Annecy Festival Preview 2024: Golden Expectations, Platinum Recommendations

Annecy Festival 2024 films collage

Annecy Festival is coming soon! The excitement is already rising and the animation-goers are ready to gather in the streets and cinema halls of this Alpine resort, even if they are aware that the festival’s identity relies more on global industry endeavors than the presentation of the most daring art-house. Since I do not remember Annecy being any different, I take this as the status quo. However, let me underline that contrary to ritualistic complaining regarding the status of art-house culture in this hedonistic heart of the global animation scene, the selection committees did extremely well in providing us with the opportunity to discover the richness of the 2024 season (the whole programming team consists of 9 persons: Laurent Million, Yves Nougarède, Sébastien Sperer, Cécile Giraud, Marie-Pauline Mollaret, Maud Ahmadnia, Gala Frecon, Isabelle Vanini, and the artistic director Marcel Jean).

Competitive programs (considered here will be selections of professional shorts, off-limits, perspectives, and two feature film competitions) portray a wide panorama of styles and techniques. But perhaps more importantly, they report on the elusive process when artistic sensitivities are changing – contemporary filmmakers affirm or counter the newest technological developments (AI included); engage with or drift away from the gruesome political upheavals of our times; their films give us a passionate thrill or a blissful moment for taking a breath in – breath out. There are certain films I eagerly await to see on the big screens of Annecy, and several I have already had the privilege to watch elsewhere (as a festival visitor or selector) and I cannot help but recommend you all to watch and love them as well!

I’m looking forward to watching ….

Drizzle in Johnson, dir. & prod. Ivan LI , 2023, Canada, Hong Kong, 21’
Presented in: Official selection 2024 - Short Films – Competition: Official

We have already agreed that Ivan Li is an enfant terrible of contemporary animated art-house, haven’t we? His previous film, ‘The Fruit’ was permanently removed from Vimeo in early autumn 2023 for “depicting nudity or other sexual acts,” or as others would have it, as an act of censorship of animating the extreme potentials of the submission-domination relationship in a grotesque and (also somehow) socially critical manner. The promotion of the newest work does not provide any details about the content, but there is already something to talk about. It is an object/work of new(est) media since Li used artificial intelligence and internet software to enhance the aesthetics of digital animation. While some commentators (for instance, herehere and here)  already fiercely resist Annecy’s decision to allow AI-supported works in the competitive programmes, I would like to wait and see what Ivan Li brings to this discussion, expecting nothing less than mind-blowing provocation.

I Died in Irpin, dir. Anastasiia Falileieva, prod. MAUR Film, Artichoke, 2024, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia
Presented in: Official selection 2024 – Perspectives

Irpin, Bucha, Mariupol. As I write these words in late May, I have to wonder - should I add to this list the name of Vovchans"k? The terror I cannot imagine is a real-life experience for people I know, their loved ones, strangers presented in the media, and all the people I know nothing about. Regarding the pain of others (to recall Susan Sontag’s phrasing), we have to realize that looking at misery is not inconsequential; that, at points, art becomes heavily political, and – unless one looks away – what we watch and how we debate film culture is an act of politics as well. Anastasiia Falileieva reconstructs the experiences of staying under the Russian siege and escaping
the occupation through the last evacuation convoy possible. Animation mediates terror through real-life objects and photos taken by the director back in Irpin. I believe that with this film we arrive at a complex junction where an art-house anidoc becomes at the same time a politicized and intimately therapeutic experience. I find the director’s position to be impressively courageous, and I am wondering which exit road from trauma she has taken.

Entropic Memory, dir. Nicolas BRAULT, prod. NICOLAS BRAULT FILMS, 2024, Canada, 6’
Presented in: Official selection 2024 - Off-Limits

According to the synopsis, this will be an audiovisual experiment centered on how photographic material undergoes corrosion and degradation, enabling memories and traces of the past to evaporate (even if they have been, supposedly, eternally immortalized). This very concept has been tried out by various animators and intermedia artists on several occasions. However, the ‘Off-limits’ authors are crème de la crème of experimental animation, it is exciting to try figuring out what kind of angle surprised the selectors of Annecy this much. Would it be the lyrical nature of Nicolas Brault’s calm but eerie transformations of material, moods, and aural sphere? Or perhaps some uncanniness imprinted in his stop-motion aesthetics stretched between the sterile and the organic? We might have a chance to watch the film in a 3D stereoscopic version (if the technical arrangements allow) -it makes the wait even more worth it.

The Storm, dir. Zhigang Yang (BUSIFAN), prod. CMC PICTURES CHINA, Zhigang YANG, 2024, China, 102’
Presented in: Official selection 2024 - Feature films

Busifan, a hero of not-for-children animation, is back! His ‘The Guardian’ (‘Da hufa’, 2017, a controversial feature film produced mainly through a crowdfunding campaign), along with Liu Jian’s ‘Have a Nice Day’, Liang Xuan and Zhang Chun’s ‘Big Fish and Begonia’, and Tian Xiaopeng’s ‘Monkey King Hero Is Back’, marked a new era in China’s mainland animated feature production. Back then, the industry accepted the existence (and commercial potential) of an adult viewer who looks for artistic quality entertainment as well as constructive criticism of significant socio-cultural issues. The four films mentioned above displayed four new tendencies in Chinese animation, among them, the problem of how to transpose the so-called ‘minzu’ (national essence) into the dynamically changing aesthetics and film language of the 2010s-20s.

