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2018 Ottawa International Animation Festival

I hadn’t planned to publish this post since I failed to document this fest as thoroughly as the previous one, but months later I decided not to waste the bits I did document, so here they are.

Short Film Competition 1

This was probably the least kid-friendly screening at the festival, and sure enough, a family with kids was front and center in the theater. Saturday morning cartoons, right? Literally two seconds in, the father gestured in exasperation at the festival’s sexually suggestive signal film, and it only got worse from there. You could argue that the festival’s marketing should have done a better job of indicating which screenings were inappropriate for children, but come on. Are we really not yet past the assumption that animation is always for kids?

String of Sound

John Morena (Non-Narrative, USA)

A variety of voices expressed as vibrating lines. Simple, energetic, effective.

Ballerina

Steven Subotnick (Non-Narrative, USA)

A disorienting performance from an irate-looking ballerina, based on the drawings of Steven Subotnick’s daughters. I love how it plays with the inherently avant-garde qualities of children’s art.

Tampon

Alexandra Neuman (Narrative, USA)

A poetic ode to the tampon, phallic protector of female autonomy. Nicely done hand-drawn accompaniment to monotone speech-to-text narration. “There will be no submission to menstruation.”

Han Lu (A Fly in a Restaurant)

Xi Chen, Xu An (Narrative, China)

The politics of this were lost on me, but I liked its lo-fi cutout approach to a panoramic view, effectively rotating a flat circle to survey the action in the restaurant. I also liked the visual distinction between the grayscale interior of the restaurant and the red exterior seen through the windows, and the way the cutout characters would transition piece-by-piece between the palettes when walking through the door.

Only Slightly Exaggerated

Kylie Matulick, Todd Mueller (Commissoined, USA)

An ad promoting tourism in Oregon, depicting it as a place teeming with fantastical wonders. It does a good job of promoting the state’s actual natural beauty, finishing with the title, a perfect punchline. Beautiful colors, design, and motion.

Facing It

Sam Gainsborough (Student, UK)

An expressive examination of introversion. Human bodies are topped with plasticene heads whose color and motion is indicative of the characters’ interiority. The main takeaways aren’t especially profound, but the visual concept and its realization are quite something.

Keita Sano ‘Mad Love’

Ryoji Yamada (Commissioned, Japan)

Intertwining the pulsing rhythms of sex, love, and house music. Some nice elastic movement reminiscent of Bill Plympton, but it didn’t do much for me otherwise.

Short Film Competition 5

Rick and Morty ‘Exquisite Corpse’

Matt Taylor (Commissioned, USA)

A promo for the latest season of Rick and Morty, with 22 animators’ interpretations of the duo bleeding into each other. A fun project, but it often moves too quickly for the transitions between the exquisite corpse segments to really be felt, making it less cohesive and more potpourri than I suspect was intended. Its fan-art feel also reminded me of the overdone couch gags by guest animators on the Simpsons’ later seasons.

Fest

Nikita Diakur (Narrative, Germany)

A glitched-out dance party under siege by rooftop Tarzans. Reminiscent of David Lewandowski’s kooky experiments, though intentionally lo-fi and maybe a little inside baseball for the animation crowd. Very fun, but not quite as compelling as Diakur’s “Ugly” from last year.

I’m OK

Elizabeth Hobbs (Narrative, UK, Canada)

An homage to the artist Oscar Kokoschka and his experiences in WWI. The aesthetic doesn’t seem to make reference to Kokoschka’s paintings and the hallucinatory images don’t offer many narrative hooks for those of us unfamiliar with the artist’s experiences. I didn’t find much to hold onto.

There’s Magic at the Met

Carolyn London, Andy London, Michael Vadino (Commissioned, USA)

A cute little commercial for the Met evoking the wonder of NYC at Christmastime. It seems to be pretty true to how a kid might experience it. Well-executed cutout animation, well-tuned to its well-heeled audience.

