Ottawa Animation Festival: Part 2

This is the second installment of my trip to the Ottawa International Animation Festival 2005. If you missed it, click here for Part 1.

The Ottawa International Animation Festival has something going on all the time. Some of the main screenings and workshops are scheduled every two hours throughout the day: 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3, 5, 7, and 9. Basically, there is maybe 30 minutes in between screenings to get to the next event, or maybe to grab a bite to eat. I emphasize the word MAYBE because more times than not I had no time at all to break for food.

By the time the Shorts Competition 5 ended on Thursday night, I realized that I hadn't eaten since early that morning. That was about 8am. I was getting real cranky and listless. Between the spots before my eyes, I was able to make out the fuzzy shape of a Pizza Pizza fast food establishment across from The ByTowne Cinema. I ate as quickly as I could and then headed back across the street to check out the next screening. (I got real lucky for my first night in Ottawa having practically all my screenings at the same place -- right next door to my hotel, no less! Sweet.)

Feature Competition: Empress Chung
Not worth it. I'm sorry, but this animated feature from Korea held such great promise with me -- I should've known by now that a pretty still frame does not a great movie make. The image I saw in the Festival guide is the one shown to the left there. Nice character styling and colors, right? Well, this character maybe, but the same cannot be said for the entire film. It started off great, with a nice intro, complete with warriors and a heart-wrenching sequence of a family in peril, but then the film went downhill from there. When odd sidekicks were introduced, like a turtle and a goose, I lost interest. Then the underwater sequence -- WHAT??? It got very fantastical and cutesy on us, completely ignoring the seriousness of the opening. Too bad. It could've been a good story.

I got to see this with Roque and his wife. Roque fell asleep. My thoughts exactly.

Afterwards, I had planned on going to the Gianluigi Toccafondo Retrospective, but decided to stay and watch the next Short Competition, which was starting up at the ByTowne. I swear, what a convenience this place was for me. Outside, while waiting for the screening to start, I ran into New York animators Pat Smith and Signe Baumane. Pat and Signe are part of the New York indie animation scene, an active and lively bunch of filmmakers who crank out short films on a continual basis. They rounded up several of these animators and artists together and produced a DVD compliation that ended up being one of my favorite finds from last year's Festival, Avoid Eye Contact. This year, they came back to Ottawa with a second volume, and you just know that I was excited to get my grubby hands on that one as well. There's some fun and wonderful stuff to be found on each volume, with work from Bill Plympton, George Griffin, John Dilworth, Mo Willems, Fran Krause, Pat, Signe and many others. I highly recommend these DVD's. You can order each volume HERE.

I met Pat last year at the Festival and we kept in touch with each other throughout the year. It was like we were old friends when we saw each other, complete with a we're-comfortable-with-our-sexuality-male-bonding-embrace. After our very special moment, Pat, Signe and I all made our way into the ByTowne for:

Short Competition 2
This was an interesting screening. A good group of shorts and films, with a solid amount of talent featured. Here are some highlights:

Lemony Snicket 'Littlest Elf' directed by Smith & Foulkes for Nexus Productions. What a fun intro to LEMONY SNICKETS: A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS! I had not seen the film, so watching this little bit of stop-motion-esque homage to Rankin/Bass 60's specials was very entertaining. My only qualm was that it was too short. In fact, when Jude Law's voice-over comes in at the end of the animated segment, there were some moans and groans of disappointment. The kicker? This was done entirely in CG, but you would never know it. They got those odd quirky-jerk camera pans and quaint limited motion that was so typical of the Rankin/Bass programs of that time. Very fun. To check out this retro film intro, you can view it in its entirety at Nexus's website. Once you enter the site, go to the Showreel section and then click on "The Littlest Elf." (You'll need Flash 6 plug-in to view the site.)

Ugh. I'm really surprised that the title sequence to The Life and Death of Peter Sellers was even entered into this competition. Ugly character design and horrible animation. I was not amused.

I really liked the next one. Ichthys, directed by Polish filmmaker Marek Skrobecki was a visually engaging stop-motion short film about a lone customer going to a remote restaurant to order a mysterious dish. The only problem is that he has to wait. And wait. And WAIT. Now, I have a problem with short films that go over 10 minutes -- something about that time limit starts to wear on my attention span, I guess. But I had no problem with this 16 minute film. There's some great puppet animation done on the waiter and the customer, and the sets are amazingly detailed. The film looks beautiful. Also, the editing and pacing of the film builds up to a very cool ending that can be looked on as a metaphor. There's some info about the film at Se-ma-for's website (the production company), but I could not see the short video clip that they had available to view. I don't know if it was my computer or the browser I was using, or what. Hopefully they'll work that out. It's worth checking out. Ichthys won the catagory for Independent Short Film: Narrative Short Work at Ottawa. Not too shabby.

