For the past 40 years the Annecy Film Festival has showcased the best of film animation from all over the world by hosting retrospectives, world premieres and sneak previews of what’s coming next. This latter category include La Fameuse Invasion des Ours en Sicile, French adaptation of Dino Buzzati’s The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily. Produced by Prima Linea (The Red Turtle) and coproduced by Italy’s Indigo Film, the film has been presented at the festival in the Work in Progress section, where several imagines were shown and commented by director Lorenzo Mattotti, producers Christophe Jankovic and Valérie Schermann, and scriptwriter Thomas Bidegain.

As Schermann explains, the project was born from her specific desire to work with Mattotti: “Some ten years ago I asked him whether he wanted to direct an animation feature, and he told me he would have loved to bring The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily on the big screen. It took some time to clear the rights.”

Thomas Bidegain, co-scriptwriter of Jacques Audiard’s works, was chosen to adapt Buzzati’s novel. This is his debut in animation. “I fell in love with the book when I was 12 or 13, and I read it to my children when they were the same age. Adapting it was complicated, because Buzzati first conceived the story as told to his kids, so the structure is a bit repetitive. To solve this problem, we introduced a narrator, taking inspiration from the Italian tradition of the troubadours. This also allowed us to add female characters, that are absent in the book. The narrator is accompanied by a young woman named Almerina, the name of Buzzati’s wife.”

A curiosity: in the French version, the narrator will have Bidegain’s voice. As Schermann says: “He dubbed it provisionally during the first stages of the production, then we didn’t want to change the voice”.

The aesthetic identity of the film owes much to Buzzati, who was also an illustrator and drew many sketches for the book. As Mattotti explains: “His style is very simple and naïve. I didn’t want to replicate it faithfully, but it certainly influenced my drawings for the film.” Some of Buzzati’s illustrations will be present in the film in the form of paintings or frescos in the Royal Palace.

As for the tone of the project, the artists took inspiration from real Mediterranean landscapes, with some artistic license in order to add an unmistakably fairytale-like atmosphere, between talking bear, ghosts, and fearsome water creatures. The style is consciously traditional, with a minimal and almost imperceptible use of tridimensional animation. “I want the film to be out of time. My dream is that people who will watch it in ten years won’t be able to understand in which year it was originally released.”

This idea is fully backed by Schermann: “I’ve recently watched again one of the films that I produced. I hadn’t seen it in a movie theatre in a while and the only part that was aged badly was the one realized with tridimensional techniques.”

Explanations are accompanied by short work-in-progress clips, and a teaser realized to promote the project in view of its release next year. Replying to a question about the timings of the post-production, the producer said: “The animation will be completed by the end of October, and the DCP will be delivered in March 2019.” The film might be released in France in spring or summer 2019, with a possible return to Annecy to screen the completed work..