First Time Annecy Festival 2023 – Part 1

For as long as I have known about the Annecy Festival, I have always wanted to attend, it has been on my bucket list for 25 years, and this year I finally was able to go! I have decided to record my thoughts and observations as a first timer to this amazing festival.

Festival Preparations

I have read that business cards are still a common thing at the festival, so I some printed up so that I could easily and quickly exchange contact information. I also decided to print up some postcards of a couple of projects that I am developing, because I was ambitiously hoping for some interest in them. While I didn’t hand out nearly as many cards as I thought, they certainly did come in handy enough.

Up until a few weeks before I left I thought I was satisfied with having any media I might want to show people loaded up on my phone. After some more reading, I came to the conclusion that having a tablet with a decently sized high quality screen was a better way to go, so I purchased a tablet with an OLED screen (for maximum quality even in sunlight) and loaded up that with all the media from my projects that I though had the potential that people might like to see.

Project pitch postcards and business cards.
Tablet loaded with personal project media.

Travel Preparation

After reading a few other Annecy Festival experiences in the past, almost all of them unilaterally agree that as soon as you have decided on going, book your accommodation, no matter how early your decision is, then figure out the rest of your travel plans soon after. When I decided that I would be going, it was a little more than 6 months before the festival, so I hit Airbnb straight away to see what my options were. I was going with my family, and I wanted to stay a few more days longer than the length of festival, so I needed accommodation that fit my criteria. I came across a really good place that was 7 minutes walk from the Bonlieu Centre in a quiet back alley that had a beautiful garden that came to about CDN$270 a night (staying 10 nights), which after talking to a number of people during the festival turned out to be an extremely good deal. The host was super nice, and I was ultimately very satisfied with the place I found. Unfortunately for those of you reading this, I will not reveal in this post the location of this place, as I want to make sure that I get it next time 😉

My wonderful accommodation in Annecy.
A quiet place to start the day ahead of a busy festival schedule.

Because I was using the festival as part of my vacation, I was going to stay in Paris for about a week before the festival (it has been more than 15 years since my wife and I last visited France), which would help me get over jet-lag before the festival started and stay as refreshed as can be for the entire event. So I then booked my flights soon after my accommodation and found an amazing deal that was non stop from Vancouver to Paris for about CDN$1100. Lastly, I needed to book the trains from Paris to Annecy and back, but it wasn’t possible to book these more than 3 months in advance. So I waited until the appropriate time, and got some seats for a great price. Less than a month before my travel, I was curious to see if there was any price changes for these seats, and when I checked I saw that they had almost tripled in price, so it definitely pays to book early.

I had also read about Annecy’s fast changing weather which proved to be an accurate description. For a few weeks before the festival, there was wet weather forecast for about half the time of the featival, so I decided to pack some wet weather clothes just in case the weather got wet and cold, but all of that proved unnecessary in the end, as in the last couple of days before the festival, the forecast cleared up, and it was basically sunny and hot for 90% of my time there. I would still pack a compact umbrella next time I go just in case, but I would leave most of my cold weather clothes behind to keep my luggage as light as can be.

Festival Reservations

Another observation I have made from reading other people’s accounts who have previously attended the festival is that online reservations fill up extremely fast, like in the span of a few minutes. So after hearing those stories from others missing out because they were not prepared when the reservations became available, I spent a decent amount of time (it must have been around 30 hours) figuring out what my schedule would be, trying to account for wait times in between sessions for anything that I may not be able to get a reservation for.

When it came to deciding on what events I should give preference to, I was given some advice by someone who had gone before that I should try and stick to the talks and panels over the films (both short and feature) as the films will eventually be released so I can get a chance to see them then. This sounded like good advice, though I still wanted to attend a couple of the film screenings that I was most excited for.

Once I decided on my reservation preferences, I then created a link to each of the events I wanted to attend in order of priority on one screen of my tablet so that I could access each page as fast as I could. I then made sure to remember the exact time that the reservations would open so that I could be ready (Tuesday the 6th of June at 3pm – France time). I was already going to be in Paris when the reservations opened, so I didn’t need to be awake at some unholy hour, but on that day my wife had arranged to visit the MusĂ©e d’Orsay. So at 2:50pm, I found a quiet seat in a corner of the museum, made sure that my wifi connection was working, then slowly counted down the minutes and then seconds until 3pm. As soon as my first page refreshed with a reservation button on my first event, it took me about 4 seconds each to click on the next shortcut link in order on my tablet screen, then clicked on the reservation button for that page, and then the next, etc., it was then all over in about a minute. After that initial rush, I wanted to confirm my reservations, so I went back to the pages with the events that I have reserved a minute later to find that all of those session were now full. It was quite an intense and exhilarating experience. In the end, I managed to get everything I wanted except for one event.

