"King Wray" "King Wray"

I’d been meaning to go to the CEE Animation Forum, a seedbed of interesting European animation, for some years. In the end, it took a pandemic to make me attend, as the event relocated from the Czech Republic to cyberspace. I took the chance to check out the feature projects presented at this year’s edition, which ran October 6–8.

Much like Cartoon Forum and Cartoon Movie, the granddaddies of Europe’s pitching events, CEE functions as a meeting place between countries that, unlike the U.S., are generally too small to produce large-scale works of animation on their own. What sets CEE apart is its emphasis on Central and Eastern Europe, a region with a deep history of animation. The event is structured around pitching competitions in which studios and artists present their current projects to potential buyers and partners.

Six features were pitched this year: three for families, three for older audiences. The latter group impressed me with their eclecticism and strong, well-communicated narratives. Read on for my impressions …

Igi

Director: Natia Nikolashvili
Producer: 20 Steps Productions (Georgia)
Budget: €1 million ($1.2 million)
Looking for: Financial and creative partners

"Igi"

In prehistoric times, a troop of quadruped simians lives under the yoke of its chief. When one individual finds that he can stand on two legs, he begins a rebellion against the norms of the group that will end in tragedy. Based on the 1977 short story of the same name, a classic in Georgia, Igi unfolds as an allegory of free will under a totalitarian regime (such as the Soviet Union that ruled the country when the story was written).

Nikolashvili first drew our attention with her fable-like 2017 short Li.le. Like that film, Igi displays her talent for capturing the beauty of nature in sparse, atmospheric paintings. An animation test shown in the pitch, in which the protagonist chases cattle, demonstrated that the 2d film moves well, too. I wasn’t surprised to learn that it won the feature pitching competition.


King Wray

Directors: Anton Groves, Damian Groves
Producer: Studioset (Romania)
Budget: €1 million ($1.2 million)
Looking for: Any co-producers or collaborators, including musicians

A cult punk star known for his signature face mask suffers an accident, and retires from gigging as a result — until he fakes a comeback by roping his illegitimate son into performing with the mask on. The plot is outlandish, but it comes from a sincere place: the British-Romanian Groves brothers explained that the film was inspired by their own memories of a “controlling parent.”

Animation has a great capacity for expressing the subjective experience of music in interesting ways. Considering this, animated features that explore the lives of musicians — and rock musicians in particular — are still rare, which is why I was drawn to this project. The directors promise a hybrid of live action and cel animation; the footage we saw was live action with painted-on colors and effects, stopping short of proper rotoscoping.


The Black Swallow

Director: Louis-J Gore
Producer: La Luna Productions (France)
Budget: €6 million (USD$7 million)
Looking for: Co-producers from other countries

"The Black Swallow"

Aviator, boxer, jazz drummer, war hero: Eugene Bullard lived an outsized life, albeit one that’s little-remembered today. This film aims to change that by telling Bullard’s story, focusing on the racism he experienced as a Black man in the Jim Crow South and France, his adopted country.

The visual side is still being developed; we were shown concept artwork that suggests a classic 2d design rooted in the Franco-Belgian comic tradition. The pitch stood out for the focus with which it presented its story. Gore and co-writer Anne-Sophie Nanki have introduced a frame narrative set in 1959, toward the end of Bullard’s life, in which a white female tv reporter uncovers his history. The idea is that the pair find common ground in the discrimination they both face — an ambitious premise, but one the filmmakers described with confidence.

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