Annecy 2022 – Jennifer Lee: With this prize, I finally realize that I have my place

The director of Snow Queen and creative director at Walt Disney Animation Studios received the Cristal d’honneur in Annecy for her contribution to the world of animation.

You have notably an Oscar, a Bafta and an Annie Award. How do you feel about adding a Cristal d’Honneur from the Annecy Festival to your prestigious collection?

This is very important to me because this award is given to me by the animation community. This same community, international, meets here, finally after two years at a distance, and God knows that we were able to prove that we could go the distance. But getting together here is essential. Animation was my dream since I was little, and I never imagined it would come true. So being part of this community and receiving this award is a way for me to finally realize that I have my place. I can officially say that I am part of this community and no longer say to myself “Did I sneak out the back door?”. I feel welcomed.

It almost sounds like you have impostor syndrome? That’s amazing coming from someone like you.

But we all suffer from it! During my Q&A yesterday, a young woman in the room yesterday brought up this topic. She talked about this feeling she had and asked me how we managed to overcome it. And I told him it was the same for me and in a way I think it’s good to have that feeling once in a while. Sometimes it can be very useful because it allows us to stay focused on our work, but sometimes it’s very disabling because it prevents us from acting. As I told you, I’ve always dreamed of working in animation, and even now when I see the “Walt Disney” logo appear on the screen, I always pinch myself thinking “Wow, I’m there “. And I hope that feeling will never go away. We need wonder to create, even if the counterpart is a lot of anguish and anxiety.

What does the Annecy Festival symbolize to you?

I have always wanted to come and this is the first time this year. It was supposed to be done two years ago but the pandemic has arrived. I find this festival important because it puts this community of animation at the centre, it gives it a place and an influence. It’s very important and maybe a little more this year after two years at a distance. I had the opportunity to meet so many incredible artists from all over the world as well as motivated and enthusiastic young talents. At the end of our presentation today, I realized that I was surrounded by a dozen young women who were children when Frozen came out. They are now animation students and told me how much the film had marked them and influenced their careers. In two days, I met some of them several times and I said to myself “One day we will work together”. And that was truly magical. Only in Annecy is this possible.

You share the Cristal d’honneur with director Michel Ocelot. Do you know his work well?

His work is simply impressive. As much as him. I had the chance to spend some time with him. And I can affirm it: he is the warmest, funniest and sweetest man I have had the chance to meet. It is a real honor to receive this award at the same time as him.

What does French animation represent for you?

I think what characterizes French animation is its way of celebrating this form of art. And to consider animation as such, an art. I think animation is the purest way to celebrate imagination. In France, you understand this concept perfectly, from all points of view with new talents, new eyes and a taste for technology too. France sets the pulse of animation. So being here is an honor.

Since 2018, you have been the Creative Director of Walt Disney Animation Studios. What are your goals in this position? What impulse did you want to give?

When I took this job in 2018, the word “Disney+” didn’t even exist, so a lot of things happened. What was important to me, and what I wanted as a direction for the future of the studio, was to tell stories from all over the world by people from all over the world. I wanted us to open up, for Disney to work with more diverse profiles for whom access is often more difficult and therefore give them opportunities. And I think that between the films we made and the content on Disney+, this desire that I had has materialized. My way of leading is to support. So I support the authors in their vision, I give them the tools to bring them to life. I can sometimes be harsh in my feedback because I want them to give their best, that they are not afraid to push their ideas further and further. The studios are now filled with people from all over the world, from different cultures and communities. Everyone works together, talks to each other, exchanges, offers. It is extremely galvanizing, I had never experienced anything like it.

On your side, are you working on a new film?

Since 2018, I’ve felt like I’m working on a lot of projects so I always feel like I’m in the action, but no, with this position of creative director, I don’t really have the time or the opportunity to embark on a new project. But I can tell you that we are preparing a special movie for the 100 years of Disney next year. I can’t tell you more, it’s a very big project but the surprise will be there. We will give some details on how we are going to blow out our 100 candles in the coming weeks.

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Annecy 2022 – Jennifer Lee: With this prize, I finally realize that I have my place