For this, my 14th Ottawa International Animation Festival in 25 years, it occurred to me that I’ve been attending OIAF on and off for more than half of my life! I always make a point of seeing everything in the short film competition, which is the centerpiece of the fest, but my flight times didn’t fully cooperate with the festival schedule, so I had to miss one of the screenings, making this year’s accounting sadly incomplete. For some reason, it was a light year, too, with just 40 shorts in the main competition, about two thirds the usual amount.
Short Film Competition Stats
There was plenty of good stuff this year, and more on the higher end of the rating spectrum than the lower, but nothing I felt very strongly about.
The narrative films came out just a bit ahead of the other categories.
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I was amazed to find that the United States had only three films in the main competition this year! In years past, it’s usually accounted for 20 percent or more of the films, but this year it was all the way down to just 7 percent, and as you can see from its place in my ratings, I didn’t find that 7 percent to be an especially inspiring crop.
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Short Film Competition 1
A lusty, blush-inducing rumination on living with your parents as a broke 20-something, and the frustration of lacking autonomy, sexual and otherwise, in the prime of your young adulthood. Great color and design, and its rhythms swivel expertly between unrestrained fantasy, the freewheeling abandon of nightlife, and banal domesticity.
Apparently an opening sequence for a presumably fictional TV show seemingly predicated on the “adorable badass” anime trope. It’s hard to tell if this is more on the homage, parody, or pitch side of things, but its creator sure seems to enjoy materializing overwrought mecha suits.
It seems like this is trying to be a sort of primer on the furry fandom for those of us who aren’t terminally online, and if so, it is far too opaque for the task.
A boy and his dog are overjoyed to trade outfits with a turtle. Delightfully absurdist with a perfect final frame.
Nice enough eye candy swooping through various naturally occurring and human-made things and the microbes that populate them, but I’m not sure how effective it is as promotional material, since I have no idea what Silent Labs is, and a subsequent web search couldn’t tell me either.
A young woman atones in advance of Yom Kippur by revisiting her youthful indiscretions amid all the cultural baggage of Jerusalem. Feels like an authentic snapshot of a certain segment of a certain generation, one that’s inescapably unsteady.
A couple days later, I don’t really remember that much about this, except that it made Quay-esque use of dolls and I liked it.
Somewhat reminiscent of the wonderful A Town Called Panic, this surreal stop-motion treat is, oddly enough, one of the more lucid films to come out of Estonia.
Short Film Competition 2
The Beatles may be the single most well-worn pop-cultural entity of all time, so I’m not sure why they still need new music videos nearly 60 years after the fact, but this is nevertheless beautifully put together, using what I presume to be the clay painting technique pioneered by Joan Gratz.
A woman watches helplessly as her family turns into animals and abandons her. A pretty straight-ahead allegory for empty nest syndrome, and a bit maudlin for my taste, but distinct and sufficiently affecting.
Another perfectly acceptable entry in the “I am interviewing my elderly parents while they’re still here” genre, this time through the lens of how our feet can be every bit the unique personal identifier as our fingerprints.
Birds, drones, terrorism, war; this guy has a lot on his mind, and he’s good at crafting an uneasy vibe, but its various parts never really cohere.
A woman recuperating at a resort struggles with the emotional after effects of her miscarriage. Incredible stop-motion technique with three-dimensional fabricated sets and two-dimensional characters animated on painted cut glass.
This one has enough of the trappings of narrative that it kind of forces you to try to parse the unparseable, which is a bit frustrating, but its animation of richly toned graphite drawings is unquestionably impressive.
So a plumber walks into a bondage club… A pretty great juxtaposition of naive cartoon style with gleefully transgressive content and a satisfying ending where everyone wins. Also really great to see something that’s not just monochromatic, but binary black and white, executed flawlessly.
A cheerful ode to the pickpockets, performers, people moving furniture, and all the other crazy characters that make up the melting pot that is the subway. A real charmer for believers in public transportation and the adventures and misadventures that come with it.
Short Film Competition 3
The rare portrait of parenthood as ceaseless dread, the impossible task of ensuring the survival of the seemingly suicidal little beings that are small children. Appropriately chaotic and textural, but it can’t help but get sentimental at the end.
Ride on Joyfulness “The Afternoon Tea”
Some horses drank tea and I forgot pretty much everything else about it immediately.
Crude charcoal lines and a nonverbal soundtrack manage to speak volumes about domestic violence, its prevalance, and the emotional and practical tethers that make it hard to leave.
I can take or leave the song (kind of a budget Björk), and while its visual vocabulary would sound great if you described it to me, the way it comes together doesn’t quite speak to me.
