Annecy 2020: a peek at upcoming films by Cartoon Saloon, Signe Baumane, Anca Damian and others

One of the privileges of Annecy is being able to take a look at exciting new work, still in the process of being born. Out of all the upcoming animated features showcased in the festival’s Work in Progress section, I was most excited about Wolfwalkers, produced by Cartoon Saloon (who were also responsible for the wonderful, magical The Book of Kells and Song of the Sea).

The Kilkenny-based studio is returning to Irish fables and legends as a source of inspiration with this new film, which will be a story of dualities and conflicts: English and Irish, humans and wolves, human-made settlements versus the forest. Judging by the Annecy presentation, Wolfwalkers will display Cartoon Saloon’s already established strong sense of design. Studio artists talked about how much thought was put into every decision, from the use of shapes and lines to capturing the true colours of Ireland, and how these elements are highlighting the protagonist’s journey from the human village to embracing the wilderness. A brief completed sequence of running with wolves and ‘wolf vision’ was shown, and it looked very good indeed. I can’t wait! The film is set to come out on Apple TV+ later this year.

The presentation for Signe Baumane’s My love affair with marriage also included some completed footage. It looks very familiar to those who have seen Baumane’s previous feature, Rocks in my pockets, combining backgrounds of photographed papier-mache objects with 2D animated characters, hand-drawn in the filmmaker’s very recognisable style. While Baumane herself narrated her first movie, the new production seems to feature a fairly large cast of voice actors, including Matthew Modine of Full Metal Jacket fame. The story talks about love, marriage, biological urges and the pressure of social expectations imposed on women.

In the fragment shown, it also talked about death, which is unsurprising, since Signe Baumane’s trademark is a mix of melancholy and very dark humor, delivered in a calm, deadpan way. It’s not for everybody, although personally, after watching Rocks in my pockets, I spent a long time thinking about the film and what it had to say about mental illness, family, gender etc. An interesting wrinkle: My love affair with marriage is a musical. Animated musicals about love and marriage are, of course, nothing new, with Disney princess movies being the standard of the genre- but this will be very far from a Disney princess movie.

The Island, directed by Anca Damian, will also be a musical, based on the performance by Ada Milea and the Balanescu Quartet, itself based on a play by Gellu Naum, which seems to be inspired by „Robinson Crusoe”. In the presentation, the director explained that the story will be further adapted for contemporary times, to touch on refugee issues and a deconstruction of colonialism, amongst other things.

Apart from Daniel Defoe’s book I’m not familiar with any of the source material, but a work that has gone through so many different levels of reinterpretation must make for a tricky adaptation. Juggling all these different plates in the script sounds like a significant challenge, which I hope the filmmakers will manage to pull off. Glimpses of the film’s visuals were very brief, but it seems Robinson in this version will have a tablet, rather than a written diary.

(Somewhat related: I’d like to express my wish of someday seeing an animated film for children based on Ada Milea’s Apolodor concert.)
Two other projects that caught my eye were unknown to me before Annecy, but now I’m certainly eager to see them.

No dogs or Italians allowed (dir: Alain Ughetto), is a tale of Italian immigration to France, inspired by the life of the director’s grandfather, who left his native village in the Piedmont with the initial hope of settling in America, the land of all possibilities.
A stop-motion production that looks beautifully crafted, Ughetto’s film promises to be touching as well as funny. The preview focused on the significance of this personal history, and how the filmmakers looked to reinforce its emotional resonance through artistic choices such as the look of sets and props, or voice casting. More than anything, though, I thought the clips that were shown had a very good sense of comedic timing.

I’m also looking forward to The summit of the gods, directed by Patrick Imbert (who worked on „Ernest and Celestine” and „The big bad fox and other tales”), and based on a manga by Jiro Taniguchi. The film combines 2D and cel-shaded 3D animation to take us on an adventure: an expedition to Everest.

The presentation discussed developing a visual aesthetic that was inspired by Taniguchi but also its own thing, plus the difficulties of animating realistic human characters, transposing the black-and-white source material to colour, as well as some of the setbacks that the production endured, partially due to Covid-19 restrictions. However, the artists seemed confident they will be able to show the finished product at next year’s Annecy festival.

The 2020 Annecy International Animated Film Festival took place online, between the 15th and the 30th of June.


Nadia Barbu