‘Flee,’ ‘Jiang Ziya’ and ‘Lamya’s Poem’ Headline 2021 Annecy Feature Film Competition

Heading into its 60th edition, France’s Annecy Festival long ago established itself as one of the world’s most important animation events, but this year it holds the added distinction of being one of the first major international festivals in Europe to return to an at least part in-person format. Attendance will be limited to a maximum of 5,000 attendees Annecy CEO Mickaël Marin explained on Thursday evening, as Annecy announced its 2021 program.

Included in the evening’s announcements were masterclasses, keynote speeches, sneak peeks and its highly anticipated feature film lineups, boasting a strong mix of previous award-winning films and several box office hits, as well as a number of French, European and world premieres. This year’s online offering will look and function much like last years, although Marin is confident that the very few bugs from the first time around will be ironed out this year. Online access to the main program is open worldwide to anyone who can access the platform, no invite or accreditation needed, and will cost €20 ($24.43).

One of the world’s first festivals to sign the 2018 50/50 charter for gender parity, Annecy has quickly approached the desired ratio with just under 45% of the films in the 2021 official selection coming from female filmmakers. Additionally, over 40% of the key speakers, 42% of the Works in Progress participants and 50% of masterclass hosts are women this year, each new records for the festival.

Of the varying themes running through this year’s feature competition, immigration stands out as the most obvious and well-timed, with several stories told from the point of view of refugees. It’s worth noting that the majority of the films in competition are adult-orientated dramas, not at all afraid to tackle heavy issues.

A World Cinema Grand Jury Award-winner at Sundance and best Nordic documentary winner at Göteborg, Variety’s Peter Debruge describes Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee” as a “sophisticated refugee story.” Surely one of the favorites in this year’s competition, Cinephil is handling international sales for the film. Notably, “Flee” stands as one of only two French features in the main competition.

A Czech-France co-production, “My Sunny Maad” is the feature debut of Oscar-nominated and former Annecy Cristal-winning filmmaker Michaela Pavlátová (“Reci, Reci, Reci,” “Tram”), and turns on a young Czech woman who assimilates to life in post-Taliban Afghanistan after falling in love and marrying an Afghan man. Standout French animation producer Sacrebleu Productions co-produces with Negativ and B Film.

Alex Kronemer’s “Lamya’s Poem” was a hit at last year’s Annecy Work in Progress, where high-end sales agent WestEnd Films launched international sales. In the film, 12-year-old Syrian refugee Lamya finds escape in a book of Rumi’s 13th century poetry and travels 800 years backwards through a dream world to help the poet write a piece which could save Lamya’s life in the present.

Several other fantasy films made the cut in this year’s competition, headed by a trio of Japanese films. The latest from Tokyo Studio 4°C, “Poupelle of Chimney Town” unspools in a place where the sky is full of impossibly high chimneys and a 4,000-meter wall surrounds the village. After releasing in Japan late last year, it scored a Japanese Academy Award nomination for Animation of the Year, as did “Josee, the Tiger and the Fish” – a remake of the 2003 hit short story adaptation – which released to strong critical and audience reception in December of last year. Produced by Bones, the romcom holds the distinct honor of being this year’s Annecy opening screening. Tokyo giant Production IG (“Guilty Crown” “Ghost in the Shell”) brings another fantasy tale in “The Deer King,” the highly anticipated feature directorial debut of animator Masashi Ando (“Princess Mononoke,” “Spirited Away”).

One of China’s biggest animated box office smashes last year – to the tune of a quarter-billion dollars – and breath of fresh air for cinemas post-COVID, “Jiang Ziya: The Legend of Deification” follows-up 2019’s “Ne Zha” and continues the story of popular Chinese warrior Jiang Ziya.

Making room for laughs, Annecy also included what artistic director Marcel Jean describes as one of the festival’s “special surprises” in Netflix Original “You Animal! The Nimfa Dimaano Story.” The Philippine romantic comedy features a love triangle between a feline shop girl pursued by two canine suitors, a working-class janitor and a high-profile entrepreneur.  Rounding out the feature competition is “Snotty Boy,” a ’60s-set comedy unspooling in small-town Austria where a young man seeks solace from his conservative community through drawing.

Annecy’s increasingly popular launchpad, the Contrechamp section, was also unveiled on Thursday. It is dedicated to emerging talent from around the world and films that lie outside the mainstream. Many of the selected films have already been released in their home territories but, in the opinion of Annecy programmers, deserve more attention abroad. Highlights include Berlin and Sundance standout “Cryptozoo,” Brazil’s claymation comic adaptation “Bob Spit – We Do Not Like People,” and legendary Canadian animator Pierre Hébert’s “Mount Fuji Seen from a Moving Train.”

