[Story updated on 12/19/2018. See bottom of post] We’ve heard quite a bit of buzzing the last few days, both from the studio side and the independent film community, about the nominees in the animated short category of ASIFA-Hollywood’s Annie Awards.

Not only are the short film nominees excellent, but four of the five nominees in the category were international shorts, and all five of them were independent productions. Both of those are extremely rare occurrences.

How rare? Since the Annies started a short film category in 1995, there has never been a year when at least one American studio production didn’t make the nomination list.

So what caused this sudden refocusing of priorities? A press release from France’s Annecy International Animated Film Festival today shed some light on the shift. Annecy announced that it is now one of four major international animation festivals that has become a partner of the Annie Awards. The other three festivals are Hiroshima, Ottawa, and Zagreb.

As part of the partnership, ASIFA-Hollywood will allow the festival’s grand prize winners to submit their work for Annie Award consideration at no charge. This year, according to Annecy, 10 festival grand prize winners were submitted for the Annie Award.

Among the Annie Award nominees for short film, three of the films have indeed won awards at one of the four festivals: Reka Bucsi’s Solar Walk (pictured at top) won the grand prize at Ottawa last September, while Trevor Jimenez’s Weekends won both jury and audience awards at Annecy this year. Grandpa Walrus won the audience award at Annecy last year.

Further, in the student category, one of the nominees, Sam Gainsborough’s Facing It won both the student prize at Zagreb and the public prize at Ottawa.

“For years, we have been trying to enlarge the scope of the Annie Awards to include more international productions,” Frank Gladstone, ASIFA-Hollywood’s executive director, said in a statement. “Adding Annecy and the other major animation festivals as Annie partners is another way to bring an expanding world-wide scope to both our event, as well as giving well-deserved industry attention to so many more worthwhile projects.”

Added Mickaël Marin, CEO of CITIA, the French organization that organizes the Annecy festival, “We are thrilled to collaborate with ASIFA-Hollywood in promoting artistic animated creations. This is an additional opportunity to support films and directors by giving them improved visibility competing at the prestigious Annie Awards, who give genuine acknowledgment to animation professionals.”

ASIFA-Hollywood made other changes to its submission process this year as well to make it more affordable for independent filmmakers to submit their films. To the credit of the Annie Awards, they didn’t just accept more independent film submissions this year, but they also gave those films fair consideration and nominated challenging works that would almost certainly have been ignored by the organization in previous years.

This new direction for ASIFA-Hollywood is hugely significant because it aligns the Annie Awards with the rest of the international animation community. As new international animation awards like the European Animation Awards and the Quirinos continue to sprout up, it will become important for the Annies to re-assert their relevance as an international-scale event and not just a local industry award. The changes this year to its animated short category are a positive step in the right direction, and make its short film category more competitive — and thus, more meaningful — to filmmakers around the world.

UPDATE: The international representative for ASIFA-Hollywood, Jeanette Bonds, has provided a response to the initial post. Bonds says that contrary to the information provided in Annecy’s press release, all the nominees in the short film category this year submitted the films entirely on their own.

“There was an increase in international submissions from this year, primarily due to the submission fees being cut in half, making the Annies more accessible for independent filmmakers from around the world,” Bonds told Cartoon Brew. “We also spent a lot of energy this year on international outreach and encouraging more filmmakers from around the world to submit to the Annie Awards.”

Bonds added: “We are truly excited to have these internationally recognized and award-winning filmmakers take part in the 46th annual Annie Awards. We’re also excited to be working with these top festivals going forward, and think it will lead to increased representation for these great films being made all over the world.”

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