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With this year being the year of film delays and a pandemic, it has dried up the foreign film market purchases. Granted, I don’t mean to come off as no purchases have happened, but they have been few and far between this year. I mean, it’s hard to know if you want to buy the US rights to a foreign film if there is no way to watch it. While I have loved being able to see some foreign film offerings via online film festivals, it’s less than what I would personally liked to take into my eyes and writing. It’s a real first world problem to complain about this, but as an animation and film fan of foreign animated features, this year has been lacking. When my co-host and I talked to Tony Bancroft and Scott Salva about getting their animated film Animal Crackers distributed, they talked about how it seems impossible for smaller animated films to get a foot in the door with a distributer. Sure, we have companies like GKIDS, but it does seem like other distributor hopefuls like Elevenarts and Shout! Factory seem to have dialed back their support. For example, Elevenarts’ only major animated film this year? The Wonderland. At least in 2018, they had not only the franchise films they brought over, but also Maquia: When the Promised Flowers Bloom and Liz and the Blue Bird. The point of the matter is, as much as I love GKIDS, it can’t be the only company that’s shouldering the weight and fate of multiple animated films from overseas.
Thankfully, back in June of 2020, the Los Angelas Animation Festival founded a new distribution arm with the intent of distributing animated films from overseas. These include the first Iranian-animated film to be submitted to the Oscars for Best Animated Feature, The Last Fiction, and the Chinese stop-motion head trip SHe. Now, they may not have the biggest names or the most approachable films, but the fact of the matter is that they have a chance to be seen now, and that makes it all the better for animation and film fans like myself. I want to be able to support these movies, but I don’t want to support them under the table. Sadly, that may be the only way to do so until an official US release via GKIDS, Shout! Factory, Elevenarts, and or Netflix happens.
Due to the small and frankly, limited nature of theatrical animation discussions seen online, people seem to have very limited and sometimes flawed viewpoints on the overall animation line-up over certain years. You can talk about how underwhelming years like 2011, 2013, 2017, and to a degree, 2019 were, but when you look past all of the big films, pushing aside all of the DreamWorks, all of the Disney, Pixar, Illumination, and what have you, and in those years, you have a treasure trove of animated features. Now, that isn’t to say they are all perfect gems, because when you dig deep enough, you will find just as many or even more duds than what the US studios release. Remember, just because there are a lot of great foreign features, it doesn’t mean they don’t have their quick slap-dash productions. Still, when you expand your horizons, you get a better view of what animation can do, and what stories can be told using the medium.
It’s funny though, no matter how many Annie Award wins and Oscar/other award nominees a company like GKIDS gets with the films they bring over, other companies don’t even think about jumping on that hype train of being able to have some kind of foreign animation gem in their catalog. A24 is one of the most well-known indie distributors/production houses around with multiple award wins and nominations, but only recently have they finally decided to touch something animated. Could you imagine if A24 and Neon got into distributing foreign animated features? They tend to get more reach and theaters with their films. As much as I love GKids, their limited theatrical releases do hurt the number of people who can watch their work until it hits digital or physical format. Even companies like Well Go USA Entertainment have started to dip into the animation game. If they know what’s up, so should every other indie/film distributor.
Now, if I’m being honest, I did make this editorial to partly vent that I want to see these amazing animated films from overseas as legally as I possibly can, but I did want to also talk about the fact that there is an audience for this stuff, and the fact GKIDS is the only one consistently doing this is painstakingly tiring. I don’t even care if I end up not liking the films 100%, I want to see them and make a judgment on their quality myself. To be fair, I get that the other countries will, of course, want their films to play in their homeland first, and there is a slew of legal copyright stuff with distributing it over in the states, but they must know that there is an audience for these films outside their own countries. With the success of films like Parasite and I Lost My Body, it should be a no brainer for other distributors to start picking up the slack and bringing these films over. I want to see films like Calamity, Words Bubbling Up Like Cider, Love Me Love Me Not, The Nose, Nahuel and the Magic Book, Stranger in the Spring, The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily, and you get the idea. Hollywood animation is only going so far as to show what kind of a world animation can create, but if you look on the other side, you will find so much more.
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