Annecy Report #3

annecy 04In Robert Kohr’s Thursday Annecy report posted at AnimatorsUnite.com, he writes about the jubilant atmosphere of the screenings: the paper airplanes, the scream-along Rabbit/Carrot trailer, the open-air screenings and other sorts of craziness that went down at Annecy. The atmosphere that he so accurately describes is one of the things that’s most difficult to capture through the written word. The pure enthusiasm and joy for animation that I sensed in Annecy is one that I’ve rarely experienced in Los Angeles, even with all of our cartoon events and myriad animation artists living here. The last night of the festival, I was sitting in the “American Bar” next to some Annecy locals, including one named Francois who works as a webmaster for a French bank. Between his limited English, and my even more limited French, he managed to communicate to me how much he appreciates animation and how he wanted to thank all the artists who come to Annecy every year from around the world. Annecy is indeed something special; it’s a world-class celebration of the animated art form in a gorgeous setting and among wonderful people. Outside of the complimentary festival press pass, I paid for the whole trip out of my own pocket, and while it’s put something of a pinch on my finances, I don’t regret spending the money one bit. If you love animation, you owe it to yourself to visit Annecy at least once. Now for a few final thoughts from the festival…

HAIR HIGHBill Plympton’s personality is so down-to-earth and unpretentious that it’s sometimes easy to forget that the man is an animation genius. I was reminded of his genius when I saw his latest feature, HAIR HIGH, which had its European premiere at Annecy. Without a doubt, it’s one of the most entertaining animated features I’ve seen in a long time. The film’s story is tight and engaging, the characters are appealing and well defined, and there’s an appropriately eclectic voice cast including Dermot Mulroney, Sarah Silverman, Keith and David Carradine, Martha Plimpton, Ed Begley Jr., Matt Groening and Don Hertzfeldt. But above and beyond all this, the primary reason for the film’s greatness is that it’s designed for animation from the ground up. Bill uses every square inch of the screen to create hilarious gags and sequences that can only be conceived and executed in animation. When a character plays football, the size of his football helmet is molded to match his outlandishly huge hair. When another character has a coughing fit, he doesn’t stop until his innards are oozing on the table in front of him. A car leaves behind a trail of flowers on the road to signify the happiness of the couple inside. Imagination and wit effortlessly flow throughout the film and dare I say, it’s Mr. Plympton’s strongest animated feature to date. As Rod (a character in the film) might say, “HAIR HIGH is really gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood.”

lorenzoThe fifth and final short film competition program at Annecy was pure excellence. The first four competition programs were hit and miss (with an emphasis on the miss), but nearly every short in the last program was solid. Among the more memorable films were CIRCUIT MARINE by Isabelle Favez, THE CRAB REVOLUTION by Arthur de Pins (which deservedly won the Audience Award), RAGING BLUES by Vincent Paronnaud, BID ‘EM IN by Neal Sopata and MOON by Andrea Pierri. The program was also home to the oddest film in the competition, the enigmatic IN by Philipp Hirsch. A significant portion of the audience, myself included, walked out in the middle of this 24-minute film. The Dada-ish looking short generated quite a bit of discussion during the last couple days of the festival and after speaking to folks who managed to sit through it, I regret not having had the patience to make it through the entire film. Also, a couple other films worth mentioning from earlier competition programs: UTSU-MUSUME SAYURI by Takashi Kimura which is about as twisted as animation gets, and Hisko Hulsing’s SEVENTEEN, a dark and entertaining hand-drawn animated short which falls visually somewhere between BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and MTV’S DOWNTOWN.

Saturday, the last day of Annecy, was a time to kick back and relax. Everybody recognized the festival was coming to an end and it seems a good percentage of festivalgoers decided to take it easy in anticipation of the awards ceremony and party on Saturday evening. In the afternoon, there was a wonderful picnic/peddleboat race by Lake Annecy. The hosts were the incomparable Nik and Nancy Phelps and an eclectic group of forty or so folks made it to the gathering. I’m sorry to report that the boat I was in arrived last in the race, despite the star peddling power of Bill Plympton and Ottawa festival director Kelly Neall. It probably didn’t help that we veered off course by over a mile. After the picnic, it was time for the Annecy awards ceremony. Assuming that it would be your typically overlong and tedious awards presentation, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to attending the event. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a beautifully orchestrated, briskly-paced Japanese-themed awards ceremony. After accepting their awards, the winners remained on-stage, sitting on Japanese-style benches and drinking tea, a fanciful touch that worked perfectly. The top two prizes went to Chris Landreth’s RYAN (Special Jury Award) and Mike Gabriel’s LORENZO (Grand Prix Annecy Cristal), both well deserving of their accolades. (And Mike gets bonus points for telling me he’s a regular Cartoon Brew reader.) The closing night party followed afterwards for a superb ending to an incredible week in France.

Here’s to all the awesome people I saw in Annecy last week: Barry O’Donoghue, David Verral, Patrick Smith, Rita Street, Georges Schwizgebel, Lance Taylor, Peter Lord, Kelly Neall, Biljana Labovic, Harald Siepermann, Joseph Gilland, Aron Steinke, Greg Araya & Julie (congrats you two!), Chansoo Kim, Don Duga, Adam Yaniv, Rajesh Chakraborty, Kevin Lofton, Jimmy Murakami, Dan Sarto, Heather Kenyon, Bob and Cima Balser, Giannalberto Bendazzi, Mike Barrier, Will Ryan, David Calvo, Marysia Nowaczynski, Ed Hooks, Signe Baumane, Jennifer Aujame, Celia Bullwinkel, Didier Pasamonik, Tony Tulipano, Jim Campbell, Fernando Pazos, Maryam Fahimi, Mike Gabriel, Raul Garcia, Robert Kohr, Bill Plympton, Felix Gonnert, Claudia Romero, Reglan Brewer, Evelien Hoedekie, Hisko Hulsing, Dick Roberts, Gene and Zdenka Deitch, Nik and Nancy Phelps, Tomm Moore, Paul Young, Emad Hajjaj, JJ Villard, Wouter Sel, Meren Imchen, Jamie Badminton, Jo Jurgens, Andrew Park, Peter de Seve and many many others. See you in Annecy next year!