a woman obsessed with the moviemaking process. But some of the most striking pictures came from newcomers. There was the Swedish Never Like the First Time! (Aldrig som Forsta Gangen!) by Jonas Odell which depicts the first sexual experiences of four different people, with opposing results and different styles of animation. There was the Spanish Minotauromaquia, Pablo in the Labyrinth (Minotauromaquia, Pablo en el Laberinto) by Juan Pablo Etcheverry, made in claymation putting Pablo Picasso in a labyrinth where he is confronted by pieces of his artwork. And there was French Tragic Story with Happy Ending (Histoire tragique avec une fin heureuse) by Regina Pessoa, a visually remarkable and redemptive meditation on feeling different from the rest of the world and understanding that the things that make you different are really the things that make you special.

Besides the quality of the programs and retrospectives and the chance to contact the most important professionals in the field, there are three more reasons to keep coming back to Annecy: the enchantment of the town itself, surrounded by mountains and with a beautiful lake, the incredibly enthusiastic reactions of the audiences and the truly exceptional host and artistic director. Serge Bromberg is a professional who seems more excited by what’s going on than everyone else and whose talents seem to be endless: for instance, in the opening ceremony after introducing a recently discovered silent film by Charley Bowers he went to the piano and played the accompaniment music!