Thursday, October 1, 2015

Animated Thoughts: Festival Season part one: OIAF 2015

It was September and time for my yearly trek to the Ottawa International Animation Festival. Received a nice farewell gift from the parents/bosses: they told me to take off a day early and spend the night in Toronto instead of driving straight thru to Ottawa on Wednesday. Having done both in the past, I can honestly say that decompressing for a day in Toronto with all the museums, shops, and food really makes a difference.

Tuesday was a mixed bag. Lots of good stuff happened, only a couple annoyances. On the way to Toronto, I gave in to my addiction and stopped at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory (second best Conservatory in the Great Lakes--Niagara is the best). Had a great time, even though I got a little turned around on the way there. My timing was pretty good as I got to see some butterflies that I'd never seen at the Conservatory before--and made a couple six-legged friends while I was there.

Lunch at Marche in Downtown Toronto was great as always, but parking downtown was way too expensive, to the tune of $31.50 CDN for an hour and twenty-five minutes! Will have to explore some other avenues if I'm going to do that again--like either find a cheaper place to park and take the subway downtown or find enough to do in that area that makes the price of parking worth it. Think I'll start by calling the bed and breakfast next year and ask them if I can pay a little extra to park there before check-in time. I'd like to say that the crepes are worth it... well... they kinda are, but still, the need to be frugal always weighs on me.
Strawberry crepe at Marche
I'm not much of a foodie, per se, but Marche was someplace that my parents took me and my sister back in the '70's when we'd vacation in Toronto. With Ginsberg and Wong closing up in 1998, places like Marche are in short supply. I still have an old menu from Ginsberg and Wong with all the corny jokes: like the 'Hot Cha Cha Chicken' or 'Dial the Wong number'. What I wouldn't give to have a cookbook with all those Chinese/Jewish-fusion recipes. The corned beef sandwich with shoestring fries was always a delight.

After checking in at the bed and breakfast, it was time to hunt down some books on my list and roam the city. Enjoyed sightseeing and talking to people--met this cool gothic lolita chick at a store in Kensington Market--but it was way too hot out. Was drenched in sweat and chafing when I got back to the hotel. Picked up a pair of cheap hand fans at a shop in Chinatown. Not sure how much they'll help, but better than nothing. Mom & Dad recommended a restaurant that they'd been to earlier in the year. Saw it on "Diner's, Dives, and Drive-thru's" I think. But, I was just too tired to visit the diner. Most times I don't mind being alone and doing things by myself, but some restaurants can get really pissy when you take up a table by yourself. I didn't feel up to risking it, especially in a more upscale place. So, I skipped dinner. Seemed the best course of action was to get some rest as I had slept poorly the night before. Figured I'd hit the 'reset' button and start over fresh in the morning.

Wednesday was another mixed bag. Again, lots of ups and downs--mostly dealing with people (some disinterested, some flat out rude). But, I made it to Ottawa safely and as a bonus, right before rush hour traffic since I skipped my yearly visit to the Toronto Zoo (eh, I'd been to the Butterfly Conservatory the other day).

The Arts Court
Dinner was nice and the people were friendly. I immediately started gathering swag for David and Brianne. Made a mental note to see what the Montreal Stop-Motion Film Festival had in the way of swag before mailing them their yearly 'Canadian festival package'. I'm so proud of them and the work they're doing out in California, but am still holding out hope that I'll see them back in Ottawa some day.

While I do miss some aspects of the old Festival Reader format
(like the interviews), I love the look and feel of the new 'magazine'.

The opening night screening had some really decent films -- especially Paul Bush's "The Five Minute Museum" and Sylvan Chomet's commissioned piece: "Stromai 'Carmen'".

The opening night party was okay. Loud, but okay. On the bright side, it was really nice to catch up with the TAIS crew and Dayna Gonzalez. Am still sweating bullets though. No denying it. Bryce Hallett is right, as usual. Time to get in shape before I come back! Needs to be my goal for next year's OIAF.

Thursday's Estonian filmmaker program was entertaining. The films had a quirky feel to them that really appeals to my sensibilities. I think I'm starting to get what Ted Pratt said all those years ago back at OIAF '96 about the "Klasky-Csupo/Eastern European" feel to visual storytelling. Funny how our tastes change over the years. Now I actually enjoy a lot of the abstract and Eastern European animations whereas I couldn't stand them back then.

