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40th Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) Overview

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What a way to celebrate! Ottawa International Animation Festival is now officially 40.

It’s Sunday night and the 40th Ottawa International Animation Festival is winding to a close. The final frames will fade out as the festival wraps with a celebration at the Arts Courts Studio in central Ottawa and a party that’s due to carry on into the wee small hours. If I wasn’t having to fly back to the UK first thing tomorrow then I’d be there with them, getting animated!

Last night (Saturday) was awards night at the St Brigid’s Arts Centre and the festival jury have selected some very worthy and well-deserved winners. With the sheer number of films being shown and the high quality of work that job can’t have been easy. On the top of the pile taking the Grand Prize for the Best Animated Feature was Jean-Francois Laguionie’s joint French & Canadian production Louise En Hiver. An honourable mention was given to Jan Bultheel for Cafard. Taking the Grand Prix for the Independent Short Animation was Diane Obomsawin’s J’Aime Les Filles (incidentally one of those I had pegged as one to watch).

J'aime les filles

J’aime Les Filles (Dir. Diane Obomsawin)

J’Aime Les Filles is a good film, yes, but a Grand Prix winner I am not so sure. It packs content and currency sympathetically, and it intelligently discusses women’s first time same-sex experiences as a vox-pop doc. However what it lacks is a matching sophistication in design and a fully realised arc. To my mind a good animation should show you something that can’t be shown in live action, to take advantage of its ability to create the fantastical, the surreal. This film has its moments, just not nearly enough and it kind of just is, sadly. For me there were far stronger contenders which include the Norwegian film The Absence of Eddy Table by Rune Spaans (which picked up the richly deserved Best Design award). This has got to be my new favourite film of the year without a doubt. My first impressions though were not great when our hero first hit the screen and I was prepared to write this one off as a turkey. The protagonist bears an uncanny likeness to the bastard offspring of a Minion so my sympathy was going to be in short demand whatever was to befall him. But I was soon won round. This is War of The Worlds meets Alien. Never before have I watched an animated short and had the hairs on my neck stand on end. It’s tense, uncomfortable and brilliantly mastered with the inspired casting of Faith No More’s Mike Patton as the ‘voice’ of our hero. It looks great and its hybrid design works perfectly giving its CG a real feel of stop-motion.

Click here for a rundown of the other big winners of the festival.

Of the shorts one of the other stand out films for me – alongside Theodore Ushev’s L’Aveugle, Vaysha (Blind Vaysha) – was Jan Saska’s Happy End. I really didn’t envy the jury on deciding between this and the eventual winner of Best Narrative Short Animation, and if you get the chance to see Saska’s black comedy then do so. You wont regret it. It’s grimly humorous and employs an imaginative unusual narrative structure. I wont say more, I don’t want to spoil it! I think it’s also worth mentioning some of the films from the Canadian Student Competition. Not wishing to disagree with the selection of the jury but I feel that Feathers was cruelly robbed. Animated and directed by a collective called Hands on Deck from Sheridan College. Behind this film are nine budding stop motion animators Christine Le, Sarah Stefanon, Melissa Chin, Jacob MacMillan, Sarah Kieley, Anita Yen, Eustace Ng, Lilja Hlin H. Péturs and Mellisa Gabric. A real shame they didn’t win big here but their sensitive and beautifully crafted film about change and acceptance is sure to pick up awards elsewhere.

img_0644The festival was not all about watching films, however, and there were some amazing talks by the film-makers, from legendary animator Caroline Leaf and film-maker and acolyte of Norman McLaren, Donald McWilliams. Williams screened some seldom seen work including the sublime Damon the Mower (Dir. George Dunning), McLaren’s Blinkety Blank and Trinka’s The Hand. The sun shone on the OIAF picnic, you could visit the aniboutique where you could buy the best of all things animated or related from mugs, t-shirts, DVDs to posters and more or sample some VR.

Artistic Director Chris Robinson has excelled himself this year with the programme of films and events. How he and his team will top this next year one can only wonder, but they will. And I for one am looking forward to having the opportunity to visit this fine festival in 2017!

All views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.

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