"I Lost My Body," Césars "I Lost My Body," Césars

The Césars, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, are at a turning point. The embattled Academy of Cinema Arts and Techniques, which runs the awards, is planning an overhaul of its structure in response to huge industry pressure. One of the main charges against the Academy is that it isn’t diverse enough. There are calls for it to become less white, less male — and more open to animation.

Criticism mounted in February, as hundreds of figures from the film industry openly accused the Academy of being unrepresentative in its membership and undemocratic in its affairs. The triumph of director Roman Polanski, a convicted child rapist who remains on the run from U.S. authorities, at the February 28 ceremony crystallized some of these problems. The Academy’s entire board of directors resigned ahead of the ceremony, and the organization promised change.

Now that reforms are underway, the animation world is taking the opportunity to make its case for greater recognition. France is Europe’s top animation producer, and every year animated films sell more than 30 million cinema tickets in the country. The sector is arguing that it merits more representation at the Césars. However, it is split on what this should mean in practice.

One proposal, made in an open letter by the French Animation Producers’ Union (SPFA) in partnership with VFX France, is to create a dedicated branch for animation and vfx — unlike the Oscars, the Césars don’t currently have such a thing. This branch, the union says, should be as well represented on the new board as the other branches, which translates to a quota of around 10% of seats. Read the letter in French here.

The letter has been signed by major figures in the animation world, such as Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Jean-François Laguionie (Louise by the Shore), and the organizers of the Annecy festival, as well as many prominent live-action filmmakers, including Gaspar Noé (Climax) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie).

Its proposal has been criticized in another open letter, which has also been signed by a wide range of leading representatives of the animation and live-action sectors, among them Michel Ocelot (Kirikou and the Sorceress), Rémi Chayé (Long Way North), Anca Damian (Marona’s Fantastic Tale), and Sébastien Laudenbach (The Girl Without Hands). Read the letter in French here. A number of filmmakers, including Jérémy Clapin (I Lost My Body), have signed both letters.

While both groups agree that some 10% of seats on the board should be reserved for animation representatives, the latter group of filmmakers disagree with the idea of a dedicated branch, which they believe would effectively ghettoize their medium. They want a proportion of membership in the existing directors, producers, and technical branches to be reserved for people from their sector. They also view vfx as a distinct sector, which should be represented in the technical branches.

“We wish to state, once again, that animation is not a genre,” their letter reads. “It is merely another way to create cinema. The two were born together… Today, ties between the mediums are multiplying — for instance, we see a growing number of directors with a background in live action working in animation, and vice versa.”

The letter points out that the existing branches are defined in terms of profession — directors, producers, writers, etc — and suggests that a dedicated animation branch would do a disservice to all the directors, producers, writers, and others working in the sector, who are no less qualified than their live-action counterparts. “The reform of the César Academy is a pivotal moment,” it continues, “crucial in our campaign: to give animation the place it deserves, at the heart of cinematographic creation. We demand to be treated as equals.”

According to the SPFA’s campaign, this approach would not give the animation industry the visibility it needs within the Academy. Producer Nicolas Schmerkin, one of the SPFA’s signatories, says that it would effectively lead to fewer seats for animation on the board. He adds that the lack of a dedicated branch for animation would undermine animated shorts: seats reserved for the short film industry would mostly be allocated to people from live action, who outnumber makers of animated shorts by a great margin among César voters.

“[The campaign against an animation branch] is certainly laudable, ideologically speaking,” Schmerkin tells Cartoon Brew, “but it risks having the opposite effect… An animation branch has the advantage of being clear, unambiguous, and effective, and to guarantee fair representation for animated shorts. Better to be strong and united… than invisible and diluted in the great mass of live action.”

The Césars currently have awards for best animated feature and short film (but not for vfx). All members across the Academy’s ten branches vote for the winners. In February, I Lost My Body was named best animated feature. In his acceptance speech, director Jérémy Clapin touched on this wider issue: “Animation is not a genre. It’s a cinematic technique. But it’s the poor relation of cinema. You who are in favor of inclusivity: don’t forget about us.”

Update, April 30: After the publication of this article, the petition by SPFA and VFX France was officially launched alongside its list of signatories. The article has been updated to reflect this, and Schmerkin’s comments have been added.

(Image at top: “I Lost My Body.”)

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