Annecy Player ‘Panda Bear in Africa’ Sells to Key Territories

Ricard Claus and Karsten Kiilerich’s kids and family animated feature “Panda Bear in Africa” is continuing its long journey and heading to France (Le Pacte), Switzerland (Praesens) and the Benelux territories (WW Entertainment) after a raft of sales by the film’s sales agent Cinema Management Group. In early fall, it will also release in the Middle East (Front Row Entertainment), Poland (Kino Świat), Portugal (Films4You) and Turkey (Filmarti).

Screening in this year’s Annecy Presents section at the French festival, the film focuses on Pang, a young panda bear who is best friends with Jielong, a young female dragon.

While playing with Jielong in the bamboo forest, Pang is abducted by an African baboon and a “hilariously dimwitted” crocodile. Pang’s journey to save his best friend will take him far away from his home in China, all the way to the southern tip of Africa.

“When we are making films, we are always thinking about the audience. ‘How can we reach them? What can we offer to the distributors?’ The concept of the film and this whole fish-out-of-water comedy aspect really appealed to them, and I hope it will appeal to the viewers as well,” director Richard Claus tells Variety.

“There is artistic ambition in the film, and we wanted it to look great. But our goal is to entertain the audience instead of showing off what great artists we are.”

The film has previously sold to distributors in Spain (Vercine), the Philippines (Nathan Studios), Indonesia (MVP), UK and Ireland (Dazzler Media), Greece (The Film Group) and South Korea (NK Contents). 

According to a statement shared with Variety, it has become this year’s highest grossing independent animated feature released in the Commonwealth of Independent States, with 400,000 admissions. 

“Panda Bear in Africa” is produced by Claus and Kiilerich, who previously teamed on “The Little Vampire 3D.” Cinema Management Group handles sales. 

“The good thing is, we are friends. We have known each other for 15 years, so it’s not one of these ‘Euro pudding’ constructs when you have to accommodate public funding,” said Claus.

He also admitted the duo wasn’t afraid of competing with another famous animated panda.

“If you are telling stories, you are always dealing with the fact that most things, in one way or another, have been done before. You would have to dig really deeply to find an animal that hasn’t been used [in animation]. It didn’t bother us that there was another panda out there.”

That being said, humor and comedy were still a crucial part of the screenplay, written by Rob Sprackling of “Gnomeo & Juliet” and “Shaun the Sheep Movie” fame.

“That’s what kids and grownups are looking for. With Rob attached, we gained someone who has this incredible capacity for adding jokes. Also, it’s ok if kids don’t understand every single one of them. We wanted to make sure there is enough entertainment here for grownups as well.”

Claus, who recently co-directed “Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon,” has a personal connection to the story.

“I was living and working in South Africa for eight years. It’s almost autobiographical,” he laughed.

“I was a fish-out-of-water there too. I have a daughter, and when she was about five years old, she wanted me to tell her bedtime stories about African animals. This is how it started, although the panda bear came much later.”

Now, Pang will teach his new friends – and his audiences – a thing or two about friendship and peace, proving it’s possible even between such sworn enemies as lions and hyenas.

“This is a story about tolerance. About accepting others, who may be different from us, but different doesn’t mean we have to be afraid of them,” notes Claus.

“We need to understand each other, because that’s what makes the world so rich. It’s not a film full of messages, but it talks about all of this. Entertainment is important, but entertainment without any substance is just hollow.”

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