That evening, I made a few more small changes to my schedule, and was then satisfied with my choices of events. Some of my confirmed reservations included:

  • Guillermo del Toro: On Animation
  • The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim
  • Nimona screening
  • All the Mifa Ptiches
  • Walt Disney Animation Studios Presents “Wish”
Sitting in the Musée d'Orsay with 3 minutes to go until reservation opens, ready to click on all my shortcut website links.

Arrival in Annecy

With my reservations done, I was all ready for the festival. I arrived in Annecy on Saturday the 3rd, one day before the recently added extra day of the festival was announced, checked in to my accommodation and then had a little wander around the city centre to get my bearings. I also took a little look at the main venue, the Centre Bonlieu.

The beautiful canals of Annecy.
One of the main pedestrian streets of the city.
Mexican themed decorations in the Centre Bonlieu.
The main entrance of the Centre Bonlieu.
Billboards near the Centre Bonlieu.
Small park behind the Centre Bonlieu near where the ticketing is located.

First day of the festival – Sunday

Feeling refreshed for the first day of the festival, I head on down to the registration area at the rear of the Centre Bonlieu. Not knowing anything about how it all worked, I must say that it all seemed quite easy to navigate. The lines were quite short, I waited less than 10 minutes, showed some ID to the person behind the desk, then had my badge and was out the door in less than a few minutes. Very smooth.

The ticketing booth behind the Centre Bonlieu.
Handy map of the local area.

I have read in a number of different accounts of past festivals, that one should never shy away from talking to the people in line with you, and while waiting to get my badge, I did just that. It turned out I was behind one of the directors and producers of the fantastic African animated anthology series Kizazi Moto: Lesego Vorster and Kaya Kuhn. Very delightful and friendly people that I really enjoyed connecting with, and a great way to kickstart my Annecy Festival experience, and I also had my first business card swap with these two awesome people.

Standing behind one of the directors and producers of Kizazi Moto.
My first business card swap.

The first screening I had planned on watching was for something that I hadn’t reserved: Nina et le Secret du hĂ©risson, so I arrived about an hour before its 4pm screening at CinĂ©ma PathĂ© to find about 30 people already in the ‘no reservation’ line. I saw a small group of people in another line playing cards, which seemed a great way to pass the time. I talked with two people in front of me, students from Lyon and we mainly talked about ways of promoting yourself as a young artist. About 5 minutes before the screening was about to start, the festival organisers start to let some people through from the ‘no reservation’ line. I was not sure if I was going to be let in, then, with about 8 people in front of me they closed the line and informed everyone that the screening was now full. This really confirmed what the rest of the festival may be like for events that I had no reservation for.

A great way to pass the time while waiting in a line.
The line behind me.
Meeting students from Lyon.
More business card swaps with the students.
The no reservation line starts to move.
No more people from the no reservation line are allowed in.

Second day of the festival – Monday

The only event in my most wanted list that I missed out on reserving was The Spider Within: A Spider-Verse Story, which I assumed would be very popular. So knowing that even one hour wasn’t long enough to get into the film from the day before in the ‘no reservation’ line, I decided to arrive at the event two hours early. I arrived at 9:30am for the 11:30am event to find at least 70 people already in the ‘no reservation’ line. There was no way I was going to get in, so I didn’t even bother trying. I later found out that less than 10 people got in.

So I quickly consulted the program to find out what to see, and managed to get into a screening of Lonely Castle in the Mirror, a film I knew nothing about. While it started a little slow, it ramped up to be a wonderfully deep film that won me over. Just before I entered the theatre, I noticed that people were even beginning to line up in the ‘with reservation’ line for the Spider-Verse event too! It was then that I realised that even for events that I have reserved, if I intend on getting a decent seat, that I need to arrive sufficiently early for the more popular events too, at least a half an hour beforehand it seems.

