European animated film makers can have a hard time when it comes to competing with the United States. DW-WORLD's Kay-Alexander Scholz attended an industry meeting in Potsdam.
European animators are hoping for a cash infusion for their art
When I arrive at the FX-Center in Potsdam-Babelsberg for the "Cartoon Movie" industry meeting, what I notice first is the forty-somethings. I hadn't expected this -- so many of them, and so well dressed. Standing in line at the reception area, I hear a "qui" here, a "sí" there -- some Russian, some English, all mixed together. I give my very German name, and the press lady asks, "Sorry, could you spell it, please?"
Outside, the snowflakes are whirling madly, and inside it is just as energetic. This is not a trade fair, but an industry meeting, the press spokeswoman explains. Creatives and their executives are meeting with buyers: producers, investors and managers of public investment funds from Brussels, Paris or Leipzig.
The heavy hitters from across the Atlantic are also represented. Warner, Universal, Fox. From the 30-inch monitor at the reception I get that list of attendees. I'm impressed.
Tiny plant vs. boring tree
First stop, "The Croissant Show, sponsored by Media Desk." I grab a coffee. There are some 400 professionals sitting at each one of the four 20-meter (65 foot) long tables. They're bathed in a golden light, and are much too awake for this time of day. I quickly grab a glass of water.
Banquet room, Cartoon Movie
Two hours and a half a dozen talks later, I get what is going on here. Animated movies are damned expensive. Too expensive for one country, too expensive for one investor. That's why animated filmmakers create networks.
In the United States, the home of Walt Disney, there are huge budgets for hand-drawn and computer generated big screen features. Not in Europe. The producers of "Lauras Stern," Thilo Graf Rothkirch, gives me this image: Here in Europe, the industry is a weak and tiny little plant – over there it is a massive and mighty tree.
Walt Disney's "Bambi"
But, it's a boring tree, because American culture, the roots of that tree, is tied to the mainstream. In comparison, Europe's cultural plant could grow into something very colorful -- provided it got enough sun, money and attention.
Puppets, clay figures, drawn characters, marionettes, fantasies in 3-D; in fact, the European bag of tricks is full to the brim with diverse creations. This becomes clear to me during sessions entitled "Projects in Concept," "Projects in Development," "Films in Production" and "Completed Films."
'Producers are idiots'
Attending these talks, I sometimes see just drawings, sometimes a trailer, sometimes only motion studies. When a cute 3-D snowman in one trailer says "producers are idiots," everyone laughs. Because there is one thing the stylish women and the men in starched shirts know for sure: after Cartoon Movie, many of their presentations will be relegated to the cold hinterlands of some computer hard drive.
Still from the animated European film "Corto Maltese"
Each project presentation gets a mere 15 minutes. Then the jacket pockets get new business cards, the appointment calendar new appointments. There's "FFA-Lunch," the sponsored "Coffee Show" and the "Farewell Dinner." Food has a starring role here.
The lady from MEDIA doesn't want to stop talking. She represents one of the fullest wallets here, that of the European Union. She passionately explains the multi-tiered model of financial support, and why €1 billion ($1.3 billion) is an appropriate sum for the next seven years. The EU is bigger, the timetables are longer, thus there is twice as much money to be spent.
A maximum of €80,000 will be awarded as a result of this meeting. It isn't much. I am told that some "projects in development" have already burned through €6 or €8 million. Not a business for people with weak stomachs. A film generally takes four to five years to get from the sketch stage to the big screen. In 2004, Europe produced 750 films, only 15 of which were animated.
Norwegian marionette epic
I can't really enjoy my cod in lime sauce. First, I can't find a seat. Then, just as I am about to dig in, the lights go down for a trailer. Finally, I have to defend my narrow space from some loudly gesticulating, wine-slurping Frenchmen. To make up for it, I enjoy a big chunk of tiramisu after most people have already left the room.
"Strings" by Anders Ronnow Klarlund
Then comes a Norwegian film, a mixture of classic marionette theater and "Lord of the Rings." It's a warrior epic from a long-gone era; mystical, mythical, filmed in impressive sets and animated by masterful puppeteers. Have you ever seen a marionette swim? The "Strings" – that's the title – tie the figures direct to the heavens. They are their lifelines, and can be cut through with one hand (suicide) or lopped off by someone else (murder). Or they can magically double, bringing a character to life (birth).
The story knocks me out. It is tragic and powerful. I fervently hope "Strings" makes it into the movie theaters. Knees trembling, I go get myself a cappuccino.
"Strings" by Anders Ronnow Klarlund
Now I am enjoying Cartoon Movie. I am intrigued and delighted by the idea that animated film puts no limits on fantasy. But what kind of a future does this business have? CGI animation computers are getting faster and faster. That's one point in its favor. And isn't there a new generation for whom animation is serious business? The Internet is full of cartoons that have been produced especially for the Web. Kids use their Playstation editors to make their own little films. Japanese mangas are booming. The snowflakes are still dancing outside the glass windows. I bid farewell to my new comrades, get in my car and drive back to Berlin. I try to remember if I still have some of my childhood comics lying around at home.