In addition to the competition screenings, Annecy also announced a thrilling lineup of special screenings, keynote talks and sneak previews. Before “Josée, The Tiger and the Fish” kicks off the festival, Annecy will world premiere the hand-drawn and hand-painted short “Tomorrow’s Leaves” from Japan’s Studio Ponoc.

Throughout the festival, screenings and Q&As will be held for several high-profile out of competition features including Cartoon Saloon’s Oscar-nominee “Wolfwalkers”; DreamWorks and Universal Pictures France’s “Spirit Untamed”; stop-motion feature “Even Mice Belong in Heaven”; Netflix’s “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”; Pixar’s “Luca”; the world premiere of Jeff Tudor, Ben Tesseur and Steven De Beul’s “Copellia”; and the rare Dutch-Peru co-production “Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon.”

To celebrate the festival’s 60th edition, Annecy will screen three specials, including Mémoire d’une minute, a series of one-minute short films on the topic of memory from 11 Annecy-prizewinning directors; Bruno Bozzetto’s 1960 competition short “An Award for Mr. Rossi”; and the world premiere of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Far From the Tree” with an introduction by director Natalie Nourigat.

This year’s masterclass curriculum includes presentations from Disney’s “Iwájú” team led by Jennifer Lee; a conversation between famed women directors Signe Baumane (“Rocks in My Pockets”), Joanna Quinn (“Famous Fred”) and Martina Scarpelli (“Egg”) about their careers; a making of DreamWorks Animation’s “The Boss Baby 2: Family Business” and “Spirit Untamed”; a look back at two seasons of “Love, Death + Robots” from Netflix; and Baobab Studios’ examination of the process behind creating Erick Oh’s “Namoo.”

Annecy’s closing ceremony will host a screening of five shorts: “Jung & Restless” from Joanna Priestley, “Boy, Oh Boy” by Stephen Irwin, “Flight” from Samuel Yal, Skydance and Apple’s “Blush” by Joe Mateo” and Walt Disney Animation Studio’s “Us Again” from Zach Parrish.

Although Annecy’s accompanying Mifa market won’t be the lakeside wonderland it has been in years past just yet, 2021 will see a physical return to the shores of Lake Annecy with a scaled-down version. After last year’s festivities were forced online, Annecy made the decision to return to Africa as its focus territory in 2021, and as part of the festival’s spotlight the region this year’s Mifa Animation Industry Award will be granted to South Africa’s Triggerfish Animation Studios.

Head of Mifa Véronique Encrenaz praised the young studio, saying: “Its journey in just a few years resulted in the production and shooting of series and feature films which have already earned a constellation of prizes. The studio has helped train talents in South Africa and throughout the African continent, structuring an industry to give all its professionals support.”

2021 ANNECY FESTIVAL FEATURE COMPETITIONS

FEATURE FILMS

“The Ape Star,” (Linda Hambäck, Denmark, Norway, Sweden)

“Snotty Boy,” (Marcus Rosenmüller, Santiago Lopez Jover, Germany, Austria)

“You Animal! The Nimfa Dimaano Story,” (Avid Liongoren, Philippines)

“Poupelle of Chimney Town,” (Hirota Yusuke, Japan)

“Jiang Ziya: The Legend of Deification,” (LI Wei, Cheng Teng, China)

“The Deer King,” (“Ando Masashi, Miyaji Masayuki, Japan)

“Flee,” (Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Denmark, France, Norway, Sweden)

“Lamya’s Poem,” (Alex Kronemer, Canada, U.S.)

“Josée, The Tiger and the Fish,” (Tamura Kotaro, Japan)

“My Sunny Maad,” (Michaela Pavlatova, Czech Republic, France)

FEATURE FILMS – CONTRECHAMP

“Mount Fuji Seen from a Moving Train,” (Pierre Hébert, Canada)

“Archipelago,” (Félix Dufour-Laperrière, Canada)

“Cryptozoo,” (Dash Shaw, U.S.A.)

“Chicken of the Mound,” (Chen Xi, Germany, China )

“Climbing,” (Kim Hye-mi, South Korea)

“Absolute Denial,” (Ryan Braund, United Kingdom)

“Bob Spit – We Do Not Like People,” (Cesar Cabral, Brazil)

“My Uncle José,” (Ducca Rios, Brazil)

“City of Lost Thing,” (Yee Chih-Yen, Taiwan)

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