Met some nice young ladies at lunch today--students from Massachusetts. Funny, I'm here in Canada and keep stumbling across Americans. Got their cards, gave them my Women of Animated Films card. Hopefully they'll find the interviews inspiring.

The afternoon competition screening was nice. Films didn't thrill me too much--though there were a couple of gems there. No, it was Lynn Wilton tracking me down and sitting with me during the program and talking afterwards. And Gary Schwartz and Brooke Keesling saying 'hi' to me. Feels really nice to reach that point where I can go to the Festival events and almost always see someone I know.

The evening screenings were... somewhat entertaining. I actually liked the earlier "traditional techniques" screening better. Was nice to see R.I.T. get a little recognition with the inclusion of Tom Gasek's film. Am debating the merits of seeing if there's enough interest among us grads (and current students) to organize a little get-together next year--as if I'm not doing enough already! Had another enjoyable time chatting with Bryce and Dayna while we waited for the screening to start.

By far, the high point of the evening competition screening was visiting with Glenn Ehlers beforehand. Sadly though, the competition films were underwhelming. In 20 years of coming to the OIAF, this was the first screening when I didn't see a single film that I wanted to vote for the public prize. Was pretty crestfallen, so I skipped the Salon des Refuse and opted for watching anime while eating a shawarma in my hotel room. There's usually some real gems in the 'Salon', but I just wasn't feeling it.

There's too much text in this post,
so here's another butterfly pic to break up the monotony...

Friday morning's screening was much better. Some really good technique and solid storytelling skills. Got another chance to hang out with Glenn at the picnic--always a high-point of the week for me. Said 'hi' to Chris at the picnic. He looks as frazzled as always. So much to do behind the scenes. I bet he, Kelly, and staff pass out for a week after the fest is over. Saw NFB Director and Academy Award winner Torill Kove. But, she was too fast for me to stop and introduce myself... and hopefully get an interview commitment from her. You'd think that with all the time I spend following around butterflies with a camera, trying to get that perfect shot, I'd be a little faster on the draw, but no...

After the picnic, I made it back to the hotel--just in time to change clothes and towel off... again! I really miss the cold wave we got during the winter of 2012 when it turned Lake Ontario into this big heat sink that kept Toronto and Ottawa nice and temperate during 2013--though I'm willing to bet the entire province of Ontario would be willing to argue the point with me. So, I walked to the National Gallery and made it in plenty of time to find a good seat and get comfortable. The show started... and it wasn't the Michele Cournoyer films! Turns out the website and festival app were wrong and got the location mixed up! So I grudgingly trudged all the way to the Bytowne, all the while wishing that I'd brought more clean shirts than I had--or made better life choices regarding exercise--and caught the last three-quarters of her retrospective. After that, it was back to the hotel for another change of clothes. Despite the unplanned detour, I went to the Ted-Ed session anyways. Met Dayna in line so sat with her. Apparently, Dayna knew Biljana Labovic and the Ted-Ed folks. Was nice to hear little tidbits of insider info to accentuate the interesting presentation that they gave. I'm blown away by the quality of the productions that they can create in such a short amount of time with so few people. Always the portrait of class, Dayna didn't make fun of the little hand fan that I was using in a vain attempt to keep cool despite all the walking I'd done.

Then it was off to the Michele Cournoyer Pimpcast. It was quite refreshing to discover that my thoughts and interpretations about what she was trying to say in a couple of her films were correct--well about "Hat" at least. On the way out, I thought I saw Torill Kove again. Wondered if I was going to have another 'Joan Gratz' moment later on in the festival.

This year's Fest had my scheduling a little tighter than I would have liked. There was just so much that I wanted to do and see. So on a short walk to the Bytowne Theater, I stopped by a Domino's Pizza on the way. Minutes later, I'm standing in line at the Bytowne, finishing dinner while waiting to get into the screening, and I realize that one of the two people I'm standing next to is none other than Steven Woloshen! I wait for a pause in the conversation so I can politely interrupt and say 'hi' when he turns to me, sees my badge and exclaims 'I know you!' A little background info: Steven and I have been FaceBook friends since I promoted one of his excellent direct-on-film productions a year ago and have been chatting back and forth as best you can do on FaceBook. Was nice to finally meet him face-to-face and tell him how much I appreciate his work.

