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Annecy 2009: The Year Shorts Went Mainstream

Annecy 09

The official selections have been announced for the 2009 Annecy International Animated Film Festival. Of particular interest is to see how many films in the shorts category have already been hits on-line. There’s Muto’s wall-painted animation Blu, PES’s Western Spaghetti, David O’Reilly’s Please Say Something, and Takena Nagao’s Chainsaw Maid, which is probably not even eligible since it’s from 2007. The music video category also includes the Rex the Dog music video “Bubblicious.”

Can anybody point to a short film from, let’s say Annecy in 1985, that was seen by millions of people at the time of its release. This year’s competition program offers numerous shorts that fall into that category and it’s exciting as hell. Even a decade ago, animated shorts remained a fringe-culture oddity seen by a relative handful in festivals and touring-compilations. Thanks to the Internet though, independent animation has been lifted out of the cultural ghetto and is quick becoming as visible and mainstream as it was during the Golden Age of theatrical animation when shorts preceded feature films.

What we are seeing are the beginnings of a new age of animated shorts, an age where short-form animation is an integral part of the cultural mainstream. As shorts increase their visibility, more and more people will see them and be inspired to create their own, which is great news for everybody, except for animation festivals like Annecy which must begin to rethink their roles or face the risk of irrelevancy. Festivals are no longer in a position to introduce these films to the audience because there’s a good chance the audience has already seen them. Therefore, festivals must find new ways to add value to their programming, whether through creating connections between the rich history of the art form and the contemporary shorts movement, or looking to the future and bringing understanding to where all of this is headed. Most importantly, they could begin to serve as a focal gathering point for artists and businesspeople who want to help one another make money from the animation that is being produced.