"Arguably, the unifying role played by Annecy has never been so strong”
Industry Report: Animation
Mickaël Marin • Director of the Annecy International Animation Film Festival and MIFA
Mickaël Marin, the director of the Annecy International Animation Film Festival and its market, MIFA, sheds light on the challenges involved in the online organisation of the event (15-30 June)
The biggest and best worldwide gathering of its genre, the Annecy International Animation Festival and its accompanying market, Mifa, will unspool online between 15 and 30 June. Mickaël Marin, the CITIA director and helmer of the event, explains this digital metamorphosis brought about by the health crisis.
Cineuropa: Why did you choose to organise the Annecy Animation Film Festival and its market online, rather than abandoning this year’s edition entirely?
Mickaël Marin: You have to put yourself in our place at the time. A few weeks before that announcement, like many festivals, we were still wondering whether we’d be able to hold the festival in June. Around the same time, we began to weigh up the option of postponing, but we very quickly realised that July would be very difficult given that our festival welcomes upwards of 100 delegations, and we thought it highly unlikely that many professionals would be able to travel. September was already jam-packed with festivals and there was no question of us overlapping with the dates of another festival, as that wouldn’t have been very respectful. Also, in terms of industry professionals, it would only have added to the confusion. So, we swiftly concluded that we couldn’t organise the event physically. But lots of studios were sending us messages saying: "we don’t know what you’re going to end up doing, but if you do something online, we’ll be right behind you." Buoyed by these positive messages - because there was no question of us organising the festival online without the support of those working in the industry - we asked ourselves how we could be most useful to female and male directors. It’s true that being awarded an Annecy Label, being selected for Annecy, winning an award at Annecy, are hugely important for the subsequent circulation of films in other festivals and for films to be considered for prestigious prizes like the Oscars. We spoke, moreover, with the Academy - before it announced that it would relax its rules for festivals unfolding online - to makes sure that if we organised a competition online, the competing films wouldn’t be penalised. We were given all the necessary reassurances and so we decided that, whilst we’d cancel the physical edition of the festival, it wouldn’t be a total cancellation as we were going to carry on playing our part in supporting films and the industry via our market event. But it was a huge challenge, all the same.
Is organising an online festival a whole other job in itself?
Luckily, we had a full-time, in-house team of skilled developers, and we already had tools of our own which we’d developed for the market - the online film library, an existing Annecy Network - so we’ve relied, in part, on these technologies. But it was a huge technological challenge to have to add other tools to our existing range to ensure that this new festival and market vehicle would work, and that it would allow festival-goers and market badge-holders to have the best possible experience. So we re-designed the website and developed a dedicated platform by combining various tools, for the market side of things.
What were your main objectives?
To deliver on a festival, but also to provide a space for professionals to chat. There’s a huge demand in this respect, because there haven’t been any markets since March and, economically speaking, Mifa is the beating heart of the animation industry. That said, we decided to limit the number of people accessing the platform so as not to hamper the subsequent careers of these films. The main aim is to make use of the sounding board that is Annecy, to provide films with a label and certain films with an award, but also to provide the press with an opportunity to talk about films as it usually would, the industry with a chance to chat and generate new projects, and broadcasters and platforms with an opportunity to identify new content. In terms of the festival itself, we want it to be a springboard for films which we hope to see on other festivals’ big screens in the autumn.
Did piracy concerns play any part in your decision?
Yes, and that’s why we altered the feature films competition (read our news) so that only a few minutes will be shown of certain films, and only jury members will be able to view these films in full. But, obviously, we have all the insurance we need in terms of health and safety, and this is especially the case when we have films from American studios in competition. This was one of the main issues that needed to be discussed, and it was the job of our artistic director Marcel Jean to re-negotiate the content we’d be able to include in our competition, almost on a film by film basis. It was quite a pleasant surprise to find that 90% of our final content was the same as it would have been had the festival unfolded in person.
Given the lengthy fabrication process involved in animation, which doesn’t require live acting, will this be the genre least affected by the crisis?
In the short term, animation will do well because, aside from stop motion which has been hampered, as have huge CGI productions whose images are too big for the sometimes under-sized cables of home-working environments to handle - which in turn raises issues of security - the greater part of the industry, producers and studios, has been able to keep on working. Animated film is a skill and a specialism: production takes place across different countries and a range of premises. So the sector already has expertise in setting up complex production pipelines, often involving international sites. It’s an advantage for the sector in the short term: it was able to continue producing and it will therefore be in a position to provide content for broadcasters and platforms. And the latter will turn more towards animation offerings because there will be more of them to choose from. But after that, in 2021 and 2022…? It’s in the medium term that the impact might be felt, given the fall in advertising investments, which will likely have an impact on the animation sector, as it will on live action.
What is your interim assessment of this unprecedented experience?
The community of artists and professionals in the animation industry have been quite extraordinary. They’ve shown great solidarity and have given us wings. Paradoxically, the unifying role played by Annecy has, arguably, never been as strong as in this challenging time.
(Translated from French)
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