Le Verrier selected for the 2022 Annecy Animation Festival


By Maheen Sabeeh

Karachi: Usman Riaz’s upcoming hand-drawn animated film, The Glassworker, has been setting records since beginning its journey through the birth and expansion of Mano Animation Studios. The last time I touched base with Mano was that they ran the Pakistan International Film Festival (PIFF) in late 2019 with animation as the central theme. For the festival, the studio and its founder Usman Riaz led the effort to bring Studio Ponoc’s international head, Geoffrey Wexler, to Pakistan. Wexler’s resume also includes working for the revered Studio Ghibli in Japan. Apart from bringing two Ponoc films to Pakistan, he also participated in discussion sessions about the films and the experience of his work.

Between then and now, Mano Animation Studios, led by Founder, Director and Music Co-Composer Usman Riaz, Assistant Director and Artistic Director Maryam Riaz Paracha, and Producer Khizer Riaz, alongside their growing team, have managed to set another record.

Their film, The Glassworker was selected in the “Work in Progress” category at the 2022 Annecy Animation Festival in France. It’s a great success since the festival has only selected eight feature films for the category and The Glassworker is one of them.

If that’s not impressive enough, here’s another hit: Spanish producer Manuel Cristobal, an award-winning and highly accomplished name in the world of cinema, has joined the cast of the film, which is tentatively slated for release sometime in 2023. a world where animated films have surpassed demographics when it comes to films from Walt Disney in the United States or Studio Ghibli in Japan, these achievements mean a lot to the hand-drawn Pakistani animated film. In addition to employing a team in Pakistan who work at the studio, artists from other countries have also been employed to bring the film to life. They come from Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan, Peru, Argentina, the United States and the United Kingdom.

“There can be miracles when you believe in them. Though hope is fragile, it is hard to kill. Who knows what miracles you can perform? When you believe, somehow you You Will Do It When You Believe – ‘When You Believe’ – Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey

Sitting inside the office of Mano Animation Studio in front of happy-looking artist-employees drawing with their hands on the computer, the room is the same as our previous meeting, but the story of Mano and The Glassworker does not keeps getting more fascinating and meritorious even though the movie hasn’t even been released yet.

Usman, Maryam and Khizer are present while the animation manager joins us later. This project’s success story has likely been broken by Variety now with an international readership as well as a platform that educates the wider film market about out-of-the-box narratives. It is even more important that stories as high profile as Mano also come out of Pakistan at a time when he has a tattered reputation abroad, made worse by recent news of misconduct by Pakistanis abroad in sacred space.

Therefore, the rise of The Glassworker, and by proxy Mano, is news to be celebrated. The spirit of the Mano team is also high. This collaboration comes at a time when the number of coronavirus deaths has started to drop, at least according to mainstream media. Although we discuss a lot, including employee management during the coronavirus peak among others, for the purposes of this article, Usman, Maryam, Khizer and later Aamir Riffat (Animation Director at Mano Animation Studios) limit the chat to the latest developments related to The Glassworker.

“Annecy is the Cannes (Film Festival) of animation,” says Usman.

“We’ve always dreamed of getting into it, but for the first time a studio with relatively limited influence and a first director coming from a first studio in a country like Pakistan who has had no experience with this kind of festivals – which made it a chimera. With the arrival of Manuel Cristobal, he brought us into the most difficult section of the Annecy festival which is the ‘Work in Progress’ category,” says Khizer. ‘only allow three or four projects that are feature films Normally in the ‘Work in Progress’ section what happens is they have VR etc. So feature films are limited to four per year They’re basically reviewing so you can start building your influence and reputation and you exist and you’re here for business It (The Glassworker) needs to be distributed and bought and published for the world to see. a head start because people present gener also their finished work in preview. We go with 60-70% of the production and we allow people to hear about our story and take the time to present it, which is around 75 minutes.

Annecy takes to Variety, explains Khizer, to officially announce their selection. Variety is, I suppose, the most prestigious medium in show business.

“One thing I want to say is that it’s very difficult to get into a festival, whether you’re making a short film or some other project. For a feature film, it’s very difficult to get into the ‘Work in Progress’ section,” says Usman Riaz, “And that too a hand-drawn animated film from Pakistan. People in Pakistan are doing a great job, but no one has done anything like this. It is a huge honor to represent the country in Annecy and to show the work that is done here.

“The way Manuel got involved was when Maryam was invited to speak at the World Women’s Festival in Pakistan and asked me to come with her and talk about being married and working together , what it’s like to work in Pakistan and Fini’s amazing work.”

Organizer Rashna Abidi visited Mano Animation Studios before the conference and saw the work being done. This compelled her to put them in touch with an old friend (Manuel) from college who she thought would be very interested. “She said I would pass on the work and I knew I had heard the name before and realized that Studio Ghibli bought her movie Rides in 2013,” Usman explains.

A surreal start. Manuel was apprehensive at first, Usman confesses, because he gets such calls all the time but with Rashna being a good friend, he took a look at the job and he was sold.

The rest, as they say, is history. Meeting Usman Riaz in person convinced him even more. “He calls Usman ‘dangerous,'” Khizer says, “because you’re attracted to him.”

—Read Instep Sunday for more as this story develops.


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