Monday, October 25, 2010

Notes from the Ottawa International Animation Festival 2010

Last week, I made my bi-yearly trip to the Ottawa International Animation Festival. Compared to OIAF 2008, this fest wasn't exactly what I'd hoped for, but it certainly had its moments. Here are some of the highlights: 

Going to Ottawa. Plan is to leave at 7 a.m. Have to wait for my brother. We don't leave Michigan until noon. Made it to Toronto by 7 p.m. Walked to dinner. Walked back to hotel. Got an e-mail from Skip Battaglia. Planning to meet up with him at the festival. Trip is off to a shaky start, but I'm okay with it. Turns out Mom needed to borrow my car while I was out of town. Since Ted was late picking me up, I was still in town to help out Mom.

Bummed around Kensington Market before the final leg of the trip to Ottawa. Found a good book on the history of Canadian Animation in a used book store. Strangely apropos given where I am going and what I'm going to be doing when I get there. My brother and his girlfriend have been bitching at each other non-stop since we left Michigan. Think I might make the trip to OIAF 2012 by myself. Arrived in Ottawa at 10 p.m. I think staying at the Novotel Ottawa was a good choice as it's right across the street from the Arts Court Center. Going to seriously cut down on the walking. Will be nice to not be sweaty from walking all over Ottawa when I get to the screenings and workshops! The plan is to pick up my pass in the morning, spend the afternoon touring old hangouts in Ottawa, then watch 'the Illusionist' and a competition screening in the evening. Ottawa Fest, day 1 begins!

On my way to breakfast, I watched a bunch of kids get into a mob fight over by the Rideau center before it was broken up by cabbies and onlookers. Can't shake the bad vibe that I'm getting off of this city. Met Jerry Beck on the way back to the hotel and Mark Simon at the evening screening. Got the chance to quickly tell them 'thank you' for the positive influence they have had on my career. Bumped into Gary Swartz and then had three nice students chat me up on a street corner. Turns out David, Angela and Brianne are Dave Baker's students and recognized me as I walked by. Really nice kids. Very polite. Was sorry to hear from them that there's not going to be any Kalamazoo Animation Festival International next year. Might be interesting to put something together in East Lansing if I can find some funding. Made a mental note to talk to Dave about the Cartoon Challenge when I get back into town. With Ted owning his own screen-printing business, it would be nice to help out with t-shirts for the students who show up for the competition.

So far, two lackluster screenings and two great screenings. Saw Skip Battaglia last night and met Candy Kugel. Had one fantastic conversation with former classmate Glenn Ehlers. After talking to him, I'm feeling a little better about my plan to get CTT+ certified and do some teaching. Maybe I can even get the 'Get Animated at ELRA' program off the ground. On the way back to the hotel, I bumped into a drunk animation student from Algonquin College. Helped him find his bus and we shop talked all the way. He encouraged me to find a way to enter my forensic animations or historical animations into competition screenings. Odd experience. I thought I was supposed to be helping him, not the other way around.

The festival screenings continue to be hit-or-miss for me. There a lot less that interests me than I had originally expected. The Indie Japanese films have been pretty disappointing. I was expecting something like 'Atama Yama' or 'La Maison en Petits Cubes.'

Overall there's way too much of the pointless artsy-fartsy films in the program. In my sixteen years of going to Ottawa, I have never see so many people walk out of screenings halfway through the programs. Am hearing a lot of grumbling from people. The bad vibe is still going around. The two International animation screenings were pretty good and 'the Illusionist' was amazing. But the first two competitions were roughly 50/50 between good and tedious. However, my mood about the festival has shifted to the positive ever so slightly. Though I wish my brother and his girlfriend would stop the bickering. It's getting really old, really fast!

When I look at the people I've met so far, I can really see the hand of God guiding me on this trip and hearing Him quietly telling me to stay positive and soldier on. The one major thing I have gotten from this trip is that I should not let my current level of drawing skills hold me back. Yes, without question, work to improve them and work hard on improving them. But the number of films I've seen that look like they were made with skills at a level comparable to (or less than) mine is enormous. I think that the real difference is that they're doing it, whereas I am not. Am left wondering if I'm using all my billable freelance work as an excuse to not produce my own short films (and open up myself to to the eventual criticism that comes when you put yourself out there).

