We recently caught up with Annecy Festival artistic director Marcel Jean and CITIA CEO Mickaël Marin, who were kind enough to share their thoughts about this year’s online event, which takes place June 15-30 (annecy.org). An online festival pass will only cost you 15 euros ($17) and a MIFA accreditation costs 110 euros ($125) for professionals. You can read more about this year’s offerings in Animation Magazine‘s pre-festival coverage.
Animag: We are sure these past few months have been quite hectic for you. How do you feel about the current plans to have the festival online this year?
Mickaël Marin: At the beginning of April, it became clear that it was impossible to think about an international festival in Annecy in June. We analyzed the possibility of postponing the event, but even that was quite problematic. Because the selection was almost completed, because we knew that it would have been impossible to imagine keeping all these films for 2021, we’ve decided to go online. At this point, what was a problem the day before became an opportunity: you must motivate your team to innovate and find different ways to create a nice event.
Marcel Jean: It’s important to say something: the decision to go online was made because we did not want to leave all the artists with nothing in front of them for months. I believe a selection in Annecy is something important for them. An award in Annecy means a lot. So, for us, it was a question of showing our respect, our admiration and our love for their work. We also wanted to offer something to our passionate and faithful festivalgoers. Because the audience in Annecy is the best audience in the world!
What will you miss most about having a live event this year?
MJ: The people. Annecy is the place where you can meet your friends, your business partners — and your few enemies — of the animation world. I’m always happy to see how students can access people from the major studios, how animators who work for TV can meet with experimental filmmakers, etc. There is no equivalent to the atmosphere of Annecy.
MM: We will certainly miss the big screen on the Paquier, which is our signature. And the incredible atmosphere at the MIFA.
What do you think are the highlights of the online festival?
MM: Our team worked very hard to have original and exclusive content. Annecy is well known for its Work in Progress presentations. In collaboration with the producers, we’ve found a way to offer these presentations to the audience.
MJ: I’m especially happy with the TV programs competition. It’s a very strong year and I hope the online format will allow more people to watch it.
Have you experienced some of the other festivals and events online this year? What is the biggest drawback?
MJ: I didn’t had a lot of time to really experience the other online festivals. I had some quick looks on some platforms. To me, the main challenge is to create some “evenementiel sense” during the online festival. You don’t want to have something flat. You want to create excitement.
MM: Me neither, but I took time to talk to some other festival directors and they generously shared their experience with us. The biggest drawback is probably your capacity to react to the audience, to adjust your behavior and your approach to the actual situation. Our organization is usually very reactive. Every year we are facing new situations and we are reacting very fast. Our team is experienced and proactive. We have an incredible capacity to improvise. This year it will be different. Certainly, less natural for everybody.
What were the biggest challenges for you this year?
MJ: To create an exciting experience for the festivalgoers. I don’t worry at all about the quality of the product. The films are great, the original content will be great. The challenge is to create a kind of interaction. It may look like a paradox, because the Internet is a place for interactivity, but it’s not so simple to recreate the level of interactivity you have when hundreds of filmmakers and thousands of viewers are together in the same physical space.
MM: Another challenge was the impossibility to conceive Annecy online as a local event. Everything would have been more simple if we would have accepted to geolocate the access. But Annecy is an international event and it seemed absurd to us to back off on this aspect. There is also an economical challenge. There was no business plan for an event like that, so we are jumping the cliff and making the parachute while we are falling.
Was it difficult to get film and shorts distributors to agree to having their films available online?
MJ: Surprisingly not. You know, we are all in the same boat. So, once past the first days, when some filmmakers, producers and distributors were still hoping to premiere their films in a major international festival this summer, the reality and the time frame of the consequences of the pandemic hit everybody.
There were two types of problems. First, the films that were not completed when we decided to select them. With the confinement, the production of some of these films was interrupted. So they had to withdraw. The second problem was with the feature films. The financial structure of a feature is usually built on the investment of some distributors, of more than a television network, of a sales agent, etc. So, we had to imagine different ways to qualify these films for the competition.
Can you tell us a bit about how MIFA is approaching the online component of the festival?
MM/Véronique Encrenaz (head of MIFA): MIFA is adapting also to the situation and will maintain most of its content and networking events. As with the festival, when COVID-19 forced us to stay at home, most of the content had been selected already. It was essential for us to find the way to show it to the animation community.
MIFA Pitching sessions as well as Pitching Territory Focus sessions will be programmed starting June 15. Project creators will be asked to pre-tape their pitch, which will be put online starting June 16, and available for two weeks until June 30. Each of them will benefit online one to one sessions with professionals. MIFA Campus will be maintained and opened to all, with around 15 sessions of training sessions, panels or artists talks.
Networking events will also be maintained for most of them: “Meet the…” with festival programmers, publishers and music composers will take place online, with pre-arranged one-on-one meetings. Buyers will benefit from the usual “Share with” sessions, with two options: either pre-arranged one to one meetings or 30 min. live sessions with Q&A. Industry territory focus sessions/MIFA special events/press conferences will include both pre-taped panels and live presentations with Q&A.
And in order to answer the needs of all professionals around the world looking for visibility and contacts, virtual stands are proposed to all MIFA-registered companies, offering them the possibility to gather content and get in direct live-chat contact with connected professionals.
How do you keep yourself sane and inspired during the quarantine period in France?
MM: I have a lot of work to do, but I also have a family and to be in confinement with my kids and wife is also a great opportunity. In recent years I travelled a lot and the kids are growing so fast… It’s great to be with them.
MJ: I’m based in Canada, so I can’t tell you about France. However, I have so much work with the organization of the online festival that I don’t suffer so much from the quarantine. Days are going very fast…
Do you see a silver lining in all this?
MM: I think it could be good for the team spirit. We are facing a crisis together. I feel solidarity between the different services. We will be a stronger team at the end.
MJ: When I was appointed as the artistic director eight years ago, I wanted to create an Annecy Online. I never really had the time nor the means to do it. Now, I’m trying something.
Have you seen any animated shorts that perfectly reflect what we are going through all over the world?
MJ: Absolutely! Empty Places, by Geoffroy de Crécy. It’s in the short films competition.