New locale for Italy's Cartoons on the Bay

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ROME -- Global animation couldn't be hotter, and as a premiere showcase for international cartoon talent, Italy's Cartoons on the Bay festival is well positioned to benefit from the favorable climate.

Now in its 11th edition, the annual confab -- which toasts the best in animated fare with festivities on the Italian Riviera -- is getting a makeover, relocating to Salerno from the small towns of Amalfi and Positano, which were home to the event for its first 10 years. Organizers say the move to the historic port city and the fest's particularly diverse international program mark this year as a turning point.

"With the facilities we have now, and the films and level of participation, the festival is really arriving at a new level," Cartoons on the Bay director Alfio Bastiancich says.

A total of 280 films from 36 countries will be on tap for the event, running Thursday-Sunday, with as many as 850 professional delegates expected to attend, compared to 600 last year and just 250 during Cartoons on the Bay's first edition back in 1996.

The centerpiece of the four-day festival will be 40 films screening in eight competitive categories: TV series for infants, for children, for all ages, action and adventure programs, educational programs, TV series pilots, TV specials and short films.

Among the noteworthy titles screening at the event are Bill Plympton's six-minute film "Guide Dog"; action-adventure series "Ayakashi" from Japanese director Kenji Nakamura; "How to Cook Italian by Arturo & Kiwi" from Italy's Andrea Zingoni; the baby-safe "School for Vampires," from Robert Arkwright and Simon Ward-Horner; Canadian entry "Starveillance," courtesy Eric Fogel; and the French-British co-production "Galactik Football" from Frederic Dyboswky and Antoine Charreyron.

The competition entries will vie for the Pulcinella Awards -- the statuettes were designed by the late Italian animator Emanuele Luzzati -- with the winners set to be announced Saturday at Salerno's historic Cinema Teatro Augusteo.

Some 15 German companies will be on hand for a special presentation on German animators, set to take place Thursday, in honor of that country's contributions to the field.

Michael Coldeway, a veteran producer and the president of the German Association of Animation Producers, calls the presentation an honor.

"The festival is one of the key places for people from the European animation industry to meet and talk about projects," Coldeway says. "That is increasingly important because it is virtually impossible to finance an animated film from just one European country today."

Coldeway believes the potential for Europe to become a dominant force in international animation is strong as long as the parties involved work to their strengths.

"If we can combine German technical know-how with Italian imagination and French storytelling, we could make an animated film that would stand up to the best in the world," he declares. "We're not there yet, but we're getting closer."

"The future of animation must be co-productions because it splits the risks and the costs," adds Cartoons on the Bay lifetime achievement award recipient Marco Pagot, who is currently working on co-productions with partners in Holland, Japan and the U.S.

Despite all the international teamwork, individual animators and animation studios will not go without their own moments in the spotlight, with awards including one juried by youngsters, ages 5-16, who were selected from among viewers of Italian state broadcaster RAI. RAI's sales arm, RAI Trade, is the festival's sponsor.

"This is an important aspect because it is the voice of the viewers, who will represent those who will watch these productions anyway," Bastiancich says.

The festival will present two Studio of the Year awards, to Italy's experimentally inclined Maga Animation Studio, and to Germany's Cartoon-Film, which was launched in 1976 as a one-man company by graphic designer Thilo Graf Rothkirch and is today home to 80 staffers.

Salerno itself will become what festival organizers call an "animated city," with a number of events taking place around town, including screenings of feature-length films, live TV programs and appearances by comedians, singers and TV personalities.

If it were possible to mention just one advantage that Cartoons on the Bay's 11th edition has over previous festivals, it would be Salerno's picturesque and historic Cinema Teatro Augusteo.

Part of the Palazzo di Citta -- Salerno's massive municipal-government headquarters -- Augusteo, which sits on the bay, is a compelling mix of classical style and modern technology, including a top-notch Dolby sound system and comfortable seating for about 700 moviegoers.

A bustling port city of 150,000 residents, Salerno is the largest city on the Amalfi Coast and offers more hotel space, better meeting facilities and superior infrastructure than the festival's previous locales.

"There's no doubt that Salerno has played a key role in Italian history, and a great deal of that is still reflected in the city, whether in terms of architecture or tradition," adds Claudio Masserini, an author and retired historian from the University of Naples. "The economy is tourism-based, but many tourists just pass through, and they fail to appreciate the significance of the city itself."

Bastiancich says that the nature of Cartoons on the Bay will play to some of Salerno's strengths.

"The layout and size of Salerno will create more opportunities for participation from more people at the festival," he observes. "There will be more space, more opportunities to meet with the artists, directors and other professionals -- and even lower costs for those making the trip."

In some cases, there will be no cost at all. The shows in the Cinema Teatro Augusteo will have free spots available to the public on a first-come-first-served basis, with commercial activities taking place at the InfoPoint at the Piazza Amendola.

Scott Roxborough in Germany contributed to this report.
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