Cartoon Movie, which is taking place this week in Bordeaux, France, is unique among animation events. In the span of two days, the co-production and distribution forum is hosting presentations for 66 animated features from Europe. The films are in various stages of production, from early concept and development to active production and completed films in post.
Each filmmaker has 20 minutes to present their project to a roomful of investors, studios, distributors, broadcasters, and press. The projects in early concept have just ten minutes. Attendees can’t see more than half of the presentations, since there are always two happening at once. Seeing so many film concepts in such a short span of time is exhilarating (if a little exhausting).
Unlike American studios, which develop and produce animated features under a cloak of secrecy, their European counterparts can’t afford to be secretive. Budgets are most often cobbled together through the participation of multiple producers and countries, and even then, budgets are extremely modest. A majority of films cost under €10 million (USD$11.2m), and many are under €5 million (USD$5.6m). One film presented at Cartoon Movie that proposed a €20 million budget was met with concerned ooh’s and aah’s from the audience.
As always, films for children and families dominate, accounting for over 70% of this year’s projects. Older audiences are a notoriously tricky market. That said, this year has seen a handful of interesting projects aimed at teens and adults. Here are four that caught our eye during the first day of presentations:
At the pitch for #NoFilter, Danish filmmaker Tor Fruergaard described not only each character’s personality but the characteristics of their genitalia. This was in keeping with the film’s mission to explore sexuality and body image in a frank and uninhibited way that speaks to today’s youth.
#NoFilter follows a group of high schoolers who rally around their sex ed teacher after she is fired from the school for taking one of her classroom lessons too far. Fruergaard is uniquely qualified for a film like this, having previously directed shorts like Growing Pains and Venus, which deal openly with similar issues. While the film will clearly have a humorous bent, the filmmakers are collaborating with non-profit organizations that promote youth sex education, and have spent the past year workshopping the script with Danish high school students to ensure both accuracy and authenticity.
The cg film aims for a fun cartoony approach to the human body — the idea is that its representation of nudity won’t be uncomfortably realistic. But despite the caricatured aesthetic, the characters in the film feel more like actual humans than most cg characters. Fruergaard has incorporated asymmetry into every model to drive home the theme that everyone is imperfect but beautiful. He will co-direct the film with Danish animation veteran Michael Hegner. Sparre Production leads the project.
We’re still only halfway through Cartoon Movie, but there’s no doubt that Juul is this year’s most whacked-out and disturbing animated film. The film is about a teenage circus acrobat who falls into a coma after a performance goes wrong. She’s then kidnapped from the hospital by her father, who attaches strings to her and begins performing her for circusgoers as a human marionette. Unbeknownst to the father, the daughter is still conscious and distraught at being used as a circus freak.
From here, the idea gets plenty weirder, detouring into magical realism territory. The dense visual style, period setting, and challenging subject matter all make this a very tough project to bring to the screen, but an open-minded producer could be richly rewarded by taking on a project that is truly different. Tom Van Gestel will direct through his Belgian studio Fabrique Fantastique from a script by An De Gruyter.
France’s Studio La Cachette have come a long way since 2013, when they first released their eye-catching short piece Kairos. In recent years, they’ve entered the Hollywood mainstream, producing a piece for Netflix’s Love Death & Robots and more recently serving as the animation studio for Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal series. We reported on a project of theirs at last year’s Cartoon Forum, the equivalent event for series. Now, studio co-founder Julien Chheng is ready to make the leap into features with Mu Yi, a story set in present-day China that also time-trips into the country’s distant past.
Using a handsome watercolor-and-inked-brush 2d animation style, the film promises lots of action and fantasy, allowing La Cachette to do what it does best. But the story is underpinned by themes of gender and justice. Chheng is co-writing the feminist tale with a China-born woman screenwriter, Sujuan Xu. The film’s strong association of ancient mythology with modern-day inequality helps elevate this above a standard action-adventure film. The studio plans to start pre-production on the film next year.
An adaptation of Romain Renard’s graphic novels, Melvile has a richly atmospheric and mysterious vibe. The Belgian artist, who will direct the film himself, aptly described it as Twin Peaks-esque. The story is about a man who returns to his childhood hometown shortly before it is set to be flooded by the construction of a nearby dam. His return triggers memories of a tragedy that he experienced there, and also leads to a new understanding of his ancestors who first settled the town.
The project is still in early development, and it’s not clear how Renard’s painterly style will be translated into animation. If the team can pull that off, this has the potential to be a tonally distinctive animated feature. Belgium’s Need Productions and France’s Les Films d’Ici are the companies currently involved with the project.