The 2017’s Studio Ghibli Fest, presented by Fathom Events, was a very successful program that introduced the imaginative and incredible films of Studio Ghibli to audiences young and old across the United States. With films like Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro and Castle in the Sky, the series introduced these great films to new audiences, and kept spellbound folks who had seen the movies previously.
A brainchild of Fathom and GKIDS, the United States distributor for Ghibli’s catalogue, the 2018 line-up promises to continue the exploration of the studio’s amazing titles. CinéArts recently talked to Eric Beckman, founder and President of GKIDS about the company’s foray into the world of animation, the success of the Studio Ghibli Fest, and what to expect in 2018.
When asked about what it is GKIDS does, Beckman replied, “GKIDS is championing the animated movies made worldwide outside the Hollywood system. Hollywood has made some amazing works and while they have been very successful, they are all done on a very large scale.
“But there are a lot of animated movies being made, some of them more varied and targeting older audiences. These are movies from Japan, Europe South America and elsewhere. So GKIDS was formed to be the home to that worldwide and unique international animation.”
When asked further elaborate on what sets their releases apart, he mused, “I think in every global market, those filmmakers bring their own specific cultural and historical frameworks, their own aesthetic framework, and even their own local audiences.
So GKIDS was aware of these films and how spectacular they were, from the craft to the stories that were being told. We decided to jump into that world.
“So our first release was The Secret of Kells, for which we were honored to get an Oscar nomination. It was from Cartoon Saloon out of Ireland and is a fantastic film. We didn’t have a lot to start out with but getting the Oscar nomination was so beneficial. It became a big story that year and extended our box office. It changed the lives of Cartoon Saloon and the animation industry in Ireland.
“Then a couple of years later we had a double nomination with the French film A Cat in Paris and a Spanish film called Chico and Rita. So we realized that there was a bigger business here and started to devote more energy to acquisitions and releases of these amazing films. Then right around that time we picked up the Studio Ghibli catalogue for theatrical release in the States and started creating these big retrospectives.
“So for us it’s been hugely rewarding to be able to bring some of my favorite movies from around the world to audiences that haven’t discovered them. And the beauty of it is that even though a movie like Kells or the Studio Ghibli masterpiece Spirited Away have been seen by many here, because of the release patterns there are still many people who have not yet discovered these films.”
Which brings us to the Studio Ghibli Fest, which had its start from a small sampling run with Fathom. “We’d done Spirited Away at the end of 2016 and it was a huge event, larger than our expectations. Then in early 2017 we did Princess Mononoke and that too was a success, so we thought that since Studio Ghibli had such a deep catalogue of incredible films let’s see about doing this every month!
“We could create a sort of festival atmosphere but instead of seeing them all in one week we would show them once a month. So we tried it out and in terms of box office, customer enthusiasm and folks coming to multiple screenings, it was wildly successful. So Fathom and the exhibitors who choose to screen these films across America have made this every exciting for us. The audiences that know them get to see them on the big screen. New audiences discover them and want to see more.”
Beckman credits this success of the Studio Ghibli Fest to the quality of the product. “It’s always fulfilling to introduce amazing pieces of art and entertainment to audiences. And for whatever reason animated movies ignite a lot of passion and excitement in moviegoers. Especially the Studio Ghibli films, which have some of the most passionate audiences around.
“So to be able to create these events, and see the excitement in people through their posting and re-posting of the fact that they are seeing the movie, inviting others to join them, bringing new people, really transforming the experience for themselves and others. It’s also transformative for the artists and filmmakers, and for GKIDS obviously.”
So what can we expect in 2018? “Most of the 2016 and 2017 films were the best of Hayao Miyazaki, the acclaimed director of most of Ghibli’s movies, who also co-founded the company. But for 2018 what we’re doing is bring back some of his films and then introducing some other ‘deep cuts’ from the Ghibli catalogue that folks may not have seen before. Films like Pom Poko, or Porco Rosso, or The Cat Returns.”
Beckman was even more excited about the screening of Grave of the Fireflies, from 1988. “Grave of the Fireflies, which is an Isao Takahata film, is an absolute masterpiece. It talks about war and what it was like in Japan during the post-World War 2 period. It’s really impactful piece that is on many top ten lists as one of the best animated films of all time.
“The great thing about these movies is that every year we can play a big retrospective and it will be a success. People just want to keep coming out to see these movies. So the 2018 festival is a no-brainer for us.”
So what is it about these movies and Studio Ghibli that strike such a chord in fans? Beckman acknowledges that “My personal feelings about Studio Ghibli and what they do well is this: young people can see their movies as well as adults and no one feels left out. It’s not like there are whole set of jokes that go over the head of the child.
“Ghibli is so respectful of its audience that even if they make an obviously children’s film, like My Neighbor Totoro, there is such richness and depth and life and emotion in it that no parent or adult will roll their eyes during that movie. Its wonderful entertainment and wonderful art for all ages.”
The 2018 Studio Ghibli Fest Series, presented by Fathom, will begin in March with the 10th Anniversary of the film Ponyo, Miyazaki’s take on the story of The Little Mermaid. For more information about the series go to www.cinemark.com.