Les Sommets poster. Les Sommets poster.

Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation, Montreal’s increasingly dynamic festival, has unveiled its full program ahead of its 18th edition, starting next Tuesday.

Situated in the heart of Quebec’s largest city, one of North America’s animation hubs, Les Sommets naturally lays an emphasis on the region’s scene (see below). But it also hosts a competition of international shorts, which will grow from three to four programs this year.

Marco de Blois, the festival’s artistic director, tells Cartoon Brew that this year sees excellent entries from Turkey, Ukraine, and Colombia — countries with relatively young animation industries. “I noticed strong experimental works and a few films dealing with gender and LGBTQ+ issues,” he adds. “Our world is frightening and the films tend to reflect that with dramatic tones. The difficulty for me is the lack of comedies, which are necessary to construct a well-balanced program.”

While comedy may be lacking from the competition, a sense of playfulness permeates many of the festival’s events. Theodore Ushev, whose latest film The Physics of Sorrow was produced by the National Film Board of Canada (in Montreal), will give a four-hour masterclass complete with dance, VJing, audience participation, and a live demonstration of his encaustic painting technique.

Elsewhere, actors will reenact scenes from cult Canadian web series Mouvement Deluxe in a live performance, and the festival’s competition of micro-shorts will return, hosted by drag queen Bobépine. These events continue the festival’s tradition of exuberant multimedia programming.

As de Blois notes, “I think that animation has a lot to do with dance and theater because they all deal with movement, rhythm, and they are all an art of artifice and illusion. Their first goal is not to reflect reality. And I love live events, happenings, and performances … Let’s not forget that in the U.S., animation was born in vaudeville theaters (Winsor McCay’s Gertie performance is an example).”

Les Sommets also features a range of more conventional events, many of which focus on Québéc’s thriving animation sector. There will be two panoramas (one for students) dedicated to Québécois productions, and filmmaker Alexandre Roy will deliver a lecture on the history of commissioned animation in the province. As in previous years, the festival will host a networking session; this year’s is dedicated to “the talents of tomorrow,” with a focus on schools and educational facilities.

I ask de Blois whether he notices any trends in Québec’s animation. “The Physics of Sorrow makes me realize [that there is] a taste for the larger-than-life experience and the spectacular (in the best sense of the word),” he replies. “Otherwise we have amazing industries: our opening film [The Prince’s Voyage] was made partly at Blue Spirit Canada and Mouvement Deluxe, with its dark humor and absurd jokes, is a great example of great craftmanship and low-key technology. Finally, I have to mention that more and more good films are coming out from Concordia University.”

Other program highlights include a masterclass by award-winning animator Dahee Jeong, a workshop by celebrated experimental filmmaker Steven Woloshen, a roundtable discussion about long-running relationships between producers and directors, and a brand-new pitching contest for short films, for which Cartoon Brew will present a C$1,000 prize to the winner. Finally, there are out-of-competition screenings of features and shorts, including regional premieres.

Les Sommets is held under the auspices of the Cinémathèque québécoise (where de Blois works as animation programmer). The Cinémathèque runs a residency scheme for up-and-coming animators, and the six current participants will unveil their projects at the festival. For more information about Les Sommets, including the full program, head to its official website.

Les Sommets poster

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