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Dutch animation experts give their opinion

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At Cartoon Movie in Bordeaux (March 2019) the spotlight was placed on the burgeoning Dutch animation industry both in terms of top quality content and The Netherlands as a dynamic co-production partner. Nick Cunningham talks to leading players from the sector.

Submarine's Bruno Felix remembers his first time at Cartoon Movie, the leading co-production event for the global animation industry. It was at Llandudno in Wales at the beginning of the new millennium and he was one of five Dutch attendees with precious little to boast about in terms of a domestic animation industry.

Seventeen years later, Felix headed up the Dutch contingent in Bordeaux that included scores of producers, filmmakers, distributors and funders, representing ten new projects. The producer himself walked away with the Producer of the Year Award and saw the Director of the Year award presented to Salvador Simó for Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, which he co-produced.

"A lot has changed in the Lowlands over these past 17 years," he stresses. "The Netherlands Film Fund has created a cash rebate system (Production Incentive) which pays back up to 35% on all euros spent both in The Netherlands on animated series and features which makes us a viable co-producing country. The Production incentive is instrumental in getting Dutch producers involved in these international co-productions. It is only when you do co-productions that you become part of this network, and that will help you make your own films."

"In addition, we have a growing number of theatrical distributors who are bringing more animated features to satisfy the growing appetite of Dutch audiences. And the enthusiasm for animated films is also evident in the growing number of graduates that flow out of the Netherlands."

Submarine is developing/(co) producing many other animated projects including Ari Folman's Where is Anne Frank?, the audacious My Grandfather Used to Say He Saw Demons (Nuno Beato) and the eagerly-awaited 8 x 22 minute Amazon series Undone, directed by Dutch animation maestro Hisko Hulsing.

Dutch producer Richard Valk concurs with Felix, arguing that an international dimension is the only way to secure the higher budgets that feature animation demands (stressing at the same time that we must continue to place funding emphasis on shorts and VR/AR as well). He also underlines the need to dovetail co-production rules with those of other animation-friendly international funds.

"Until now we have been very careful with budgets, but to have international success you need higher budgets and you need content. That is doable only within international co-production," he stresses. "The first thing I always say [when approached to produce a short animation project] is ‘let's try to think international', so I have good connections with Belgium, France and Germany'. My films are all almost all international co-productions."

"Features and shorts are developing fast in The Netherlands and there is a lot to gain," he adds. "But we must be more open to the rules of other countries. We are in a very good place, and thank god for the Film Fund, because Germany for example is less flexible, but there is always room for improvement in terms of co-operation.

Valk produced two films selected for Annecy 2019. These are Adriaan Lokman's Flow and Wiep Teeuwisse's Intermission Expedition (see page 26).

The Film Fund's Dorien van de Pas underlines her organisation's commitment to the sector, stressing how the Production Incentive has generated €13.8 million in animated feature spend, and €9.7 million in animated series spend, since its introduction in 2014. "What we saw at Cartoon Movie is that we are now part of this European animation co-production industry, not only as a majority producer but as a minority partner too. There are really strong animators, producers and more and more studios in the Netherlands, excellent levels of education at the film school and greater funding possibilities."

She adds: "On one hand you have animation production houses like Submarine and il Luster and Valk Productions, and on the other hand you have live-action producers who are entering the sector, such as Viking Film who is working with talent such as Mascha Halberstad (Fox and Hare, producer Submarine, p26) and Job, Joris and Marieke (A Single Life, nominated for an Academy Award 2015 for Best Animated Short Film, see p46). And established producers of live-action content for children, like BosBros. With The Netherlands, you can see that the quality is there, the people are there, the studios are there and the investment is there."

Director Vincent Bal (Miss Minoes, The Zig Zag Kid) is developing the animated feature Miss Moxy, about a snooty cat who must learn the value of friendship, with BosBros' Jolande Junte. Bal illustrates how the Dutch animation sector has developed over recent years. "Ten years ago I did an animation series called Kika and Bob with Submarine and we had to outsource all the animation to China because there was just no way we could do that just in Holland. But that gave us a lot of problems as there were a lot of cultural issues in that they didn't understand certain jokes, and it was really hard," he remembers. "Now we can do all of that work here in Europe, in Holland, in a way you wouldn't have expected a decade ago. It is a very positive evolution."

Junte adds: "We don't have a huge (feature) tradition compared to the countries around us, but we are catching up very fast. Also the broadcasters don't have so much experience in producing animation, but they are quickly getting the sense of it. And what they are doing at the Film Fund is light years away from what happened there five years ago. We will all get there together in the end."

A very sad footnote to Cartoon Movie was the announcement on the final day of the passing of the great Dutch animator Rosto. Lauded by festivals across the world, especially Clermont Ferrand, Rosto made the masterly Wreckers Tetralogy which consisted of No Place like Home, Lonely Bones, Splintertime and Reruns, all of which were satellites around what he called the mothership ‘Mind My Gap': an online graphic novel of 26 episodes that illustrated his bizarre, unique, stylish and highly idiosyncratic universe.

SEE NL Magazine #35 May 2019 / Cannes - Annecy Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by Eye International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.


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