Africa as the spotlight territory for their 2020 edition, it was announced on Wednesday.

In parallel with the French Institute’s Africa 2020 Season, which will highlight France’s renewed partnership with the continent, Annecy will host screenings, meetings, conferences and discussions shining light on different aspects of animation production in Africa.

“This tribute is a central point of many of our recent initiatives,” explained Citia’s CEO, Mickaël Marin, citing the creation of the Animation du Monde pitching sessions in 2015, as well as the launch of the competitive category Perspectives in 2017, as “two solid examples of our desire to provide increased visibility to these countries and to promote their astounding creativity.”

Mifa head Véronique Encrenaz added: “The presence of African studios and artists is ever higher at Mifa. We would like to showcase it further by creating a special pavilion, as well as a series of meetings and project presentations.”

Nick Wilson, head of projects and content at the African Animation Network (AAN), an open-network platform for African animators and industry associations, said Wednesday’s announcement is further proof that African animators are ready for their close-up.

“The African Animation Network is seeing exponential growth in the African animation industry,” he says. “Bringing the whole continent into sharp focus as part of the Africa 2020 Season at Annecy next year was something that was unfathomable just six months ago, let alone three years ago when we launched AAN. I know that the announcement is going to reverberate across the continent.”

The selection marks the latest step forward in Annecy’s growing collaboration with African animators. In 2017, Annecy’s Intl. Animation Film Market (MIFA) partnered with the AAN and the Discop content market to launch the first pan-African pitching competition for animators, with two winners selected each year to compete with eight other projects at Animation du Monde.

“Animation du Monde has been pivotal for our fledgling industry, allowing African talent market access [while] being able to compete with parity against our global counterparts,” said Wilson, pointing to impressive year-on-year growth in the total number of submissions for the competition as proof that “African talent has aspirations to develop and produce original African IP.”

Last year’s Animation du Monde winner, Togo’s Ingrid Agbo, pre-sold her series “L’arbre à Palimpseste” (The Tree of Palimpsest) (pictured) to Gulli Africa, the Lagardère-owned kids network. Said Wilson: “The stories are unique and we’re confident can travel, which is critical in achieving sustainability.”

Another step toward that goal is the announcement in Annecy this week of a new linear animation and pop culture channel for Africa, which the AAN will formally launch at the Discop content market in Johannesburg later this year, in collaboration with Discop’s organizers, Basic Lead.

The channel will debut with a small block of dedicated African-produced content, which Wilson said will increase as production capacity across the continent continues to grow. “Market access for African-produced content is critical in building sustainable African animation and pop culture industries,” he said. “Launching a 24-hour linear thematic channel with this editorial line will bring us further down the line toward that goal.”

Another positive development was the announcement of the first international service job for Nigeria’s growing animation industry. Episodes of the Chinese animated TV series “Wool Wool Town” will be produced in Lagos by a collective of eight studios comprising more than 50 animators, a project – secured in partnership with Animation Nigeria and India’s Toonz Media Group – that will keep the studios busy for the next 10 months or more.

Also this week, Kenya’s Seventy Two Media, in partnership with the AAN, announced the inaugural African Animation Awards, which will celebrate achievement in the pan-African animation industry. The first edition will be held this October in Nairobi.

The news caps a busy week for African animators in Annecy, which Wilson said “has been an incredible partner of the African Animation Network, and by extension the African animation industry.”

“Being able to celebrate the continent’s diversity of cultures and talents at the most prestigious animation festival and market on the planet [in 2020] will have enormous long term benefits for our industry,” he says. “I don’t think we will fully grasp how enormous those benefits will be until we look back retrospectively in 5-10 years.”

Annecy Festival artistic director Marcel Jean added: “We would like to assist productions from the entire continent and bring them into the spotlight, from pioneering works to contemporary young filmmakers, from the Maghreb to South Africa, and Senegal to Egypt. In the development of this African animation structure we intend to collaborate with local organizations and call on African programmers. This will be the opportunity for festival-goers at Annecy to discover a still far too little known cinematography.”