Animation Is Film Festival founder and GKids CEO Eric Beckman is excited because he believes the best animation hasn’t been made yet.
“For me, the multitude of types of stories that can be told [through animation], the multitude of different forms of expression that can be made, we haven’t really even scratched the surface yet,” Beckman said ahead of the Animation Is Film Festival, which begins Friday night and runs through the weekend at the TCL Chinese 6 in Hollywood.
It’s one reason the third-annual event is held in L.A.: to expose audiences in the film capital of the world to the range of animation that is currently being made so they can fully experience the art form’s potential.
“The whole purpose of the festival is to help support and broaden this much wider idea of what animation and the possibilities of animation can be,” said Beckman, who is thrilled by the breadth of this year’s lineup.
Produced by GKids in partnership with Annecy International Animation Film Festival, this year’s event will feature a mix of buzzy titles (including a “behind-the-scenes” look at Disney’s “Frozen II”) and lesser known gems, presented along with filmmaker Q&As, special screenings, retrospectives, sneak peek “making of” presentations and more.
The festival will kick off with the much anticipated U.S. premiere of “Your Name” director Makoto Shinkai’s latest, “Weathering With You.”
The film follows a teenage boy who has run away from home to live in an unusually rainy Tokyo, where he meets a girl who seems to have the power to control the weather. Like “Your Name,” a blockbuster hit in Japan in 2017, the beautifully animated fantasy romance threads real-world concerns with layers of magic. (The two opening-night screenings, which include Q&As with Shinkai, are sold out).
The nine other “competition” films include “Children of the Sea” and “Ride Your Wave,” both from Japan, as well as French director Jérémy Clapin’s acclaimed “I Lost My Body,” which premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and will close Animation Is Film on Oct. 20.
“[‘Children of the Sea’] is about a teenage girl who meets two mysterious boys from the sea,” said director Ayumu Watanabe through a translator. “The mystery that they encounter is the mystery of life — where are we from, what are we? Questions that we all will encounter at some point of our lives.”
While the film presents these questions through the protagonist Ruka’s experiences and feelings, “how you perceive the answer is up to the audience,” said Watanabe. The film is thematically and visually striking.
Beckman explains that it’s not unusual that Animation Is Film’s lineup includes a number of Japanese and European works because of their existing markets and infrastructure.
“Any animation festival would typically have a strong contingent of Japanese and European films as those animations industries are very, very well developed,” said Beckman. “But I think this year, you’re seeing a continued growth and maybe a slight up-step in terms of films that are not just coming out of these established production pipelines.”
This year’s lineup includes a number of first-time filmmakers, as well as filmmakers known more for their live-action works, bringing unique approaches to animation in both style and story.
Additionally, “there’s a lot of Asian representation in this year’s festival outside of Japan,” said Beckman. “We have ‘Bombay Rose’ from India, and we have a number of Chinese films, which is very new this year.”
Among the Chinese films that will be shown is the special screening of “Ne Zha,” a box-office juggernaut that handily dethroned “Zootopia” as the highest-grossing animated release in China earlier this year. The 3D CG film, loosely based on Chinese mythology, clearly resonated with its audience.
“‘Ne Zha’ really represents China coming into its own as an animation powerhouse,” said Beckman.
Beckman also points to “Bombay Rose” from director Gitanjali Rao, a hand-painted ensemble romance, and Anca Damian’s “Marona’s Fantastic Tale,” about the life of a little dog, as films that are “visually unlike anything that people are typically used to, where the animation style is crafted by the filmmaker to tell a really specific story.”
Clapin’s closing-night film, “I Lost My Body,” is also unique, with one of the narratives following a severed hand trying to reunite with its body. The parts of the film that are following the hand’s adventures are told from its point of view.
“I had to make the hand the first character of my movie,” said Clapin. “I had to find a way to be able to put emotion into the hand so the audience can feel sympathy for it.”
Clapin admits that “I Lost My Body,” which Netflix will distribute globally and campaign for the animated feature Oscar, was a difficult film to pitch because it’s really not just about the hand running after its body. “The pitch won’t replace the experience you have when you watch the film,” he said.
“We made this movie with the conviction that we were making something different. Something also bizarre, something fringe,” said Clapin. “We need this kind of chaos in cinema and in art in general. We cannot constrain art, you have to let a part of the chaos exist.”
Like Beckman, Clapin wants people to see that animation is just another way to tell a story.
“It’s time that people know that animation should not be considered a genre, it’s a technique,” said Clapin. “My purpose is to tell a story.”
Beckman hopes that audiences try to see as many of the films as they can during the festival to really get a sense of the possibilities of animation.
“There’s no one film at the festival that can capture that,” said Beckman. “But hopefully all the films together — and all the films together over a period of years — sort of sketch out and point toward what that possibility is.
“And hopefully it inspires, encourages and incites artists and audiences to reach for something a little deeper and a little more exciting with animation.”
When: Friday through Oct. 20
Tickets: $9-14 general admission
More info: animationisfilm.com