The Animation Film Feast By Luis Salvado

in 28th Annecy International Animated Film Festival

by Luis Salvado

For animation lovers, the Festival International du Film d’Animation, which takes place each year in the enchanting French city of Annecy, is absolute heaven. It is, undisputedly, the greatest animation festival on the planet, a place where students and fans rub elbows with some of the most legendary animators from all over the world; where professionals from every country present their latest films and try to get financing for future projects; where the studios discover and recruit fresh new talents, and, especially, where the audience can see the most creative motion pictures being made today (it’s often acknowledged that the animation is the only medium whose limits are only those of the imagination of the moviemaker); and get a chance to discover some of the most beautiful masterpieces in motion picture history, whether they were made with cells, computers or in stop-motion, with puppets, sand, metal pins or oil paintings, by the gargantuan teams of the Disney studios or the more modest living room of an anonymous Latvian artist.

The 29th edition of the festival, that took place between the 6th and the 12th of June, certainly met the expectations of all those animation buffs who made the ‘pilgrimage’ to Annecy, located near the French frontier to Switzerland. The official selection had more than 200 films, between short-subjects, feature films, television films, graduation films, commissioned films and internet films. A lot of first time directors have their first taste of success there, and this year movies like the Dutch Vent, by Erik van Shaaik, the French/Belgium Din (Chahut), by Gilles Cuvelier, and the American A Buck’s Worth, by Tatia Rosenthal, garnered the public and critical reception that usually precedes solid careers in animation. Other already famous filmmakers reveal new facets of their talent: in 2005, it was time for the rediscovery of John Canemaker, a leading animation historian whose filmmaking talents, already evident in a lot of small and mainly experimental films, exploded with the autobiographical The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation, a cathartic experience in which animation is used as a way of communicating thoughts and emotions, sometimes in an abstract manner, about the turbulent relation of the author with his father, in a movie which is simultaneously devastating and redemptive.

But the Annecy festival is much more than the official selection: there are about 6,000 professionals accredited, from journalists to top executives from major studios. And everyone seems to be infected with a profound love of the medium you will hardly find in any other festival. In each and every screening, for instance, numerous balloons and paper airplanes fly freely through the theatre and the reactions to the presentations and the movies is exceptionally strong, from thunderous applause to vocal reactions, without ever bordering on disrespect. Like animation itself, there’s a climate of permanent party, lunacy, wonderment and discovery.

Outside the official selection, the 2005 edition of the Annecy Animation Film Festival presented two major motion pictures in their European premieres: the North-American Madagascar, from Dreamworks, directed by Eric Darnell, who was there to present the movie, and Tom McGrath, and the Japanese Appleseed, directed by Shinji Aramaki, who was also present. The first is a computer animated film in which a lion, a zebra, a giraffe and a hippopotamus from New York’s Central Park’s Zoo have to experience the real hardships of living in the forest. The main triumph of the film is the visual conception of the characters, much more cartoony and expressive than the usual photorealistic attempts of 3D animated movies, and the excellent art direction. The story wears a little bit too thin in the second half, but this is easily the best animated feature film of the Dreamworks cannon after Chicken Run and Shrek. Appleseed is an adaptation of the famous manga of Masamune Shirow, author of the Ghost in the Shell manga, and revolves around the usual plots of a lot of science fiction manga and anime: the fusion of man and machine, the dangers of unrestrained technology, the imminent destruction of the human race and the suppression and consequent explosion of human emotions, all peppered with lots of mechas, frenetic action and bloodshed, a strong female lead and very strong visuals.

Other presentations included a Pixar discussion of their short films and an extremely funny making of Blue Sky Studio’s Robots by producer Jerry Davies, and of the recent projects of Aardman Animations, by the studio’s founders Peter Lord and David Sproxton. The audience was treated to some scenes of the long awaited Wallace and Gromit feature, Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-rabbit, to be released in the end of 2005 and that Lord designates as a ‘vegetarian horror movie’, and of a computer animated film called Flushed Away, also by Aardman, in which the main characters, who are mice, retain the same goofy grins and expressions that made the success of the Bristol-based studios.

Tributes to the legendary Disney animators Frank Thomas and Joe Grant, who died this year, a retrospective of the brilliant animator Yuri Norstein, and others on the movies of the National Film Board of Canada were other highlights of the festival,

The more professional side of the festival takes place at the so-called MIFA, the Marché International du Film d’Animation, or the international animated film market. This year, the most surprising discovery was the fact that there are about 20 feature length feature films actually being produced in France. As recently as 1998, Michel Ocelot’s Kirikou (Kirikou et la Sorcière) was the only French feature film released that year, and even then it was an anomaly in a country that rarely produced animated feature films.

As always, Annecy made good on its reputation of being the greatest animated film festival in the world. And this will be nothing compared to what is expected to happen next year, when the festival will celebrate it’s 30 th edition and it’s 50 th anniversary. It will be an animation party no movie lover will want to miss.