The annual gathering of arguably the most prestigious international animation event in the world is nigh upon us in the lakeside village of Annecy, France.
For those in the animation filmmaking community, this annual festival held every mid-June is an exciting and extensive mix of competitive and programmed film screenings, talks on the latest animation and visual effects technology, “Making Of” demonstrations for soon-to-be-released projects, signing sessions, open-air screenings, plus myriad recruiting sessions, parties and social events.
The tenor of the festival gets an additional shot in the arm midway through when the real money arrives in the form of studios, producers and distributors, who set up a separate exhibition market known as MIFA, and conduct high-powered meetings in Annecy’s fanciest hotels.
The six-day event culminates in the closing night awards ceremony which hands out the Annecy Cristal award in the categories of best short film, feature film, television production, commissioned film, student graduation film, and virtual reality work, along with several other prestigious awards.
For animation filmmakers and aficionados, a visit to this festival can feel like you’ve landed in the middle of some combination of Xanadu, Shangri-La, and Oz. The experience of being surrounded by fellow animation professionals, eager students and passionate fans can be quite intoxicating. The festival often seems powered by this intoxication, both cerebral and liquid, and throws in its fantasyland surroundings to complete the otherworldly euphoria that builds over the course of its six-day run.
There’s so much going on at any time, it can be difficult to schedule one’s priorities. While waiting in line for a screening, a friend may pull you away to a pop-up social event happening across town. Chance encounters with noted and legendary animators, creators, and producers are de rigueur. The festival heats up during the week as more and more attendees arrive. Certain films create must-see “buzz” through word-of-mouth, as speculation on possible front-runners and award-winners runs rampant. And always, there’s the magnificent lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains, reminding one constantly to pause and enjoy nature’s beauty.
The Annecy festival began in 1960 as an offshoot of the Cannes Film Festival, specifically to concentrate on animated film. As a frequent attendee, I’ve often admired the way this festival emphasizes creative artistry and cinematic innovation over mainstream commerciality. Sure, the large Hollywood studios hold screenings and spectacular presentations here, but their films are not entered in competition in order to maintain a equitable balance.
Every aspect and technique of frame-by-frame filmmaking is well represented at Annecy. For example, if you happen not to be a fan of linear storytelling or representational graphics, then seek out films shown in the “Off Limits” category, which is reserved for more avant-garde and edgy, non-representational offerings.
You never know who will turn up or what you’ll experience at Annecy, as the festival’s Artistic Director Marcel Jean and his team often have a few surprises in store.
Personally, I’ll never forget the delight of being in the awe-struck audience for a fantastic re-creation of Winsor McCay’s 1914 vaudeville act featuring “Gertie the Dinosaur”. John Canemaker, animation film historian and Oscar-winning filmmaker, appeared on stage while the masterful early 20th century animated film of the dinosaur was projected behind him. Along with live piano accompaniment, John interacted with the looming character of Gertie, talking to her, reacting to her, and addressing the audience, just as Winsor McCay himself had done when the film was originally presented. Annecy is full of treasured moments like this, always ready to amaze and reward its attendees.
This year’s edition will spotlight Switzerland’s contribution to animation. The beautiful poster for the 2022 festival was created by illustrator Laurent Durieux, well known to film buffs everywhere for his imaginative alternate film posters.
The festival screenings afford a fascinating chance to watch visual and thematic trends unfold before your eyes in beautiful theaters with state-of-the-art projection and sound.
This year’s festival runs from June 13-18, in the magical storybook-like village of Annecy, situated in the French Alps, about half an hours drive from Geneva, Switzerland. For anyone who is truly enamored with the art of the animated film, this festival should serve as a pilgrimage, an essential, sensory-overloaded journey to be undertaken at least once in one’s lifetime.
Don’t miss it!
The festival’s website is www.annecy.org/home
– Larry Ruppel
Larry Ruppel is a journalist who writes and reports on the subject of animation worldwide. He graduated from Pratt Institute and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.