The EU-sponsored Cartoon Forum has been a launching pad for many successful European partnerships, but is it serving its participants by excluding the rest of the world?
Between September 18 and 20, 600 professionals from the production, broadcasting and finance sides of Europe’s animation business will descend on the French town of Arles for the seventh annual Cartoon Forum.
The Forum, a three-day screening opportunity for previously unseen animation, is part of the European Union’s media program and is restricted to European companies. As such, it has acquired critics who argue that the exclusion of potential partners from North America and Japan fails to reflect the reality of the international co-production arena.
Cartoon Forum coordinator Yolanda Hornman is adamant, however, that these restrictions are unlikely to change. ‘The purpose is to encourage producers to look for financing within Europe and repatriate work that might otherwise be done in regions such as the Far East.’
This year, 75 projects will be on show and each must be a European co-production supported by a thorough dossier and sponsored by a broadcaster. And due to a recent imposition of more stringent budgets by the EU, numbers are tightly controlled. Hornman estimates that there will be about 100 investors and 120 broadcasters attending who should have money to spend. ‘We don’t just let anyone come in.’
Hornman claims that the Forum has given birth to numerous successful animation productions and that, just as importantly, it has dramatically decreased the length of time from conception to production. Last year’s Forum in Galway presented 67 projects, of which 19 secured short-term funding.
According to Theresa Plummer-Andrews, head of children’s acquisitions and creative development at the BBC, ‘Cartoon’s value is that small independent producers get the sort of access to broadcasters that they normally wouldn’t. At MIPCOM, we are running around like lunatics trying to talk to the big companies.’
Undoubtedly, one of the most successful companies at the Forum in past years has been German producer TFC Trickompany, which will bring Cairo Cop and Harlequin & Co. to this year’s event. TFC’s head of development, Stephan Schesch, says that it is the best specialized market for animation. ‘It’s very exclusive and intensive, not like MIP-TV and MIPCOM. It is an opportunity to market-test. If you do a good pitch, people talk about it for ages afterwards.’
TFC’s run of success began two years ago with the animated series Loggerheads, which attracted a substantial audience of 160 at its Forum screening. Subsequent interest enabled the series to go into production for Germany’s Pro 7 network, which will broadcast it in October.
Last year, TFC also received financial commitments for two new projects, Max and Moritz and Nick and Perry: Alien Dogs. ‘Nick and Perry is a co-production with our long-standing French partner Ellipse,’ says Schesch. ‘It received backing from Germany’s WDR [and] German subsidy money, and it will be broadcast in France on France 3.’
Schesch regards the exclusion of non-Europeans as crazy. In the unrestricted world outside the Forum, North American partnerships are crucial for TFC. In the case of Max and Moritz, Germany’s ZDF is the lead broadcaster, but the project now has a Canadian co-producer.
Schesch’s view is not unanimously accepted. ‘The main aim for a producer should be to get a European broadcaster on board,’ says the BBC’s Plummer-Andrews. ‘Then they have something to take to the U.S. or Japan. If the Americans came, it would be like a mini-MIP.’
Gaumont Multimedia president Marc du Pontavice is also skeptical that non-European involvement would make for a better Forum. ‘If the Americans and Japanese want to come as investors, then fine. But I wouldn’t want to see them present programs. The U.S. already has most of the European market.’
Gaumont Multimedia is attending Cartoon for the first time with a pilot for the preschool show Tune of the Moon. Shortly afterwards, the show will be heavily promoted at MIPCOM Jr. ‘In the past, our productions were either too offbeat or too commercial for Cartoon,’ says du Pontavice. ‘It was also a little too close to MIPCOM.’ With this show, however, Gaumont is entering a new arena with Tune of the Moon. ‘We have a strong concept, but we don’t pretend to be experts. Cartoon has a lots of state broadcasters who have experience in preschool,’ he says.
Link Licensing’s managing director Claire Derry, who had success at last year’s Forum with a U.K. commission for Hibbert Ralph’s First Snow of Winter and a presale negotiation in Germany, remains a keen supporter of the event, but she feels that non-European involvement would be an asset. ‘The U.S. has a lot to teach us,’ she says.
While the debate over who should participate continues, the Forum pushes forward with its same mandate. And while that may exclude some of the big players, it does open the door for some unexpected surprises. ‘Even with the least commercial projects, you can look at them and sometimes see something in them,’ says Plummer-Andrews. ‘It is a valuable European initiative.’