LIAF Co-Director Malcolm Turner shares his 3 days in Paris…
I’m a city lovin’ guy that doesn’t really like cities that much. I love wide open spaces but I hate the fact that there is nothing in them. As habitats, cities offer their inmates economies of scale that make many of the 21st century’s most appealing goodies graspable (presumably), depending on how much there is actually available to be grasped and how many other people turn up with the same idea in mind.
One of the defining qualities of any given city turns on how practical and easy it is to get around. As someone who spends an unsensible amount of time away from my own city, I get more than my fair share (my IDEAL share being zero) of exposures to the limitless and fractious joys of beta testing the public transport systems offered up by a wide range of different cities. None of them are good. But some of them are better than others. And Paris has one of the best there is. Which is good news in this particular moment in time because I’m in Paris – and I have three days to kill. I will be using their Metro system rather a lot.
And so it’s Day 1, hour 1 and it still seems like a good idea. I am trundling along quite nicely on the No 2 Line (BLUE, Nation-Porte Dauphine). This line is the one that, more than any of the others, really traverses the myriad faces of Paris.
It runs from the east of Paris to the most western point of the city but does so in a large, sweeping semi-circle that studiously avoids most of the finest neighbourhoods and the vast majority of the most sophisticated tourist attractions that Paris has in abundance. For the most part it follows the path of a wall that was built in the late 1700s to control and tax the flow of goods into Paris and most of the stations along the line are built on the sites that previously housed very stout gates in that wall.
As I traverse the line this morning east to west, these names roll by my window every 90 seconds or so. Alexandre Dumas, the prolific author of some of France’s most popular books including ‘The Count Of Monte Cristo’ and the ‘Three Musketeers’ who fathered at least seven children via the forty or so affairs he managed to squeeze in during his long marriage to actress Ida Ferrier. Or Phillipe Auguste, the 12th century King who spent considerable energy during his 40 year reign prosecuting an extremely packed slate of wars and armed squabbles. He is rightly honoured for paving the main thoroughfares of Paris and building the Louvre (as a fort), although perhaps his hobby of taxing the Jews, stripping them of their properties and then eventually banishing them from the city could be said to take some of the glow off that particular reputation.
Twenty minutes and I have travelled from one side of Paris to the other. I emerge at Ternes, not quite the end of the line but almost. I have five minutes to get from here to my first meeting and I am certain I know exactly where to go. Naturally, I immediately get lost. I have turned right instead of left, but proving the dark cloud/silver lining thing, I happen across an excellent, accessible street market straight out of a postcard at the intersection of rue Bayen and rue Poncelet. Just sharing. If you’re ever in the neighbourhood.
First meeting is at Cube Creative. Alexandre Pagot ushers me into a screening room and gives me an intensely packed run-down on Cube Creative’s twelve year history.
Started in 2002 by Majid Loukil, Bruno Le Levier and Lionel Fages, Cube Creative has grown rapidly into a studio employing more than thirty people and has produced at least twenty short films and a substantial dossier of commercials. On board are some of France’s most exciting animators. Going through the Cube Creative library with Alexandre, it becomes immediately clear that there is no ‘house style’ here, all of these animators have – and are allowed – original and unique voices.
Louis Clichy created his charmingly grainy Edith Piaf music video A Quoi Ca Sert L’Amour at Cube Creative not long after graduating from the legendary Gobelins School in Paris. Old timey without the visual clichés that usually accompany that style, this film saw Clichy take up animating roles at Pixar where he worked on Wall-E and Up. Currently, Alexandre tells me, Clichy is back in Paris working at production studio Mikros Image who are producing a CG feature film starring the iconic French comic character ‘Asterix’.
Contrasting this is the photo real computer animation of rising star Nicolas Deveaux who revels in producing films featuring elephants and giraffes who, were they not involved in the mostly absurdly impossible activities, would easily pass as real.
Different again is the warm, pastel-hued subtlety of Jean-Francoise by Cube Creative duo, Tom Haugomat and Bruno Mangyoku. Also graduates of Gobelins, their film is perhaps the one Cube Creative is best known for with a host of awards and literally, thousands of festival screenings internationally to its name.
Despite being founded in 2006, I had not heard of Kawanimation until two years ago when I stumbled across a crazy little short they made called Fragments.
“We’re big fans of Studio 4C and Japanime was a major influence to us”, explains Alexis Laffaille, head of Production Development, as he tours me around the Kawanimation HQ. “We like cartoons but not in a dumb way, we’d love to set up an Adult Swim kind of thing in France. The audience is here, and the talent too.”
