This year’s Annecy International Animation Film Festival looks to break records with a wider international reach and greater studio participation than ever before. Already set to overtake last year’s attendance, the French lakeside fest, runs June 11-17 and had run up 13,300 guests by late May — among them a U.S. delegation more than 700 strong.
“[This year marks] the most important U.S. presence ever at Annecy,” says artistic director Marcel Jean. “We’re taking in historical players such as Disney, DreamWorks and Pixar who will still come, as well as global platforms such as Netflix, Paramount, and Warner Bros. Discovery. And [we’re welcoming] a number of big titles.”
Disney, celebrating its 100th anniversary over the course of the year, plans a special screening of “Fantasia 2000” before offering Annecy’s famously boisterous and youthful crowd a first look at the upcoming animated musical “Wish.” Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Discovery will present behind-the- scenes peeks at animated features “The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim” and “Batman Azteca” with creators in tow, as DreamWorks previews “Trolls Band Together” and Netflix world premieres the Annapurna-produced, Blue Sky-pickup project “Nimona.”
And while some Paramount execs will be on hand to kick off a work-in-progress screening of the very nearly finished “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem,” other colleagues will hold down the fort at Paramount’s first-ever stand in Annecy’s Animation Film Market (MIFA).
Among the full range of panels, pitch sessions, masterclasses, market screenings and other MIFA activities, Variety will be hosting a panel called Breaking the Borders of Animation. The discussion, moderated by Variety chief film critic Peter Debruge, features insights from Nora Twomey, co-founder of Cartoon Saloon and director of “My Father’s Dragon”; Latifa Ouaou, exec VP of Paramount and Nickelodeon Animation; Mike Rianda, director of Oscar-nominated hit “The Mitchell vs. the Machines”; Spela Cadez, director of “Steakhouse” and co-founder Finta Film; and Jeff Rowe, director of the upcoming “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem.” They’ll discuss the impact of the new wave of technology and creativity on the future of the art form.
“We’re not simply in the business of buying and selling programming,” says festival head Mikael Marin. “The Annecy Film Market represents the whole value chain, from schools to platforms, to animation studios, production companies, film commissions and technology. For us, it was important that [the majors] also be present, to take full advantage of the whole event.
“The market has always been open to a wide range of talent,” Marin continues. “Including for students. Only, up until now, there was never a spot to really meet with U.S. studios, to really engage with them on a more substantial basis. So we’re thrilled to do so with Paramount this year, and maybe it will give other studios ideas as well.”
This year sees growth across the board, with delegations from Canada and Spain vastly expanding their market footprints — reflecting the surging animation industries in both countries — while new entrants like Thailand join the mart. On the festival side, Annecy will screen 23 features in two official competitions, while boasting a TV competition, and several Works in Progress screenings — putting forward a selection so jam-packed the festival had to add an extra day.
Features competing for Annecy’s top prize include the ambitious sci-fi thriller “Mars Express” from director Jeremie Perin, the Cannes-lauded “Chicken for Linda!” from filmmakers Chiara Malta and Sébastien Laudenbach, and “The Inventor,” a stop-motion co-production about the life of Leonardo da Vinci written and co-directed by Disney vet (as well as “The Lion King” and “Ratatouille” co-scribe) Jim Capobianco, produced in France and Ireland, and led by the voice cast of Daisy Ridley, Marion Cotillard and Stephen Fry.
Filmmakers Guillermo del Toro and Jorge R. Gutierrez (“The Book of Life”) will join a 250+ participant delegation — including a significant number of female creatives and representatives from the Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE) — for a spotlight on animation from Mexico, Annecy’s guest country of honor, while the festival also showcases several queer-themed projects, conferences and masterclasses as part of a program called Animation, Pride and Diversity.