The dirctor of Lonely Castle in the Mirror: Keiichi Hara

I then attended one of the short film screenings that I had reserved. I watched an enjoyable collection of films, though I realised that I might not have left enough time to line up for my next event, the WIP screening of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem, even though I had a reservation. So unfortunately, I had to leave the short film screening one film early. When I arrived at the ‘with reservation’ line for the Turtles screening 45 minutes before the film started, the line already extended out of the Centre Bonlieu and way down the footpath. As I got in line, I had to ask the people in front of me if I was actually in the ‘with reservation’ line, as I wasn’t exactly sure. I was. I introduced myself to those people in line next to me, swapped some business cards, followed some Instagram accounts, and had some great conversations. Upon making it inside the theatre, I saw that it was already about 2/3 full. I found a seat and was surprised to find some cool takeaways on the chair. I then started a conversation with the people next to me only to find out that one of them was a fellow Aussie, a Layout Supervisor at Locksmith, and another the co-founder of Steamroller Animation! After fan-boying over their work for a bit (and some more business card swapping), the screening begun, and what fun I had watching it! Even though about 15% – 20% of the shots were not finaled, it was still a lot of fun, and I adored the art style.

After the Turtles screening, I joined my family at the Le PĂąquier for a free open air screening of Icarus (in French) to finish off the evening.

Meeting new people in the line for the Turtles screening.
Meeting more new people in the theatre of the Turtles Screening.
Takeaways from the Turtles screening.
Lot's of excitement and cheers while waiting for the Turtles screening to start!

Third day of the festival – Tuesday

As a huge Tolkien fan, I was really looking forward to the first event for the day, a talk about the current work in progress of The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim, as well as a chance to see some of the film, no matter how brief it may be, and it didn’t disappoint! I didn’t know I wanted to see an anime Lord of the Rings film so much until I attended this event. There was a lot of great insight into how the project got off the ground, as well as some information into the work processes, which included a lot of previs work in Unreal.

Next was my first Mifa event, From Artist to Director at Walt Disney Animation Studios, a talk with Trent Correy and Dan Abraham. This event was not able to be reserved (apparently a small number of events are like this), so it was first come first served for everyone. I read previously that there were small shuttle vans that go back and forth between the Centre Bonlieu and ImpĂ©rial Palace for most of the day, so instead of the 10 – 15 minute walk in the hot weather, I joined the very short line just outside the Centre Bonlieu, waited about 5 minutes and then jumped into the next available shuttle. The event was being held inside the main building, in the Rotonde de l’Europe room. I arrived a little over an hour early and there were about 40 people already in the line. The talk was quite insightful, Trent and Dan gave a humorous description of their career journey while at Disney all the way through to their latest project, an animated short film called Once Upon a Studio.

Next was the Guillermo del Toro conversation which I had a reservation for, but knowing how popular it would be, I made sure that I was in the ‘with reservation’ line at least an hour beforehand. The choice to attend this was a tough one, because I really wanted to attend another event at the same time, a work in progress session of Flow, the new feature animated film from Latvian film maker Gints Zilbalodis (I really liked his first feature, Away). But as there is too much going on during Annecy to attend everything, choices have to be made. Del Toro’s talk was nothing short of inspiring, I felt like cutting my vacation short right there to get home and start creating!

Guillermo del Toro's talk was very inspiring!

After the del Toro talk, I then made my way to the Dneg Animation Studio Soiree to catch the last hour, my first Annecy party! I had an invite for this because I work at ReDefine, and they are sister companies, so to speak. As soon as I arrived, I met the Aussie I was sitting next to at the Turtles screening, he introduced me to a number of his work colleagues from both Dneg and Locksmith. The party reached its end time, and then the group I was with decided to see if we could all get into the Sony party that was still going on. We walked over, to find that the event was so full, that people were spilling over from the restaurant area that it was being held in anyway, so we all blended in and partook of some complimentary food and drink. It was there that I had a fantastic conversation with Dan Abraham, one of the directors from Disney whose talk I attended earlier in the day, he was a super nice guy. I made some new friends while at the party too, and as the restaurant stopped serving drinks around 9:30pm, the party was coming to a close. I had an invite to go to the Mifa opening party which started at 10:30pm, which I really wanted to go to, but my feet were hurting too much, and I just needed to sleep as it had been a big day. I’ll go next time.

The Dneg Animation Annecy party.

Part 2 to follow…