Their first short film arrived in 2006 in the form of Happy Hour and instantly marked out the Kawa style. Directed by Maxime Paccalet and the two founding directors of the company, Pierre Razetto and Dimitri Cohen-Tanugi (both Supinfocom graduates), it was an instant hit. The breadth of his fevered imagination and the reach of his desire is something that could only be adequately portrayed using this style of animation.
Leaving Kawa, I decide to take a long short-cut to my next meeting. What could possibly go wrong with that plan? This is an interesting part of town that I actually know quite well so I am feelin’ lucky. Sacré-Coeur or, more precisely, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Paris. Built atop the single highest point in Paris, it is not nearly as old as a lot of people think. It was not actually completed until 1914 and officially sworn in as a real church until after WWI. Presumably the view from the hill it stands on is impressive and the insides of the Basilica sound truly awe-inspiring. I doubt I will ever know, I have never been able to find the exact right balance of mogadon and snortable nitrous oxide that would prepare me for the horrors of dealing with crowds that turn up to maxi-selfie themselves in the environs.
But caught up in the geographical hem of its skirts is a pretty interesting, although not entirely welcoming, little nodule of Paris-reale. Generally speaking, it is an area called the Montmartre and parts of it border on the dangerous. If you need to scratch the itch to buy contraband tobacco – quickly – from a large gentleman who doesn’t look like he has the ability to readily issue receipts, you will find him and plenty of his competitors noisily working their trade here. If the cost of Parisian hotels and souvenirs is starting to bite or if you are missing the kind of full blown soccer riots that you have back home, then the Montmartre might just be the solution you have been looking for, if you can absorb the authentic grittiness of the local atmos.
It’s worth it. For starters, in the shadow of Sacré-Coeur is a little ‘T’ construction of streets that are easy to walk right past. Those who venture in will find one of the planet’s most concentrated collections of fabric sales shops. If unique shirts, skirts or shorts are your thing, you have arrived at the motherlode of source material.
Funny as it sounds, Paris is generally not that great a place for coffee. Bland is going too far as a descriptive generalisation, but tracking down really great coffee there is not really worth the effort. Much better to just accept your fate and buy a glass of wine. Or two. But the Montmartre with its large African population, some of whom have become cafe owners and workers, is the part of Paris where you stand the best chance of beating the odds. The best ones seem to be clustered around the squares to the west of Sacré-Coeur.
Ten minutes walk away – Autour de Minuit! This is an annual pilgrimage. Established by Nicolas Schmerkin in 2001 as a vehicle to capture the resources needed to help filmmakers make films, Autour de Minuit has gone from strength to strength over the years, notably taking out an Oscar for Logorama in 2010. They now have a distribution catalogue of over 200 films. The premises are tiny and, as is often the case, a couple of pieces of errant furniture have to be moved to allow the door to open wide enough for me to enter. I think these guys must live there.
Today the mission is to touch base with the crew, get the low down on films currently in production, ascertain when those films might be due for completion so that I can make sure I get them fresh off the press and last but by no means least, pick up the brand new Supinfocom Graduation Reel.
There has never been a LIAF that has not shown at least one or two Autour de Minuit films and a swathe of Supinfocom works. With an astonishing nine films in production, the next 12-18 months looks like something of a field of dreams at Autour de Minuit.
Studio Metronomic provided one of the most popular short animated films ever screened. The Crab’s Revolution was released in 2004 and on the face of it, it struck me as a funny, fairly simple and simply drawn film featuring a race of crabs who can only walk in a straight line sideways. But it’s popularity with audiences, then and ever since, is incredible. It is the first thing I ask Metronomic co-founder Jeremy Rochigneux about after I have navigated a confusing floor numbering system in the building the studio is situated in. Like me, he struggles a little to explain its enduring near cult status.
“Most successes are hard to predict so the success of that film is still a mystery”, he admits. “I guess the struggle of the characters in the film talks to everybody – the anti-conformist way is really not a comfortable way and we are all scared to assume our differences.”
Metronomic was formed in 2000 when he joined forced with Luis Briceno, creating a place where they could make the films they wanted to make, and work in a way that suited their attitude to the creative process.
“The spirit of the studio is to make film with a non professional spirit”, he ventures. “Just like Super 8 amateur clubs in the 70’s. Mixing live action, special effects and animation.”