III

Marta Pajek (Narrative, Poland)

A man and a woman meet and inspect each other’s amorphous facades. Mysterious, kinetic, and fascinating throughout.

Bird Milk

Christopher Strickler (Student, Canada)

I’m all for experimentation and non-narrative work, but the best examples tend to come from people with a lot of experience. On its trailer’s Vimeo page, the filmmaker admits this is a self-indulgent student project, so at least there’s that.

Flea Circus

John Morena (Non-Narrative, USA)

Fleas buzzing about randomly suddenly congregate when objects of interest are introduced. Guess what: The fleas are us! This initially seems to be establishing an interesting rhythm, and then it just ends. Its “our problems are smaller than we think” message is a bit trite.

Little Boy

Kristian Pedersen (Non-Narrative, Norway)

An abstract and literally fluid meditation on nuclear annihilation, focused on Hiroshima. The technique is difficult to discern, but it looks like film of different viscous materials reacting to each other, played back at varying speeds. The result is urgent and beautiful and horrible.

Dairy Farmers of Canada ‘Merry Christmas’

Rob Shaw (Commissioned, USA)

Another anodyne Christmas-themed commercial, this time in felted stop-motion.

The Missing Pig

Cecilia Corzo (Student, UK)

When an old woman’s pig goes missing, the rumor mill destroys lives and homes. A fun mix of absurdist humor with naive sound and visuals.

Freak Heat Waves ‘Toxic Talk Show’

Jordan Minkoff (Commissioned, Canada)

A music video for something that sounds kind of like a proggy Dan Deacon. Seems like it should be for me, but it’s not. Maybe I need to develop a drug habit.

Solar Walk

Réka Bucsi (Narrative, Denmark)

The beginning of this had a firm grip on me, and overall there is a lot to like about it, but ultimately it tries to do too much, alternating between abstract, rhythmic geometry; cartoon astronauts and other characters with vague motivations; and rote psychedlia. I might have been more receptive to it if I didn’t see it near the end of a very long day.

E n (WAAAH)

Sawako Kabuki (Non-Narrative, Japan)

A baby’s screams emanate from the mouths of rotoscoped adults. Amusing until it builds from the sound of one child to an unbearably piercing and cacophonous chorus. Did I mention this was near the end of a long day?

Enough

Anna Mantzaris (Student, UK)

A series of vignettes of people getting fed up, this film’s mundane catharses are calculated crowd-pleasers. The facial expressions, ranging from mild annoyance to fiery rage, are priceless. Also, maybe I’m late to this, but stop motion films using felted puppets really seem to be having a moment.

Feature Competition

Ce magnifique gâteau! (This Magnificent Cake!)

Emma De Swaef, Marc James Roels (Belgium, France, Netherlands)

The film I was most looking forward to seeing, and it did not disappoint, despite a frustrating audio sync issue at the screening. Exquisite craft, from its empathic felted puppets to its gorgeous cinematography. Confident surrealism without a hint of self-consciousness, which may defy rational understanding but is nevertheless entirely engrossing. I need to learn more about French colonialism.

Seder-Masochism

Nina Paley (USA)

The story of Passover and the Exodus as a jukebox musical through a feminist lens, recontextualizing familiar songs to interrogate the violence and subjugation wrought by the patriarchal leadership of the world’s dominant religions. It’s not as heavy as it sounds, but wow is it smart, inventive, and extremely entertaining.

Virus Tropical

Santiago Caicedo (Colombia, Ecuador)

Fairly standard coming-of-age story, based on a graphic novel. Author seems to portray herself as supremely level-headed. Pretty detailed, somewhat at the expense of an arc. Could have been shorter? Leans hard on sisterhood, all-female family, patriarch in absentia. Didn’t resonate with me like many coming-of-age stories do, maybe because it was so female? Apparently the book focuses a bit more on growing up in cartel culture, and I would’ve liked to see more of that. I wonder if the film eschewed that culturally specific aspect to be more universal and therefore an easier sell in the international market.