Association Internationale du Film d’Animation
International Animated Film Association

Ottawa International Animation Festival - 2018 Report

Author: Charles Wilson | Date: 11/19/18, 3:37 AM

I grew up reading comic books and fantasizing about what it would be like to have those incredible powers. But the older I got, the more I realized that one power would be better than all of the rest. Now you would think that being invulnerable or being able to fly or having telekinesis would be the choice powers to have. Me personally, I gravitate toward Maddox: the Multiple Man from the X-Men comics. Maddox was able to create exact duplicates of himself and when the duplicates reintegrated into "Maddox Prime", he would gain all the knowledge and memories of their experiences as if he himself had lived them.

Setting aside the fact that if I had his powers, I could run my own "one man" animation studio, having several duplicates of yourself strikes me as the best power to have when attending the Ottawa International Animation Festival. Sure, teleportation would make it a lot easier to get to and from the venues -- most of which are spread out far enough to make the walk from my hotel last from five to fifteen minutes, but hey, I need the exercise so I don't complain. No, for me, duplicates would be the way to go. Y'see, the OIAF is an exercise in priorities. There is simply too much there to do it all, so you have to look at the schedule and figure out what really matters to you. After attending the fest for twenty-four years, I've settled on a formula that usually works for me. More often than not, my schedule prioritizes itself as: Panorama screenings, Competition screenings, and then Retrospectives/Lectures, particularly if they cover an aspect of animation that I'm interested in (history of women animators, unique animation techniques, behind-the-scenes looks at animation production, etc.). And although I do try to spend some time at the Professional Development seminars on Saturday, and catch a feature or two, the aforementioned three are my usual "must see" events for those four days in Ottawa that pass by far too quickly.

This year was no different. 

However, there "are" other events that take place during the festival that can provide attendees with an even more enriching festival experience if they leave themselves open to them. For starters, those of us who have been watching the construction over the past few years, right next door (and attached to) the Arts Court is the new Ottawa Art Gallery. The OAG/GAO is an art gallery, upscale cafe, and presentation space all rolled into one. It was at this venue where the OIAF held several screenings in addition to the Stacey Steers lecture and screening.

Ms. Steers herself was in attendance to show three of her films and discuss her filmmaking process. Given the massive push to digital filmmaking, it's always interesting to hear from  those holdouts who are making art on an Oxberry stand in 35mm film. Stacey was only one of several events at the festival programmed by Chris Robinson under the artistic style of 'collage art'. Additional events under this heading included screenings of Lewis Klahr's films as well as a pair of retrospectives, one dealing with pre-digital collage animation (think Terry Gilliam's animations for Monty Python) and the other with collage films that pushed the boundaries of the imagination.

Now much has been said about the shorts screenings, and rightly so, because the OIAF is one of the few venues where you can see a wonderful selection of short films that you won't see anywhere else (outside of the internet) and most, if not all, lend themselves to the large format screening of a theater. However, as Chris Robinson has related in the past, there are enough feature length animated films being produced every year that the OIAF can now support a features program. As the Waterloo Festival of Animated Cinema is no more (at one time, the only festival in the world dedicated solely to showing feature-length animated films), the OIAF has stepped into the void left by WFAC to bring us a wide selection of animated features that we rarely see in theaters. I was pretty focused with my selection and watched Nina Paley's 'Seder-Masochism', Joanna Priestley's 'North of Blue', and  Emma De Swaef and Marc James Roels latest stop-motion film 'This Magnificent Cake' (shown alongside their short film 'Oh Willy').

As in previous years, the OIAF had a room dedicated to virtual reality. However, with my new glasses, I can't see in 3d anymore, so I didn't bother checking it out. But I saw the people with their headseats on while I was on my way to other events. So. It was there and my friends said that it's a very interesting experience. I'll have to take their word for it.

On Saturday, due to the fact that the usual venue -- St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts -- was unavailable, the Professional Development Day was held at the National Arts Centre. When we weren't attending the presentations, the festival had the usual bevy of schools and studios showing off their latest films and talking to potential hires and students. Additionally, the festival also set up a stage and seats with drawing supplies where we could take some time to relax and draw professional cosplayers as they showed off their latest outfits. And this year, the festival tried something new with the Professional Development presentations (held in the NAC auditorium). Working with the Walt Disney Animation Studios, the first five minutes of every session was dedicated to providing "Career Tidbits": short, pithy suggestions on how to get a job in the industry -- and hold onto it once you've got it.

Cosplayers pose for a drawings session.

That night, during the Saturday evening "Night Owl" party, we were all invited to do that thing that our parents forbade: draw on the walls! In the hallway between the Arts Court and the OAG, festival organizers hung a sheet of paper floor to ceiling, passed out marker pens, and encouraged us to break that parental taboo by creating art.

The doodle wall at the closing party

On Sunday, I discovered one very interesting change that the OIAF has made this year, which is transitioning the screening room from a back office on the Arts Court to a very comfortable and spacious room in the OAG with multiple stations streaming the films through Roku televisions. In the past, you would have to wait for one of the three viewing stations and then flip through DVDs in order to see that short film (or the entire screening) that you couldn't fit into your schedule. The Roku viewing stations made it much, much easier to find and see the short films, unfortunately though, you couldn't watch selections from the feature competition. Understandable I suppose, given that you don't want a station tied up for an hour or two. That day, I made it a point to catch a couple films from the previous night's screening during one of the rare moments of low traffic in the room.

But, because I am only one man, even with the best of planning there were events I missed out on... such as the Golden Hits of Collage screening, or the Bent Image Lab masterclass where they demonstrated their methods of stop-motion animation, or watching Joanna Priestley's film "North of Blue" a second time before I left town (you can see clips from her film online -- it's an enriching and surreal experience that makes you realize what Adobe Flash can do in the hands of a skilled artist).

So for those of you who didn't make it to the Ottawa International Animation Festival, or those who did but missed out on many of these extra events, there is much, much more to the Ottawa festival than just the animators picnic, parties, and competition/panorama screenings. The next time you attend the fest, when you're building your schedule, be sure to read the descriptions carefully and leave time for a retrospective, a hands-on workshop, or an animated feature.

You'll be glad that you did.