Metronomic’s first film was Caged Birds Cannot Fly (2000) but it was The Crabs Revolution that really got the new studio some serious attention, a process that went up another notch when a music video they produced in 2006, Plaire, took out the major award in its category at the Annecy Festival the following year.
The latest Metronomic film The Little Blond Boy With A White Sheep by Eloi Henriod, is also beginning to build some impressive numbers on the international festival circuit. It has a very charming visual design style intentionally aimed at the widest possible audience. It came about after Jeremy met French actor and artist Pierre Richard at a film festival in Ukraine.
“He mentioned the comic book that he had written about his childhood and his idea of adapting it into a film”, says Jeremy. “I read it and thought he was right and we turned it into a short film with the help of Eloi.” Simple as that.
Less than five minutes down the road is the last meeting of the day, Miyu Studio. This turns out to be a truly amazing experience. They say you only get one chance to make a first impression and the first impression of walking into Miyu is a shock. I suddenly feel extremely old.
“Is there anybody over 21 years old here?” I ask my hosts, more as an involuntary reflex than a considered question. The production suite is packed tight with an outstanding array of identical computers all being thoughtfully worked by a small army that look like they would struggle to be able to legally purchase a bottle of vino rouge.
Miyu has a short but spectacular history. It brims with a vitality and an energy that suggests it will fly high, far and fast. It was founded in 2008 by Emmanuel-Alain Raynal, a man who gives the very distinct impression of having an eye for details.
“The first idea was to produce singular and new projects coming from young directors – not only animation films, but also live action ads, fiction, documentaries”, he says in response to my comment about the average age of the Miyu team. “The original idea was always to find new filmmakers right after school that possessed a strong point of view, and to integrate them into the studio.”
Ugo Bienvenu, Julien Seze and Kevin Manach are three of the driving forces on the animation team. Most of Miyu’s short films and music videos have some combination of their inputs stamped into them. There is a maturity of perspective and a wealth of life experience imprinted into them that is astonishing for such young filmmakers. Maman in particular is inflected with a slow-burn shock-load capturing the unspoken complexities and complications of familial co-existence that many a lesser film strives for and never hits.
Day two and it’s an early start. An attempt to get through my first Metro ride of the day before the morning peak hits, sees me roaming aimlessly around Place de la République. It is definitely an impressive piece of Parisiana but I generally find it oddly stark and barren. It feels more like a place that everyone simply goes through to get to somewhere else. It is wide, long, flat and more or less featureless except for a giant round statue dotted into the middle like the formidable handle of a huge spinning top.
The surrounding area has quite a history though and has endured a number of substantial, not altogether, popular redevelopments to produce the landmark site that now occupies the space and its surrounding streetscape. In the mid 1800’s, the surrounding area was most famous for its popular culture theatres that typically hosted murder mysteries, melodrama and pantomimes. Many of the official records of the era insinuate that the some of the liveliest participants in the 1830 and 1848 revolutions called the area home. As the 1850’s progressed, the massive public works undertaken by Baron Haussmann were to drastically change the character and layout of the area, destroying old streets and creating the boulevards that form part of the perimeter of the modern Place de la République.
I don’t know why but I have never visited the office of Les Films de l’Arlequin. Formed in 1991 by six friends with a variety of film and cinematic backgrounds, Arlequin always seems to come up with some of the most beautiful and artfully made films we get to see. Some of France’s most respected animating artists have produced films under the Arlequin banner over the years, Florence Miailhe, Marie Paccou, Sandra Desmazières and Serge Elissalde to name a few. These days the names that turn up on the Arlequin playlist include Santiago ‘Bou’ Grasso (Argentina), Gianluigi Toccafondo (Italy), Michal and Uri Kranot (Canada/Israel/Denmark) and Dominic Etienne Simard (Canada). Catalogues do not get much better than this.
Dora Benousilio is the thoughtful, gentle commander of this splendid animated vault of riches. I ask her how is it that Les Films de l’Arlequin has been able to attract such a colourful cluster of moths to the flame.
“They feel well here”, she says, a comment that loses some literalness in the translation but which surely paints a more comprehensive appreciation of the atmosphere Arlequin creates and the type of support it offers.
At that moment, as if to underscore the point, in walks somebody that has been way-high on my ‘want-to-meet’ list for a long time, Ines Sedan. Few people can bring a painting to life in the way that she can. Her ability to breath life into these images has an almost transcendental aura to it. It is simply beautiful work to behold for the sublime nature of the artwork alone, a quality that can mask the often bleak message that rides in on that wave. Her latest film, The Chant is everything that an Ines Sedan film should be. The artwork is exquisite without being overly fussy. The animation is fluid and full without being showy. The characters arrive and perform, posing more questions than answers.
