GKIDS: The Scrappy Little Guy of Animation

The small New York-based GKIDS is making a name picking up foreign-made, mostly hand-drawn films and giving them small releases and film-festival exposure

If Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks Animation are the big players in the animation field, the small New York-based GKIDS is the scrappy little guy, picking up foreign-made, mostly hand-drawn films and giving them small releases and film-festival exposure.

But over the last three years, the new kid has had as much Oscar clout as the behemoths, picking up three Best Animated Feature nominations.

That’s two more than Disney, one more than Pixar and the same number as DWA. (Granted, Pixar’s nominees both won, something GKIDS has yet to do.)

GKIDS, which stands for Guerilla Kids International Distribution Syndicate, started in 2008 as an outgrowth of the New York International Children’s Film Festival. It scored its first Oscar nomination in 2010 with the first film it bought outright, "The Secret of Kells."

“We got it three days before the Oscar deadline, so we had to clear a bunch of logistical hurdles and then scratch our heads and say, ‘So what is this Oscar campaigning thing about?’” GKIDS founder Eric Beckman told TheWrap.  

Also read: Pixar's Maverick Director: How I'd Tweak Our Formula for Success

Earlier this year the company surprised even itself by landing a pair of noms, one for "Chico & Rita" and one for "A Cat in Paris." This year, operating under the philosophy that they only want to distribute “Oscar-caliber animation” and that any film that deserves an Oscar-qualifying run is going to get one, GKIDS has four dogs in the race: the French films "Zarafa" (pictured) "The Rabbi’s Cat" and "The Painting" and the Japanese-made "From Up on Poppy Hill."

So far, GKIDS has qualified all of its Oscar films before the movies’ theatrical release, using the Academy attention as a key way to boost visibility, interest exhibitors and spice up those DVD packages.

Beckman said he’d like to one day release a film theatrically before qualifying it for the Oscars — but in the meantime, he’s happy to play the Academy game. “It’s not rocket science,” he said. “We think our films are good, and we just need to get Oscar voters into the room to watch them.” 

The company’s goal, he added, is simple: “We want to draw attention to handmade, mostly international animated films, and show that animation is not just for kids and not just for tentpoles.” He paused. “I just hope we’re not losing our underdog status.”