Time to Get Animated - It's My First Visit to the Annecy Film Festival
by Alex Billington
June 12, 2018
I'm back in France! Only one month after the Cannes Film Festival, I have returned to France for another film festival - Annecy. For years I'd heard about Annecy, but for years I thought it was a festival only for animators and industry insiders and people who work on the films. Last year I learned that it's actually just another film festival, like any other, and that anyone can attend and see films. So I decided to make my first trip down to Annecy this year and check it out. For those that don't know, the "Festival International du Film d'Animation d'Annecy" is a fest dedicated to animation - all kinds of animation. They show short films, feature films, works in progress, and they host workshops, events, discussions, signings and more. It's basically Comic-Con for animation nerds - and they flock to this tiny town every year to geek out for a week.
I also decided to come here to geek out for a week. And to see films, because I am addicted to film festivals and always love going to more of them. They're wonderful places where the art of storytelling is holy, where storytellers & artists & craftsmen are celebrated. Each festival is a community of cinephiles and story lovers, made up of people from all over the world. Each festival has its own unique feel and quirks. They make me happy. I've already finished one day at Annecy and it's unlike any other fest I've been to so far. The audience makes paper airplanes before screenings, cheering when one successfully flies straight to the screen. They make water drop noises while waiting for the film to start. It's weird, and quirky, but it's also fun, a genuine a community of geeks. I imagine they all feel like they're at home with their "tribe" when they're here again.
True movie nerds know that animation is not just a "genre", it's a tool and technique (an entire medium) that storytellers can use. There are so many different kinds of animation - in addition to conventional 2D and 3D styles, there's also claymation, puppets, stop-motion, rotoscoping, paper craft, shadows, watercolor, and so much more. I wanted to come to Annecy to get a look at different kinds of animated films, and to get a better sense of the creativity and ingenuity of these storytellers. Even if I see films that aren't that great, I'm captivated by their technique - and why they chose a certain animation style over another. Every film here can be analyzed in that way because every film is animated - and thus every filmmaker and storyteller decided that animation would be the best way for them to tell this story. Exploring the reasons why and the effectiveness of this technique is part of the intriguing discussion at this festival. It's fascinating to consider.
Animation is a medium not a genre
— Chris Miller (@chrizmillr) June 11, 2018
Phil Lord & Chris Miller are filmmakers who know the potential of animation, and they seem to be pushing things forward with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. That tweet above was posted on Monday at the beginning of the festival, perfectly timed with the start of Annecy. Perhaps just a reminder that animation is more versatile and expressive than most assume. I wish I could bring more cinephiles to this festival so they could see more animated films. Recording our latest podcast episode, I learned that one of my movie geek friends had not seen most of the big animated movies in the past few years (The Lego Movie, How to Train Your Dragon, Wreck-It Ralph) and I was shocked. They're not just for kids, people! These are great films, entertaining and thought-provoking and amusing and intelligent all at once. They show the true potential of animation, with movies that are for everyone to enjoy, not just one group. Please watch all of these movies.
As for Annecy, I'm just happy to be here and to see unique work. The first film I saw, Wall directed by Cam Christiansen, I did not care for much. It's an attempt at providing an informative outsider's perspective on the ominous wall between Israel and Palestine, but ends up being rather bland and forgettable. The film features rotoscoped animation and is almost entirely B&W, which actually does it a disservice. Ironically, I felt the film would've been much more effective if it wasn't animated. The discussions in the film are good, but I was distracted by the animation technique which made all the people feel like video game characters with terrible low-res animation (e.g. anything from the 90s). But that was just one film. Later in the day I saw The Tower directed by Mats Grorud, a claymation film about a Palestinian family that was much more compelling. And while it wasn't perfect, it felt like a very personal story being told in a clever, creative way.
I'm ready to dive in and discover more great films. My great hope is to find something truly spectacular here, to discover the next big animated breakout. Some of the others in the past that I've loved include My Life as a Zucchini (My Life as a Courgette) directed by Claude Barras & Michael Sinterniklaas, and Boy and the World directed by Alê Abreu. Both are now featured around the festival as highlights from the past, with the filmmakers doing signings and talks. So what is the next breakout? Is there a short film that is groundbreaking and/or remarkable? Are there talented filmmakers waiting to be discovered? We'll find out soon. For more info on the festival itself, visit the official Annecy website, or follow them on Twitter @annecyfestival. Their full line-up is listed there including competition, out-of-competition, classic films, and work-in-progress presentations. I'll be in Annecy the rest of the week seeing as much as I can every day.
As usual, you can follow my updates from Annecy on Twitter @firstshowing throughout the festival. I'll be posting reviews and other blog recaps on the site as the festival continues on. You can also find my photos on Instagram @abillington. I also now list all the films I've seen on my Letterboxd @firstshowing, if you want more thoughts on all of the films I'm watching. And now - it's time to get to the cinema for a screening.