The Ottawa International Animation Festival, North America’s largest and most significant animation event, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

In honor of that occasion, the festival has commissioned a number of international animation historians, programmers and critics to write essays about each of its grand prize-winning films. In partnership with the festival, Cartoon Brew will present one essay per week leading up to the festival on September 21-25, 2016. We’ve already presented essays on The Man Who Planted Trees, Hen, His Wife, and Two Sisters,. We continue the series today with 1998 winner, The Night of the Carrots directed by Priit Pärn.

To learn how to attend Ottawa this month, visit animationfestival.ca.

Ottawa 98 Winner: The Night of the Carrots
Essay by Chris Robinson: “Do The Collapse”

I love blackouts. There was a pretty sizeable one back in Ottawa (and other parts of Canada and the Eastern U.S.) in August 2003.

No internet. No TV. Minimal radio. No video games. Kids played freely in the streets. Neighbors sat out front on their lawn chairs and spoke, drank, and ate with each other. Life slowed down, became quieter.

It helped that it was summer, but even when we were hit with an ice storm that crippled power during the winter of 1998, there was a certain peace of mind and being that came with it. Life was already noisy back then and it’s grown even louder now, “louder than bombs” as the Manchester wit said. I crave more blackouts and suspect that given our drunklike thirst for energy, we’ll start enduring more sooner rather than later.

Sure…we could choose to have our own blackouts but let’s face it we’re weak…we’re all plugged in, attached to devices, junkies, the lot of us. Facebook, when I’m calm, detached, and objective, offers my life very little yet I check in constantly…almost mechanically…just to see if someone liked something I said…if even that…I’m not even sure just why I check in…maybe it’s just to avoid real connection…it really has just become a bad habit…like fondling your balls (granted, if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have caught my ball cancer early, so that’s not the best example)…every so often I want to cancel my account yet always find myself sticking with it…this fear maybe that I might miss something or be forgotten. Silly, cause we’ll all be forgotten one day.

I just paused to check Facebook.

And of course we’re missing nothing. Sure it brings us in contact with international friends or family members living in other cities and countries…but it’s pretty scant contact…and hell…these days long distance calls can easily be made for free…yet go and get off Facebook and see how quiet it gets…it’s like you’ve gone into exile…you realize that no one emails or calls these days…but I’ve seen my productivity decrease since the rise of the internet and specifically FB. I wrote a pile of books between 2003-2010. Nothing since. Sure…part of that is because of changes in my personal life, but some of it is due to procrastinating online.

Remember when we used to read magazines on the toilet?

All the while time is tick tick ticking away. Life is getting shorter. I’m approaching 50 and wondering where the fuck some of my life has gone. Okay…I’m being a tad overdramatic cause I’m a bit burnt out and it’s hot outside, and I think too much, usually about myself. Truthfully…I travel a lot and do a chunk of outdoor activities but take this FB stuff away and I bet life tastes even better…FB is like a fucking TV dinner of life: instant, tasteless gratification that fleetingly fulfills your appetite only to leave it feeling empty or nauseous soon after. Life…or reality…or direct contact…well that’s like a carefully, lovingly prepared multi-course meal.

The Night of the Carrots.

Which brings me at long last to Priit Pärn’s hilarious dose of absurdity, The Night of the Carrots, which was made right around the time of the Y2K panic. The Y2K stuff started because computer programmers identified years using only the last two numbers. This meant that when the clock hit midnight to ring in 2000, computers would be so confused (possibly thinking we’d all taken a ride in the Tardis back to 1900—which, would have been pretty cool…depending on which Doctor you were saddled with) that they’d shut down, taking the world with it. Planes would fall from the sky; financial systems would collapse; dogs barking, babies screaming, men crying, windows breaking. Full on apocalypse.

Sadly, none of that happened – though apparently some slot machines stopped working in Delaware.

Now where were we?

Ah, yes, The Night of the Carrots.

The Night of the Carrots.

You can read the film in many ways. Perhaps it’s a commentary on the facile essence of the cult of celebrity (Diego Maradona, Michael Jackson, Mikhail Gorbachev, Helmut Kohl, and Steffi Graf are among those referenced in the film) or is it a cautionary tale about the false allure of free market economies and the European Union (echoing Pärn’s earlier classic, Hotel E, which, made as the Soviet Union was crumbling, suggested that life might be different in capitalist countries but not necessarily better). Estonia had only been independent for a few years and there were many debates about whether the country would be best served by joining the E.U. or not (they finally did, after much debate, in 2004).

All these interpretations—and there must be others—are valid, but I always see The Night of the Carrots as a likeminded spirit aching for the self-destruction of computers and with it the internet and all the other damn things we have hooked up to us like a fucking IV bag.

At the core of The Night of the Carrots is a sanitarium-like place called “PGI.” Crowds of people are aching for their chance to get in. It’s not entirely clear just why they want in though. The narrator suggests that, “being contenders was their real aim because once they were in they would have nothing to do.”

In each of PGI’s rooms we meet a variety of bizarre characters (including Michael the Zebra, a thin, fragile white creature—hence nothing like a zebra—clearly modelled on Michael Jackson who dreams of marrying a hefty lass) who want only to escape. The occupants each have a personal dream that, they soon discover, they cannot realize because they are literally plugged into their rooms.

There is hope though.

During a random night once a year all the rabbits (who control the world through computers) inexplicably turn into carrots and liberate the occupants of PGI.

The Night of the Carrots.

Certainly, when read in the context of the Y2K panic, The Night of the Carrots seems to celebrate the possibility of temporary liberation from computer systems. Yet, there is much more here. Pärn also voices a prescient commentary on the dangers of allowing technology, internet, and social media to saturate our existence. While they lure you in with the promise of instant, virtual interaction and experiences, they ultimately leave you lonely, longing, and disconnected…

…or something like that.

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