35th Ottawa International Animation Film Festival (September 21-25, 2011)
Pond of Imagination
by Ramin S. Khanjani

    In its 35th anniversary, Ottawa Animation Film Festival seemed to garner extra attention in comparison to the last year event. Was it related to the magic of numbers or were there other considerations at work? Whatever the reason, this extra attention was apparent from the opening ceremony which unlike last year, was attended by political and municipal delegates, including a member of parliament. Despite fears over the status of art in the wake of the decisive victory of conservatives in the recent Federal election, the festival steadfastly went ahead unaffected thanks to the crucial contribution of various sponsors whose help was emphatically acknowledged during the opening ceremony speeches. It seemed that everybody joined forces to affirm in unison that festival has to sustain irrespective of the bigger surrounding events. I cannot resist borrowing Tom McSorely description of the festival in his speech: “The festival animates the city,” a pun on the twofold presence of movement in animation which also pointed to the significance of this event for the city. The festival advertisement materials seemed to translate this excitement by heralding an invasion of animated creatures! Although unlike the extra-terrestrial aliens, a good number of these exquisite products of freewheeling sensibilities were barely removed from our earthly matters.
  One cannot lose sight of a major change that added fuel to this hustle: the decision to alter the festival calendar and to hold it one month ahead of its customary date, when the capital city is still basking in the pleasant warmth of departing summer. Whatever motivated this change in schedule, at the end of the day, no one seemed to be discontent.
  This year festival was presided over by a guest president: David Verrall who has just retired from NFB as the head of English production unit. In his opening speech, Verrall hailed Chris Robinson, art director of the festival by saying that he possesses all the qualities he ever sought in a colleague. Chris himself delivered his speech with his characteristic deadpan humor and this time had created his joke by carrying pairs of shoes to the stage to offer to the audience. This more or less casual presentation was repeated throughout the whole closing ceremony hosted by two animators. The charm and exuberance they added to the ceremony in order to “animate” the crowd, left me with no doubt that the unrestrained world of color, lines and puppets demands such elated spirits, even if carefully concealed under a façade of solemnity. Having said that, some films shown in the festival, which demonstrated these sensitive souls, were so overwhelmed with the domineering sordid reality that a morbid feeling took the center stage.
  Canadian animation, Paper Man (David Borish) evidently belonged to the light-hearted league. Through a jubilant journey of photographed figure that tears itself free and roams in the room, the young director conjured up the world of slapstick comedies and despite using a different technique (pixilation), his film strikes a chord with the old Out of Inkwell series and its fugitive clown. The Czech animation, Swimming Pool (Alexandra Hetmerova), shared this upbeat tone while its humor emanated from playing around our habitual perception of a whole from the partial and tighter framings of the film and also hinted to the neglect of the mythical creatures by our world of rationalism. Likewise in the Norwegian puppet animation, The Last Norwegian Troll (Piotr Sapegin) a local legendary monster, namely a Troll, which despite the claim of the film, seems to have regained some popularity through the recent fantasy film, The Troll Hunter, wakes up from centuries-long sleep to the modern world where his monstrous apparition is no match even for the tricks of weakling goats that are more adept in using their mind. At the end of the film, the troll decided to break free from his wretched status and join the other sleeping trolls who already transfigured into stones still underpin the overlying rationale world. Not radically innovative, the film features a voice over by legendary Max Von Sydow who, in uttering the words of the archaic monster, ironically refers us to his position as one of the living - and still active - actors from the time of colossal auteurs. Both the Czech and Norwegian films received honorable mentions in best graduation animation and best narrative short films respectively.

... To Be Continued

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