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Animation First: Interview with Fabien Robert

I had an opportunity to sit down with Fabien Robert, Deputy Mayor of Bordeaux in charge of Culture and Heritage. We spoke during the second edition of the Animation First festival at the French Institute Alliance Française (fi:af) in NYC.

Our conversation was held in English with the assistance of a translator from fi:af. Bordeaux is renowned for wine, history, and trade. Now a startup ecosystem has emerged due, in part, to a focus on education and development by local officials and organizations. Besides the Cartoon Movie moving to Bordeaux, game studios like Ubisoft have set up shop to use emerging technology against the backdrop of the classic French countryside.

Interview Transcript

Fabien Robert
Fabien Robert: Good, very good. Thank you for your time. I am Deputy Mayor of Bordeaux in charge of Culture and Heritage. For Bordeaux, this is a wonderful opportunity to explain what we are doing in Animation, in special effects, and all industrial cultural activity. Bordeaux is very famous for wine, for heritage, with UNESCO La Belle, but not only. Bordeaux is not only wine and heritage. There is an important cultural offer with opera, seven museums, city of wine, but ten years ago there was a lot of Enterprise [development] of movies, of Animation, and it's an important center in Bordeaux now. There is an organization, Bordeaux Games, with 50 members.

We [supported the] University opening of a new laboratory whose specialty is games and special effects and all this, because it's not a traditional [project] for the university but it is very important because [businesses won't select] Bordeaux if there is [not a solid foundation of knowledge]. There is, in the district of Bordeaux, ten private schools whose specialty is digital games and [everything in this domain]. We [are opening] a new ecosystem whose name is Cite Numérique in Bordeaux. We will open this year with twenty [businesses] whose specialty is different specialty but all [helpful for the] producer of a movie. [The producer will be able to] choose Bordeaux [for] all [aspects] of making a movie. I think, for the city, it's the first target. Come to Bordeaux and make [your] movie. Another [priority] for Bordeaux is educating the public because animation is not only for children. It's very important to send this message. We work with businesses like Solidanim, like Marmitafilms and all the enterprise for animation and not only for children. It's different issue, but it's our priority. Inform, make and educate the public.

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: Does this is this also include short form Animation like short films, smaller films, different kinds of projects, in VR? And also, what other aspects of Bordeaux do you think make it a special, unique, helpful, place for creation?

Fabien Robert: Oui, for the first question, it was a problem. So, we created a fund to support young creators. It is the first year, this year, with this fund.

FIAF Interpreter: So this fund is 250,000 a year.

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: Yes, OK.

Fabien Robert: I think we will help support ten young movies per year. It's a very important for young creation because [lack of funding is] a big problem for a lot of artists and a lot of businesses. And for the second question, Bordeaux is the most famous city in the world after Paris, for the wine. It's luck for Bordeaux, this name, this wonderful name, but during 20 years the city [population declined].

FIAF Interpreter: The population was leaving. That happened around 2000. That's when it started.

Fabien Robert: Bordeaux changed. With a big urban renovation, we created an modern transport, tramway...

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: Yes, the train.

Fabien Robert: Train, tramway. Since last year, [you can travel from] Bordeaux to Paris in two hours. It's very important. For business, it's very important. And we have an airport, a very dynamic airport, not for long, but for short [flights, and] we can connect to more than 100 cities in Europe. So it's very easy to [travel to and from] Bordeaux. I think what is most important is le cadence de vie. In Bordeaux, half of the city is [without] buildings, [containing] only natural space, and we protect that natural space.

Beautiful Bordeaux

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: That's beautiful.

Fabien Robert: So it's different. Yes, Yes. I think it's more important. Urban renovation, urban change, transport, and the good life.

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: It sounds like a perfect package.

Fabien Robert: Do you know Bordeaux?

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: I have never been. I would love to go. Are you interested in [working with] companies from the US or any kind of collaboration with New York City? I know there are challenges.

Fabien Robert: Collaboration with New York is difficult because Bordeaux is a small city. It is very difficult to have collaboration between a big city and small city. But Bordeaux...

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: Residency. All I could think about on the first panel I attended when you were speaking was residency, like project-based residency.

(Note: I should have clarified I meant a project based artist’s residency.)

Fabien Robert: I think it's easier to have French [residency] compared to American [residency]. I think so. I think it's more difficult, here. It’s necessary, there are conditions, but it’s important. We work with Los Angeles, but it's very difficult [due to the difference in scale of the two cities]. We work with the Museum of LACMA, we work with a foundation, but not really with New York.

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: Interesting, well maybe that should change.

Fabien Robert: But so it's very important for us to be here for Animation First and I don't know the FIAF. This building is wonderful, close to Central Park, and for my country, it's very wonderful, this place.

Second Edition of the fi:af Animation First festival

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: What was your highlight so far, from this festival. And also, do you have a personal passion for Animation or is your passion in service, or technology?

Fabien Robert: The meeting with Michel Ocelot was a very good time, because during the two hours [he spoke], he explained his work [so we could all] understand the difficulty of Animation. Yes, it's not like classical movie. [There are differences in] first money, [in] translating emotion, [and technique]. It's not like having a camera with a real person. It's more difficult. So I think [the conversation with Michel Ocelot] was my favorite moment during the festival. [To answer you second question], I am a musician...

FIAF Interpreter: He actually went to school for music.

Fabien Robert: and after [I studied economics]. I like animation. It's not my principal passion but I like Animation because this world of Animation it's world of freedom, real freedom. [I say] freedom because....

FIAF Interpreter: You can't necessarily transfer emotion the way a human does in front of a camera, but you can transfer whatever else you want. You can also find other ways to transfer emotion.

Fabien Robert: It's difficult for [tradition human expression of] emotion but it's really freedom for all [expression]. I look at a lot of animation.

FIAF Interpreter: He looks at a lot of Animation including cartoons for children.

Fabien Robert: But not only.

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: Yes, yes.

Fabien Robert: This morning, I saw Robinson and Compagnie. It's the story of Robinson Crusoe. Really it's for children, but with messaging for adults.

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: The best kind of children’s shows are for both [children and adults]. Yeah, it's for both. So the primary audience for Animation for Adults is primarily UK and US based. I guess we want to encourage travel, travel to Bordeaux and maybe, I don't know, I have [our readers and listeners] apply at Ubisoft!

Fabien Robert at the fi:af Animation First festival (Photo: Courtesy of fi:af)

Fabien Robert: Yes. It's possible, with Ubisoft...

FIAF Interpreter: They are recruiting, alot.

Fabien Robert: [They are recruiting] 100 [positions], I think.

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: So maybe we [can] help promote [recruiting], with the final result of helping to promote animation and exchange.

Fabien Robert: In Bordeaux, we have another important domain.

FIAF Interpreter: Comic books.

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: Oh, yes,.

Fabien Robert: Comics.

FIAF Interpreter: Comic books.

Fabien Robert: Comic books. In France, the capital of comic books is on Angoulème. Yes, and [the distance between] Bordeaux and Angoulème is a half hour, in time. [Angoulème] is very close and a lot of artists, and publishers of comic books, live and work in Bordeaux. [This proximity is] a good resource for Animation [in Bordeaux].

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: Definitely. This is great. Is there anything? Yeah. I don't want to keep you in forever. I hope for Bordeaux to be a port for Animation and emerging technologies as it's been a port.

Fabien Robert: I work for that. Thank you very much.

Yvonne Grzenkowicz: Thank you very much. Thank you.

Yvonne Grzenkowicz is the Founder / Executive Director of Animation Nights New York, ANNY Best of Fest, and ANNY Exchange.