The hardships suffered by the Italian audiovisual industry as a result of the pandemic have also hit the animation sector, as confirmed by Anne-Sophie Vanhollebeke, the president of the association of Italian animation producers Cartoon Italia.
We took the opportunity to chat with her and take stock of the situation.
Cinema & Video International: Has this past year of crisis impacted your turnover, compared to the previous year?
Anne-Sophie Vanhollebeke: Yes, unfortunately, first and foremost because even though smart working has helped us avoid having to halt productions, these new working conditions have nevertheless led to a fall in productivity, a rise in costs and delays in invoicing.
Furthermore, the fact that we haven’t been able to take part in international markets has had a hugely negative impact on international sales and the search for co-production partners.
Has there also been a decrease in productions?
Yes, not least because, as you know, we’re still having to stick to just one partner/backer, which is RAI, and what with the pandemic and the slow-down I mentioned earlier, the delivery of many episodes has been pushed back to 2021, which eats into RAI Ragazzi’s budget for 2021. Sadly, there won’t be many new projects initiated this year.
And in terms of co-production projects?
There’s been a decrease there too, because we’re really struggling to find co-production partners now that we can’t take part in markets. Whether we like it or not, and despite markets organising online versions of their events, convincing foreign producers to invest 2 to 3 million euros in a project which isn’t their own, via a zoom call, is very, very difficult.
The few co-production agreements which have materialised during this period have been drawn up between producers who have known each other for years, which means it’s a very tricky time for start-ups and young producers.
How has the market changed? What impact has the emergence of new players had?
We’ve kept in contact with the traditional European broadcasters, whom we already have strong relationships with, but almost all of them have reduced their investment volumes because they’re in the process of restructuring so as to implement their own digital platforms. We had placed our hopes in OTT services and the possibility of establishing new working relationships with them, but once again the pandemic and having to communicate via zoom has impeded the creation of new working relationships based on mutual trust.
Is the feature films situation the same as that of TV series?
Feature films have also suffered as a result of the past year of crisis, in terms of delays, financial losses and terrible backlogs owing to uncertainty over the market and over distribution. The closure of cinemas has caused a huge problem for broadcasters buying films intended for the big screen. To give you an example, several French networks whom we were in talks with over pre-purchasing agreements have had to postpone broadcasting films until the cinemas re-open. If the law doesn’t change, hundreds of films will remain stuck in the backlog, and TV networks won’t have any incentive to pre-purchase other works.
Has Cartoon Italia supported any special initiatives during this past year of crisis?
Yes, during the first lockdown, Italian producers released the rights surrounding the more traditional animated series, allowing them to be broadcast on RAI’s digital channels, free of charge, so as to entertain younger audiences trapped indoors. We felt it was important to be a part of this movement of solidarity which developed during the pandemic between the people of Italy and Europe, but also among the wider world.
We also organised, likewise in lockdown, a live online initiative on Facebook, #CartoonEspresso, which allowed us to strengthen the sense of solidarity and friendships between all those working in the world of animation. Let’s just say that the crisis and this initiative were a real eye-opener; we realised that we are all very united in the Italian animation sector, and that there’s a strong sense of solidarity between us. And it is this unitedness, and not feeling isolated at home, which allowed us to move forwards and to keep morale high during the pandemic. Without a doubt, we’ll come out of it even stronger.
We’ve also lent our support to two important initiatives aimed at young authors. The first was a competition launched during lockdown, in league with RAI Ragazzi, Anica, Videocittà and Asifa, seeking out 5 short films exploring the theme “Emotions can be changed – Difficulties can be overcome”. We were sent 52 projects which delivered poignant underlying messages vis-a-vis the pandemic and which packed a real emotional punch.
The second is our collaboration in the launch of the Turner/Cartoon Network contest “What a Cartoonist”. It’s an initiative aimed at unearthing new talent in the world of animation and new storytelling languages. Upwards of 300 projects came our way at the end of February 2021. It’s a fantastic sign; it means that young Italians have a lot of creativity to express.
At the same time, despite the yellow, orange and red zones in operation, we managed to continue offering free animation courses to young people, using Toon-Boom Harmony and Storyboard PRO, which are funded by the Autonomous Region of Sardinia and promoted by the Fondazione Sardegna Film Commission as part of the NAS (New Animation in Sardinia) project, a production and lifelong learning lab aimed at making animated projects for cinema and TV.
Are you happy with the State support offered to your sector? And what will you need for your “recovery”?
The Film and Audiovisual fund has been increased from 400 million euros to 640 million euros, and that’s a very good thing; tax-credit rose to 40%, which is also a very good thing. In terms of the sector’s recovery, we’ve asked for a non-repayable financial contribution for the animation sector, within the framework of the compensation decree and the entry into force of the investment obligations regulation which, with its highly-anticipated introduction of a sub-quota for animation, will finally allow us to operate in Italy within a market which doesn’t verge on monopolistic (which is the main obstacle to the growth of the animation sector) but which is instead competitive, consisting of new players and new production opportunities.
English version by Michelle Mathery – Cineuropa