Annecy Film Fest Preview: How a Tiny French Village Woos Hollywood Year After Year

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'Inside Out' will screen at the international animation festival this year, while 'The Peanuts Movie' directors will offer a sneak peek at their film.

This story first appeared in the June 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Over the past decade, the Annecy International Animation Film Festival has redrawn itself, transforming from a niche event into the epicenter of the animation world. Founded in 1960, the festival -- which runs June 15-20 -- and its MIFA film market have become a major European launchpad for Hollywood, with the studios frequently on hand to premiere their latest animated releases or offer previews. So how does the event lure such major players? Location, location, location. Perched in the Haute-Savoie region in southeast France, the tiny alpine village is so picturesque that it could have been drawn by Walt Disney himself.

But the global animation industry doesn't make the trip (a 20-minute drive from the Geneva airport or a 3½-hour train ride from Paris) just for the charming atmosphere. Under artistic director Marcel Jean and his predecessor, Serge Bromberg, the fest has spent a decade building relationships with U.S. studios, including DreamWorks, Disney, Pixar, Sony and Universal. "A few years ago, it was harder to obtain these films, but the scale of the festival, MIFA and the reputation of the festival are doing a big part of the job," says Jean.

One of the ways the fest accomplished this was by building loyalty among animation royalty, including screenings of the early works of Tim Burton and Pixar's John Lasseter. That personal connection with the festival keeps filmmakers coming back even after they hit it big. Oscar winner Pete Docter (Up), who had one of his first films in competition back in the '90s, will return to Annecy this year for a screening of his latest, Inside Out, which received a rapturous response at its premiere in Cannes in May. "[Annecy is a] kind of homecoming," says Docter. "These are our people, the fellow nerds."

He's not the only one returning: Illumination Mac Guff's Chris Meledandri and Jacques Bled, who premiered both of the Despicable Me films at Annecy, will be back this year with a special preview screening of spinoff Minions. The event also is drawing new star power: Salma Hayek will be on hand for the first time to present her passion project -- an animated adaptation of Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, which she produced.

The festival also is famous for bringing animators in while they still are at work on their labors of love. This year, Annecy will feature exclusive first footage of Disney's Zootopia and a Q&A with directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore, and director Steve Martino and art director Nash Dunnigan will discuss footage of The Peanuts Movie as a work in progress.

Says Martino: "For one week in June, the city of Annecy transforms into this amazing melting pot that celebrates all styles and techniques of animation. We can't think of a better place to debut our process and research that went into the making of the film."

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Take a Break From the Toons at These Local Haunts

La Ciboulette

Chef Georges Paccard has elevated local cuisine at his unassuming Michelin-starred restaurant. Slow-cooked eggs with truffle and citrus-bathed lobster are specialties. Thanks in part to a strong dollar against the euro, it's reasonable: The three-course lunch is $42; dinner is $70.

Abbaye De Talloires

This 1,000-year-old waterside restaurant and wine cave holds an extensive collection of local Savoie wines in the region with 68 different types on offer. Sommelier Charly is happy to show dinner guests around the cave upon request. The set dinner menu costs $108.

Les Caves Du Chateau

This intimate local bar offers a variety of wines from as far afield as Lebanon as well as large planches of mixed seafood and vegetables starting at $17. Local guitarists are known to drop in for some evening tunes, or you can opt for some quiet time on the terrace during warm summer months.

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