Please wait...
Please wait...

Let’s get physical

Annick Maes

Cartoon’s general director Annick Maes tells Nico Franks why it’s so crucial for the industry that Cartoon Forum returns as a physical event this week.

Having gone digital in 2020 due to the worsening situation around Covid-19 in France, Cartoon Forum’s return as a physical event in Toulouse this week is cause for celebration.

It’ll be more than a little strange, of course. What isn’t these days? But Annick Maes, who took the reins atop Cartoon last year following the retirement of Marc Vandeweyer, says getting back to in-person events has been a priority after numerous digital versions of its conferences.

“It’s very important for us that people can see each other again and can network face to face. People no longer want to have a screen in between them,” says Maes, who oversaw Forum’s quick switch to digital at the last-minute in September 2020.

This attracted 850 participants from 486 companies, including 265 buyers, while the pre-recorded presentations received 11,604 views.

However, despite Cartoon’s best efforts, it’s fair to say the online version of Cartoon Forum couldn’t hold a candle to the conviviality and spontaneity of the usual in-person event.

Accordingly, Maes says the feedback from most of the European animation community has been to go all in on a physical event this year, unlike last year when there was far more hesitancy, given how much has changed in the past 12 months.

“A lot of people are vaccinated. We must pick up our lives and we have been getting a lot more positive pressure from several people asking, begging almost, to do a physical event,” says Maes.

So how will this year’s edition differ from the last physical Cartoon Forum in 2019? Obviously, you can expect far more heightened sanitary measures. But beyond that Maes says most things will be the same.

There will be the usual open-air welcome and farewell dinners, as well as a networking evening and two happy hours to ensure the sociable spirit that Forum is so famous for returns. Though the lunches served in the huge lower floor hall of the Centre de Congrès Pierre Baudis are out the window, due to ventilation issues.

“But we are in the middle of Toulouse,” points out Maes, so delegates are unlikely to go hungry during their extended lunch breaks given all the bistros, brasseries and restaurants in close proximity, while food trucks are also set to rock up for time-stretched delegates.

Maes says over 800 participants are registered for the live event, including around 200 buyers, which is understandably down on the attendance of around 1,000 people at the 2019 edition but nonetheless highlights the desire of those in the industry to see each other face to face once again.

“I have to say we are quite happy with the figures. We see the buyers are making an effort,” says Maes.

Of course, there are many more who would like to attend the event in Toulouse but, for obvious reasons, aren’t able to make it. As a result, sightings of execs from Canada, Latin America and South Korea at Forum, as had begun to become common pre-pandemic, are highly unlikely.

Accordingly, an online platform via Attendify will go live at the end of the physical event for those people who are still keen to get the inside track on the 80+ projects being pitched this week. Pre-recorded, 10-minute pitches have already been filmed by producers in advance and will be available until October 15.

It will also feature some networking and promotional opportunities for producers, as well as more info about the ‘Spotlight’ country this year, Portugal.

But Maes says Cartoon is keen to avoid encouraging future “hybrid” events. The business relies on established relationships and the importance of environments where those can be forged can’t be understated. As one producer recently told C21Kids: “Some of the strongest relationships I’ve made in the industry have been made at Cartoon Forum.”

Crucially, Cartoon found that new and relatively unknown companies had a harder time attracting viewers to their pitches at the digital edition, which if it were to be repeated could have a long-term impact on up-and-coming talent and creativity.

Maes adds: “We want to keep the community. How can you create a network when you see people only on a screen? It’s very important for the next generation.”

Another way in which this year’s edition of Cartoon Forum will be different from others is the near complete absence of producers from the UK. This isn’t a result of any decision from Cartoon, Maes is quick to point out, but the UK government’s decision not to participate in Creative Europe’s Media programme after Brexit.

UK producers will be missed this year, says Maes, who is in discussions with the likes of the British Film Institute to ensure normal service is resumed next year.

“We are well aware of the creativity of the UK and it will be very strange not to have them. I would like to stay positive that we can find a solution soon,” she says.

Animated projects involving UK producers as the majority coproducer with a minority European partner remain able to qualify for Forum, something Maes believes many UK producers were only made aware of when it was too late to apply to this year’s edition.

“Of course, there were some clever UK producers who started production companies in Ireland who will be there,” adds Maes. That’ll be Belfast-based Sixteen South, which set up a base in Dublin pretty much as soon as the shock referendum result was announced in 2016.

While no one is likely to be toasting Brexit anytime soon, the industry can at least raise a glass to the return of one of its most loved events as it takes another step towards some semblance of normality. Welcome back, Cartoon Forum.


Please wait...