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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.

  • Chris Webb

    Great post and great point Amid.

    I like what you said about the changing role of festivals. Another possibility for festivals is that they become a way for film makers to interact with the audience – I would think that many people would want to attend a forum or interview with a film maker whose work they were familiar with, like a film maker who is popular on You Tube.

    Being able to see a film many times on You Tube is comparable to hearing a hit song on the radio – perhaps festivals can become a way for an film maker to tour and promote their hit single. And if an artist builds up a back catalog, they could tour on their own. It seems to have worked for Don Hertzfeldt, and I think it could work for others as well, artists that we don’t even know about yet.

    So festivals can bring an audience to a film maker, and vice versa. It is in to the festivals’ advantage that they would show films and showcase film makers that their audience has prior knowledge of. The festivals take big chances in showing the work they do – if they can minimize their risk somewhat, they can stay in business.

  • That’s a great point.

    In a moment where people tend to do things quicker than ever (from eating a meal to get entertained), animated shorts suit this need of our web-generation like never before.

  • The internet killed the festival star.

    I remember the pandemonious reaction of a festival audience c. 1997 upon seeing Don Hertzfeld’s “Ah, L’Amour” for the first time. There’s no way to get that watching animation alone in your cube. Even if you get the guy in the next cube to watch it at the same time.

    Internet animation is big because it’s free and the commitment on the part of the viewer is small. Less of a commitment than even the 1940’s movie goer who bought a ticket for 25¢ and sat thru the cartoon to get to the feature.

  • Very worthwhile questions to be asking…

  • David Levy

    Ask any of the three NY area animators that got into Annecy 2009 how relevant Annecy is to them. They are all justifiably excited to be featured at the festival. Festivals don’t exist exclusively to introduce new talent to the scene, they also exist to honor the top work of our artform/industry.

    That said, Amid is dead on about what festivals need to do to stay relevant… but, I think it would be naive to imagine that film festival directors and their governing boards aren’t confronting these issues/questions on a regular basis.

  • amid

    David – Just to clarify, I wrote that festivals “must begin to rethink their roles or face the risk of irrelevancy.” I didn’t say that Annecy was irrelevant now. Five to ten years from now the short-form animation scene is going to shift more greatly than anytime in recent decades and it’s better to address it now than later.

    It’s wishful thinking that festivals are confronting these issues. I would be willing to bet that most of them aren’t. If they were, today’s festivals would be filled with discussions about web animation, Iphone applications, online animation distribution and everything Internet. They usually offer some token acknowledgement of these trends but haven’t even begun to shift their thinking to the realities of today’s animation community.

    You can go to a site like Motionographer and you won’t see more than a handful of the projects on there represented at a festival like Annecy. One could argue that it’s because those companies haven’t submitted, but when hundreds of contemporary companies haven’t submitted, then that’s a fail on the festival’s part to encourage inclusion and bring contemporary artists and ideas into the fold. ASIFA International died a long time ago because they were stuck in a 1960s mindset about the art form. They refused to look around them and see that animation had progressed beyond their patriarchal approach to encouraging independent animation. A lot of festivals are in that same danger unless they learn to adapt.

  • David Levy

    Good points, Amid…

    Hopefully today’s token acknowledgments will seed tomorrow’s change at the festivals. I hope that festivals can find a way to flourish and stay relevant way into the future because there’s something special about how they help foster relationships among this very isolated of industries. International festival directors would be wise to take note of your suggestions above.

    I wonder if ASIFA International can find new purpose in encouraging exchanges between animation artists in the west with those of the emerging world. That could mirror the fine work they did in the 1960s and 70s during the cold war.

  • amid

    I agree Dave. There is plenty of enthusiasm for animation and a lack of infrastructure throughout Africa, the Middle East, southeast Asia and a lot of other developing regions. ASIFA International could do a lot of good in those places. I don’t know how much of anything they’ll be able to accomplish though with their current leadership.

  • Festivals add great value – they offer the films in high quality formats on big screens in dark rooms with other people. That is huge.

  • Chris Padilla

    Hi Amid,

    Your article is the most keenly articulation of the current state of the festival scene – as well as all the acute responses. Though I missed Irene Kolartz’ commendable Platinum Festival, my impression is that she initiated that festival to encourage integration of the very points that were made in this discussion. Essentially, “new media” provides additional exhibition venues for shorts. Integrating the Internet with theatrical exhibition is a creative challenge, full of exciting opportunities. When I first marketed Fantastic Animation Festival in 1976, Hollywood had yet to discover the viewing audience of a new TV show called Saturday Night Live and we were the first movie to run a spot on that show. A year later when the Fantastic played in New York, Hollywood at that time had also yet to discover what is now called Sony’s Times Square Jumbotron and we were the first movie to run an ad on that as well. In retrospect Fantastic Animation Festival was marketed with a lot of other firsts that later became the template for Spike and Mike and other touring compilations since then. The point I’m making here is that today’s Hollywood, like back then, has yet to exploit many opportunities laying dormant within the emerging “new media,” which is giving rise to a new era for festivals and rip for a new paradigm.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Having read Chris’ comment just now, Fantastic Animation Festival also also had a first for home video for that time as well, so that wasn’t too bad for that feature compilation.