Les Films de l’Arlequin has one of the more intensely packed ‘works in production’ schedules of any of the studios I will visit in this three day whirlwind of a trip. “For the moment we are developing or producing six projects”, Dora later emails me. It is a lot to take in and suggests a prolonged animated summer of promising harvests.
I am already late for my next meeting. Founded in 1992 by Roch Lener (who is still the President of the company), Millimages has grown into one of the most successful commercial animation companies in Paris. It has been a long time since there has been an opportunity to create any of the alluringly warped shorts such as the 1993 Alexander Budnov classic Clinic, but the work of Millimages’ directors is seen on TV screens in more than 200 countries.
Some of their most successful TV series such as Louie, 64, Zoo Lane and especially Mouk run to more than 100 episodes and have screened in almost 100 countries.
Millimages, relative to most of the organisations I tend to visit and certainly relative to everywhere I visited on this little Parisian odyssey, is large and the office works to a more corporate rhythm. And yet, once I had explained what my mission was, the welcome could not have been warmer or more generous. This is not the usual reaction from a corporate organisation and speaks volumes to the spirit of creativity and the essence of the auteur that Millimages has retained as it has grown and diversified.
Planktoons Studio has one of those typically Parisian courtyard entrances to their office door AND they have the guard dog services of the angriest old lady in Paris who stands ready, willing and able to hurl colourful insults at unannounced visiting Anglo interlopers who venture into her courtyard looking for the unmarked entrance of a studio they cannot adequately pronounce in French. My French is tragic but when attempting to learn a new language I tend to follow the tried and tested path that most males use… I start by learning the swear words. If I had the time, this blue-in-the-face, arm waving, volcanic octogenarian could have been just the ticket to kick-starting my French. Alas, I had not the time. It is an immensely humorous introduction to a small but dedicated company of five independents who all met when studying at the Ecole Georges Melies, which being situated near Orly airport makes it yet another fine animation school in the greater Paris area.
Their first short film was Do Penguins Fly (2006) which was enough to establish an early reputation for technical excellence and an attention to visual details along with a pacey and absurdist narrative structure. It also landed them the opportunity to develop a commercial relationship with Nickelodeon which has included developing a range of interesting pilot ideas as well a Cartoon Network special of the Powder Puff Girls which unveiled an updated design for that particular franchise. Their latest short film has taken all of this commercial animating experience and poured it back into mixing bowl that holds all of the auteur instincts that brought them together to form the studio in the first place. The result has been Reflection which has had a remarkable festival run picking up awards right across the diverse festival spectrum. Among its many accolades, it took the much coveted ‘Best In Show’ award at SIGGRAPH the year it was released.
Heading back down the street I caught a glimpse of old angry woman screaming some more purple invective at some other astonished stranger. If only all that energy could be bottled or used to heat the water or something.
End of the line. I clamber up the steps at Porte de Clignancourt, the last stop of Line No 4 (Purple). I am early, a bit of time to kill, but the threat of rain hanging in the air. I have only a basic idea of where I am so I head in the opposite direction to the one almost everybody else seems to be going – it’s one way to pick a random path forward when there are no obvious signs to guide the way. The sound of a soft but constant roar is my almost instant reward. I find myself on a bridge looking down into ten lanes of stampeding traffic. It is impressive in a kind of ear splitting, climate changing kind of way. I seem to have made it to the official border of Paris proper, the Périphérique. Forming a near perfect circle right around Paris, the Périphérique is a monster of a road. It is one of the busiest in Europe and is said to account for 25% of all the driving done in Paris.
It has a fascinating history and while standing on this overbridge, it is not really that hard to mentally delete the vast road that arcs away from me into the distance and replace it with the giant Thiers Wall that used to ring Paris as an early 19th century construction to safeguard Paris from invading armies. In its time during the second half of the 1800s, the Thiers Walls must have been quite a spectacle, forming a 35km stone circle around the city. By the 1920’s, aeroplanes and modern artillery had made the concept of protective walls obsolete and much of the wall was dismantled or allowed to fall into disrepair. After WWII as private motorised travel began to take hold, the decision to tear down the remainder of the wall and build a single road that would allow people to travel around the edge of Paris was made and work on the Périphérique began.
