The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily
The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily

Celebrating France’s rich tradition as a pioneer of animation, the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) presents the 2020 Animation First Festival, showcasing the vast history, enduring ingenuity, and diversity of France’s renowned animation studios and schools.

This year’s schedule includes 15 premieres, award-winning features and shorts, immersive exhibits, virtual reality and video game demonstrations, insightful panels with filmmakers, and more. The Festival runs from Friday, February 7 to Sunday, February 9 in New York City.

Animation First opens with the US Premiere of The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily (2019) by noted illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti on Friday, February 7. This adaptation of the beloved 1945 Italian children’s book by Dino Buzzati marks the debut feature film by Mattotti, who is known for his celebrated New Yorker covers and graphic novels.

The Festival continues on Saturday, February 8, with the US Premiere of The Prince’s Voyage (2019), the most recent film by legendary director Jean-François Laguionie, this year’s guest of honor, as well as his Louise by the Shore (2016). Laguionie is one of the most important contemporary animation filmmakers, and he has been fittingly celebrated with awards, retrospectives, exhibitions, and restorations of his early works.

On Sunday, February 9, FIAF will present a newly restored print of his debut feature Gwen and the Book of Sand (1982), and a program of his shorts including his breakthrough “Rowing Across the Atlantic,” which received a Palme d’Or at Cannes. His acclaimed The Painting (2011), will be shown in two programs geared toward young audiences (Feb. 5 and Feb. 7), and the director himself will discuss his storied career and preview excerpts of his forthcoming film Slocum (Feb. 8). In conjunction with the Festival, Laguionie will conduct masterclasses with students at the Pratt Institute and the School of Visual Arts.

The NY Premiere of Anca Damian’s Marona’s Fantastic Tale (2019), nominated for Best Feature at the 2019 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, is one of Sunday’s highlights. The festival will close with its annual presentation of the 2020 César-Nominated Short Animated films, showcasing France’s most notable achievements in this category over the past year.

Around town, Animation First partners with the New York Institute of Technology to present the US premiere of Notre Dame de Paris, The Age of the Builders (2019), on Monday, February 10. This timely look at the grand cathedral’s 850-year history, leading up to the tragic fire on April 16, 2019, will be followed by a Q&A with director Emmanuel Blanchard and motion-capture specialist Jean-François Szlapka.

A special presentation of the critically hailed movie The Swallows of Kabul (2019), the debut film from Zabou Breitman and Eléa Gobbé-Mévellec, anchors Saturday’s program. This adaptation of the eponymous novel by Yasmina Khadra was introduced to New York audiences during a Work-In-Progress presentation at the 2019 edition of Animation First.

Building on its legacy of sharing sneak peaks of anticipated works and insider looks at noteworthy projects, Animation First will offer fascinating insights across several revealing programs. On Saturday, Benjamin Massoubre, editor of the award-winning I Lost My Body (2019), will give a behind-the-scenes presentation into the creation of this film, following a free screening of the feature. Later that day, Laguionie will present excerpts of his next film, Slocum, as part of a wide-ranging discussion, and directors Phuong Mai Nguyen and Charlotte Cambon de Lavalette will discuss the process of adapting Penelope Bagieu’s best-selling graphic novel Brazen, highlighting the lives of 30 extraordinary women.

On Sunday, Cambon de Lavalette and Nguyen will be joined by director Anca Damian, writer Anik Leray, and producer Valérie Schermann for a Women in Animation panel covering equal representation in the industry; Lorenzo Mattotti will discuss his debut feature film, The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily, as well as his work as an illustrator with New Yorker art editor Françoise Mouly: and director Jérémie Périn (Lastman) will present clips from his debut feature film, sci-fi thriller Mars Express, along with screenwriter Laurent Sarfati and producer Didier Crest.

Throughout the festival, visitors will be able to sample an array of new video games and virtual reality programs benefiting from France’s prolific animation industry for free in the FIAF gallery. This year’s exhibition includes the 14-minute documentary Accused #2, Walter Sisulu, which takes you inside the trial of Walter Sisulu, an anti-apartheid activist in South Africa, using the restored audio recordings. Also on display is the interactive virtual reality puzzle, A Fisherman’s Tale, a surrealistic adventure game, and Gloomy Eyes, a virtual reality experience, voiced by Colin Farrell.

“As we launch our third Animation First festival, we see this medium excel at sharing the untellable and depicting the unimaginable,” said festival co-curators Delphine Selles-Alvarez, FIAF’s Film Curator, and Catherine Lamairesse, Director of Special Projects at FIAF. “Jean-François Laguionie was a pioneer in pushing animation beyond children’s stories to the realms of philosophy. Meanwhile Zabou Breitman and Elea Gobbé-Mévellec find humanity in the depths of unthinkable cruelty through the ethereal The Swallows of Kabul. And this year we see the grandeur—before tragedy hit—of Paris’s most beloved monument come to life through 3D technology in Notre Dame du Paris, The Age of Builders. Each work presents its own world with a unique aesthetic and memorable characters, and we are thrilled to share them with New York audiences.”

