Adult Animation Could Help Lure Audiences Back to Cinemas, Experts Say

An A-list panel was invited to discuss the question of animated film for adults in a conversation entitled “What Is Adult Animation Film’s Strategy and Where Is It Headed?” at the Cannes Film Market’s fourth edition of Animation Day on Sunday.

Panelists included Dutch-born French filmmaker Jan Kounen (“Doberman,” “Blueberry,” “My Cousin”), who also presented his latest project “Epiphania” in the morning’s pitching sessions, alongside Sun Creature (“Flee”) co-founder and producer Charlotte de La Gournerie, Bruno Felix, founder and co-CEO of Amsterdam-based Submarine (“They Shot the Piano Player,” “Where Is Anne Frank?”), and Amel Lacombe, CEO and founder of Paris-based indie distributor Eurozoom.

Asked whether the perception of adult animation is evolving, Lacombe, who heads Europe’s leading theatrical distributor of Japanese animation, alluded to the genre’s exponential growth over the past two years, saying: “Change will come with big money and big business. Audiences are ready to go to theaters to see animation for adults. A few months ago, I released a remastered version of “Akira” in cinemas and it was a huge success. Everyone said ‘It won’t work because they can find it everywhere on DVD and Blu-ray.’ But people want to see it on the big screen, share the emotion, and enjoy it as the spectacle that it was intended to be.”

According to Felix, a growing number of people are interested in telling stories that bring together different realities and perspectives, and adult animation is a perfect way to do this. “The type of story we want to see right now is better told in animation. Our time is coming as animation producers,” he said.

This seems to be the case for Kounen, whose current project, “Epiphania,” pitched at Animation Day, will be the first feature-length animated film he has made. Asked why he decided to do that, he said the time was right: “For years, my favorite film was ‘Akira.’ When I entered art school, I wanted to do animation films, so this project is very special.

“There are many crossovers today, animation is blossoming. Boundaries between genres and techniques are fading, like in every other sector, opening up more possibilities, allowing you to be more creative,” he said.

The three-times Oscar-nominated “Flee” is a perfect example of the successful crossover of genres according to De La Gournerie, who said the film industry would benefit from being less formatted.

“There are different schools and different commissioners, depending on the genres. We need to be more transversal. It was wonderful to see that ‘Flee’ was nominated in three different categories [Best Animation Film, Best Documentary and Best International Film]. This had never happened before: it was recognized simply as a film.”

While everyone agrees on the huge influence of streamers in democratizing access to adult animation and helping develop a taste for it among a younger audience, the genre could also play a key role in drawing audiences back to the cinema theaters, according to Lacombe.

“We are all suffering – theaters and distributors – because the market is not returning to pre-COVID levels. We must collectively take good care of the cinema experience if we don’t want to lose an entire cinema generation, and adult animation is one way of doing that,” she said. “I am confident about the figures when it comes to adult animation in cinemas, it’s an extremely rich environment and a major asset for theaters to lure back the public.”

While platforms have seized on the craze for anime, thereby nurturing appreciation for the genre – Netflix has said it will launch 40 new anime titles in a growing range of genres in 2022 alone – some industry experts express the same fears as for documentary: a risk of seeing content become increasingly standardized for online consumption.

As an example, Lacombe said that young adults who binge watch animation online will rarely be familiar with a director’s name.

“Tea [communication] work done by the distributor ahead of a release must be cherished because a future generation of filmmakers working on this kind of content won’t yield the next Jane Campion,” she said.

Building a director’s reputation is the responsibility of the producer, responded Felix, adding that it’s all about positioning, and finding the right audience for a film in the right territory, including reaching out to young adult audiences through their means of communication on social media.

Ultimately, he said, there is room for everyone. “It’s a logical combination: there are the layered and complex contemporary stories that do very well on the platforms, which is a growing market and can work quite nicely alongside feature length stories that are great for theater releases.”

A one-day event aimed at the global animation filmmaking community, Animation Day is a joint initiative launched in 2019 by the Cannes Film Market and the Annecy Intl. Animation Film Festival, in partnership with Animation! Ventana Sur, the animation branch of Latin America’s leading film market.

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