The Ikea spot directed by Reuben Sutherland was very funny. Done in a style that is typical of how-to/assembly illustrations found when putting together your favorite Swedish designed living room set -- but in 3D -- the spot features a very hilarious and very gay spokesman, Stig, who prances around in his ideal IKEA world, shooting barbs at the clueless. To see the spot, go to Joyrider's site and then click on Reuben's name. While you're there, check out his video for Phoenix Foundation's single, "Hitchcock." It was also in competition at Ottawa and won in the Music Video Catagory. Very cool stuff Reuben's got there.

On occasion, the stereotypical self-absorbed student film pops up at film festivals and I always have to cringe. Nothing against the students who produce these types of films, but it's just been so overdone. What new thing could possibly be unearthed by a student for me, the viewer, to feel engaged by? Well, plenty, it seems. When you present your inner thoughts and explorations like Angela Steffen, then you've got me intrigued. Angela is a third-year student at Filmakademie Baden-W├╝rtterberg, and has a brilliant 5 minute black & white film titled Wie Ich Mich Traf (Meeting Me), that presents herself as a wonderfully stylized little girl who is trying to find out who or what she is. A newborn? A human? A bird? A worm? She animates herself as all these things. And can I just say how much I LOVED the character design in this film? Take note, students. This was a great little film filled with heart, fluid animation, and wonderful design -- a rare thing to see done well these days. Angela doesn't have a site, but there is a page about her film at Filmakademie's site, which you can see here.

Before I talk about Rosto's film, Jona/Tomberry, I'll talk about Drew Carey's Green Screen Show 'Episode 104' first.

I love the concept of this show, the idea that you get actors doing improv in front of green screens so that animation will be composited in later -- it's a fun concept! I had not seen an episode of Drew Carey's Green Screen Show, but I had heard about it. And I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were some sections where there was not much animation going on -- just basically a background that might change every once in awhile and maybe a prop added onto one of the actors' hands, depending on the situation. With these segments, I felt gyped. But the show gathers steam when the animation is full-blown, complete with characters who really interact with the live-action actors. Animation is the perfect medium for this concept because of the improvisational nature -- there could be 20 major story changes within one segment, and with animation, you can do anything. For instance, when two people from the audience try to come up with sound effects for one particular segment, the results are hilarious.

Pat Smith actually worked on an episode, so I asked him about the production of the show, like, how much freedom was given to the animators for their particular segment? He said that the producers gave them free range -- basically the artists and animators were doing "improv" as well. Little or no changes were made. A welcome change from all the usual client or executive nit-picking that comes from any animation produced for television these days. The show has a site and you can check it out HERE, complete with clips for viewing. (I had to use Firefox to be able to see the Quicktime movies -- plus, the clips are on a pop-up window when the site comes up. Just to let you all know, if you're curious enough to see them.)

Okay. This next film presents me with a conundrum. I liked it. A lot. But I have reservations. Jona/Tomberry is quite a visual feast of surrealism and dreamlike imagery. Bizarre and haunting, loud and creative -- every frame of this film has so much going on, it's almost too hard to take it all in. (I guess repeated viewings is the way to do it.) But I actually enjoyed that aspect of it. It never ceases to amaze me when I see creative minds do their thang, full-tilt, with no limitations. And I have to give the director respect for implementing his artistic vision onto the screen. Director Rosto (that's right, like Cher -- only one word, please) apparently is something of a sensation in his homeland of Holland, making a one-word name for himself with videos, short films, and various media outlets. But I will not jump onto the Rosto-groupie bandwagon because I smell something foul.

Again, I will say that I really enjoyed this strangely intoxicating film -- it was an amazing piece of work. HOWEVER, before it was screened that evening, Rosto wanted to say a few words to the audience. At first I was thinking that maybe something was wrong with the print, that the audio got mixed-up, or something, but no -- Rosto stood up to say that it seems like everyone wants to try to understand, or "get" movies and films these days. But with this particular film, he wanted us all to "open up our minds and don't try to 'get it' (pointing to his head) but instead just try to 'get it' (pointing to his gut)." He pauses for effect...

"Just open up and don't be scared."

Now, why in the heck would a filmmaker say that? Why would any artist in their right mind go up and try and explain how to take their work in front of an audience? Rosto's actions made me shake my head in frustration, because he fell into that PRETENTIOUS ARTIST trap. It was really hard to take him seriously after his little speech. In fact, throughout the course of the festival I steered away from him for fear of being sucked into his glorious vortex of pretentiousness. It's too bad, because his work is definitely striking. (Photo of Rosto by Emru Townsend.)

