The 21st edition of Cartoon Movie, the leading European co-production platform for animated feature film projects, was outstanding, and the 900-plus participants were generally impressed by the quality and the creativity of the projects pitched during the two-day event last month.
The proportion of adult and teen-targeted projects was stable (13 out 66 projects pitched, or around 20%), but they were surprising in the themes and ideas they explored. Marc Vandeweyer, general director of Cartoon Movie, commented on that diversity of projects, noting that “a lot of feature films presented here are dealing with hot topics: immigration, environment, poverty, and social issues.”
Cartoon Brew has earlier covered some of the major projects pitched at this year’s event, such as Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles and I Lost My Body. Today, we take a closer look at six other promising projects pitched recently in Bordeaux, France, which are either in development or active production. For each film we discuss briefly what it’s about and then explain what specifically caught our eye:
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (in development)
What is it: An adaptation of six short stories by the famous Japanese author Haruki Murakami transformed into a single narrative directed and written by French artist Pierre Foldes. This project for adults and older teens is odd and intriguing: a lost cat and a giant talking frog help a bank employee, his frustrated wife, and a schizophrenic accountant save Tokyo from an earthquake. Produced by two French production companies, Cinéma Defacto and Miyu, this $6.7 million USD film will start production next July for two years of production across three different studios in France, Canada (Unité Centrale and Micro_scope), and Luxembourg (Doghouse Films).
Why it’s special: Murakami’s novels have already been adapted into live-action films, but this is the first animated version of his work. When Pierre Foldes sent Murakami his earlier shorts, the author was convinced of the approach and suggested some of his short stories to him. “I chose the ones telling stories about the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and also about intimate tremors,” Foldes said during his pitch. The teaser displayed a dreamlike cinematography and lighting, contrasting with very realistic 2d and 3d. The rendering is stunning and weird, like the strange fantasies of Murakami’s books.
Mars Express (in development)
What is it: Written and directed by Jérémie Périn, who helmed the Lastman series, he reunites with French production company Everybody on Deck to make this French sci-fi project for teens and adults. A couple hundred years from now, our planet is a bit of a mess because robots and androids have replaced humans who don’t work anymore. Rich people are living in luxurious artificial colonies on Mars. A private detective and her robot partner set off on a race against time to find a cybernetics student on the run from murderers. The $7.9 million USD production will mix 2d and 3d.
Why it’s special: Even though the plot, involving robots yearning for liberty, seems rather familiar (“a mix of Chinatown and Minority Report” as described by Périn), the team behind the creative success of Lastman will undoubtedly increase its interest and fun factor. The long sequence showed during their pitch showed a great sense of timing in the direction and the editing. The camera is very mobile in order to give the feeling of a live-action thriller, with a great attention to details in the props and settings.
Chicken for Linda! (in development)
What is it: Directed and written by Chiara Malta and her husband Sébastien Laudenbach, mastermind of the breathtaking The Girl Without Hands, this family comedy has a social background. The day of a national strike, in a decaying city project, Paulette wants to cook a meal for her daughter, Linda: chicken with peppers, her dead dad’s favorite dish. On the way back from the farm, they have to explain to a policeman why a live and boisterous chicken is in their backseat. The $2.5 million USD film, whose producer is Dolce Vita (France) and French distributor is Gebeka (My Life As A Zucchini), should begin production next October and be completed by 2021.
Why it’s special: Frantic chases, quid pro quo, and chicken feather allergies are the ingredients of this tender slapstick project whose pop art colors (each character has its own tangy hue) and energetic animation dazzled the Cartoon Movie audience. Like in The Girl Without Hands, movement is more important than the details of the sets, props, and characters. In some scenes, the children of the neighborhood will be represented abstractly as dots.
The Crossing (in production)
What is it: Directed by Florence Miailhe, a specialist of animated painting and winner of the 2002 César for her short film Au premier dimanche d’août, The Crossing is her first feature film, wholly painted. Written with bestselling French writer Marie Desplechin, the script is about two children on the roads of exile. After their village is plundered and their family arrested, Kyona and Adriel cross a continent that is obsessed with hunting down migrants. Produced by Les Films de l’Arlequin along with Xbo Films (France), Maur Film (Czech Republic) and Balance Film (Germany), this $3 million USD production will be ready in the beginning of 2020, but no release date has been announced.
Why it’s special: The trip depicted in the film also tells a personal story. Miailhe’s Jewish grandparents fled the pogroms in Odessa, at the beginning of the 20th century. But the characters nationalities or religions are not clearly indicated, because the scriptwriter wanted to address the general issue of migration. The funding was difficult to complete, because there were doubts the film could be entirely created through animated paintings. But the clips presented at Cartoon Movie showed a beautiful technique, both fluid and sensitive.
Tre Infanzie (in development)
What is it: The first feature film from Simone Massi, whose impressive shorts have been awarded in festivals all over the world, Tre Infanzie (Three Childhoods) tells the story of a family through the eyes of three children living in a poor Italian village at different times of history: 1918, 1943, and 1978. The $4 million USD French-Italian co-production (Offshore and Minimum Fax Media) could start production next June and be completed by 2022.
Why it’s special: Tre Infanzie is an autobiography: the three kids of the story are Massi’s grandmother, his mother, and himself, born and raised in a distant part of Marche, an eastern Italian region. Their personal stories merge with the turmoils of their country’s history: World War I, fascism, and political terrorism. Thanks to an amazing technique – scratching paper coated with black pastel with a hard-pointed tool – the animator brings light into darkness and memory into oblivion.
Marona’s Fantastic Tale (in production)
What is it: Directed, and produced by Anca Damian (Crulic : The Path To Beyond and The Magic Mountain) and written by herself and her son Anghel Damian, this feature is about a small female dog’s souvenirs of her past life. Victim of an accident, she remembers her beloved masters. Co-produced by France’s Sacrebleu (Long Way North) and Belgium’s Minds Meet, the $3 million feature USD is set to be released this September in France.
Why it’s special: Described by its Romanian author as a “tale of love and empathy”, Marona’s story is totally different from her previous animated features, which were a diptych about heroism mixing documentary and fiction through an amazing patchwork of animation techniques: cut-out, painting, drawing, digital 2d, and 3d. The sneak preview of Marona shown at Cartoon Movie displayed the same skilled mix as her previous films, but with a very different visual style. Brecht Evens, the talented Belgian comic book author and illustrator, served as character designer and visual consultant. The film’s art direction shares a similarly colorful and poetic style, and attention to detail, as his graphic novels.