A Report from Annecy 2017

Photo taken from Agence L'Atelier
Unfortunately I haven't been writing this beautiful blog when I was attending the Animation Film Festival in Annecy from June 12th to 17th 2017. Last year's guest country was China and its emerging animation production. For 2017 I set out to take in all the screenings surrounding China and its history of animation and I was fascinated by what the festival's curators put together. Therefore I would like to present to you a very short overview of some of the most important films and shorts that I have seen.

Flash From The Past: Princess Iron Fan

One of the earliest animation feature films from China is Princess Iron Fan from 1941. The movie is based upon an episode from the great Chinese literature classic A Journey To The West. It was produced in Shanghai under very difficult circumstances during the Japanese occupation by Wan Guchan and Wan Laiming also known as the Wan Brothers (an interesting similarity in words with the Warner Brothers). It took them three years and 237 artists to finish it.

 I tremendously enjoyed watching it in the cinema. The animation is unique and appealing featuring great characters. The animators used a lot of Rotoscoping, that means they drew on-top of live footage. Sometimes they left the eyes of the actors in the drawing which has a strange effect because it gives you instant recognition of human features in a cartoon face. I am a big fan of Chinese tales and it was very refreshing to see a movie like this.

 A Look Into Tradition: Shanghai Animation Film Studio

The Shanghai Animation Film Studio short SAFS was founded 1957 and since then has produced over 500 films. I was especially taken away by one of its earliest short films from 1958 called Crossing Monkey Mountain by one of China's most prominent animation directors Wang Shuchen.

 I found the story and the style of animation had a lot of humor and wit. It is interesting to see how they have been drawing upon traditional Chinese art styles and folk tales. The traditional music sets a very appealing tone and accompanied the animation in a very good way, so much that I occasionally clapped my hands in delight.

Modernity and Political Retrospection: Xu An and Xi Chen

These two animators use a very modern looking cut-out style of animation in which they do not shy away from reflecting on political and social issues of China's past and present. I wish I could present you more information about these two, but I have not been able to find much on the internet. There was an over-an-hour long screening session dedicated to those two contemporary Chinese animation artists. I would like to present you one of their more political shorts called Grain Coupon.
Together with its slow pacing the dim colors and stylized characters convey a dark and oppressing mood. My understanding is that it is not easy for Chinese artists to be openly political so you find a lot of codified references and reminiscences within their work. But this one clearly was about the early days of the communist and cultural revolution. They also produced some shorts which revolve more about traditional Chinese themes and are more entertaining albeit retaining the uneasy caricatured style.

Ahead Into The Future: Lightchaser Studios

Lightchaser Studios were founded in 2013 by Gary Wang and are making big waves with their ambitious entertainment movies that make use of the newest technology and best artistry to be found in today's China. When I think of them the slogan "China's Pixar" comes to my mind, even though that wouldn't be fair, because they shouldn't be compared to what Pixar was but instead have the right to open up their own new category. From when I saw the festival's program I was very much looking forward to seeing their Tea Pets which apparently was their second big budget movie production.
This film features a lot of great characters that are inspired by traditional Chinese arts and literally clashes them with the future in the form of a small robot. The settings are very appealing the entire movie has been crafted very professionally and the character design is very likeable. Unfortunately I haven't yet found out if it is ever going to be distributed in Europe which really is a shame because I would like to recommend it to a lot more people to watch in cinemas.
Lightchaser studios followed up with an even bigger film at Annecy 2018 that was loudly applauded by the audience at its screening called Cats in Peachtopia, which would be their third feature.

If they keep at it with this pace producing a new film each year it will only be a question of time until they will be recognized as one of China's greatest animation studios by the critics.


China's early animation artist let themselves be inspired by Chinese traditional artwork, literature and folk tales in their work. The generation that came to fruition after the cultural revolution were a lot darker and political and touching upon topics of society. While the contemporary artists continue exploration in that vain, animation for entertainment has begun looking back at its cultural roots and started drawing from them again. 

I highly recommend you read the following article by Olga Bobrowska because she is very knowledgeable on a lot of the things that happened behind-the-scenes and highlights some of the side program that came along and offered venues for contemporary Chinese artists to exhibit their work: Farewell to the Rooster: Chinese Animation in the 2017 Season.

As always, be let me know what you think in the comments as I would love to hear from you!

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