Celebrating France’s rich tradition as a pioneer of animation, the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) announces the 2019 Animation First festival. Building on its wildly successful inaugural year, the second edition of Animation First showcases the vast history, enduring ingenuity, and diversity of France’s renowned animation studios and schools. This year’s schedule includes 17 premieres, provoking feature-length films, exciting shorts, immersive exhibits, video game demonstrations, panels with filmmakers, a special spotlight on the City of Bordeaux’s animation industry, and much more. It will take place from Friday, January 25 through Sunday, January 27, 2019, at FIAF. Tickets are available at fiaf.org/animation.
Michel Ocelot honored Legendary director Michel Ocelot is this year’s guest of honor, and the festival will open with his groundbreaking feature, Kirikou and the Sorceress, celebrating its 20th anniversary. When it was first released in 1998, this enchanting film fusing African myth, stunning imagery, and a sophisticated sensibility that attracted both adults and children, broadened the scope of what animation could accomplish on screen.
Ocelot’s work will be surveyed through screenings of two other feature films: Azur & Asmar: The Princes’ Quest (2006) and Ivan Tsarevitch and the Changing Princess (2016). In addition, Ocelot will pay homage to the filmmaker Isao Takahata, a co-founder of Japan’s legendary Studio Ghibli who passed away earlier this year. He will introduce a screening of Takahata’s feature film Only Yesterday (1992). Ocelot will also curate a program of influential shorts and participate in a discussion about his body of work.
Exciting premieres and surprising shorts
This year’s Animation First festival will present no fewer than eight US and nine New York premieres, from feature-length films to award-winning shorts. Denis Do’s Funan, which won the Cristal Award for best feature at the 2018 Annecy International Animation Film Festival, will receive its anticipated New York premiere. This harrowing and semi-autobiographical film, set during the Khmer Rouge uprising in Cambodia, follows a young mother whose 4-year-old son was taken away from her.
Animation First will also present a selection of notable and award-winning shorts from Annecy, the most prestigious animation film festival in the world, as well as a program featuring all of the animated shorts nominated for the 2019 César Award in that category.
Continuing on last year’s successes, several programs will showcase the breadth of French animation, including provocative works geared toward more mature audiences. Erotic shorts return after a soldout screening in 2018. In addition, the Late Night Chills program looks at the wealth of science-fiction and suspense shorts currently being produced. Other screenings will bring together noteworthy short films in documentary and humor genres.
Animation First will also look back to France’s historic contributions to the form with a special focus on the pinscreen instrument. Developed by the husband-wife team of Alexandre Alexeïeff and Claire Parker starting in the 1930s, the pinscreen is a device composed of thousands of holes in which pins slide back and forth. As they slide in and out of their holes, the pins cast shadows of varying length on the screen, which create unique and exquisite textural effects that cannot be reproduced digitally. Traditional stop-motion techniques are then employed to animate the images. A screening of short films, from 1933’s Une Nuit sur le mont chauve to 2018’s Etreintes, demonstrate the striking effects produced by this painstaking method. Further exploring this medium, Animation First will present a panel discussion with pinscreen artists as well as two workshops demonstrating how the device works.
Times Square Arts
Midnight Moment In conjunction with Animation First, Times Square Arts will present the short film I was crying out at life (2009) by artist Vergine Keaton as its nightly Midnight Moment throughout January. Keaton is one of at least 16 female filmmakers whose work will be screened throughout the festival.
Exhibits, video games, panels, and workshops
In addition to the film screenings, FIAF will explore myriad facets of France’s prolific animation industry through exhibits, panels, discussions, and hands-on workshops. Visitors will be able to play a selection of French video games, including a demonstration of Assassin’s Creed, organized in partnership with the City of Bordeaux, and experience an augmented reality exhibit through a special app in FIAF’s firstfloor gallery.
This year’s festival was conceived in partnership with the City of Bordeaux. In recent years, the city has become a burgeoning market for animation, gaming, and virtual reality, attracting the Cartoon Movie competition and new Ubisoft studio. Seven films and two video games from Bordeaux Games were produced in the city and will be featured in this year’s edition. “It’s an honor to be able to showcase Bordeaux’s talented artists and filmmakers on this side of the Atlantic,” said Alain Juppé, the mayor of Bordeaux. “It has been a priority of mine to support the creative industries within our region, so I am delighted that they will be presented as part of FIAF’s Animation First festival.”
First Animation First is the only film festival in the United States dedicated to French animation. Today, France is Europe’s largest producer and the world’s third largest exporter of animated film. Since its early beginnings in the late 19th century when Émile Reynaud projected his Pantomimes Lumineuses at the Musée Grevin in Paris, the French animation industry has inspired filmmakers and artists. Their resulting experiments with puppets, cutouts, and stop motion, have been instrumental in inventing important techniques in cinema. Renowned for its stylistic innovation and an approach that integrates artisanal methods with technological ingenuity, French animation continues to garner awards worldwide and spans a diversity of genres. It is responsible for a variety of films from independent art-house successes such as Sylvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville and Michael Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle to those for mature audiences like Persepolis to big-budget blockbusters Ballerina to the FrancoAmerican Despicable Me franchise. Beyond films, France has carved out an important space in animated TV programs, web series, video games, and the rapidly developing fields of virtual reality and new technologies. Animation First is presented by FIAF whose mission is to create and offer New Yorkers innovative and unique programs in education and the arts that explore the evolving diversity and richness of French cultures. FIAF seeks to generate new ideas and promote cross cultural dialogue through partnerships and new platforms of expression.