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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The European Cartoon Forum

At the risk of sounding like a travel writer rather than a hard-working media exec I have to write about my recent trip to the European Cartoon Forum.

This is an annual event that I have been attending on and off since 1994. It’s one of the more inspired schemes run by the European Media programme. It aims to promote and support the European animation industry by inviting all the children’s and animation commissioning editors and distributors to an ‘exotic’ location somewhere in Europe to be pitched at for three days by producers.

I say ‘exotic’ because about 5 years ago it was held in Llandudno which really does stretch the meaning of the word ‘exotic’ to breaking point.

My first Cartoon Forum was in 1994 and was held in the Azores. At some point I remember pitching a project but my clearest memories are of the steak, the white asparagus and the flowing wine. Similarly with Arles (wine), Turku (beer & saunas), Connemara (Guinness), Santiago de Compostela (Tapas & Pilgrims). I can’t really remember much about Kolding or Varese. Both dull I think.

This year the forum was held in Girona, Catalonia, about an hour from Barcelona. The main attraction this year was that nearby Figueres was the birthplace of the late Salvador Dali and he spent the latter part of his life in the region. And as you will know from previous posts, being a minor media mogul is all well and good but it’s modern art that really gets the juices flowing.

Especially when it’s modern art involving stuffed birds, cars with rain machines inside them and numerous iconoclastic, blasphemous and erotic artefacts all presented with an obsessive eye for beauty. Anyone who wears sheep shit in his hair to make a point has got to be worth a couple of hours of my time.

As part of some of the organised tours around the Forum we were able to visit the Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres and also the Gala-Dali Castle in Pubol both of which were truly extraordinary.

The business of the Cartoon Forum though is animation. Over 4 days some 60 producers get to pitch their projects to broadcasters and financiers in the hope of raising sufficient finance to get something in to production. Sounds good eh?

Well, funnily enough, things are not what they seem.

Of the sixty projects that get pitched, usually less than 5 ever get into production. Kids animation is a hugely competitive area with a massive over-supply of passionate producers chasing increasingly scarce broadcast slots and finance.

Also, most of the projects presented are abysmal. This year one of the highlights was a project called ‘Anton and the Turbot Trophy’ a priceless series about a wall mounted turbot that could grant wishes to the young Anton. You had to be there, it was astonishing.

The Forum always leaves me confused about our business, it has the ability to make me question what we are doing trying to make animated kids programmes. There is so much of it out there - what chance do we have of making something that will even get noticed?

But the Forum can also remind me that if the rest of Europe is trying to make talking turbot shows then there might just be a place for high quality kids entertainment such as is made by Aardman. I sat through a good few pitches and saw nothing that made me want to throw in the towel but plenty that made me want to stand up and shout ‘Just give up, it’s not going to happen!’

But then all wrongs were righted and the week away from the family was somehow made worthwhile when Aardman’s film, The Pearce Sisters (directed by the extraordinarily talented Luis Cook) won the Cartoon D’Or - a soemwhat prestigious European award that is part of the whole Cartoon Forum experience.

The Pearce Sisters, and films like it, are what make our business great. Totally un-commercial, breathtakingly original and artistic, honest, resonant and true in a way that no Hollywood schlock or reality TV programme ever ever will be. And with my name in the credits too. Lovely.

After the Cartoon D’Or ceremony on the Friday night I decided to try and make an early getaway. I brought my return flight forward a day and hot-footed it to Barcelona airport to get home to see my beloved family a day early. I got to the airport and realised that my passport was in the desk drawer in my hotel room.

You don’t need a talking turbot to make your wishes come true. You need to remember your fucking passport.

Tail between my legs, I scuttled back to Girona, fortunately had a magical dinner in the grounds of a castle and headed home on Sunday on my original Easyjet ticket, all £18 worth of it. Remind me again - how is it that I can fly from Girona to Bristol for less than the price of a round of drinks? Has the world gone mad?

Come to think of it, one of my favourite books ever is The Flounder by Gunter Grass - about a talking turbot. Perhaps I missed something and the project was actually a brilliant metaphor for the decline of masculine authority in the face of resurgent feminine self awareness. I must email them and ask to see the scripts.