"The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily" "The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily"

Prima Linea Productions, one of the most well-established animation producers in France, has closed. The company was liquidated on February 7, according to trade publication Le Film français.

Founded in 1995 by Valérie Schermann and Christophe Jankovic, Prima Linea was known for its short and feature films. Its catalogue includes Zarafa, Fear(s) of the Dark, and last year’s The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily, which has earned it a nomination for European Producer of the Year at next week’s Cartoon Movie forum. It also handled the animation on The Red Turtle, a project led by Studio Ghibli and Wild Bunch.

The Bears, the feature directorial debut of renowned illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti, is said to be the cause of Prima Linea’s demise. Le Film français puts the film’s budget at ‎€11 ($12.1) million — a considerable sum for an artistically inclined animated feature in Europe. On its release in October, it underperformed, effectively bankrupting the company. A U.S. distributor for the film has not been announced at this time.

Schermann told Le Film français, “As I explained to the judge, there comes a point where it isn’t possible anymore. Broadcasters and distributors are mainly looking for big American-style films, and there’s no longer enough money to continue making more unusual, innovative films with sufficient means.” Schermann’s comments are poignant in light of what she said at last year’s Annecy Festival: introducing The Bears, she called on young artists in the audience to find their own voice and “not ape the Americans.”

The Bears was well received by those who did see it: at the time of writing, it has 100% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Viewers generally praised its bold production design, a kind of cinematic translation of Mattotti’s singular style.

Schermann continues, echoing concerns that others in the French industry have recently voiced to Cartoon Brew: “With the future looking pretty dark for cinema in general and animation in particular, you may as well give up on a medium that requires larger budgets, where the CNC [the French governmental agency responsible for funding cinema] — without which we couldn’t have made the film — can’t cover the financial shortfalls of the market.”

It definitely isn’t game over for Schermann and Jankovic. In 2015, they spun off their animation studio from the production company to form 3.0 Studio. It will continue to function as a service studio: among its upcoming projects is the animation debut of Michel Hazanavicius, the director of the Oscar-winning The Artist. Whereas Prima Linea was based in Paris and Angoulême, 3.0 Studio will operate only in the latter, a small city closely associated with animation and illustration.

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