Tuesday, October 01, 2019

The Ottawa International Animation Festival - OIAF - Notes from September, 2008

After a decade, a return to Ottawa, seeming oddly changed, or realigned, or ... something.  So this note came from a file from a 2008 visit.  The return visits will not be separated by 10 years, that's for certain...

Once a year, I am physically moved to a foreign land of ambulating masses, where the most revolutionary of gothic jaywalkers performs her disobedience with civility, and where the creamy foam head of a Guinness pint is measured in centimeters.
Aside from my home base of Battle Creek, I have spent more time in Ottawa over the past decade than practically any other city on this planet. I find myself giving directions to places along Elgin Street, knowing the hours of the Rideau Centre, and even knowing that Centre is French for Center. I have even sampled the gravied cheese curd comfort food called poutain, although it still remains under the category of “acquired taste.”
The draw has never been Parliament, although their sessions are lively and drip in delicious sarcasm, and while the museums are striking and the scenery evocative of lost forests in central European, what pulls me to the most civilized of North American capitols is the OIAF. Some of this is purely force of habit: before video and DVD, and even before KAFI, the OIAF is where you had to go to see international animation on a large screen, or absorb the latest 90-second test film from that upstart bunch at Pixar. Even once the novelty was diluted by the expanding availability of animation on video and cable, there remained the sense of community-- first of old-school animators, then of increasingly-earnest afficionados. And now of a new generation, able to create and share their work quickly and electronically, can converge and experience what the internet can only emulate–human contact.
Chris Robinson has grown into his role as master of these ceremonies, from his hesitant and seemingly hostile beginnings to that of – dare one use the word congenial? – young fogey who delights in the occasional outrage while poking at the perimeter of propriety. He certainly seems to be using his time efficiently while on his ship of state–this visit served to premiere not one, but two books on animation (a biography of the late Ryan Larkin and a collection of interviews with Canadian animators).
To this setting, this sense of community, and its inherent enthusiasm, add a series of astonishing films and programs. This OIAF was a case of delicious sensory overloads. The feature films in competition included two created in Flash– Waltz with Bashir, a blend of documentary and Apocalypse Now surrealism by Ari Folman, and the astonishing Sita Sings the Blues, presented in multiple stylistic forms by Nina Paley, who bankrupted herself to create this five year labor of love.
The short films ranged from the stark Dark Years to the utterly giddy Lollypop to the bloodfest Super Jail. Five sets of films, only moderately overpriced popcorn and soda, and generally great weather for the walk between theaters. Even the picnic, with its ritualized pumpkin carving competition, left participants unscathed and winners with prizes that will soon show up on Ebay.
Morning meetings with the animators became increasingly bleary-eyed as the festival continued, catalyzed by late screenings and parties. “War stories” of producers and educators continued on panels ranging from animation software to curricula, culminating in an evening with Richard Williams moderated by John Canemaker, in itself worth the journey to Canada (I am so petitioning my school to get the DVD series by Williams, budgets be hanged!). And in a performance redefining old-school techniques, Daniel Barrow related his life in manually-moved overheads, creating a 19th century animated magic lantern show.
Concerns surrounding sliced budgets have made the OIAF subject to the generosity of strangers, but this year remained a celebration. Let’s hope for more projected light from Canada in 2009.
Until then, we’ll always have KAFI in May! (updated note - KAFI is no more - we are but KAFI in Exile now - watch for the T-shirts!)

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