***This article originally appeared in the November ‘19 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 294)***
For the third year in a row, L.A. becomes the hot spot to catch some of the most acclaimed international animated movies of the year in October. Thanks to the efforts of GKIDS founder and president Eric Beckman and his hard-working team, the Animation Is Film festival audiences get a chance to take in more than 15 bold, artistically challenging movies and attend several behind-the-scenes panels at Hollywood’s historic TCL Chinese Theatre.
“The sheer range of films is super exciting to me,” says Beckman. “Ne Zha is a humongous box office hit in China, as Weathering with You is in Japan, and both are very much made for domestic audiences without pandering to Hollywood or Western norms at all. Then you have a great selection of adult-leaning European titles, like I Lost My Body, Swallows of Kabul, beautiful personal stories like Marona’s Fantastic Tale and Bombay Rose. And also decidedly experimental arty fare from Asia, like SHe, Children of the Sea and No. 7 Cherry Lane.”
He adds, “What’s also exciting to me is that along with the established masters like Makoto Shinkai (Your Name., Weathering with You), you have a number of self-taught and first-time animators, who are not coming out of the school or studio system and therefore come at things differently.”
Catching the Eastern Wave
Since launching the New York International Children’s Film Festival in 1997, Beckman say has been keenly aware of wonderful films being made internationally. “I think this year we are seeing the focus shift further towards the East somewhat as the capabilities and sensibilities in those markets mature and come into their own, as places like France and Ireland did previously. We have four films from China in the lineup, which would not have happened five or 10 years ago.”
Asked to compare the indie animation scene with what American studios are producing these days, he says, “There are simply not that many U.S. animated features targeting adult audiences, which seems surprising given the success of animated adult fare on television. But I suspect the trend is moving forward in that direction. We are seeing more artistically adventurous studio fare as well, as evidenced by Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse last year. But with the budgets involved in studio production, it’s just hard to take risks like the Spidey team was afforded. Hopefully we will see more of that! I do think that audiences are more open to seeing all kinds of animated movies today.”
He also sees a lot more room for inclusion and representation of women and minorities in the animation business. “We need a lot more,” he says. “There is a shameful lack of diversity in animation.”
Beckman sees the rise of streaming companies like Netflix, Amazon and Apple TV+ as a net positive. “They are acquiring cool international animation and producing a ton of original projects,” he notes. “They are also not constrained by the major theatrical box office imperative or family brand sensitivities, so they can take all kinds of risks that studios can’t (or think they can’t).”
Beckman won’t tell us which titles he is personally more excited about. (“We love all our babies equally, you know that!”) But, he does leave us with some great advice about the best way to enjoy his festival: “Come and see everything — really,” he says. “See eight or 10 films. We have food, a full bar and bathrooms so all your needs will be taken care of!”
In Competition Screenings:
Weathering with You
(dir. Makoto Shinkai, Japan)
Friday, Oct. 18, at 7:30 p.m.
Marona’s Fantastic Tale
(dir. Anca Damian, France/Romania/Belgium)
Saturday, Oct. 19 at 1:30 p.m
Children of the Sea
(dir. Ayumi Watanabe, Japan)
Saturday, Oct. 19 at 4:15 p.m.
(dir. Gitanjali Rao, India/U.K./France/Qatar)
Saturday, Oct. 19, at 4:30 p.m.
(dir. Shengwei Zhou, China)
Saturday, Oct. 19 at 1:30 p.m.
Ride Your Wave
(dir. Masaaki Yuasa, Japan)
Saturday, Oct. 19, at 7:30 p.m.
The Swallows of Kabul
(dir. Zabou Breitman & Elea Gobbe-Mellevec, France)
Saturday, Oct. 19 at 7:30 p.m.
7 Cherry Lane
(dir. Yonfan, Hong Kong SAR China)
Sunday, Oct. 20, at 1:15 p.m.
(dir. Amp Wong & Ji Zhao, China)
Sunday, Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m.
I Lost My Body
(dir. Jeremy Clapin, France)
Sunday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 p.m.
Special Screenings and Panels:
Steven Universe: The Movie
(dir. Rebecca Sugar, U.S.)
Saturday, Oct. 19 at 1:15 p.m.
(dir. Atsuya Uki, Japan)
Saturday, Oct. 19 at 1:30 p.m.
Son of the White Mare
(dir. Marcell Jancovics, Hungary)
Saturday, Oct. 19 at 4:30 p.m.
Best of Annecy
Saturday, Oct. 20 at 11 a.m.
(dir. Jiao Zi, China)
Sunday, Oct. 20 at 4:30 p.m.
(panel with director Max Lang)
Saturday, Oct. 19 at 10:30 a.m.
Saturday, Oct. 19 at 11 a.m.
Sunday, Oct. 20 at 11 a.m.
(screening and panel)
Saturday, Oct. 19 at 11:30 a.m.
For more information, visit animationisfilm.com.