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French Animation Breaks New Barriers

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Ben Croll After closing out last month’s Cannes competition, Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Most Precious of Cargoes” opened this year’s Annecy Animation Festival on an auspicious note.

With French productions accounting for one half of Annecy’s 12 competition slots, the Alpine showcase doubles a show of force for Gallic filmmakers writ large – a fact made all the more impressive given their sector’s relative youth. “20 years ago, French animation barely existed,” says “The Most Precious of Cargoes” executive producer Valerie Schermann, who credits “Kirikou and the Sorceress” director Michel Ocelot with forging a new path that many have since followed. “Michel showed that it was possible to produce animated features in France; without him I would never have been able to make my own films.” But if Schermann built a sterling filmography in those ensuing decades – with credits such as “Zarafa,” “Wolfy, the Incredible Secret” and “The Red Turtle” – the stalwart has stepped back from animation in recent years, citing financing difficulties and rising costs among the hurdles keeping French productions from reaching their full potential.

Indeed, several of the industry’s leading producers struck similar, contradictory notes, both celebrating this year’s hearty show of force in Annecy and Cannes while venting frustrations about greater structural impediments. “Our industry needs to be less prejudiced,” says Xilam founder and CEO Marc du Pontavice. “We still have this vision of animation as a medium for children, while the poles between animation and live-action are very much apart.

Our projects don’t have movie stars, and our filmmakers usually stay unknown. That results in a slow-moving mentality when it comes to our work.

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