Amid’s Notes from Ottawa 2006

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The 2006 edition of the Ottawa International Animation Festival marked my fourth straight year that I’ve attended the festival. Instead of writing about which films I liked, which I’ll be doing plenty of over the coming weeks, I thought I’d address a more fundamental issue: why do I go to festivals like Ottawa in the first place?

The short answer is that, for people who work in the industry, festivals are some of the best places to broaden your horizons about the state of the art. Living in an industry town like LA, there’s a tendency towards artistic stagnation and developing an inbred mentality about what constitutes quality animation. Attending a festival, especially one with high standards like Ottawa, is a refreshing slap in the face, a wake-up call to the wild potential inherent in this medium.

In my opinion, Ottawa, of all the festivals I’ve been too, has the strongest competition programs. This is certainly not a view shared by all. Mark Mayerson recently commented on his blog that he found the competition programs to be “a major disappointment” this year. But in my book, the Ottawa film selections are the highlight of each festival. Ottawa’s artistic director Chris Robinson is the perfect tour guide to the dauntingly complex world of indie animation, and he and his staff do an amazing job of pulling together exciting uncompromising screenings. They manage to program an interesting mix of mainstream favorites like Guilherme Marcondes TYGER, Joel Trussell’s WAR PHOTOGRAPHER and the SNL TV FUNHOUSE cartoon “Journey to the Disney Vault,” along with an eclectic range of experimental, student and narrative shorts. Even when I don’t like some of the films they choose, I can always respect their choices, which is more than can be said for some other major animation festivals.

I certainly didn’t dig every film that screened in Ottawa. One film in particular that frustrated me was Suzan Pitt’s EL DOCTOR. At 23 minutes, it’s not exacly a short film and requires a significant investment of effort to understand. But a couple days after I’d seen the film, I began to wonder, Did I dislike her film because it was a bad film or because of my own personal prejudices about what animation should be?

That, in a nutshell, is what Ottawa does. The competition selections force you out of your comfort zone and ask you to appreciate animation in all its many wonderful forms. After reading Chris Robinson’s article about EL DOCTOR and talking to other people about the film (juicy festival gossip: the shriveled docter in the film is supposedly based on Jules Engel), I’m ready to give Suzan’s film another try. I can’t guarantee I’ll like it anymore the second time around, but my experience with this film is exactly why I enjoy Ottawa so much. It’s a challenging environment that forces one to discard their rigid attitudes about cartoons and confront their preconceived notions about the animated art form. To everybody out there whose idea of short form animation is Disney’s LITTLE MATCHGIRL, give a festival like Ottawa a try sometime. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover a new world of animation that you never knew existed.

Of course, the other reason to attend festivals is to meet friendly inspiring animation folk from around the globe. I saw many old friends and made plenty of new ones. Besides the folks in the photos below, some of the other fine people I had the chance to hang out with were Isaac King, Tom Knott, Tabitha Fisher, Luc Chamberland, Trixy Sweetvittles, Alex Manugian, Warren Leonhardt, Steve Stefanelli, Tamu Townsend, Helder Mendonca, Chris Dainty, Chuck Gammage, Rita Street, Dav-Odd, Bill Robinson, Martine Chartrand, Lee Rubenstein, Jessica Plummer, Marv Newland, Ted Pratt, Irene Kotlarz, Dave Cooper, Esther Jones, Tony Lamberty and Kelly Armstrong. I’m surely leaving out many other people so please forgive my overtaxed memory. Before the photos, here’s a few other Ottawa reports worth checking out:

Ward Jenkins on Drawn! about the films
John Martz on Drawn! about John K. and Bob Clampett
Bill Robinson
Cool Flickr set by Bill Robinson
Continuing coverage on the fps blog
Mark Mayerson
Alan Cook: Part 1, 2, 3
Ken Priebe: Part 1, 2, 3, 4

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Japanese filmmakers Takeshi Nagata & Kazue Monno,
who won an honorable mention for their
experimental short LIGHTNING DOODLE PROJECT [PIKAPIKA]

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Director Michael Sporn who won for Best Short Animation Made for Children
for his film THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS

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Incredible Brazilian animator Guilherme Marcondes (TYGER)

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Ottawa animation royalty: Kristy Gordon and Nick Cross

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Nick Fox-Gieg, director of A GOOD JOKE (and yes, it is a good joke)

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Animation director and ASIFA-East prez David Levy,
who is also author of the excellent book
YOUR CAREER IN ANIMATION: HOW TO SURVIVE AND THRIVE

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CODENAME: KIDS NEXT DOOR creator Mr. Warburton
who won Best TV Animation For Children.

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Me and Sheridan student Alan Cook

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The festival’s technical director André Coutu (left) and artistic director Chris Robinson

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Jose Pou, FPS editor Emru Townsend and Pilar Newton

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Filmmaker and professor Brooke Keesling and Laika director Mike Wellins

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Brazilians in Ottawa: I suck because I only recognize
Anima Mundi festival co-director Lea Zagury (third from right)
and Guilherme Marcondes (far right). Please send idents.

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Guru Studios founder Frank Falcone, festival conference director Maral Mohammadian,
festival sponsorship director Azarin Sohrabkhani and me

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JibJab co-founder Evan Spiridellis inspired the crowd
with his talk about “The Rise of the Independent Creator”

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Mike Kerr (voice of Chunk in RIPPING FRIENDS), Nick Cross and Rex Hackelberg

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Drawn founder John Martz (left) and Primal Screen director Ward Jenkins review my new book

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Filmmaker Anabel Rodriguez and me

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Concept Design & Art Direction panel
with me (left), JJ Sedelmaier (center) and Eric Tiemens

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Toby, Gary Baseman and Ward Jenkins