There’s nothing quite like the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France. It’s where over 9,000 professionals and students come together every summer to celebrate the art form, do business, get inspired, and make lifelong friends.
Annecy has so many sides to it that no two visitors will experience the same festival. Some of the attendees on the business side will rarely step inside a theater, but instead have meetings all day at the MIFA market. Lovers of mainstream animation spend their time in queues to catch presentations on the latest big budget productions, while professionals may very well spend their week at parties catching up with colleagues. And more than a few people who come to the festival don’t even bother buying festival passes since there are so many people to see and parties to attend outside of the official venues.
While there’s no such thing as a complete guide to Annecy, here are some basics that every visitor should know before attending the upcoming edition, which takes place next month, June 12-17. These tips are based on my own experience visiting six of the festival’s last eight editions. If you have tips of your own, please feel free to share them in the comments.
1. Reserve a festival shuttle
A normal bus travels from the Geneva airport (the point of entry for most international visitors) to Annecy, but I’ve heard many horror stories about it. So if you can afford it, reserve a special festival shuttle online (deadline is June 6th). Besides a carefree ride, it makes it easy to meet fellow festival visitors even before you set foot in Annecy.
2. Choose the right pass
Upon reading this, you probably already bought your pass, and odds are you were confused by all the different options. Both professionals and students have to decide between a Festival, Meetings, and MIFA pass. Pricing differences are vast, so it’s important you decide beforehand what kind of festival visitor you will be in Annecy.
If you’re there to watch films only, or party with the occasional film in-between, then pick the cheapest option (Festival). If you’re really looking forward to attending the talks and panels, then there’s no way around buying the more expensive option (Meetings). Beware though: the Meetings pass doesn’t automatically get you into the sessions you wish to attend (see tip 3 on reserving tickets).
The MIFA pass grants access to a market with representatives of international studios, schools, and B2B services. While pretty cool, it’s really not necessary for the average professional. A number of recruitment opportunities at MIFA are also open to Festival and Meetings badge holders – and if you have a student pass, it comes with a free one-day pass to MIFA.
Check the festival website to find out more about what kind of access is given with each pass.
3. Reserve tickets and be on time
The process of reserving tickets for Annecy is like a lottery; you’ve got one chance in early June before the festival to try and grab them (for passholders, check your Annecy network for dates). At the assigned moments, passholders refresh their browser as often as needed, then manically start clicking ‘reserve’ – only to see their favorite sessions marked as ‘sold out’ within seconds. It’s a gruesome process, but you should try it anyway. During the festival itself it’s also possible to (try to) reserve tickets; be sure to check the reservation system every morning.
If you failed to reserve a ticket for a certain session, but you really want to go, you’ve got two options:
1) Wait in line. Show up 45 minutes beforehand; that’s when the waiting line opens. Ten minutes before the sessions starts, the cinema doors open for badge holders without reservations. This strategy will get you into many film screenings, but rarely the super popular events (like premieres and making-ofs).
2) Pay for an individual ticket at the festival’s ticket office, on top of your festival pass. Buying individual tickets is possible only one hour before the session starts, and costs €7 per ticket.
Even if you have a reservation, make sure to be on time! Seating is free, so if you want to catch a good spot, be at the door at least 20 minutes early. Moreover, reservations don’t guarantee a seat anymore, and your reservation is given away if you’re not there at least 10 minutes before a program starts.
4. Get to know the locations
The heart of the festival is the Bonlieu building. It hosts pretty much all the big premiere events, film screenings, and signing sessions, and it’s where you pick up your badge (except if you have a MIFA badge). The huge grass field in front of it, by the lake, is the perfect place to hang out during breaks.
Cinema Pathé Annecy hosts many screenings as well – features and shorts alike – but it’s not much of a hotspot for networking. Salle Pierre Lamy, a cute one-room cinema, is where many work-in-progress sessions take place. Both are just six-minute walks from Bonlieu. Use the La Turbine and MJC Novel venues as back-up options; both take 30 minutes to walk to.
Then there’s Impérial Palace, which hosts MIFA, as well as in-depth conferences and pitch sessions. Walking here is pretty nice, because you can simply follow the lake, but takes about half an hour.
Special exhibitions are all around town, most notably “China, Art in Motion” at the castle, Château d’Annecy, and “Spotlight on Sacrebleu Productions” (Longway North, Faces from Places) at Conservatoire d’Art et d’Histoire.
5. Prepare to walk a lot (or bring your skateboard)
Good shoes are a must! You will likely move around from location to location a lot to catch the programs you want to see or to see friends. Even better would be to bring your skateboard with you – only if you’re a regular boarder, that is. Don’t be inspired now and try to learn to board while at the festival, because (speaking from personal experience) bruises and bloody knees are not practical while at an animation festival.
If you want to visit the Impérial Palace (that hosts the MIFA market) and don’t want to do the half-hour walk, there’s a bus and shuttle running between there and Bonlieu. It’s free for badgeholders and runs often (check times here). For those who have a lot of meetings, bike passes are available too, with each pass allowing ten one-way trips between the venues.
6. Choose the stuff in your bag with care
Be very picky about what you carry around all day. For starters, leave in your hotel the fancy but horribly heavy main Annecy program book that comes with a festival badge. Unless you’re a festival programmer, you really don’t need it.
Here’s what you do need to have in your bag:
Snacks. Breaks between screenings are short, the nights are long. Health bars, fruit, crackers – anything that’s quick and easy to eat (and won’t sweat in your bag during a hot day) will do.
A water bottle to stay hydrated throughout the day.
