In Dec. 2018, two years after he had picked up “Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon” at the first edition of Ventana Sur’s Animation!, Edward Noeltner’s Cinema Management Group (CMG) announced he had pre-sold it to over half the planet. Further deals followed with Signature for the U.K. and Rialto for Australia/New Zealand.
Even before COVID-19 struck, independent movies’ worldwide sales roll-outs were getting increasingly rare. It’s one thing, moreover, for titles to sell, another for them to register any kind of real impact at the box office.
But in 2021, despite theater closures and COVID-19 protocols, “Ainbo: Spirit of the Forest” looks to be delivering on its promise.
On Nov. 18, it bowed in Italy to a first weekend $185,000 for seasoned independent BIM Distribuzione. That, said Noeltner, who also takes an executive producer credit on the movie, is the highest opening weekend for any independent animated films released in Italy over 2021.
The results also see director José Zelada’s Peruvian animated feature power past $11 million at the global box office, with still a lot of gas in the tank.
Bowing first in Asia this Spring, in further standout perfs, “Ainbo” has run up $2.26 million for Le Pacte at the French box office, $1.9 million and counting in Australia/New Zealand and a first-three-weeks $800,000 in Poland.
In the Netherlands, where “Ainbo” was co-produced with co-director Richard Claus’ Katuni Pictures, distributor WW Entertainment’ has punched $1.5 million in theatrical gross, a remarkable performance for a country of just 18 million inhabitants.
Elsewhere, across a panoply of territories, “Ainbo” has punched Top 10 box office bows, opening No. 2 in Central America (CDC), No. 3 in the Ukraine (Monumental Pictures) and Norway and No. 4 in Singapore (Shaw Entertainment), and Switzerland (Praesens) as well as Iceland (Sena) and Vietnam (Blue Lantern).
Why “Ainbo” has done so well is another question. Telling the uplifting story of a feisty young woman fighting for her homeland in the Amazon rainforest, abetted by Dillo, an armadillo, and Vaca, an oversized tapir, this is a highly theatrical proposition.
As Claus has pointed out, it offers four-quadrant entertainment. And it does so to one of the most traditionally resilient of cinema-going demographies: Kids and families.
In contrast with just a decade ago, when high-quality animation was outside the budget of many independents, world-class animation can now be done from almost any part of the world, though it still takes very talented artists and animators to make a great independent, animated feature, Noeltner said.
“Aibo” is also one from the heart: Inspired by director Jose Zelada of Tunche Films and Epic Cine producers Cesar and Sergio Zelada, whose mother grew up in the jungle of Pucallpa, Peru. That’s much like the film’s main character, Ainbo, which means “young woman” in the local language of the Shipibo tribe, who live in and around Pucallpa.
“The images of the luscious rainforest, lovable characters and authentic village settings were ingrained in the Zelada brothers by their mother from childhood,” CMG President Noeltner argued.
“The contemporary themes of female empowerment and environmental impact provided a timely message to which distributors and audiences responded favorably and helped the independent animated feature achieve its success,“ he added, hailing “Ainbo” as “one of 2021’s most successful independent animated features.”
Ventana Sur’s Animation! and France’s Annecy Festival have both pushed the feature, selecting it for a work-in-progress presentation in 2019 and world-premiering the finished result at Annecy this June.
Upcoming releases take in Spain (Flins y Peniculas), Portugal (Cinemundo) and South Korea (First Run). Other remaining territories including Ainbo’s home, Peru, are set to propel “Ainbo’s” box-office even further late 2021/early 2022, Noeltner predicted.
New “Ainbos” may be found at this year’s Animation!, whose project pitching and works in progress sessions take place Wednesday Dec. 1 on-site at Buenos Aires’ Cinemark Puerto Madero.