Alongside a glistening lake at the edge of the French Alps is the annual Annecy International Animated Film Festival, the world’s largest international festival dedicated to our favorite medium.
While usually known for its sunny setting, don’t let the festival’s Instagram fool you—rain was pouring down pretty much all week. Nevertheless, last week marked another fun and inspirational celebration of animation. Ever since my first year in college eight years ago, I’ve missed just one edition, the one that took place last year. In 2015, I had spent the week on social media behind my desk, envying friends and colleagues bathing in sun and animation goodness. Never again will I skip an edition of Annecy, I promised myself.
During the year of my absence, Annecy made quite a few changes. They renewed the main venue, Théâtre Bonlieu, the festival’s heart, and released a very practical app that allows visitors to read about and reserve screenings easily on their phone. The slow but pretty stable internet connection at Bonlieu was a welcome change as well.
Artistically the fest has been enriched with an extensive focus on vr, showcasing two brand-new 360° experiences every day. They also stepped up their game when it comes to networking, establishing a section called Meet the Festival Programmers, where international festivals and film commissions come together to exchange catalogues, further promoting the art of animation all over the world.
Less great was the festival’s new pass strategy, forcing attendees to choose between a reasonably prized festival accreditation giving one access to the film screenings, and a more expensive meetings accreditation, allowing one to attend events like work-in-progress sessions, making-ofs and keynotes speeches. Especially unfortunate was that even with the meetings accreditation, you aren’t sure of securing a seat at those special events.
With over 9,000 badgeholders this year (a 10% from last year), Annecy is really bursting at the seams. Unless you manage to make a few online reservations beforehand, prepare to miss out on much of your wishlist or spend half of the festival waiting in line. Spending three hours waiting just to get into the premiere of Finding Dory (or any other American feature film that will be theatrically released later) really doesn’t surprise anyone anymore. Personally, I find it a bit disappointing that these blockbuster events are the most anticipated ones in the once indie-centered Annecy festival.
Despite the increasingly persistent presence of the big American studios though, Annecy might still be the best place to promote small indie films. This year’s hidden gem was the sweet My Life As a Courgette. The Swiss/French co-production generated quite the buzz throughout the week, earning praise from directors like Tomm Moore. While it was easy to get a seat at the movie’s premiere on the opening day of the festival, by Wednesday its screenings were completely sold-out. Concluding the festival beautifully, Courgette took home both the Cristal for a feature film and audience award during Saturday’s awards night.
A studio that balances blockbuster and indie (and frequent Annecy guests), Aardman Studios from England, celebrated its 40th birthday in style, participating in signing sessions and panels, winning MIFA & Variety’s Animation Personality of the Year Award, sharing their wisdom with Cartoon Brew readers, and presenting a keynote retracing the studio’s exciting journey. Annecy has made it a habit in recent years to publish presentations and Q&As online, so definitely check out their YouTube channel.
With feature films garnering most of the press’s attention, you’d almost forget Annecy’s roots lie in the short film format. Over 100 shorts were selected from a record-breaking 2,700+ submissions. There seemed to be much enthusiasm for this year’s experimental Off-Limits section, even from colleagues I wouldn’t expect to enjoy those type of works. It showed that as long as you frame them well, non-narrative and experimental works can live happily alongside more straightforward, narrative films. Below, you can watch one of the experimental shorts that competed at Annecy: Tracheal Shave by American filmmaker Gina Kamentsky.
Perhaps the most discussed happening of the week was French president François Hollande’s visit to the MIFA, which is Annecy’s business-minded segment, a market with 555 exhibitors from 63 countries. Accompanied by security all the way from the door to the roof, he walked around the market to chat with some of the exhibitors and get a feel of the event. While brief, Hollande’s visit brought attention to the business of animation and shows just how seriously France takes it animation industry. (It was the first time a French president has visited Annecy in its 56-year history, putting the event on a par with the Cannes film festival, which has also been visited once by a French president.)
Where Annecy failed to give its visitors the usual sunshine this year, it succeeded in pretty near everything else. Like usual, it has been an exhausting week full of inspiration, parties, and massive crowds, and despite some issues, there’s nothing else like it. I’m quite sure I won’t be missing another edition for years to come.
To see more photos from this year’s festival, go here.