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Annecy Opener ‘Sirocco and the Kingdom of Air Streams’ Seen by Benoît Chieux 

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Lille-born filmmaker Benoît Chieux has been coming to Annecy for 30 years. This year, to his own amazement, he is opening the festival with “Sirocco and the Kingdom of Air Streams.” 

“It’s an incredible surprise and a huge honor. Today’s competition [in animation] is very tough and there are so many high-quality feature films out there,” he says, calling the event “an exceptionally rich place to meet and discover new things.”

In “Sirocco,” two sisters, Juliette and Carmen, discover a secret passage to the world of their favorite book, the Kingdom of Air Streams. Transformed into cats and separated from each other, they will have to find their way back and – with the help of talented singer Selma – confront the mysterious Sirocco, the master of winds and storms.

“His face is half-hidden in order to draw the viewer’s attention. In a spectacular film like this one, it’s important to keep some shadows and not show just about everything. The only way to find out who is behind that scarf is to go and see the film!,” he enthuses.

“Sirocco” is produced by Ron Dyens (Sacrebleu Productions), Gregory Zalcman (Take Five) and Cilvy Aupin (Ciel de Paris). Paris-based Kinology handles sales. Chieux co-wrote the script with Alain Gagnol, also behind the Oscar-nominated feature “A Cat in Paris.”

“Japanese directors in general, and Hayao Miyazaki in particular, make full use of the cinematic language,” says Chieux when discussing his own inspirations for the film that, it was teased, combines “the spirit of Studio Ghibli’s masterpieces and the visuals of ‘Yellow Submarine.’”

Benoît Chieux at work
Credit: Sacrebleu Productions – Take Five – Ciel de Paris

“The way they place their cameras and move their characters provides the viewer with a very immersive impression of life. In terms of aesthetics, I also feel close to French cartoonists like Moebius, Nicole Claveloux and Claude Ponti.”

Despite its fantastical setting, he sees it as a contemporary tale. 

“The powerful winds that blow across the kingdom allude to the climate disruption that is transforming our lives,” he says.

“I don’t know what ‘real’ means in cinema, but what interests me is ‘the impression of reality.’ Socio-political issues weren’t a part of this story, but these are the questions that interest me for a future project. I want to find ways to convey these topics to children.”

Chieux never forgets about his smallest viewers, he admits. 

“The best way to respect children is to follow my instincts. I try to tackle subjects that touch me personally, but I spend a lot of time and energy on finding the simplest, clearest ways for them to understand the story I’m telling. And on [making sure] they will enjoy looking at it.” 

Chieux, who previously co-directed “Aunt Hilda!” with Jacques-Rémy Girerd, as well as César-nominated short “Midnight’s Garden,” is open to continuing these windswept adventures. 

Sirocco and the Kingdom of Air Streams
Credit: Sacrebleu Productions – Take Five – Ciel de Paris

“I have worked a lot on this film. I would like to develop other universes, but one of our challenges had to do with creating a credible world that would seem immense, and therefore quite easy to turn it into a series. That’s what Ron Dyens wanted as well.” 

He certainly wants the film to appeal to a wide audience. 

“Especially to children. Its distributor, Haut et Court, has been supporting ‘Sirocco’ for several years and it will be released in French cinemas on Dec. 13,” he notes. 

“It’s a very good time for animation. The audience is becoming bigger and animation’s place in the world of cinema is also growing all the time. I don’t think online broadcasting should be a free-for-all, however. Streaming should be legally regulated in order to respect the diversity of broadcasters, such as TV channels and movie theaters, which are still very important in France.”



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