After a one-year hiatus due to Covid, Animation Is Film returns to L.A. for another showcase of animated features. The festival will take place on October 22–24 at the TCL Chinese 6 Theatre in Hollywood, alongside an online component.
As usual, AIF will screen the most talked-about animated features currently on the festival circuit (it generally programs the indie titles that go on to get an Oscar nomination). You’ll see the latest acquisitions from serial Oscar nominees GKIDS, who co-organize AIF with Annecy Festival, as well as other titles.
There are five anime features, among them The Deer King, a fantasy epic that earned plaudits at Annecy and Fantasia, and Belle, the latest from Mamoru Hosoda (Mirai). The festival will be opened by The Summit of the Gods, a mountaineering mystery film recently acquired by Netflix.
Disney’s upcoming Encanto will be presented as a work-in-progress, while four studio films that came out mid-pandemic will be shown on the big screen: Raya and the Last Dragon, Luca, The Mitchells vs. The Machine, and Vivo.
Other announced events include a program of shorts by female directors, a virtual panel with the team behind Baobab Studios’ animated short Namoo (which also has a vr version), and the North American premiere of anime franchise film My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission.
Read on for the full lineup of films in competition, along with official synopses — where we’ve covered the film before, we’ve hyperlinked the titles. For more information and ticket purchases, head to the festival’s website.
The Summit of the Gods (dir. Patrick Imbert, North American premiere)
Animation Is Film alumnus Patrick Imbert (AIF ’17, The Big Bad Fox and Other Tales) returns as director of the opening night selection. Seventy years after George Mallory and Andrew Irvine climbed to the top of Mt. Everest, an old Kodak camera, allegedly belonging to Mallory, winds up in the hands of an outcast climber believed missing for years. Obsessed with proving its authenticity, a Japanese reporter enters a world of obsessive mountaineers hungry for impossible conquests on a journey that leads him, step by step, toward the summit of the gods. (Director Patrick Imbert will appear in person)
Belle (dir. Mamoru Hosoda, West Coast premiere)
Visionary director Mamoru Hosoda (AIF ’18, Mirai) returns to Animation Is Film with Belle. Suzu is a 17-year-old high school student living in a rural village with her father. For years, she has only been a shadow of herself. One day, she enters “U,” a virtual world of five billion members on the internet. There, she is not Suzu anymore but Belle, a world-famous singer. She soon meets with a mysterious creature. Together, they embark on a journey of adventures, challenges, and love, in their quest to become who they truly are. (Director-producer Mamoru Hosoda will appear in-person.)
Flee (dir. Jonah Poher Rasmussen, West Coast premiere)
Flee tells the story of Amin Nawabi as he grapples with a painful secret he has kept hidden for 20 years — one that threatens to derail the life he has built for himself and his soon to be husband. Recounted mostly through animation to director Jonas Poher Rasmussen, he tells for the first time the story of his extraordinary journey as a child refugee from Afghanistan.
The Crossing (dir. Florence Miailhe, North American premiere)
A small village looted in darkness; a family forced to flee. The two oldest children, Kyona and Adriel, are quickly separated from their parents and left facing the road of exile alone. They embark on a heroic journey which takes them from childhood to adolescence in search of shelter, peace, and the hope of finding refuge and their family. These courageous siblings survive incredible challengers, before reaching a new world, free at last.
The Deer King (dirs. Masashi Ando and Masayuki Miyaji, U.S. premiere)
The Deer King is a sweeping fantasy epic and the directing debut of acclaimed animator Masashi Ando, whose work on such landmark films as Spirited Away, Paprika, and Your Name helped shape the world of modern Japanese animation.
Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko (dir. Ayumu Watanabe, L.A. premiere)
Ayumu Watanabe (AIF ’19, Children of the Sea) returns to the festival with a story that revolves around a mother named Nikuko and her daughter Kikuko. Both live on the same boat due to different circumstances. Daily life under this umbrella will lead them to live different types of problems and experiences that will help them grow as a family.
Josep (dir. Aurel, L.A. premiere)
February 1939. Spanish republicans are fleeing Franco’s dictatorship to France. The French government-built concentration camps confine the refugees, where they barely have access to hygiene, water, and food. In one of these camps, separated by barbed wire, two men will become friends. One is a guard, the other is Josep Bartoli (Barcelona 1910 — NYC 1995), an illustrator who fights against Franco’s regime.
I Am What I Am (China / dir. Haipeng Sun, North American premiere)
Young Juan is awestruck by the artistry of a traditional Chinese Lion Dance. Inspired to become an artist himself, he joins forces with a strange group of friends, and even stranger teacher (a once promising star turned fishmonger), to form the most unlikely lion dance troupe. Together, the group works to achieve the impossible.
Nahuel and the Magic Book (dir. German Acuna, L.A. premiere)
Nahuel is a curious boy who has a deep fear of the sea. One day, he comes across a mysterious book that seems to be the solution to his trouble. What he doesn’t know is the book is really magical, and Kalku, an ambitious warlock, is after it.
Pompo: The Cinephile (dir. Takayuki Harao, U.S. premiere)
Pompo is a talented, gutsy, and unapologetic movie producer. She works on her filmmaking day and night in the movie capital Nyallywood. Gene is tasked with directing the next script for his boss. Will he succeed in his first time as a director and create a “masterpiece”? He sets out to find out, with a script built around the legendary aging actor Martin Braddock (think Brando) and a young actress seeking her first big break.
Poupelle of Chimney Town (dir. Yusuke Hirota, world premiere of English dub)
A factory town is covered by chimney smoke, and as the townspeople haven’t see the sky in centuries, they no longer believe that stars exist. A chimney sweep and a friendly monster named Poupelle decide to prove that stars are real.
Where Is Anne Frank (dir. Ari Folman, U.S. premiere)
The film follows the journey of Kitty, the imaginary friend to whom Anne Frank dedicated her diary. A fiery teenager, Kitty wakes up in the near future in Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam and embarks on a journey to find Anne, who she believes is still alive, in today’s Europe. While the young girl is shocked by the modern world, she also comes across Anne’s legacy.