The powers that be are gradually building a tramline that roughly follows the path of the Périphérique. But it is still a long way from complete as it is a hybrid of sorts, requiring changing trams at different points to continue the journey. Somebody from the ever expanding ‘Public Transport Good Ideas’ Department has also laboured long and hard to come up with a different automated, Hammond-organ tune to announce every single approaching stop. It is like being stuck in a huge elevator with whoever has just won the World Jingle Writing Championships as he tries out 50 or 60 of his latest ideas on his iPhone. Despite my profound respect for all public property, if I lived here and had to use this every day, I would be driving a phillips-head screwdriver through the control box of this urban banshee and putting out a plea on Kickstarter for funding to cover my defence costs.
Onyx Studio, it is now time to say hello to you. The building Onyx inhabits is a huge and unusual imposition smack in the middle of an otherwise traditional looking neighbourhood. In fact, it fills my entire vista as I walk down the lane towards it. Designed by Renzo Piano, it consists of two dozen or so peaked rooves forming a serrated, saw-tooth skyline. Each of the peaks, it has to be said, hosts a formidable bank of solar electricity panels. Built around a grassy outdoor square, all of the spaces inside are studies in tall, smooth, boldly coloured walls which are often unexpectedly intersected by open stairwells and raised walking bridges. The combined effect is a conglomerate of spaces 1, 2 and even 3 stories tall, huge and open spaces rubbing shoulders with tiny and intimate rooms, all with plenty of natural light and almost all with some sort of visual access to the central grassy square.
It is a building that abounds with surprises. Much of it is the corporate office for a large record company, which explains the abundant thicket of freestanding Beatles and Pink Floyd paraphernalia that I find myself sitting amongst when I first arrive. I pass some time trying to recall – and then purge – the lyrics to several songs from ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’. The whole thing brings back memories to events I am not entirely sure I actually experienced.
Before the dark side takes complete hold, I am rescued by Pierre Reyssat of Onyx Films. He confirms that Onyx has not produced any short animated films for several years but gives me a detailed history of shorts that Onyx did create and introduces me to what they are working on now. Onyx – at least as viewed through the prism of the short animated films they created – always had an interesting take on what could be achieved with digital animating technologies. Their early directors, in particular Christian Volckman and Juan Solanas, epitomised this approach.
Solanas made The Man Without A Head (2007), probably Onyx’s most popular short, before moving onto an extremely successful career in directing live action feature films for Onyx including Upside Down which starred Kursten Dunst and Jim Sturgess.
Volckman did some extraordinarily interesting work at Onyx. His 1999 breakthrough film Maaz was easily one of the most exciting examples of the possibilities the coming digital animation might bring. It is a film that looks like it could credibly claim to have been made last week, rather than during the first light of the digital era. In large measure, its power is that it used computer animation not simply to animate something that could have been done in another technique, but to explore the absolutely unique properties that the new form could offer. Maaz is a film that could ONLY have been created using CG. More people will be familiar with Volckman’s hybrid-technique feature film Renaissance (2006), an unusual film in that it was almost exclusively presented in a stark black and white format and one of the truly engaging and successful uses of motion capture animating technology in a more mainstream cinematic forum.
Onyx, in the meantime, is fully focused on a number of extremely challenging animated feature film projects. They have features in production starring animated versions of Charlie Chaplin and Robin Hood, but the one that will have the most eyes watching it is the 3D stereoscopic version of the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry story ‘The Little Prince’, one of the most beloved books ever created in France. Tentatively, it is due for completion in early 2015. That’s pressure!
CRCR is a band of young animators that hit the ground running as a team immediately after graduating from Gobelins. For the most part, CRCR confine their time and considerable energies to punchy, eyeball-grabbing ads and spirited, fantastical music videos. The CRCR crew have no particular reverence for the pure technology of the CG animating lexicon, instead as digital natives they simply see it as the most obvious toolkit for creating what their imaginations contrive before their inner eyes. There is magic in the air when Remi Bastie, Nicolas Dehghani, Jonathan Djob Nkondo, Paul Lacolley, Kevin Manach, Nicolas Pegon, Jeremy Pires sit down to animate. Their first film, Lonely Dogs (2010) was made while still studying. More traditional in style than what their professional work would become, it bookends the spectacular development of the CRCR ‘look’ just three years after its completion.
Trying to find them was harder than I expected. For a start, there are three doors along the street that all have the same street number I am supposed to knock on. Ironically, the door I eventually find them behind is the only one that has no number on it at all. It opens up on what appears to be a tricked-out closet with two long desks jammed with computers and just enough leftover space to park bikes and several towers of instruction manuals.