Layers of clothing. The days can be hot, the nights cold. (You can leave your winter coat at home though.)
An umbrella. While Annecy’s social media team is great at making the weather look fabulous at all times, certain years can be very rainy. A small umbrella will do, but make sure it’s a strong one – Annecy’s wind can be tricky.
Business cards. They can be considered old-fashioned (Cartoon Brew’s editor-in-chief tries his best to not accept them), but they’re indispensable at huge networking events like Annecy.
A frisbee. After a couple of screenings, you’ll want to get the blood flowing again, and it can be a fun social activity to throw around a frisbee on the huge lawn across the street from the theater.
A sketchbook. If you enjoy location sketching, Annecy’s old town and surrounding scenery offers plenty of inspiring material. At a festival packed with other artists, an older sketchbook filled with your artwork can also be a good conversation starter (see tip #15).
Some way to show off your current project or portfolio. An iPad is great, but a large phone can work too.
7. Set yourself up for paper plane success
There’s no better way to impress your 9,000+ peers than successfully throwing a paper plane onto the stage before an event begins. So start training your paper plane-building and throwing skills. Pros will bring their own paper, though there’s plenty of advertising flyers floating around that can be used for this purpose.
8. Beware of the language
Basic words like oui and merci may get you through a supermarket, but they won’t get you through a film screening in French. Despite Annecy being an international festival, many of the film screenings and some talks are in French or subtitled only in French. (I once attempted to attend a press conference on Ernest & Celestine, only to find out then and there it was in French.) Be sure to check-check-double-check in the booklet or app regarding English dialogue or subtitles, or you may end up wasting your time.
9. Use the festival app
With the ‘MyAnnecy Festival’ app you can access the program (including your reservations), find practical information, message fellow attendees, and even vote for the audience awards. It’s available for both Android and iOS. If you don’t have an internet subscription on your phone, you might want to consider buying a small data bundle for the week.
10. Make a schedule for yourself (and accept that it will change)
Be sure to comb through all of the festival program. Don’t just check out the main program; side activities like pitches and Q&As are less visible, but just as interesting. Also, mix up big studio and small indie events; the strong presence of both is what makes Annecy such a unique and informative experience. Try to find some sessions you’ll definitely like, and then some that might surprise you.
Once you’ve carefully crafted your schedule, accept that it will change. At the festival you’ll fall into spontaneous and lengthy conversations, receive a last-minute invite to a party, and be seduced by the sun to spend the afternoon swimming or rent a paddle boat on the lake. That’s all ok.
11. Ask around for parties
If you don’t have party invites yet, don’t fret – some parties are very exclusive, but many more are open to all (and often BYOB). While you’re talking to people at the festival, simply ask them about any parties they know about, and you’re bound to make it into at least a few of them.
One such party that welcomes all is Nancy and Nik Phelps’ annual picnic and paddle boat race. It happens on Saturday at noon, on the grass field in front of the Bonlieu (near the paddle boats), and attendees are asked to “bring something to eat or drink to share, musical instruments, and paddling legs.”
A place you can always go without an invitation is Café des Arts – it’s where many foreign students meet every evening after 11pm.
12. Wear something recognizable
With over 9,000 delegates, it’s hard to be recognized by all the new people you’ll meet throughout the week. Two guys who’ve mastered the art of being recognized are Joost van der Bosch and Erik Verkerk from Ka-Ching Cartoons in Rotterdam. They’ve worn customized fez hats since 2006, and are now known by pretty much everyone as “those Dutch animators with the fezzes.” If you can think of something recognizable you could wear to stand out, don’t hesitate – do it!
13. Find filmmakers to meet
You’ll rarely meet the major guests like Genndy Tartakovsky and Guillermo del Toro by coincidence hanging out at a terrace. So if you want to enjoy a chat with them, try to catch them right after their presentations, or during the signing sessions.
Just as much fun though is meeting fellow filmmakers. For this, the daily Shorts & Breakfast Q&A session (with filmmakers in competition) is the place to be. It takes a strong will to show up at Bonlieu at 9am, but hey, there’s coffee and croissants to enjoy while listening to and meeting peers.
14. Don’t be shy; sprinkle around that business card
It’s an illusion to think you’ll bump into someone twice during the festival. So if you meet someone new and it clicks, exchange business cards right then and there. Also, because you’ll talk to so many different people, be sure to write down a memory note on the other person’s business card. Following up on conversations makes a big difference in being remembered.
Cartoon Brew’s editor-in-chief Amid offers another tip for those who don’t enjoy exchanging business cards: when you meet someone whose info you’d like to retain, ask them to hold up their business card and take a photo of both their card and their face. Not only does this method eliminate paper waste, but if you’re a visual person, you may have an easier time connecting a person’s name with their physical appearance.
15. The art of conversation is important
You’re going to meet lots of people throughout the course of the week, and that means you’re going to have dozens, if not hundreds, of conversations. Some of these chats could be with potential collaborators or employers, and to get the most out of them, make sure you’re confident in your conversational skills. Here’s a short video with ten tips on how to have better conversations:
16. Don’t worry about searching for food
Because Annecy is a touristic city, there’s food all around, and for every budget. Besides sit-down restaurants, you can also find cheap street paninis, and take-away falafels and pizzas in the old town.
For students and others who are looking for an even more affordable option, there are two Monoprix supermarkets within a five-minute walk of the Bonlieu. Buy some cheese and fruit there, combine it with fresh bread from some cute bakery in the old town, and enjoy a lovely meal on the esplanade by the lake.