2013 Ottawa International Animation Festival – Day One

An overriding excuse -I’ve been busy lately.  In bed at 3 am, out a 7 am (or later and earlier) kind of busy.  This, of course, is my own fault.  Trying to accommodate the world.

Multi-week sleep deprivation is a similar sensation to attending a film festival.  A soft cloud develops around your head, sunlight grows a sharpened edge, a long red light seems like a good time for a little nap.  Rollercoaster programming of a good festival, though, will make you angry and elated and raise you out of the even-keeled funk of the working world.

The festival in Ottawa unfurls so that it’s possible to be slowly drawn into the movie-haze unaware, in my current state I hit it in full fog.  The Television Animation Conference precedes the film programming by a day.  This is mostly dull stuff about animation as a product.  Movie making as money making, producing art as though it were manufacturing widgets.  But still, there is always something interesting.  Yesterday that was a panel that included Titmouse impresario Chris Prynowski.  His work as an animator is impressive and his studio produces work that exceeds the quality of any other making series for American television.  As a speaker he’s engaging and articulate.  He’s honest about the process and clearly know what he’s talking about.  A lot of people hide behind abstractions and broad figures when discussing work -it hints at a mere surface understanding of what it takes to make something.  Prynowski’s self-effacing discussion of the top to bottom details of his operation is possibly the most engaging thing I’ve seen at any TAC.


This year the event is being held at the Museum of Nature.  It’s a nice venue.  Cocktail parties surrounded by dinosaurs.

Two screenings in the evening: the French/Belgian feature “Approved for Adoption” and the competition shorts #1.

Approved for Adoption

It might be a new “thing” in European animation, and it’s not a good thing, to “toon shade” CGI models so they look like something from Xtranormal.com.  There was a short in competition that did the same thing.  It’s made even worse by the drawn sequences in the film that are generally pretty attractive (same is true for the short).

For me, the highlight film of the short program was Edmunds Jansons’ “Choir Tour.”  The story is no great shakes but the design and animation are both terrific.



The look utilizes contemporary drawing tools -likely Illustrator or Photoshop or some such thing in a pleasing and expressive fashion.  The animation is idiosyncratic and exploits the design.

Julia Pott’s “The Event” also ran.  There’s a lot to like about this film, and I’ve seen it several times.  It holds up (and in some ways improves) with repeat viewings.  I wish I could pinpoint why it leaves me a little cold.  It’s a good piece, though.  Strange to say, it felt a little out-of-place in the program.  Usually an apocalypse like this would be one of many in a competition selection- last night it felt like the only one.

Joanna Priestley’s “Split Ends” is attractive.  It feels like some of the graphics within it could form the basis of an interesting film.  She’s working in shape and abstraction to the point where they near representation.  Maybe this experiment will get pushed further in a future work.

Ottawa International Animation Festival – Day Four

Started at 9 AM by interviewing Elliot Cowan about his feature film production. I’d prefer to attend the Meet the Filmmaker sessions, but there are only so many slots in the day and they scheduled us first thing -leaving the later hours open for more mainstream draws.

The coffee which Azarin Sorabkhani, the producer of the morning’s events, was able to drum up for us was first rate.

The talk went fairly well, I guess. A few people continued the conversation with me over the day by stopping me here or there with a thoughtful question.

From there I tried to sit in on another professional development discussion (better attended than ours), but was quickly agitated and had to leave.

On the way out, we ran into Morgan Miller just come from breakfast with Ralph Bakshi before his interview with the director scheduled for 12:30. We stopped for a pre-show snack.

Morgan Miller and Ralph Bakshi

Their interview was a lot of fun. Bakshi went on for a bit sometimes, especially at the beginning. He’s always seemed like a guy with something to say, or at the very the something on his mind and the integrity of intellect to make it public.

My second interview session with Smith & Foulkes ran at 3:00. This was changed up a little from the first. We started with “This Way Up” and bounced around. To me this is a preferable presentation. The chronology of an artist’s work is academically interesting but poor showmanship. Start strong. A chronological show inevitably begins with a person’s weakest work.

Unfortunately, this went up against Competition Screening 4 so I missed that. Reports imply that this may have been good fortune.

Competition 5 was a strong program. Like program 1, it’s a strong program without necessarily having outstanding films. It works as a solid evening in itself and would work as a traveling show as well as selection for a festival.

Avoiding prejudice is one of the hardest things in thinking about and writing about film. I have a great distaste for Don Hertzfeldt’s last few films. I’ve written about them previously, so I won’t go into that here.

Hertzfeldt’s latest closed the program. It’s pretty good. Infinitely superior to his recent work. He’s cut out all the Family Guy style gags and is very straightforward in his filmmaking. It’s unfair to compare the film to someone like Joe Frank, whose radio work is unparalleled, but there is similarities. Also unfair to compare him to Phil Mulloy, whose achieved transcendence with simplicity. “It’s Such A Beautiful Day” is somewhere in between. It’s a nice place to be.

Ottawa International Animation Festival -Day One

rThUneventful day on Wednesday.

In the morning I tried some Television Animation Conference panels.  Tough going.  Especially the French woman who -with stereotypical chauvinism -asserted that animation would likely not exist today if not for it’s “creation” in France.  A mythical creation that has no proof in the fossil record and would have very little bearing on the development of the art even if some undiscovered film surfaced to bear witness to the Franco-falsehood.

So that kind of bothers me.

Otherwise, a kind of lovely day.

Early dinner with Liesje Kraai, Anna Humphries, Brett Thompson and Morgan Miller

The first screening of the Festival was the feature “Wrinkles”. This four-walled for Oscar eligibility last year and I missed it. It’s a Spanish film about a guy moving into Alzheimer’s who gets sent to an old folks home.

Atypical subject matter for the technique. The illustration style is pleasant -sort of a mid-90s Eurocomic look -and has the potential for expressive and human animation. The whole effort is solid, if too long by 30 minutes.

I was asked to say some words on Tissa David before the shorts competition first screening.

The bit was recorded, though the first sentence or two was chopped off.

Short competition 1 was even. The first two films established a theme of “bodies”. Johanna Rubin’s “Meat + Love” kicked it off. It’s a stop motion film of kissing, the faces formed with cuts of meat and giblets. Disgusting, sure. But smart and charming.

This was followed by Paul Bush’s “Lay Bare”. This is, essentially, a pixellation shot in close ups of several bodies. Birthmarks and moles and belly buttons animation through quick cuts. Also wins you over with charm -but goes on a little too long. A second chapter opens with a baby, full face. The audience let out and audible “Awww”. It was loud, but not loud enough to cover my internal “Ugh”. The filmmaker presents this second part as a heavy-handed thesis, dropping in some text (in a poor, poor typeface -the other theme for the night) to drive home his point. How much more elegant and profound this film would be without that.

Those two films set the tone and the standard for the evening. A program of solid films -about half a little too long, as always; and many with terrible typographic decisions. But all good and possibly made better in context.