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Euro feature showcase to fight U.S. domination

This February, the people who brought Cartoon Forum to Europe will be introducing Cartoon Movie, the world's first event designed to help finance and develop European animated features. The three-day event, which is expecting a decision regarding its funding application from...
January 1, 1999

This February, the people who brought Cartoon Forum to Europe will be introducing Cartoon Movie, the world’s first event designed to help finance and develop European animated features. The three-day event, which is expecting a decision regarding its funding application from the European Union’s Media program this month, is slated to take place in Potsdam, Germany from February 8 to 10, just prior to the opening of the Berlin International Film Festival.

Organizers hope that by holding the event when film distributors are already in town, they will be able to attract investors who have traditionally regarded such productions as risky ventures.

Despite the hurdles, there is widespread agreement that it’s time Europe did something about bolstering feature animation efforts. ‘I just think that European producers don’t, on the whole, have much idea of the [animated feature] marketplace, to be honest,’ says unofficial co-organizer Steve Walsh of London-based Steve Walsh Productions. ‘And if Cartoon Movie gives us a forum in which to meet people who are on the cutting edge, that is, the people who have to actually pay money to get these things into cinemas, then it’s going to help us.’

Walsh himself will be there to present A Monkey’s Tale, an 80-minute, US$14-million co-production with France’s Les Films du Triangle and Germany’s Cologne Cartoon, slated for French release in March. He hopes the forum will herald a new wave of European features backed by the big budgets, marketing savvy, and universal story lines that will allow them to travel worldwide. ‘I think it’s a sort of realization, all of a sudden, that maybe we shouldn’t just be laying back and letting the [Americans] walk all over us,’ he says. ‘Maybe there are some projects in Europe which, given the right support, could actually do OK at the box office.’

According to Alan Rudoff, who, as managing director of London-based Index Entertainment, works as both an acquisitions consultant for PolyGram and a sales consultant for HIT Entertainment, there is a lot of room for improvement. ‘Historically, a look at the U.K. and U.S. box office for the performance of independently financed and produced feature animation films makes for surprisingly dismal reading,’ he says. Of the 2,500 features released in the U.K. from 1993 to 1997, only 46 were animated features, according to Rudoff, and of those, 78% were from the majors-mostly Disney. European independents delivered only about 4% of the animation box office.

Such depressing figures still don’t deter the belief held by many producers that the event will be a success in the long run. Walsh points out that there were a lot of naysayers when the original Cartoon Forum event started up a decade ago. ‘Ten years ago, the idea that there would be 26 half-hour series made in Europe was considered crazy,’ he says. ‘And now, there’s God knows how many of them. The fact is that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and I think, all of a sudden, there is a will.’

But the number of film and video distributors, financiers and TV execs who will actually attend is still debatable. No official tally of those already registered was available at press time, as organizers prefer to wait until the funding decision comes down before touting the down-to-the-wire event.

Allison Williams, head of acquisitions at the U.K. office of Buena Vista Home Entertainment, says she ‘didn’t even know about it,’ when asked if she would attend Cartoon Movie. She added that she probably won’t go this year, but would ‘potentially’ be interested in attending if European producers managed to secure Disney-sized budgets for features that don’t compete with Buena Vista’s own catalog.

Emmanuèle Pétry, managing director at the Paris office of Nelvana Enterprises, says she would love to come-if she’s allowed. She has been refused admittance to Cartoon Forum in the past because Nelvana isn’t based in Europe. Organizer Corinne Jenart says that although North American-based companies will still not be permitted to exhibit productions, they will be allowed to attend Cartoon Movie as financiers, distributors and possible co-producers.

Nicolas Steil, president and CEO of Luxembourg-based Iris Productions, says Americans should be let in to both buy and show. ‘I would like to see some bridges built between the American studios and the European ones,’ he says. ‘I don’t think that the right way is to say `hey guys, we’re great, we have beautiful projects, and we want your money.” Steil is hoping to find a U.S. distributor for Quack, a 100-minute co-production with Uli Meyer Features that is budgeted at US$50 million. The feature film mixes live action with CGI animation and is slated for completion in the summer of 2001.

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