I just come back from France where I had the chance and privilege of attending the Annecy International Animation Festival.
I have heard so much about this festival from friends and acquaintances who work in animation, but I have never had a chance to take part in it. This year, the opportunity was given to me by the film “My Love Affair With Marriage” by Signe Baumane (for which I wrote the music) selected to compete in the festival. To be more precise, the impetus for making the trip out of Italy (the first for me since the beginning of the pandemic) was the presence in Annecy of Signe Baumane and Sturgis Warner, the director and producer of the film. I have been working with Signe for almost ten years but, unbelievable to say, until last week we had never met face-to-face. We have always collaborated remotely, she in New York and me in Italy, ever since the first film we made together, “Rocks in My Pockets.” It’s a proven way of working that allows us to interact and especially compare a lot, the fact that communications mostly happened via email allowed us to be very specific and to use more literary than musical imagery to define our vision of the contribution of music to images. Forgive the digression, but the methodological explanation was necessary to get you “into” our working method (so proven that we have not suffered any stops during the pandemic) and to try to explain the excitement of the first live meeting.
I have no hesitation in saying that Signe and Sturgis have over the years become dear friends to me before working partners. They are wonderful people and original, creative and definitely courageous artists. So we met exactly five minutes before the evening screening of our film (I arrived in Annecy late in the evening) and shared the excitement of seeing (and hearing) the film on a big screen with the best audience one could wish for, animation enthusiasts, animators and animation students. “My Love Affair With Marriage” is a film that Signe has been working on for SEVEN years, starting from script writing and ending with post production, going through a grueling (but very successful) Crowdfunding campaign. I was lucky enough to be able to work on the film from the moment of pre-production, after the script was read and approved. Signe included several musical numbers in the script, 23 songs, with the intention of telling and commenting on the story through sung musical narration. Animations therefore were made to the already recorded songs to allow for credible lipsync. Years later, after editing was completed, I then made the instrumental score.
I enjoy working on animation projects because the production process is a very long act of love and devotion by the director and the production team, and the composer gets to investigate deeper so many issues, polish the compositions, and refine the project in all aspects of music production.
I know I’m going on and on, so if you want the short version of the story I’ll do it now. Annecy is a beautiful city, the festival is outstanding, and the organizers are brilliant and manic in all aspects. If you are involved in animation (as a professional or just an enthusiast) book now for the 2023 edition. I am leaving out my last-minute vicissitudes to find accommodation (“last minute” as a manner of speaking, two months ago in fact).
I had prepared for the trip to Annecy by studying the program, diligently booking the various screenings, trying not to miss one and not to overlap schedules. From day one I immediately realized that attending most of them would be missed inexorably. Yes because Annecy is not just a film festival, it is literally the center of the Animation world. Anyone involved in animation can be found here during this special week. So I spent my days having appointments with so many people I knew but had never had the chance to meet live. Not to mention business appointments, I got to have so many professional meetings, some scheduled, some completely random. Yes that is the magic of Annecy, to be even informally around a table and to find out that the person you are conversing with is actually a production manager or a director of animation projects. In these fortunate public relations encounters, the fact that I was the composer of Signe’s film was decisive; so many people had had the opportunity to appreciate it at the official screenings. In this regard, among many, it is worth my telling you this anecdote. Guglielmo del Toro was present at the Festival to present the first images of his film Pinocchio. Finding myself between screenings, I took the opportunity to grab a quick bite to eat in the main lobby of the Centre Bonlieu (one of the Festival’s landmark venues). While eating lunch I attended one of the most incredible (and exhausting for the main character) signing sessions I have ever seen. Del Toro signed books, DVDs, and anything else for hours, engaging with every single fan for a chat, with a freshness and enthusiasm that I have hardly seen in other directors, for whom the signing session is a necessary evil dictated by publicist marketing. Del Toro was happy to meet his audience, so much so that, once the endless line of those who had lined up was over, he continued to give autographs for, literally, anyone who asked. It must be said that Guglielmo, especially in recent years, has become one of the champions of the Animation world, making himself a spokesman for the message that Animation is a medium and not a genre, a concept he reiterates whenever possible, even with heartfelt vehemence. While the signing session was being held, one of the fans in line asked him, “Have you seen My Love Affair With Marriage? It’s one of the best films of the festival”. And He “Not yet but it is on my bucket list , I heard about it and saw the poster” . Being nearby I couldn’t help but say “Hello Guglielmo, I am the composer of that film.” He widened his eyes with excitement “Really?!? Give me your card!” . In addition to the business card, I also handed him one of the USB flash drives I always carry with me that contains my recent works. The conclusion? “I will send you a message, I promise!” . Next time you see a Del Toro film, remember that in the Star System there are also people who are driven by enthusiasm and love for what they do and not just by business.
On the same day I got to meet another film legend, one of those directors who shaped the imaginations of those like me who were children in the 1980s. Joe Dante, as producer, was in Annecy to present the animated series “The Secrets of the Mogwai” a clever prequel to the Gremlins films (what a pleasure to hear that they used the main theme written by Jerry Goldsmith!). I was lucky enough to approach Dante for the inevitable Gremlins Bluray signing, or rather I was lucky enough to be practically seated next to him.
For those who, like me, wake up early in the morning, the Festival organization provided a “greedy” date, not even too metaphorically. For visitors with passes, it was possible to have access every morning (while places lasted) to “Breakfasts with the authors,” meetings (at 8 a.m.) that took place at breakfast time, offered by the organization, during which the public, journalists, students and professionals could participate in Q&A sections with filmmakers who had short films in competition.
As mentioned I missed many of the screenings I had booked, but I was able to enjoy the previews of “The boy and the World” by Ale Abreu (visually spectacular) and Nayola (very beautiful from a technical and narrative point of view). And of course I was able to enjoy at least three screenings of the film for which I wrote the soundtrack, in different theaters (one by more than two thousand seats).
Hearing one’s own music for the first time on such a major system is both a frightening and beautiful experience. I have to thank Mix sound engineer Loic (Luxembourg) who did a beautiful job enhancing the soundtrack in its entirety. I will talk about this in future videos and in a special article, but I want to anticipate that in this film I used a mix of real musicians (strings and woodwinds especially) and virtual instruments and the effect on the big screen was absolutely effective (note to young composers who are perpetually running after the latest orchestral library: no need…learn to use well, and creatively, what you have and above all focus on composition).
I was in Annecy only 3 days, it was a whirlwind of emotions…ended in glory. Our film entered the palmarès, awarded with the special mention of the Jury, formed by Tomm More, Charlotte De la Gournerie, Frédéric Maire.
This is the trailer of the film I hope you can soon enjoy it in the Cinema.
At the following links you can read some review of the movie