Celebrating France’s rich tradition as a pioneer of animation, the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) presents the 2020 Animation First Festival, showcasing the vast history, enduring ingenuity and diversity of France’s renowned animation studios and schools. Benefitting from a burgeoning animation field poised to enter a historic awards season, this year’s schedule includes 15 premieres, award-winning features and shorts, immersive exhibits, virtual reality and video game demonstrations, insightful panels with filmmakers, and more.
The Festival runs from Friday, February 7 to Sunday, February 9. Tickets are available at fiaf.org/animation.
Animation First opens with the U.S. Premiere of The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily (2019) by noted illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti on Friday, February 7. This adaptation of the beloved 1945 Italian children’s book by Dino Buzzati marks the debut feature film by Mattotti, who is known for his celebrated New Yorker covers and graphic novels.
The Festival continues on Saturday, February 8, with the U.S. Premiere of The Prince’s Voyage (2019), the most recent film by legendary director Jean-François Laguionie, this year’s guest of honor, as well as his Louise by the Shore (2016). Laguionie is one of the most important contemporary animation filmmakers, and he has been fittingly celebrated with awards, retrospectives, exhibitions, and restorations of his early works. On Sunday, February 9, FIAF will present a newly restored print of his debut feature Gwen and the Book of Sand (1982), and a program of his shorts including his breakthrough Rowing Across the Atlantic, which received a Palme d’Or at Cannes. Laguionie’s acclaimed feature The Painting (2011) will be shown in two programs geared toward young audiences (Feb. 5 and Feb. 7), and the director himself will discuss his storied career and preview excerpts of his forthcoming film Slocum (Feb. 8). In conjunction with the Festival, Laguionie will conduct masterclasses with students at the Pratt Institute and the School of Visual Arts.
The NY Premiere of Anca Damian’s Marona’s Fantastic Tale (2019), nominated for Best Feature at the 2019 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, is another of Sunday’s highlights. The festival will close with its annual presentation of the 2020 César-Nominated Short Animated films, showcasing France’s most notable achievements in this category over the past year.
Around town, Animation First partners with the New York Institute of Technology to present the U.S. premiere of Notre Dame de Paris, The Age of the Builders (2019), on Monday, February 10. This timely look at the grand cathedral’s 850-year history, leading up to the tragic fire on April 16, 2019, will be followed by a Q&A with director Emmanuel Blanchard and motion-capture specialist Jean-François Szlapka.
A special presentation of the critically hailed movie The Swallows of Kabul (2019), the debut film from Zabou Breitman and Eléa Gobbé-Mévellec, anchors Saturday’s program. This adaptation of the eponymous novel by Yasmina Khadra was introduced to New York audiences during a Work-In-Progress presentation at the 2019 edition of Animation First.
Building on its legacy of sharing sneak peaks of anticipated works and insider looks at noteworthy projects, Animation First will offer fascinating insights across several revealing programs. On Saturday, Benjamin Massoubre, editor of the award-winning I Lost My Body (2019), will give a behind-the-scenes presentation into the creation of this film, following a free screening of the feature. Later that day, Laguionie will present excerpts of his next film, Slocum, as part of a wide-ranging discussion, and directors Phuong Mai Nguyen and Charlotte Cambon de Lavalette will discuss the process of adapting Penelope Bagieu’s best-selling graphic novel Brazen, highlighting the lives of 30 extraordinary women.
On Sunday, Cambon de Lavalette and Nguyen will be joined by director Anca Damian, writer Anik Leray, and producer Valérie Schermann for a Women in Animation panel covering equal representation in the industry; Lorenzo Mattotti will discuss his debut feature film, The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily, as well as his work as an illustrator with New Yorker art editor Françoise Mouly; and director Jérémie Périn (Lastman) will present clips from his debut feature film, sci-fi thriller Mars Express, along with screenwriter Laurent Sarfati and producer Didier Crest.
Throughout the festival, visitors will be able to sample an array of new video games and virtual reality programs benefiting from France’s prolific animation industry for free in the FIAF gallery. This year’s exhibition includes the 14-minute documentary Accused #2, Walter Sisulu, which takes you inside the trial of Walter Sisulu, an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, using the restored audio recordings. Also on display is the interactive virtual reality puzzle, A Fisherman’s Tale, a surrealistic adventure game, and Gloomy Eyes, a virtual reality experience, voiced by Colin Farrell.
“As we launch our third Animation First festival, we see this medium excel at sharing the untellable and depicting the unimaginable,” said festival co-curators Delphine Selles-Alvarez, FIAF Film Curator, and Catherine Lamairesse, Director of Special Projects at FIAF. “Jean-François Laguionie was a pioneer in pushing animation beyond children’s stories to the realms of philosophy. Meanwhile Zabou Breitman and Elea Gobbé-Mévellec find humanity in the depths of unthinkable cruelty through the ethereal The Swallows of Kabul. And this year we see the grandeur — before tragedy hit — of Paris’s most beloved monument come to life through 3D technology in Notre Dame du Paris, The Age of Builders. Each work presents its own world with a unique aesthetic and memorable characters, and we are thrilled to share them with New York audiences.”
Visit fiaf.org/animation for tickets and up-to-date program information.