Accurately described as a “visceral and discombobulating depiction of a classroom crush,” this seems to get at that moment in childhood when you start to realize just how much you don’t understand about the world, and the all-encompassing uncertainty is overwhelming. I appreciate its unsettled atmosphere, but it definitely feels like student work.
Werner Herzog’s opinion of chickens, summarized thusly: They’re stupid and they’re easy to hypnotize, and he knows this from experience. One of those great, simple ideas: Minimally illustrate a ridiculous interview snippet from someone famously idiosyncratic, and let their words do the rest.
Loosely arranged and largely unparseable visual chaos consisting of composited scratchboard sequences with cacophonous sound design to match. Hard to hold onto but undeniably compelling.
The primal scream of a woman who must endure men. It goes a little too far off the rails for me, but I do love its synthesis of spontaneous line, color, and texture.
If Barbie were shorter, far more daring and unflinching, and not a toy commercial, it might have looked something like this. Something about Electra’s very personal story feels both too specific and not specific enough, but I can confidently say I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
Short Film Competition 5
A brother and sister’s growing pains are complicated by grief over their mother’s death. Evocative pubescent body horror and some very inventive (if a bit self-conscious) transitions between scenes that reorient shapes and colors in the frame in fluid and unexpected ways.
A hypnotic moving collage of old family photos. I appreciate its meditation on these images and the variety of visuals involved, but it felt a little too aimless for me.
This one is kind of all over the place, which is appropriate for its confused adolescent perspective, as a teen girl grapples with growing up in a provincial village being dragged into the modern era. Its monochromatic, starkly impressionistic ink wash backgrounds and scratchy character animation are as cold as the title suggests, but an appropriate amount of human warmth still comes through.
A phantasmagorical speed run through the wonders and horrors of romantic love, from mutually transcendent adoration to toxic dependency and entitlement, taking literally the concept of “you complete me.” The look and feel of this wasn’t really for me, but I couldn’t help but admire its go-for-broke gonzo flair.
Absurdist stop-motion featuring parliament employees antagonizing each other in various ways as a comet hurtles towards earth. I wouldn’t have minded something a little more resolved, and pretty much one second longer would have been too long, but it’s not without its darkly comic charms.
Inspired by Henri Michaux’s book of poetry and drawings of the same name, I was initially put off by how disorienting Miserable Miracle is, with English narration over animated French writing, before I realized that was precisely the point. The way the images visualize the words is occasionally too on-the-nose, but overall it creates a rich atmosphere of ideas that defy a single mode of expression.
Wrapping up the festival with a guaranteed crowd pleaser, Living the Dream is a pitch black, if-you-don’t-laugh-you’ll-cry ode to life on the wrong side of capitalism. Given his talent and consistency, it’s not hard to see Ben Meinhardt establishing a cult following similar to that of Don Hertzfeldt (and look at that, they both have names ending in “dt”).
Feature Film Competition
A gentle teen soul tries in vain to enjoy his summer as he endures merciless bullying and a plethora of other mundane adolescent indignities. A competent portrait of a sympathetic character with enough quirk to sustain it, but its aesthetic doesn’t much appeal to me, and ultimately its unhurried pace and overly familiar coming-of-age beats are liabilities. (My guy, when the girl of your dreams accepts your pool party invitation, of course she’s gonna bring her boyfriend.)
To some extent, White Plastic Sky is more interested in the nuts and bolts of its post-apocalyptic scenario—a resigned, utilitarian version on “Soylent Green is people!”—than it is in developing characters. We never really learn anything about the couple at the center of it beyond the salient points most relevant to the plot, and I guess that’s the trouble I have with a lot of sci-fi and fantasy: A fair amount of world-building is necessary for the audience to get its bearings, which may serve a larger theme but doesn’t always leave much room for a nuanced narrative. That said, Zsófia Szamosi’s portrayal of the grieving Nora projects nearly enough gravitas to make up for it, even if she is mostly a ghost. Of course, White Plastic Sky’s most prominent feature is its visuals, and while the seams occasionally show, its overall fusion of 3D-modeled environments and rotoscoped characters is consistently engrossing, with a palette that’s both expansive and cohesive.
Bailed after 30 minutes. Not for me.
This documentary doesn’t have much of a narrative arc, but its portrait of a community of visionary independent animators in Portland—Jim Blashfield, Rose Bond, Joan Gratz, Zak Margolis, Joanna Priestley, and Chel White—is an effective adrenaline shot for anyone on their creative wavelength. What might have been a staid feature-length showreel is elevated by the filmmakers’ frequently eloquent discussion of their work, and it’s a good reminder that animation is a vastly broader and richer medium than its mass-market offerings suggest.