GKIDS makes a statement this season with two animated feature nominees

Posted by · 5:27 am · February 11th, 2012

Somewhat lost or at the very least under-considered this year when it comes to the Best Animated Feature Film category is the success of indie distributor GKIDS in the field.

As usual, the Oscar is expected to go to the most popular film of the bunch, the film that reached the most eyeballs from a powerhouse studio: Gore Verbinski’s “Rango.” And a very deserved win it will be. But after getting “The Secret of Kells” in back in 2009 and sitting pretty with not just one but two nominations this year, I’d say GKIDS has become a premier destination for alternative contenders in the medium.

“A Cat in Paris” and “Chico & Rita” are gorgeously rendered stories, the latter particularly engaging with its combination of animation and Cuban music. It’s a passionate, adult-oriented ode to a time and place.

But I always wondered what took it so long to find a home. Studios showed some interest back in 2010 (when the film played the festival circuit), but it just kind of floated around, waiting for a buyer for a while. It wasn’t even picked up until September of last year, a full 12 months after it first bubbled up at the Telluride Film Festival.

Well, it turns out the company was interested way back then, but it was a process of pulling teeth to bring it into the stable. According to GKIDS president Eric Beckman, who Jeffrey Wells spoke to recently, the company “chased the damn thing for a year, talking mainly to Cinetic, holder of US rights, and getting nowhere. We finally just called producers of the film directly and we had a deal signed in two weeks.”

Beckman alludes to parallels with this year’s Best Picture frontrunner, “The Artist,” which I hadn’t really considered. Mainly of note is a chunk of “Chico & Rita” dedicated to film history that stands out for cinephiles, surely (and was one of the main reasons I thought it would appeal to Oscar voters when it eventually did see a release).

Director Fernando Trueba, by the way, is no stranger to the Oscar game. He won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1993 for “Belle Epoch.” It’s just a shame that it took so long to get this one percolating in the season, because I think more time might have allowed for serious consideration of Bebo Valdés’s original music compositions to get some traction.

In any case, hats off to GKIDS for being formidable in a field with the big boys of animation. If you weren’t paying attention to them and their Oscar season offerings before, you certainly should from now on.

Here is David Poland’s recent sit-down with Trueba:

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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