'The Storm' seems to follow up on this discussion which was halted, of course – as everything else in the world, by the pandemic. Mythological narratives, and ink painting traditions on the one hand and Asian commercial cartoons on the other, burst out from the trailer. Mesmerized by the beautiful fantasy, we might want to remember, though, that fantastical “puns and parables” (xieyin) were conceptualized by the Chinese animators of the 1950-60s (precisely by the puppet film master Jin Xi) as a mode of storytelling that masks reality with the use of anthropomorphism, caricature, and exaggeration to comment on it. Busifan’s film is a promise of epic spectacle and grand intellectual challenge.

Whatever happens, don’t miss these films:

Joko, dir. Izabela Plucińska, prod. Animoon, 2024, Poland, Czechia, Germany, 16’
Presented in: Official selection 2024 - Short Films – Competition: Official

A corporeal punch in an eyeball, or what happens when the grotesque and ugly bourgeoisie meets the pathological and nasty proletariat. A powerful, witty, and daring piece of animated cinema that simultaneously reveals the author’s highest performance in adapting literature for the film screen (Roland Topor's ‘Joko's Anniversary’, 1969). Izabela Plucińska has expanded her expressiveness within the means of clay animation in an uncompromising and non-repetitive way. Yes, the images of softly, pulpy, carnal, and weirdly sexy bodies have already become her trademark, but here the auteur "bestiarium" is taken to a new level. The director precisely choreographed the circular movements of both puppets and the camera, engaging them in continuous, accelerating, and never-really-ending fast pacing. A wonderful must-see.

Kawauso, dir. Akihito Izuhara, prod. Studio Mangosteen, 2023, Japan, 15’
Presented in: Official selection 2024 - Short Films – Competition: Official

Coming from a creative duo, Akihito Izuhara (animation, visuals) and Ikuko Mizokami (script, visuals), this calmly disturbing and contemplative work maintains its photorealistic style developed in black-and-white aesthetics. Two time-spaces unfold and fuse in the most curious way – one is a contemporaneity of a wandering girl, and the other one is times from before the extinction of the Japanese river otter.

Before we learn about the facts that inspired the authors, we enter into the capacity of observers to the world of interspecies interdependency. Plain fields, empty streets, and vacated buildings at the same time anticipate, witness, and mark the remembrance of the upcoming/gone catastrophe. A particularly hypnotic effect is built within the aural sphere of the work.

This Is a Story Without a Plan, dir. & prod. Cassie Shao, 2024, USA, 8’
Presented in: Official selection 2024 – Perspectives

To paraphrase the classic: “Last night the swimming saved my life”. A body floating in the water allows the thoughts to drift away – as if the mind were a cinema screen, intimate recollections of moments of anxiety, amazement, and randomness unfold before the spectator’s eyes. They do so in a calm, peaceful, and beautiful manner. Cassie Shao provides a stimulating visual pleasure by combining a variety of digital and analogue techniques into a stylistically impulsive, yet never reckless, transformation of the imagery. The world created is at the same time delicate and exaggerated, surreal and abstract, supernatural and simplified. While this film does not lack narrative anchors (the meaningful themes seem to include the life of the human organism, spontaneity, accepting and taming emotions, etc.), the intellectual content does not dominate over the astonishing and radically refreshing visual form.

Sultana's Dream, dir. Isabel Herguera, prod. ABANO PRODUCIÓNS S.L., Chelo LOUREIRO, EL GATOVERDE PRODUCCIONES, SULTANA FILMS, UNIKO, FABIAN&FRED, 2023, Spain, Germany, 87’
Presented in: Official selection 2024 - Feature Films Contrechamp

A feature-length adaptation of a tiny volume yet profound in meaning, an early 20th-century feminist utopia written by Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, a Bengali educator, activist, and intellectual. Isabel Herguera has departed from an acknowledged piece of literature (while also making courageous and convincing changes in the literary source material), employed some characters and visual motifs that (re)appeared in her previous works, and embarked on a thoroughly inventive (in terms of aesthetics) and stimulating (in terms of intellectual contents) journey. Three kinds of time-space dimensions (differentiated by stylistic and technical choices, ranging from traditional South Asian mehndi drawings, to shadow puppets and 2D watercolors) interweave realities of phantasmatic utopia, cultural history, and personal memories of a traumatic past, as if all three were pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, elevating the feature of interconnectedness. Empathy, self-reflexivity, and humor are the driving forces of this refined narrative.

Annecy International Film Animation Festival takes place from 9-15 June 2024 in Annecy, France.

contributed by: Olga Bobrowska

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