Flee, Melvile, Charades Take Top Honors at Cartoon Movie, While Genre Adaptation Darling Makes Market Splash

Returning to in-person gatherings after last year’s online event, this year’s Cartoon Movie pitch and co-production forum saw the teams behind 57 animated features pitch their development projects before 930 European industry delegates from 19 countries. Running over March 8 – 10 in the southwest city of Bordeaux in France, this year’s forum saw both international buyers (totalling 297 overall – a 12% increase from the previous edition) and adult skewing projects notch upward – two facts not wholly unrelated.

Whether on purpose or by some happy twist of fate, the four beneficiaries of this year’s Cartoon Movie Tribute Awards reflected a pair of key industry trends.

At an event where one third of the pitch projects were based on preexisting material, it was thus fitting that adaptation “Even Mice Belong in Heaven” — directed by Denisa Grimmová & Jan Bubeníček, co-produced by Czechia’s Fresh Films, France’s Les Films du Cygne, Slovakia’s Cinemart and Poland’s Animoon – would win for Producer of the Year, and that the graphic novel inspired “Melvile” – directed by Romain Renard and Fursy Teyssier, produced by Belgium’s Need Productions and co-produced by France’s Creative Touch and Special Touch Studios – would claim the Eurimages Co-Production Development award.

And in a program that saw 37% of the pitch titles aimed at adult audiences (another significant increase from previous years), the prizes for Distributor of the Year going to Charades and for Director of the Year to “Flee” filmmaker Jonas Poher Rasmussen felt all the more auspicious. Indeed, the Paris-based sales and distribution outfit cut an outsized figure at the Bordeaux event, backing buzz projects like Alberto Vázquez’s “Unicorn Wars,” Anaïs Caura’s trans-identity true crime thriller “Eugene” and Phuong Mai Nguyen poignant YA romance “In Waves;” the sales outfit is also rumored to be circling two more titles presented this year.

As for “Flee,” the Annecy and Sundance winning refugee story was presented at Cartoon Movie as a pitch project in 2017 and played as a sneak preview in 2021, making its return to claim the Director trophy something of a homecoming.

Here are four additional takeaways from this year’s edition.

Familiarity Breeds Consent

From the project in concept “America,” based on an unfinished text from Franz Kafka, to the tidily pre-sold “The Amazing Maurice,” inspired by Terry Pratchett, literary adaptation came in all sizes and shapes this year – accounting for one third of all presentations. To that end, many of original concepts were cut from similar cloth, with 2D projects like Anais Caura and Joelle Oosterlinck’s “Suzanne” and Marton Szirmai’s “Where Did it Go Wrong?” playing with familiar history, telling off-beat biopics, and, in the case of Kajsa Naess’ “Titina,” exploring the age of exploration through the eyes of a dog.

IP Above All

Meanwhile, the teams behind a number of family targeting originals offered attendees the implicit invitation to get in on the ground floor, as the producers behind commercial titles such as “DinoGames,” from Spain’s Dr. Platypus & Ms. Wombat, “Liva and the Imperfects,” from Denmark’s Copenhagen Bombay, and “Just Super” from Norway’s Qvisten Animation all emphasized to varying degrees their projects’ potential as original cross-media IP. On a similar front, Cartoon Movie welcomed an ever-growing delegation of publishers as part of an initiative to widen the playing field, to inspire a commensurate number of screen-to-page adaptations as of page-to-screen.

Nothing Beats a Sure Bet

Distributors from France and Germany told Variety that, given the still rather shaky theatrical landscape, neither felt comfortable taking risks for the time being. In practical terms, that meant prioritizing commercial fare with a sure voice and a built-in audience over auteur projects that might have a harder time finding purchase beyond the festival circuit. A similar refrain echoed through this year’s Nordic Focus – which spotlighted six of such projects from the Scandi region – and in the forum’s own record keeping, which revealed that the presentations of family projects “Little Caribou” (from Ireland’s Barley Films) and “Marie-Louise” (from France’s Pictak and 2 Minutes) had drawn the largest percentage of buyer attention.

The Same Rules of Gravity Apply

Marking its market launch, directors Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet’s animation debut “Darling” was perhaps the buzziest title of this year’s event, drawing near immediate and competitive sales agent attention. One needn’t wonder why: The filmmaking duo behind “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears” and “Let the Corpses Tan” arrived with a cult following, an established relationship with A-level festivals, and, with this Harriet Daimler adaptation (the pseudonym of Beat writer Iris Owens), a dreamlike, urban revenge thriller with serious literary pedigree. But beyond all that, their project benefitted from a simple genre hook – a global boon across the current industry.

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