I feel like I'm suffering from a credibility crisis. Even though I've got some great work under my belt, I still feel strangely inadequate. Maybe it's just that I don't have work that I can show in festivals? Funny how I help out a drunk student who won a festival competition and he's encouraging me to submit my work. Hope Ben got home okay. Seemed like a nice kid. That whole event felt like one of those "you may not realize it now, but you're going to need to hear this for later on when the doubts creep in" situations.

Feels odd with all these students here. Heard that a college in Massachusetts brought 100 students to this festival! Skip said that there were thirty students from R.I.T. It's good that there's so much interest and that they're here--hopefully learning and networking. Seems bad that it might be harder to bump into people I know. Even worse that there doesn't seem to be enough workshops that would help the kids further their careers.

Tonight's screening was better. Bumped in to Heather Kenyon. Wish I had more time to talk to her, but at least I got that consolation prize after I didn't get to get into Jerry Beck's "Inappropriate for children" screening. The festival's new 'ticket system' is rendering my $200 festival pass worthless. They really need to find a bigger venue for some of these events! Another common complaint I'm hearing from people around the festival.

Am waiting for a screening at the National Art Center and had a creepy guy with this 'helter-skelter' look in his eyes ask me what government agency I worked for. I'm on my guard for the rest of the day as I have visions of stalkers carrying large knives following me around the festival. Still, it was a good day. The International showcase screening was enjoyable. Got some good info from the voice acting workshop. Even got to see the good parts of the Ed Norton version of the Incredible Hulk on television while I sat in my hotel room eating dinner. The best part of today was hooking up with Martine Chartrand, Madi Pillar, Patrick Jenkins and Steven Stanchfield at the Caroline Leaf workshop. I love the shop talk and camaraderie in the NFB/TAIS outfits. That membership and the time spent in Toronto has really paid off. Again, the competition screening was lackluster. Think the competition screenings three and four were the best this year. The most positive part of this trip continues to be the people.

Funny story: it's my last screening here in Ottawa before making the ten-hour drive back to Michigan. I'm standing in line at the Museum of Civilization wondering what the hell were they thinking holding an event THIS far away from the festival proper! But, this is the Disney/Pixar lecture on how they made 'Day & Night' and 'Tic Toc Tale', so it's sure to be a crowd pleaser. There's about twenty-five people in line before me and about fifteen behind me when the first busload of festival-goers arrive. I look up from my iPhone just in time to see Jerry Beck as he cuts in line right in front of me to stand with three of his friends. As he does so, remembering how polite he was to me when I met him on Wednesday morning, I throw him a smirk. He mouths the word 'sorry.' I then get to spend the next thirty minutes eavesdropping on one of the foremost animation historians in the world as he talks about the current state of the animation industry, how changes in technology are influencing animation production and distribution, and what new DVDs are coming out by the end of the year. I'm amused by how he whispered 'sorry' to me as if I was going to be pissed at him for cutting in line. Yeah, like I'm going to narc him out and miss the experience of a semi-private Jerry Beck lecture! Not going to happen folks! :)

As I made the ten-hour drive back to Michigan and reflected on this festival experience, I have to say that it was the people that made the difference for me. Pulling a number out of my hat, I'd say that 95% of the competition films I saw were completely forgettable--so I can't argue with those who have negative opinions of the competition screenings without being a total hypocrite. But the people that I met and talked to, the community that I'm a part of, that was what made this year's Ottawa International Animation Festival an experience worth having. 

I go to Ottawa every other year knowing that Chris Robinson's sense of humor and the festival selections will be hit-or-miss for me. I accept the fact that my tastes are just not part of the mainstream animation festival culture. But I also know that there's always something there that I'll enjoy if I look hard enough. In this case it was the Illusionist, the International Screenings, the workshops I attended, and reinforcing the friendships that I've made with animators at the NFB and TAIS. In the sixteen years I've been attending OIAF, this was the first year I that I really felt like I was a part of the community--not just an attender who occasionally sees someone he knows from college. Perhaps I'm just looking for something different than everyone else, but that sense of community was easily worth the time and money I spent last week.