A side note: Ron’s Gone Wrong, which has qualified, was also produced in Europe (at Locksmith Animation in the U.K.). But as it was funded by a Hollywood studio — Fox, now Disney’s 20th Century Studios — we aren’t including it here.
Read on for an overview of the European contenders:
The Ape Star
Director: Linda Hambäck
Countries: Sweden, Norway, Denmark
U.S. distributor: Viva Pictures
The only family feature of the four, The Ape Star tells the tale of an orphan who is adopted by a gorilla, with which she comes to form a close bond. Hambäck has experience in children’s animation, having directed the well-received 2017 feature Gordon & Paddy (and produced many more films). This makes her the only director here to have previously directed an animated feature on her own.
The Ape Star doesn’t have the highest of profiles in this race, but it too has gone down well with viewers. After playing in competition at Annecy, it picked up a nomination for best animated feature at the European Film Awards.
Director: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Countries: Denmark, Sweden, France, Norway
U.S. distributor: Neon
Poher Rasmussen’s searingly intimate documentary rides into Oscar season on a wave of accolades, including awards at Sundance and Annecy. It is structured around conversations between the director and his friend Amin, who recounts his flight from war-ravaged Afghanistan to Russia, then Denmark. The animation, which includes semi-abstract sequences, is interleaved with archive footage.
Unusually, Flee has also qualified for best documentary and international feature (as Denmark’s entry) at the Oscars. Waltz with Bashir was in a similar position in 2009, and ended up being nominated in the international feature category.
My Sunny Maad
Director: Michaela Pavlátová
Countries: Czech Republic, France, Slovakia
U.S. distributor: none announced
Flee isn’t the only contender with an Afghan link. My Sunny Maad follows a Czech woman who moves to early-2000s, post-Taliban Afghanistan after marrying a man from the country. As an outsider and a woman, she finds her freedoms curtailed in various ways. Pavlátová is the sole director here to have been nominated for an Oscar, an honor she received for her 1991 short Words, Words, Words. This is her animated feature debut.
Our reviewer Carlos Aguilar wrote: “Pavlátová’s film is closer to The Swallows of Kabul or Flee … than to Cartoon Saloon’s more whimsical The Breadwinner. Still, all these titles have harnessed the medium to shine a light on the most at-risk segments of the population in a war-torn country without much of a functioning film industry of its own.”
The Summit of the Gods
Director: Patrick Imbert
Countries: France, Luxembourg
U.S. distributor: Netflix
The source material may be a manga and the characters Japanese, but The Summit of the Gods is very much a European production. The mountaineering epic was produced chiefly in France; it is the first sole directorial credit for Imbert, who co-directed the 2017 anthology film The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales. It’s expertly made, boasting a complex narrative and sophisticated visual craft.
After quietly premiering at Cannes’s Cinéma de la Plage section, The Summit of the Gods was picked up by Netflix, which means it goes into this awards race with a lot of marketing oomph. It helps that Summit has been well reviewed.
Images at top, left to right: “The Ape Star,” “Flee,” “My Sunny Maad,” “The Summit of the Gods”