After a brief tour of their hard drive and a premiere viewing of their latest music video, I am led upstairs for a coffee. Upstairs is VAST. It essentially covers the length of the entire street and involves walking through several sections that were clearly once autonomous spaces until somebody knocked down the walls. Not only this, it turns out there is a lot more downstairs as well. This is a collective space offering shelter to a substantial number of film and digital media companies. It is by a long, long shot the biggest example of its type I have ever seen. The coffee is good too. I have two, in fact. My sixth or seventh for the day.
Outside, the rain has at least stopped. I could use a drink. I would use it for drinking, it would be extremely useful for that. I know a place. Yes. The Blue Bar, actually named Grand Bouillon, is on the Rue Racine over in the dreaded tourist swell of the Sixth, just off Boulevard Saint Michel. Best mojito in Paris. It’s a great bar with beautiful ornate windows, luxurious chairs and in a city where noise is often a marketable commodity, it is usually quiet. Upstairs, if you have the time and the capacity of wallet, is an outstanding restaurant whose owner exudes a passion for the oft maligned Beaujolais style of wine.
Unlike most red wine, Beaujolais generally is to be consumed young. Its reputation has waxed and waned over the years and there is a faddish quality to many of the incarnations of its production and marketing that have fuelled this, but at its best it is a lovely, refreshing and celebratory wine. A combination of history and complex French appellation rules, mean that true Beaujolais cannot be released until the third Thursday of each November. Such specific release regulations have ensured its annual release is something of an event in itself and the owner of Bouillon Camille Chartier, the restaurant above my mojito bar, ships in a pile of whatever new release Beaujolais has caught the delight of his palette and creates a special menu to compliment that specific wine. It is all a lot of fun if you happen to be in Paris at the end of November.
I am happy to discover that when I wring out my pockets I have just enough coins for a second mojito – and this buys me just enough time to put my days notes in some sort of order (to help me when my brain evacuates the information I have tried to foist upon it today) and make a To-Do list for Day 3. In all, I would say this is going pretty well.
The sun rises on a near perfect day and most of the morning gets taken up catching up with all the news at Sacrebleu Studio. This creative powerhouse needs no introduction to LIAF audiences. They have produced so many wonderful films that we devoted an entire showcase programme to them last year. They have produced several new films in the ensuing twelve months and choosing just one was always going to be hard but that’s why we earn the big bucks here at LIAF HQ. In the end, we opted for Man On The Chair.
It possesses a wonderful eccentricity, beautifully blended with the extremely high quality artwork that is the hallmark or all Sacrebleu films. It turns out we weren’t the only ones that liked it; it took out the much coveted Cristal Award at the last Annecy Festival. Lingering at Sacrebleu Studio is easy to do and winds up absorbing a hefty chunk of the morning but despite that the day is young and I have two more studios and a school to squeeze in before I call time on this little adventure.
Partizan Studio exists in a different universe to most of the ones I will (and have) visited on this trip. Regarded as one of the best production studios in the world, it has offices and facilities spread across the globe, including a fairly swanky set of digs in Paris nestled in a little triangle that includes neighbours such as the Louvre, the Bourse and the Jardin des Tuileries. This place is high tech, high concept, proudly commercial and fiercely creative. They have produced more award winning, acclaimed music videos and commercials that they can list and the Paris office is probably most famously linked with a string of extraordinary work produced by Michel Gondry.
That very famous tip, however, proves to be an extremely tiny part of a vast iceberg. Sifting through it all is daunting but the idea is to find something that melds the incredible technology that Partizan love to use, the highly elevated imaginative concepts that many of its directors are selected for and the pure love of animating an idea. Short, sharp and completely locking into the brief, Professor Kliq Wire And Flashing Lights emerges as the one to carry the Partizan flag into this programme.
