On 16 December 2020, the Catalan association of producers PROA and the association of producers in animation ProAnimats hosted a panel focusing on theatrical distribution of European animated films within the frame of the ALICE project. Selected theatrical distributors from Spain, Wallonia, France and the US talked about their experiences selling and distributing indie animated films, the importance of continuing to bring such films to the big screen, as well as the specific attributes, distribution challenges and support needs of each territory. Discussions focused on how European animation can respond to fierce global competition and the rapidly changing market.

Recognizing the long-standing dominance of major US studios, the dramatic market change brought about by the introduction of the streaming platforms, and the potentially lasting effect of the pandemic on media consumption habits (especially on young audiences), the panelists tried to identify the key barriers and success factors for growing the industry in Europe, specifically in terms of theatrical release.

Although Europe works with lower budgets than the US, and with story elements that are not necessarily internationally known, it can offer a variety of creative films with unique visual styles that appeal to a wide range of niche audiences. The creative-oriented model produces beautiful films, which should be promoted using a consumer-oriented approach. To position their films within a highly competitive market, European animation producers need to strategize. They should use the time provided by the long production process to clearly identify their target market and think ahead about where, when and how to release a film. Experience shows that only targeted promotion has an impact, so the distribution strategy should be tailored to each ‘product’ and the appropriate marketing tools should be used to create awareness. Distributors can support and enhance the marketing strategy implemented by producers for each film by offering mixed programming consisting of short and feature films, suitable to different audience segments and released on the appropriate screen, whether that is arthouse theatres’ and/or cineplex’.

From left to right- Iván Agenjo (ProAnimats), Pío Vernis (BRUTAL MEDIA), Adeline Margueron (Les Grignoux) Eleanor Coleman (Indie Sales), Antonio Saura (Latido Films), Valérie Yendt (Gebeka Films), Chance Huskey (GKIDS) and Mireia Manén i Calvet (El Meu Primer Festival).

The experts pointed out that more support from audiovisual public funds and governments will be crucial to allow producers, distributors and exhibitors to promote and market their products properly. Funding should be available for producers to create marketing packages and pay for the expensive process of dubbing, a crucial step to international releases - in particular for films intended for young audiences. Producers also need support to deliver the volume of production necessary to cultivate the creative diversity that is Europe’s trademark and that will appeal to international markets – including the US. 

Governments should also recognize that local animation is a key element of a flourishing, job-creating industry. Introducing younger audiences to the big screen is an essential aspect supporting the growth of the sector. Theatres also have a role to play in engaging local communities while fostering the cinema experience and organizing live, social film events. During the panel, France was given as an example of how a secured, subsidized market, combined with a ‘culture of cinema’ supported by a strong network of arthouse cinemas and a public policy of ‘education a l’image’ can lay the ground for a strong and competitive industry.

The animation landscape and situations are very different across regions, but one thing is for sure: the future of theatrical distribution of European films relies on producers taking responsibility for promoting and marketing their films in collaboration with distributors and exhibitors, as well as on the support of the public bodies to fund marketing packages and dubbing, and to educate audiences. Over the years, and especially during the pandemic, creative animation has proved itself to be resilient and attractive. With the right tools and support, there is no doubt it can carve out a place for itself on both national and international scenes.

Thank you to our partner and co-host ‘My First Festival, El Meu Primer Festival’, to panel's moderator Pío Vernis from BRUTAL MEDIA as well as panel's speakers Eleanor Coleman from Indie Sales (France), Adeline Margueron from Les Grignoux - Le Parc Distribution (Belgium), Antonio Saura from Latido Films (Spain), Valérie Yendt from Gebeka Films (France) and Chance Huskey from GKIDS (US) for their enlightening presentations and valuable contributions.