Animation is often a difficult craft – complicated to make, and even more to distribute and to reach all the people who can appreciate it. That is why the last CEEA Experience of this season focuses mostly on the assurance that it all makes sense – because after all, animation is still a great medium to reach an audience, especially children.
The host, Gert Hermans of European Children’s Film Association, welcomed four guests representing four corners of filmmaking. Hungarian producer Temple Reka of Cinemon Entertainment has been behind 10 animated features in the past 29 years. Swedish director Linda Hambäck fronted successful movies like Gordon & Paddy or Apstjärnan. Czech festival programmer Zuzana Bahulová of Zlín Film Festival watches 400 animated features every year to pick out the best ones for her event. And Polish distributor Maciej Jakubczyk, also associated with the festival Nowe Horyzonty, has similar expertise.
Together, the four speakers agreed that even though animation often sparks an urge to shake off the label of “a medium for kids”, it is true that children seem to have a special fondness for it. “Animation has no boundaries, you can do anything with it, and children are exactly the audience that can appreciate that,” explains Reka.
Bahulová agrees. As a festival programmer of an event aimed at children, she had to learn to look at films through a child’s eyes. She believes that animation is a great way to fulfil the sensitivities of a younger person. “A child doesn’t need a story to be as specific and realistic as live action usually makes it. Sometimes a simplified and stylised view of a medium unbound by reality talks to child’s priorities the best.”
Animation for kids also seems to be the best medium for international success. “Children are very open to different styles and cultures,” believes Reka. Hambäck then elaborates that animation travels across national markets so well because it offers fantasy in its purest form. “You want your pet to talk to you – and where does this dream come to life the most? In animation! Look at Miyazaki, he creates whole worlds full of things that children would love to see manifested. Animation gives you an opportunity to dive into something in a way that live action rarely does.”
Only Jakubczyk, from the pragmatic point of view of a film distributor, warns that none of those qualities should be taken for granted without further planning. “I understand that artists like to create their work freely, without considering market issues, but it is really hard when a producer and a director come to us and show us work with no obvious target audience. To make a product ‘for children’, you must communicate with that audience all the way through – and know exactly what to offer and how. For example, Japanese anime Belle was very hard to sell to the audience because there is not a guaranteed way to explain this type of film to Polish children.”
Reka and Hambäck counter that the most important thing is still an artistic vision that cannot capitulate before statistics and market analysis. “Before everything else you need to be authentic, you need to do what you want to do. Being too practical makes boring, uneventful art. Good film will reach the audience in the end,” believes Reka. Hambäck also reminds us that animation can be timeless – just like a beautiful painting in museum. That makes it so much more rewarding to work with it.