Leaving the highly coiffured confines of that neighbourhood behind, I head for what could best be described as a very different part of Paris. Lardux Studio first came up on the LIAF radar when we started noticing the films of Jerome Boulbes. As a digital animator, Boulbes seemed to be way ahead of his time; his films displayed a technical polish that would make them seem fresh and contemporary even now. Lardux – the studio that these films emerged from – often worked to their own beat and securing these films could sometimes be one-minute-to-midnight deadline nailbiters. But we always got there in the end and it was always done with a great deal of charm and humour. It turns out they occupy a spot just around the corner from where I stay in Paris – dear old Montreul. The vibe in Montreul is not typically Parisian in the classic sense. Its inhabitants are predominantly recently arrived migrants from a range of North African countries and the culture shock on emerging from the Metro (especially if one boarded the Metro outside the Louvre as I just did) can be bracing if one isn’t ready for it. And, technically, it’s not even really Paris at all because it is on the other side of the Périphérique. From relatively modest beginnings, the Lardux catalogue had burgeoned into one containing a vast collection of arthouse films on an extraordinary range of topics. A quick glance reveals films reviewing a recent San Francisco dance festival sitting side by side with features looking at the holiday habits of a particular Danish family. But it is one of their very latest films that really caught our eye this time.
Still More Changes epitomes the kind of work we had in mind when we decided to put together ‘3 Days In Paris’, Powerful, clever, beautifully crafted and steeped in a range of handmade animation traditions, it was an instant inclusion in the line-up. It’s not usually that easy – or quick. It looks like I actually have time for a decent lunch and I know just the place.
The Jardin du Luxembourg (or Luxembourg Gardens) is one of my favourite places in the world (in the world!) to read a book, gather evaporating thoughts that are trying to make a break for it, re-sort and re-sift priorities or have lunch. It is an open museum of tranquillity. Hardly one of Paris’ hidden secrets, none the less, at more than 20 hectares, there is always a quiet spot readily available. There would not be many years that some part of LIAF had not been planned, contemplated or written up there. The issue for the unwary is that there is a surprising dearth of places in the immediate vicinity that will sell you anything that looks like a portable lunch. Come prepared. The best advice I can offer (although of little use to vegetarians) is that the closest decent market is situated about a 10 or 15 minute walk away at Maubert Mutualite metro stop, but even that has erratic opening hours.
It is a relatively short, often utterly entertaining walk back to the Seine down Boulevard Saint Michel – its literary bohemian history completely sandpapered off by the contemporary priorities of the arrondisement these days. As a friend once quipped, “It’s a great place to practise your English”. Be that as it may, there are still some utterly charming little cul de sacs and checkpoints. For example, touristy as it may be, it is usually worth stopping in at Shakespeare And Co, a remarkable English language bookstore on the banks of the Seine, situated at 37 Rue de la Bûcherie. The little streets behind it are also the places that the most pleasant surprises are likely to be found in an otherwise self-plagiarised 6th. Notre Dame is just across the ditch and if you walk left for a gentle 5-10 minute stroll and cross the Seine at Pont Neuf you will walk past one of the more remarkable sanctuaries inner Paris (for want of a better phrase) has to offer – Place Dauphine. This little oasis hides in plain view. Probably most people are so intent with crossing from the 6th into what amounts to the heart of the Paris tourist and shopping districts that they miss the little street sign reading ‘Place Dauphine’. A very brief stroll down this unpromising little diversion delivers you into a teardrop shaped park flanked by some wonderful little bars and cafes. Most days you could fire a canon through the place and not offer much risk to life. Recommended (the sanctuary, not the firing of the canon).
Visiting Blue Spirit Studio turns out to be a great experience. My usually thorough researching practices (normally consisting of wracking an increasingly addled brain as I approach my target) had missed some key points. A couple of years earlier Blue Spirit had sent me a copy of a beautifully realised feature film titled Le Tableau. Lavishly designed, drawn and coloured, it told the story of some unfinished characters on an unfinished painting (le tableau) who decide, despite their various incompletenesses, to venture out of the painting, find the artist and convince him to complete le tableau. The issue at the time was that it was a film that had obvious family appeal, mature but with plenty in it that kids would love as well. But it was in spoken French with English subtitles and that wouldn’t work for a family audience. The penny drops when I see the poster on the wall. The good news is that Blue Spirit are working on a spoken English language version of the feature and that is a VERY interesting proposition. It’s on the watch list.
One to go – but it’s a big one. And I am running extremely late. It is at the other end of town and the traffic I am caught in is actually taking me away from the rendezvous. The meeting time gets pushed back several times as the transit treacle I am caught in thickens. Eventually the Metro burps me out of the ground along with a couple of thousand of my new best friends. I am catapulted into Place d’Italie right into the middle of what seems to be a sound check for the loudest DJ in France, whoever she might be. Time to take stock, check that I still have my wallet and prepare for a meeting with one of the most interesting animation collectives I know of. Papy3D have made very few films, but every single film to date has clearly been an uncompromisingly auteur project. They do not make ads, music videos or TV series. And although some of the names involved in the projects remain constant, there also seem to be moments of singular creative interjection from somebody with no obvious connection to the organisation. Rounding it out, most of their works have little or no real relationship with 3D animation, at least as I understand the term. They have always been a pleasure to deal with and always willing and able to produce a copy of each and every film on a pristine 35mm print. And yet they appear to have no actual studio, no headquarters and no discernible commercial track record beyond this small menagerie of superb indie-to-the-bone films. It is all very discordant.
