In the most competitive animated Oscar race ever (with a record 27 entries), indie powerhouse GKIDS (with eight nominations since 2009) entered the fray with five contenders for the first time. And, on Monday, its two strongest — the stop-motion “My Life as a Zucchini” and the hand-drawn “Miss Hokusai” — grabbed two Annie nominations for best indie feature and a third for “Zucchini” director Claude Barras.
“It’s a feast of animation and the timing was just the luck of the draw,” GKIDS co-founder and president Eric Beckman told IndieWire. “The really rich landscape that we see this year is part of a trend and a shift [toward indies] that we’re happy to see exist and take pride in helping propagate it.”
Beckman also prides himself on smart taste and filling a need to help distribute animated indies in the U.S. (particularly hand-drawn features) But this year GKIDS made its first CG acquisition — “Mune: Guardian of the Moon” — a French movie directed by Benoît Philippon and Alexandre Heboyan about a small creature that must rescue the sun.
“I saw this film as a work in progress at Annecy years ago and it has some breathtakingly beautiful moments, and it creates this whole mythology around a world divided between night and day,” Beckman said.
While “Mune” skews younger than the usual GKIDS Oscar contender, it has a Miyazaki-inspired love of nature that provides added interest.
But “Mune” stands alongside steampunk “April and the Extraordinary World” and the superhero “Phantom Boy” as diverse genre offerings from GKIDS.
Meanwhile, “Miss Hokusai” represents GKIDS’ most ambitious Oscar entry: it’s about real-life painter O-Ei, who worked in the shadow of her famous father in 19th century Japan, from director Keiichi Hara and Production I.G (“Ghost in the Shell”).
“I don’t like referring to it as a biopic or a feminist film, but it’s a really thoughtful, engaging and rich portrayal of this rather complex person who’s trying to sort through life,” Beckman said. “It’s episodic in the way that life isn’t neatly constructed except through emotionally-connected moments.”
By contrast, “My Life as a Zucchini” (the Swiss foreign-language Oscar entry) is a more accessible, bittersweet tale about a 10-year-old orphan that brings to mind Francois Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows.”
“One of the things that really draws you to the film is that it shows children’s experience in a very authentic way,” Beckman added. “For all of the trauma of the past and living in an orphanage, it’s done in a sensitive and light-hearted way.”
What can we expect next from GKIDS, aside from its first co-production, “The Breadwinner,” about a girl in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, from Irish studio Cartoon Saloon (“Song of the Sea,” “The Secret of Kells”)?
Smart, adult animation. “Next year it’ll be interesting for us because we have a couple that are definitely R-rated. I hope America’s ready for them,” Beckman said.