The World of Animation Festivals By Heikki Jokinen

in 31st Annecy International Animated Film Festival

by Heikki Jokinen

For animation Annecy is the festival. It is the oldest, the biggest and the most attended of all the animation festivals of the world. A prize in Annecy is a major achievement.

The number of accredited guests in this picturesque French city totalled 6 130 this year. This figure included some 300 accredited journalists from all corners of the world. On the top of these figures come thousands of other festival visitors.

The Annecy festival has roots as an animation programme in the Cannes film festival in late 1950’s. To create an independent profile it moved to Annecy in 1960. The beginning of the festival is closely joined together with the birth of Asifa, Association Internationale du Film d’Animation. This organisation founded in 1961 is still working as a global network of animation films..

The Annecy festival ran every second year until 1997. Some other festivals appeared, and mostly disappeared, too. The one that remained alive and well is the festival in Zagreb, Croatia, held on even years since 1972. Other older animation festivals still active are in Ottawa, Canada, (started 1976); annual Cinanima in Espinho, Portugal from the same year; the now annual Stuttgart, Germany, since 1982 and biannual Hiroshima, Japan, from 1984.

The boom in animation in the 1990’s hit the Annecy festival, too. It started already in 1985 Mifa, Marché International du Film d’Animation, a market and business place for animation. Traditionally very much art-orientated the festival became the meeting place for all those working with animation. This year, Mifa attracted 170 buyers and 280 exhibiting companies.

Like in every field of cinema all animation festivals have their own profile. Annecy is today the most important, and also a melting pot of all kinds of animation. The main competition programme of short films has kept the same qualifications: it focuses on animation as art.

As the selection committees are different every time, the spirit of the competition may vary. Some selection committees underline technical or visual brilliance, some content, and some other aspects. As a kind of crossroad of visual and cinematographic arts animation has many sides. Quite exactly ten per cent of the entries make it to the competitions in Annecy. This year the festival received 1 882 films and 182 were screened in the five competition programmes.

I joined the Annecy short film selection committee in 2005 and we saw more than 700 films choosing some 50 in the competition. The major animation festivals have usually the same practice to set up international selection committees. As animation is a now a major industry and no longer only a fringe art, the festivals are more or less adapting. Annecy decided this year to give more space to feature animation. Instead of the maximum five competition films before, it screened ten feature animation features in competition and some 20 outside the competition.

And how are the other animation festivals? The number of festivals is still growing rapidly as in the other fields of cinema, too. The World of animation is not very big; the same people know each other and attend various festivals. This keeps some kind of quality control working. A rip-off festival does not have good possibilities to get films and quests. Also Asifa has set it’s own festival criteria that ambitious festivals try to follow.

Perhaps the two other major animation festivals after Annecy are Stuttgart and Zagreb. Stuttgart turned also annually recently and is connected with the ambitious technology event Fmx. The festival is now looking for the same kind of crossbreeding of business and art that Annecy succeeded in reaching. Stuttgart is an audience festival, collecting tens of thousands of local audience. Still it keeps an ambitious artistic line in the short film competition. Moneywise Stuttgart has the biggest prizes, which attracts filmmakers, as well as the fact that the festival pays trips even for directors in the short film competition.

The Zagreb festival has survived all the serious times during the break up of Yugoslavia. It is an old fashioned festival in the good sense of the word; it has a lot of social programme for the quests and is an excellent place to meet other people. Zagreb also offers usually good historical retrospectives.

In Asia Hiroshima festival focuses on animation as art. It is also a warm-hearted festival with high level of hospitality and collects a large number of foreign visitors. Other major Asian festivals are Sicaf in Seoul, South Korea and Cicdaf in Changzhou, China. South Korea has a policy of supporting the culture industry, including cinema and animation, too. Sicaf has ambitious plans to become one of the major festivals of the world since it began in 1995. China is one of those traditional animation subcontracting countries that now wants to develop own production. Cicdaf is one part of this industrial strategy, supported both state and business. The annual festival is having its fourth edition.