“40 years of Ottawa, Blowed-up-by-the-brain and Boo Ya Ya”.

‘We were too lame”

Festival signal films are hard to get right, most festival visitors will see it more than 10 times.  The trailer to celebrate 40 years of OIAF could have grated on the nerves, but the audience response was increasingly bawdy and I expect it’s creators Andreas Hykade and Theodore Ushev would have liked that. Yells of ‘No you’re lame!’ echoed around the Bytowne Cinema by the last few screenings which made it different every time. Result.

I was visiting the festival with my film G-AAAH, a 75 second film that I made for The Amy Johnson Festival in Hull this year.  Amy Johnson was a solicitors typist, I used an Underwood typewriter to make the film, using flicker to create movement.  I was really pleased to get to Hull, so it was an extreme excitement that the film was chosen to be in competition at Ottawa. (Thank you Chris) The British Council paid for my travel too. (Thank you BC). Abigail Addison from Animate Projects came too, it was great to have a friend to flaneur with.

OIAF was, as always, an exciting adventure in current animated film making.  It’s an adventure curated by maverick Chris Robinson and Keltie Duncan, which makes this a singular and exceptional festival to visit.  Over the course of the week, we saw around 100 animations which covered not just an enormous spectrum of techniques, subjects, themes and duration but also a huge range of budgets and personal investment.  Some films had been made in 2 weeks (my hand is up), some had been years in production and had teams of professionals working on them.  Alongside the screenings, there were special guests Caroline Leaf and Don McWilliam giving a talk and a special screening respectively, there were a lot of industry events, pumpkin carving, yoga and presentations by Laika and Julia Pott.  All the OIAF venues were busy, the audience a mixture of students, graduates, fans and veterans from near and afar.  The first group are dominant so sometimes the audience response to the work is a bit snickery, but always invested and warm.

Alongside the programme of current films, the 40th anniversary meant brilliant compilations of Grand Prize winners from the last 40 years.  We made it to two of these screenings, I was overjoyed to see The Street by Caroline Leaf, 1976 and the amazing, raucous Ubu by Geoff Dunbar, 1978.  As an aside, here’s a really nice blog entry from Lost Continent about Ubu.

I’d like to note down my own favourites, so that I don’t forget.  From competition 1, The Wrong End of the Stick by Terri Matthews, 2016, Happy End by Jan Saska, 2015 I Like Girls by Diane Obomswain, 2016 and Erlkönig by Georges Schwizgebel, 2015The Wrong end of the Stick was in the mould of Alison Snowden and David Fine’s Bob’s Birthday, a little marriage crisis, gently resolved.  The script and animation were very fine and there was a beautiful misunderstanding under the kitchen table that resulted in a rather too-long shot of the hero’s nuts from behind.  Happy End went at a cracking pace, the story told backwards with the punchline at the end, an old folk joke.  I Like Girls is a really charming film, with excerpts from younger women about coming out, crushes and first loves. I was really glad for Diane and the NFB that the film won the much coveted Grand Prize.  Georges Schwizgebels film was a real pleasure to watch, based upon Goethe’s poem Erlkönig; a father and son gallop through a wood, the whirling animation and unreal colours reflecting the feverish journey they are undertaking.  Abigail and I were lucky to meet Georges and Diane over our hotel eggs and bacon one morning.  In competition 2, I enjoyed PES’s Honda ‘paper’, and the lovely Anna Ginsburg’s film Private Parts.  Both Anna and PES are full of great ideas and just get them done, that’s an inspiration.  In Competition 3, I enjoyed Janet Perlman’s film Let’s Play it Like it’s 1949, Fired on Mars by Nick Vokey and Nate Sherman and of course Blind Vashya by the masterful, prolific Theodore Ushev (winner of the best narrative short and best Canadian film.)  In competition 4, the programme was beautifully set up by one of two of Gina Kamentsky’s films Tracheal Shave.  I think Gina’s work deserves a blog entry of it’s own one day, I’m a big fan.  Spoon by Markus Kempken was a film about a parent bullying a child over a long period of time, it was beautifully ad carefully told, and it was no less dramatic for revolving around a kitchen implement.  Frankfurter Str. 99a by Evgenia Gostrer was a fantastic, spare film about a garbage collector at lunchtime.  It doesn’t sound promising does it? Definitely worth a watch.  In competition 5, Velodrool by Sander Joon was amazing, the story was good and Estonian dotty, the animation so masterful. Sander was very modest during his Meet the Filmmaker interview, if I could animate like that I would be very boastful.  Our Crappy Town by Andy and Caroline London has a pooh joke that had the audience in stitches. I think it gets my top prize for the funniest film of the festival.

I have to mention that there were also many films with an old fashioned stance towards women. There are too many films gratuitously depicting women as sex obsessed, or large-butted.  There was an infertile women who was of course a demented stay at home mum and a childless women who was of course obsessed with dolls, a snake with boobs, some long boobs that got mixed up with bread dough (another eye roll).  Some of these films were actually really great, if it hadn’t been for the stereotyping and lapses in thoughtfulness. I love the crazy, unusual narrative threads and I enjoy animation for it’s random moments of crudeness and violence (Our Crappy Town, The Wrong End of the Stick) but responsible, modern crude without stereotype would be better.  Old fashioned work seems to go unchallenged, either because it takes a long time to make (respect) or because many of the big films are made by students, or perhaps just because the animation community is inclined to be generous and cheerful.  I don’t know, it’s not the first time I’ve had a little grumble about this.

I was very sorry to miss Caroline Leaf’s talk with Don McWilliam.  Caroline won the first Grand Prize at OIAF, so she was the very special guest.  Don McWilliams programmed Eleven Moving Thoughts, which was shown twice.  I think I would have gone twice if there had been the chance.  Amongst other films he showed an excerpt of Rybchinski’s The Orchestra film, Damon the Mower (1972) by George Dunning, Blinkety Blank (1955) by Norman McLaren, Jiri Trinka’s The Hand (1965), Motion Control by David Anderson, and at the end, a beautiful film of his own, depicting Earle Binney reading a sound poem about a train.  Don also pointed me in the direction of Primiti Too Taa (1986) by Ed Ackerman and poet Colin Morton, which was made on a Remmington typewriter. The film is based on a 45-minute sound poem “Ur-sonate (Sonata for Primitive Sounds)” by Kurt Schwitters.

I would liked to have written about the VR experience, (see below), and visiting the NFB in Montreal on Monday.  It was extremely motivating to get a glimpse into the on-going productions there, each artist and production was fascinating in a different way.  A highlight for me was seeing the Alexeïeff-Parker pinscreen being skillfully and thoughtfully put to use by Michèle Lemieux.

It was a really great trip for me, thank you to Chris and everyone at the festival. Thanks to the British Council and thank you to the NFB for some lovely meals and conversations too. I hope I’ll be back.


Run Wrake’s poster for Ottawa 2000


Me with the VR headset on, watching Pearl


Janet Pearlman in her Meet the Filmmakers interview with Chris Robinson and David.


Me in my Meet the Filmmaker interview with Chris Robinson at St Brigid’s church.


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One thought on ““40 years of Ottawa, Blowed-up-by-the-brain and Boo Ya Ya”.

  1. Chris Robinson

    It’s a shame that the film
    Loss has been so misunderstood. It’s not about an infertile woman but rather the very real horror of domestic slavery in some parts of China. Unfortunately it’s not really made clear


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