From the international aspirations of Disney+, to the ongoing drive for gender parity across the industry, there were plenty of hot topics flying around the 2019 Annecy International Animation Festival and MIFA market, which wrapped up on Saturday.
For starters, MIFA is continuing to grow at a rapid pace. It set a new attendance record, with more than 4,100 badge holders in attendance, a 9% increase from 2018. Visitors came from 92 countries and nearly 2,000 companies participated (up 8.4%), including 433 buyers, distributors and investors. Studio heavyweights Disney, DreamWorks, Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, as well as SVOD giant Netflix and Illumination’s Paris-based animated feature prodco Illumination MacGuff were all in attendance. Meanwhile, Unreal Engine-maker Epic Games, Zodiak, Mediatoon, Go-N and PGS all had stands for the first time.
MIFA is now the largest single market dedicated to animated film in the world, according its organizers.
Among all of the attendees, panels, sessions and constant meetings, there were a few topics that caught our eye and we’ll be sure to keep in mind for the rest of the year:
Localized content partnerships
Coming off the global success of its Oscar-winning feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Sony Pictures Animation rolled out a new international initiative spearheaded by producer Aron Warner (Shrek, The Book of Life) that will develop and produce a wide range of features for local and worldwide release. First up, Wish Dragon is a co-production between Sony Pictures Animation, Beijing Sparkle Roll Media, Tencent and Base Media that’s set in contemporary Shanghai and will premiere in China next year. Coraline‘s Chris Appelhans is directing. According to Warner, Sony has projects in development with filmmakers in Mexico, France, South Africa, Colombia, Brazil and India, among other countries.
“The goal is to make unique films that have some cultural significance in the places they are set and in the stories,” says Warner. “It doesn’t mean they have to be important or heavy, but they should reflect the people making them and help the world see what the rest of the world looks like. We don’t want to shy away from making things specific and local or shave the edges off to appeal to everybody.”
Netflix, meanwhile, has partnered with French animation school Gobelins and is providing funding for up to 10 students from Africa to study at the school as part of its master of arts in character animation and filmmaking program. Animation from Africa is also going to be honored at next year’s MIFA market following this year’s spotlight on Japan.
“The fact that platforms are interested to give a voice to small regions with varieties of storytelling will enrich the human race as a whole in the end,” says Jose Iñesta, director of Mexican animation association Pixelatl. “In Mexico I grew up seeing white male superheroes and as a kid in Mexico you felt like there was something wrong with you because no one in your family looked like that. But there is nothing more calming for a child than seeing something they can relate to.”
To help give more opportunities to emerging indie artists in LatAm, Pixelatl teamed up with Annecy last week to launch Short Way, a new original animated shorts program where creators will get to pitch in front of international producers and distributors at Animation du Monde and at MIFA 2020.
Gender equality push
For the third year in a row, nonprofit advocacy group Women In Animation (WIA) and French association Les Femmes s’Animent kicked off Annecy with the WIA World Summit. WIA’s mission is to help women hold 50% of the creative roles in animation by 2025 (women currently hold only 20% of the positions). Sony Pictures Animation president Kristine Belson and DreamWorks Animation boss Margie Cohn were among the track’s key panelists, which also included Netflix’s VP of originals and animation Melissa Cobb.
After the session Belson told Kidscreen that she is encouraged that some progress has been made, but there is still a lot of work to do.
“It’s because it’s smart business,” she says. “It’s how we are going to succeed. The fact that it is the right thing is the by-product. The reason to do it is because people don’t want the same stories.”
In conjunction with the World Summit, a new WIA report found that women make up half of president, CEO and CCO positions at animation film companies. However, fewer than 10% are women of color (6% for films and 9% for TV). For female director roles in animated film, women comprised just 3% of the jobs (it drops to 1% for women of color). Results were slightly better on the TV side with women making up 13% of animated film director positions, but only 2% for women of color.
DreamWorks Animation Television CCO Peter Gal took part in a discussion around how men can support gender inclusion. “The next generation is actually challenging all of the men in the business to step up, be accountable and ensure we’re all working towards the gender parity that everyone wants,” he says.
Disney+ external production
Ahead of its launch in the US on November 12, the House of Mouse’s new SVOD Disney+ is stocking its shelves with plenty of new content. While in-house productions have always been Disney’s bread and butter, Disney+ has already linked up with a number of international producers, including French studio Dwarf Animation (Monchhichi) for its Monsters Inc. spinoff series Monsters At Work and Paris-based Xilam Animation, which is developing an original non-verbal reboot of Chip ‘n’ Dale with Disney’s London-based animation group.
The Oggy and the Cockroaches producer will handle everything from scripting to artistic design in partnership with Disney on the 39 x seven-minute series. Xilam’s momentum continues to build this year having just won the feature film Cristal award at Annecy for its 2D- and 3D-animated movie I Lost My Body. The film, which has already been snapped up globally by Netflix, is directed by Jérémy Clapin (Skhizein) and produced by Xilam’s CEO Marc Pontavice.