After seeing the film, I still didn't really "get it," but I did enjoy it. Why can't that be enough for Rosto? Why not allow me, the viewer, to take in these visuals and make sense of it in my own manner, the way I'd perceive it? Please don't force me to "get it" your way. Give the viewer some credit -- don't try to hold my hand through the thing. Some filmmakers choose to be simple and obvious in their storytelling, others choose to go the abstract route. Either way, the viewer must be given the freedom to make up their own mind about what they see, whether or not they actually "get it." You know, there were several abstract films screened at the festival, and not one of the filmmakers walked up to the front of the theatre pleading to the audience, hoping that they'd try and "get" their film. I saw Rosto's actions as a sign of weakness, that he wasn't completely confident in his work.

Rosto must've had so many negative reactions to "Jona/Tomberry" or else he wouldn't have gone up in front of both audiences (oh yes, he did the same speech for the second screening of his film at the festival) to touch his gut with feeling.

So what is "Jona/Tomberry?" It's a wild mix of live-action and CG animation with grotesquely altered faces, freaky singing babies, gunplay taunting, and shattered mirrors -- LOTS of shattered mirrors -- if all this sounds like your altered cup of tea, then check out the film's site HERE. Oh yeah, Rosto is in the film, too.

That's the end of my diatribe. Sorry to go off on that, but I just had to do it.

I feel much better now.

After the screening, I scooted on over to the Chez Ani, a nightly hangout at The Arts Court, to have a drink and relax from the long long day. While there, I met up with the aforementioned Tom Neely, Emru Townsend, editor of the great online animation magazine fps magazine, and Amid Amidi of Cartoon Brew. (Pat Smith was there, too, but since he's such the popular guy, he ditched me.) All of us talked about animation and what the industry is up to nowdays. I can't tell you how refreshing it was to talk about animation in such an open environment, outside from the usual suspects that I cavort with in Atlanta. It was pretty interesting to see how much we could possibly talk about the industry, without running out of things to say. Apparently, we all have very strong opinions on what we like and dislike, and Emru will find something to say on just about anything. Just pick some obscure musical reference from the 80's and he'll go on a tear. It's quite a sight to see (or hear, actually). Amid and I met last year at the Festival, and we've emailed each other on a constant basis, so it was like seeing an old friend. We share a lot of similarites in art and design, as well as the love for jazz. He's just finishing up his book on animation design from the 50's, which will see the light of day next Spring. Judging from what he's said about the book, it'll be at the top of my must-haves, that's for sure.

Some pics from the evening:

A blurry Emru Townsend, a clear Tom Neely and me at the Chez Ani.

Emru and I contemplate a serious moment.

Tom, me, and Amid Amidi talk amongst ourselves at Chez Ani. I guess I missed the memo to wear a stylish hat, huh? (Photo by Emru.)

I didn't get back to the hotel until 1am that night. Boy, was I worn out. But it was so exhilarating to be back in Ottawa! It was so hard to go to sleep when my head was racing with all the visuals I had seen from the day. So much to see and experience -- and it was only my first day there! How could the other days compare?

Next up: The Animator's Picnic -- everyone's favorite part of the festival. Plus, more thoughtful insight on various short films and festival gatherings by your host, yours truly. I do this, so you don't have to.

Again, to see my photos from the trip, check out my Ottawa photoset on Flickr.


  1. One question: When you hugged Pat, did you do the hilariously uncomfortable hug? ;)
    Seriously though, great post about the days events. That's a ton of stuff to take in... seems like it would take a while to digest it all, much less digest a week's worth of it. Either way, it sounds like you had a blast. I'M GOING NEXT YEAR!

  2. I am SO envious! Oh, and while the english title may be "Meeting Myself" the direct translation of the german short is "How I met myself"

  3. You know, you're right about that Rosto guy making that weird disclaimer...to other artists. I can understand, however, why he would do that (or even be necessary) to the "average Joe" audience member. Remember: people like neat little packages, beginning, middle, end. 1,2,3.
    I'm with you: some movies I like BECAUSE I don't get them, or at least not at first. That's one reason why I love "Waking Life."

  4. I don't know how you have kept your head from exploding, dear (so much to take in)... but I'm so happy that you were able to go and experience this.

  5. Missed the screening that Rosto's film was in, but wanted to see it, speech and all. I should mention though that he totally stole the way that I'm going to introduce my 50s design book to audiences next year. My intro begins, "With this book, I want you to open up our minds and don't try to 'read it' (pointing to my eyes) but instead just try to 'READ it' (pointing to my heart)." That should inspire people.

  6. Great reviews, man! You didn't pull any punches, and that rules.

  7. That's pretty hilarious, Amid. (Pointing to my gut.)