2020 FIAF Animation First Festival Trailer

Feature Films

Opening-Night Program & US Premiere: The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily
Dir. Lorenzo Mattotti, 2019, 82 min
Introduction by Mattotti & post-screening reception
In French with English subtitles
All ages

Inspired by the 1945 classic Italian children’s book by Dino Buzzati, acclaimed Italian illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti brings bold colors and a graphic eye to his first feature film, a tale about friendship, tolerance, and nature. When Tonio, a bear prince, is kidnapped by hunters in the mountains of Sicily, his father— the king—sends his subjects down to the plain, inhabited by men, to search for his son as well as food for the winter. Faced with the bears’ invasion, the men fight back but are unable to overcome their tenacity, helped by a little bit of magic. Tonio is found, but decides to stay in the land of men where bears have to learn to coexist with human mores. Produced by the team behind The Red Turtle, adapted by award-winning screenwriter Thomas Bidegain (A Prophet), and voiced by such luminaries as Jean-Claude Carrière and Leïla Bekhti, The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily “is classic animation at its best, clear and pleasing, calculated to charm children and adults alike,” says Variety. Made in Paris and Angoulême. Presented in partnership with the Italian Cultural Institute.

Free Screening: I Lost My Body
Dir. Jérémy Clapin, 2019, 81 min
In French with English subtitles

In a Parisian laboratory, a severed hand escapes its unhappy fate and sets out to reconnect with its body. During a hair-raising escapade across the city, the extremity fends off pigeons and rats alike to reunite with pizza boy Naoufel. Its memories of Naoufel and his love for librarian Gabrielle may provide answers about what caused the hand’s separation, and are a poetic backdrop for a possible reunion between the three. Based on Guillaume Laurant’s novel Happy Hand, I Lost My Body is the first animated film to win the Nespresso Grand Prize awarded by the jury of the International Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival. The screening will be followed by a behind-the-scenes presentation by the film’s editor, Benjamin Massoubre.

US Premiere: The Prince’s Voyage (Le Voyage du Prince)
Dir. Jean-François Laguionie & Xavier Picard, 2019, 77 min
Introduction by Laguionie
In French with English subtitles
Ages 7 and up

When an old monkey Prince washes up on a foreign shore, weakened and confused, he finds shelter and care from a young boy named Tom and his parents. The old Prince also discovers a fascinating new world where scientific knowledge is valued above all, and the Academy of Science rules with absolute convictions. However, the Prince’s arrival at once threatens this strict society, and also opens a door towards acceptance and open-mindedness. A follow up to Laguionie’s A Monkey’s Tale, this beautifully hand-drawn film with nods to classic films, enchants children and adults with its philosophical themes and sumptuous images. Made in Paris and Angoulême.

Louise by the Shore (Louise en hiver)
Dir. Jean-François Laguionie, 2016, 75 min
Introduction by Laguionie
In French with English subtitles
Ages 10 and up

On the last day of summer, Louise, who has been vacationing in a small seaside town, realizes that the last train has departed without her. She suddenly finds herself alone—a septuagenarian Robinson Crusoe—and forced to confront the oncoming winter alone. A novel reinvention of a desert island story, Laguionie’s poignant and personal allegory for aging follows Louise as she scavenges food, finds her Friday in a canine companion (voiced by Laguionie himself), eschews rescue, and reflects on her life.

The Swallows of Kabul (Les Hirondelles de Kaboul)
Dir. Zabou Breitman and Eléa Gobbé-Mévellec, 2019, 81 min
In French with English Subtitles

Based on Yasmina Khadra’s eponymous best-selling novel, The Swallows of Kabul is set in the summer of 1998 in the Afghan capital under Taliban rule. In the midst of a repressive and unforgiving regime, Zunaira and Mohsen are young and deeply in love, while Mussarat and her husband Atiq suffer terribly. One day, a foolish gesture causes life to take an irrevocable turn, upending the fates of these two Afghan couples. Critically embraced following its premiere at the Cannes Film festival the harrowing film brings this powerful story to life through shimmering watercolor-style animation that accentuates the region’s sun-bathed landscapes and the brutality of life under the Taliban regime. Made in Paris.

NY Premiere: Marona’s Fantastic Tale (L’extraordinaire voyage de Marona)
Dir. Anca Damian, 2019, 92 min
Post-screening Q&A with Damian
In French with English subtitles
Ages 8 and up

After an accident, Marona, a small Labrador mix with a big heart, reflects on all the homes and humans that have welcomed her throughout her life. Brilliantly told through vibrant colors and dazzling animation, this charming tale follows Marona’s adventures as she meets and is adopted by fascinating characters, including a circus acrobat and a sweet young girl with an eye patch. Director Anca Damian (Crulic – The Path to Beyond) breathes Marona’s world into being, using an inventive mix of cut outs, 2D, and 3D animation techniques to impart the wisdom an average dog with an extraordinary life. Made in Paris and Bordeaux.

Gwen, the Book of Sand (Gwen, le livre de sable)
Dir. Jean-François Laguionie, 1985, 67 min
Introduction by Laguionie
In French with English subtitles
Ages 10 and up

For his first feature film, Laguionie created a starkly beautiful post-apocalyptic desert where items from past civilizations drop out of the sky. When Gwen’s friend is kidnapped—by those responsible for the dropped objects—she and the elder Roseline must trek across the dunes to the City of the Dead to find him. Recently restored to preserve Laguionie’s lush, painterly images, this ecological parable casts two female characters as powerful instruments of change.

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