“Do your own stuff”, is the succinct answer I get from Richard Van Den Boom, one of the original Papy 3D founders when I ask him to sum up the defining spirit of the studio. “Our company has been created by animation directors who wanted to keep as much control as possible over their work and how it was made.”
Generally speaking, the French film funding system is reluctant to directly fund filmmakers, preferring instead to form a more contractible and businesslike relationship with a producer.
“I think this film embodies well the various qualities we look for in a project”, he says. “I’m very pleased that with time and multiple viewings, more and more people come to us and declare that they are very appreciative of it. We surprisingly get a lot more enthusiastic comments on this film today than when it was released. This is the first quality we want for our films; to make such a strong impression that, even if they are a bit unsure about it after the first viewing, people want to watch it again.”
I am glad I know my way around Paris reasonably well, trying to do this fresh off the boat would have been out of the question. It had been a hectic three days, a lot of coffee, a lot of metro rides, a lot of information, ideas and reinvigoration through a non-stop exposure to people with a singular but complex passion. Exhausting and restorative at the same time. I could not make it to every single studio I had on my list and one or two films in this programme came to us from outside of my trek around the city and I just could not find a time that suited anybody at Gobelins school to come and visit them, which was a great pity. Trying to distil it all down to something that is representative of what I have accumulated, while at the same time paying as full as possible tribute and respect to all the people who gave me their time and their work, is probably the main goal in putting these particular programs. There are enough people, organisations and films in this wonderful city to re-experience this little adventure all over again and get a completely different result.
I have learned something I already knew. Paris is probably the animation capital of the world. I cannot think of another city where I could do what I have spent the last three days doing and come away with the same results. It makes me wonder why. Later from the cosy confines of a Singapore Airlines A380 flying over the Caspian Sea, I pay the fee, go online midair and email some of the people I met and ask them this very question. Go to the source. Most of their answers start pinging into my in-box as I stare at the scattered, patchy lights of what used to be Persia. Some of the responses are worth recording verbatim.
“In the first place, the schools are good. But also, Paris is a beautiful place where young artists get their eyes educated even by walking in the streets. Artistic references are everywhere! We have a great patrimony for art, graphism and attention for aesthetic. This cocktail gives us good skills for animation as a whole.”
Alexis Laffaille – Kawanimation
“There’s a tradition of culture and elitism in France, and animated cinema is the continuation of classic painting, classical music, etc. Paris is filled with artists from all around the world who are eager to express themselves. The French mentality is more to educate people to become artists than engineers (the big difference between France and Germany!). The French system has built a strong economic model to support cinema and art. We just still need to improve our way to promote it.”
Jeremy Rochigneux – Metronomic
“There are MANY animation schools in France. Before 1999, there was just one, which was “Gobelins” in Paris, with a very high standard. In those days, many of these students left after their graduation to work in the major American studios (Disney, Dreamworks, etc). But since 1999, many animation schools opened. There are more than 30 animation schools in France nowadays! The other reason is that in France there is a political will to support audiovisual production, so producers can find funding in order to produce films. There are also two TV channels – Canal Plus and Arte – who finance the production of short films. Training and financial support are the two essential components for a fertile ground.”
Mikhal Bak Freelance Film Festivals Tour Manager
“I could have a lack of perspective about that, but I guess it is the combination of different things; first there are in Paris several prestigious animation schools known all over the world, then an art graphic tradition, and finally a strong history of cinema.”
Emmanuel-Alain Raynal – Miyu Studio
“There are many art schools in Paris, a good funding ecosystem, which is interested in artistic animation, and many producers interested in sophisticated content. This makes this city a powerful crucible for directors to emerge, with many different sensibilities. Of course, that also means there’s quite a bit of competition. The funny thing is that animation producers and directors still have the feeling that they are looked upon with a bit of disdain by the whole cinema industry. It’s still difficult to convince many that animation is not just for children.”
Richard Van Den Boom – Papy 3D
I know how he feels. The battle continues.
Malcolm Turner, MIAF Director, LIAF Co-Director