Those whom the gods of film wish to destroy, they first declare the next big thing. Nowhere is that fact clearer than in the declaration of 'waves' - a supposed shift in audience taste.

Just think back to a couple of years ago and you will recall that we were on the brink of the theatrical documentary boom. If one counts the number of documentaries made, there's an element of truth there. On the other hand, the number of even first-class docs that ever made it to the big screen has been pathetically low - before we even get to box office numbers.

This has nothing to do with quality. Some of the finest films of the last couple of years have been documentaries but the industry just wasn't geared up to accommodate the supposed wave, and world-class work has failed to find audiences. The same is true of the occasional prediction of a boom in the supposed appetite for foreign-language film, based on a small number of - often coincidental - successes.

It's more than a triumph of hope over experience. There's also a disconnect between film-makers and audiences. Potential and genius is lost in a flood of overproduction and paucity of imagination that soon sees any wave crashing against the shores.

The rash of headlines about indies in crisis, which these days are generally of the 'we're all gonna die' variety, are the flip side of the overenthusiasm for illusory trends. We should all beware of self-fulfilling prophesies.

Given that film is competing for precious time against a host of other leisure activities, this is the time for highlighting success and opportunity. Here's a starter for 10 - animation.

Now that sounds like gross hypocrisy given Screen's supposed allergy to waves. What's more it looks like the same kind of hype condemned elsewhere: there's an animated feature at the top of the US charts, therefore the public wants 'toons.

The argument is also more than another, separate trend that nonetheless deserves attention. In the last couple of years, two of the most powerful, compelling and absorbing political statements have been animated: Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. Both films use the format to tell tales in ways that feel fresh and original and as a result have genuinely subversive impact.

Such films will spawn a host of imitators that will fail to make their mark. Their box office was also reliant on festival competition success and that's not the basis for a business model, even if the potential for development of new directions in animation deserves wider attention.

So let's go further. Animated film is itself going through a period of technical change that has been astonishing to watch. Last year's Oscar winner Ratatouille was a great cinematic experience that marked a real change in detail and scale. And that's before we even get to 3D. Among the Oscar entrants is Fly Me To The Moon, a 3D spectacular. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is going great guns at the Imax. Next year will see the launch of Avatar, which is promising to kick-start a new 3D era.

All that may be a flash in the pan and of course those films operate at another level of budget. But nonetheless the cost of animation is going down while its scale increases, and given the pressure on independent film budgets, animation may be a way of giving free rein to imaginations.

And budgets are an essential part of this argument. Animation is far easier to dub into any language - there are none of the subtitle issues, and that is vital to international reach.

Most of all, animation has a future that is only now emerging. Cheap and even free software means kids around the world are messing around with stop-motion animation that was once the preserve of a handful of professionals. These young film-makers have been brought up on videogames and have a sense of where animated characters can go and set no artificial limit on, for example, the length of a piece.

Animation, then, is not a wave but an area of business with a future that looks brighter today than 10 years ago and that genuinely deserves attention.

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