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New Animation Film Festival Hopes to Impact Oscar Race

The launch of the Animation Is Film festival this weekend aims to expand the industry's perception of the medium while boosting Oscar chances for indie contenders.

“The Breadwinner”

Animation

With this weekend’s launch in Hollywood of the Animation Is Film Festival at the TCL Chinese 6 Theater, there’s an opportunity to expand industry tastes while influencing the Oscar race. “It’s for film people to find a highly curated selection of the best feature filmmaking from around the world [for that particular year] in one place,” said AIF founder Eric Beckman, the co-founder and president of GKids, which organized the festival in collaboration with the Annecy International Animation Festival, Variety, and ASIFA-Hollywood.

After 20 years of success with the New York International Children’s Film Festival, Beckman thought it was time to broaden the appeal in Hollywood with an emphasis on global production and distribution.

Why launch a new festival?

The timing couldn’t be better: New Academy rules now allow all eligible members to vote for animated features, using preferential voting. However, it remains to be seen what the dynamic will be in terms of commercial versus more diverse indie nominees.

“It just seems like an exciting time, when, all of a sudden, people decide to make a movie that wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago,” said Beckman.

AIF will offer a selection of new animated feature films from Asia, Europe, South America, and North America, with juried and audience prizes and filmmakers attending most screenings. Additionally, the festival will feature studio events, special screenings, a shorts program on Sunday (“Songs of Love and Death,” sponsored by Women in Animation), and a VR lounge.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower

“Mary & the Witch’s Flower”

GKids, which boasts nine Oscar nominations to date (most recently, “My Life as a Zucchini”), has four features showcased in competition, including “The Breadwinner” (screening Friday) and “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” (screening Sunday).

“The Breadwinner,” directed by Nora Twomey of Cartoon Saloon (“The Secret of Kells”), and executive produced by Angelina Jolie and Beckman, concerns a strong-willed young Afghan girl who poses as a boy to help her family survive under threat from the Taliban.

“Mary & the Witch’s Flower,” the debut film from Studio Studio Ponoc, founded by Studio Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura (“When Marnie Was There”), and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (“When Marnie Was There”) explores a young girl’s rite of passage with a fly-by-night glowing flower and a broom that comes to life.

Showcasing Global Diversity

Non-GKids films in competition include “Big Fish & Begonia” (screening Sunday), a surreal Chinese fantasy directed by Liang Xua and Zhang Chun “Tehran Taboo” (also screening Sunday), a German/Austrian political drama directed by Ali Soozandeh; and “Virus Tropical” (screening Saturday), a Colombian coming of age drama directed by Santiago Caicedo.

“‘Big Fish & Begonia’ is one of the most mind-blowing things I’ve seen to come out of China,” said Beckman. “It’s a crazy, mythological adventure about the world of humans and the world of immortals that look after humans.”

“Big Fish & Begonia”

Of “Tehran Taboo,” Beckman said, “It’s one of the more adult films at the festival and tells a story that needs to be told in animation because, if this were live-action, it might be a little too provocative. It deals with this contrast between a very religiously conservative, patriarchal society and this underworld that lives in the same city. And how breaking taboos is a way of life for these people and a form of emancipation for women.”

Meanwhile, “Virus Tropical” bears similarities to “Persepolis.” It’s based on the graphic novel by Power Paola about young women surviving during the Columbia drug wars, “It’s a do-it-yourself, black–and-white style, done in a matter-of-fact way, with a refreshing point of view,” Beckman said.

In terms of the new rules for the Animated Feature Oscar race, Beckman (who recently joined the Academy) said he tries not to think too strategically because it distracts him. “What we’ve always done was just try and find the films that we love and then share what we love about those films with other people.”

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