The Bytowne Theater - much better with the new seats! :)
Sat with Glenn at the competition screening and we continued our conversation from the picnic. Saw Brooke afterwards--actually saw her and Gary before the Ted Ed screening earlier today at the Novotel and had fond flashbacks to last year when Brooke, Gary, Steve Stanchfield and I talked shop at the Novotel's bar over bottles of ginger-ale. Funny thing happened during the evening screening regarding the 'Ted Ed' talk though: I'm sitting there and the four Ted Ed Presenters shuffle in and sit next to me. Then one of them turns to me and starts calling me 'Walter'. Apparently there is an F/X animator in New York that looks just like me. Once identities were straightened out, we all found it amusing as both they and I know Dayna so we got to play our own version of 'six degrees of ASIFA'.

Saturday morning was nice. Since I got some sleep the night before, I made it to the recruiter confidential at St. Brigid's for a refresher course. With all the kids I bump into who want to be animators, it's always good to know what the studio recruiters are looking for. Ended up staying through the Pixar presentation. Thought I saw Torill Kove again, but had to run to the International Showcase over at the Bytowne. The International Showcase was solid. As usual, I liked it better than a lot of the competition films. "Zepo" the sand animation created by Cesar Diaz Melendez was stunning! I don't think it's available online yet, but he has posted a trailer/making of video on YouTube.

A brisk walk over to the Arts Court--and a nice conversation with fellow TAIS member Lynne Slater later--I sat through the Bruce Bickford... presentation? Ninety minutes of near silence--just the occasional cough and shuffling of feet! Bruce said what he was going to do: show how he makes his clay films. And that's exactly what he did. It "was" interesting to watch him work--even though he didn't speak... like... at all. Crowd was pretty good though, only a couple people left and some of them came back after using the bathroom (I assume).

The moment of serendipity that I was waiting for all weekend occurred when I walked out of the Arts Court Theater and walked right into the path of Torill Kove! We were both pressed for time so the conversation didn't last long, but she was okay with being interviewed for my Women of Animated Film blog. Can't wait to review her films in preparation for that interview.

Scratch, Crackle & Pop!
THE book on direct-on-film animation

Afterwards I got my copy of 'Scratch, Crackle & Pop!' signed by Steven Woloshen. Made sure to drop a promo photo on the OIAF Facebook group, hoping that they'll sell out of his books while he's here. :) This was one of the books that I wish was available when I was in Grad School at R.I.T.* It's been through following Steven's work over the years, and making a couple direct-on-film animations myself, that I've gained a greater appreciation for a form of animation that I think many miss out on, especially the younger students who aren't exposed to as many traditional animation techniques.

The International Student showcase at the Arts Court Theater was just as enjoyable as the International Showcase. Need to track down some of these films when I get back home--especially 'Waiting for the Boom'  and 'the Moustache'.

"Waiting for the Boom" Trailer from Sheila M. Sofian on Vimeo.

The Moustache -trailer from Anni Oja on Vimeo.

Afterwards, I trudged over to the National Gallery -- doing my best to avoid the silliness that is the Nuit Blanche. Weather is finally gorgeous: cool and windy. First time during the trip I'm actually comfortable.

The Bruce Bickford screening was... um... yeah! He described it as "clayhem". I agree completely. It was one big morphing battle sequence after another sprinkled with nude clay women. There seemed to be a meta-story/plot, but I think that only Bruce knew what it was. It was like when you were a kid, playing with your toys, and making these elaborate, emotional stories in your head, but you were the only person who understood what was going on and the relationships between the characters.

On an unrelated note, it was Saturday night and I finally felt like I was ready to go home.

Sunday morning. The weather is still gorgeous. Nice and chilly, yet the sun is out. Perfect weather for walking to the National Gallery for the Canadian animation and Canadian Student retrospectives. Like last year, I'm waylaid by a marathon... friggin' masochists! I'm looking for a gap where I can put a helpful cop's advice to good use and make a mad dash to the other side of the intersection when Bryce appears behind me. We commiserate over the mutual position we've found ourselves in and joke about a 'Smudge Animation-sponsored' foot bridge over the intersection for next year's festival. A young pink-haired girl ducks across the road and we sprint alongside her, thinking that any runners will hit her first... not my most chivalrous moment. But the three of us made it across unscathed and Bryce & I were shortly in the National Gallery where Steven Woloshen was waiting to go into the theater. A quick chat later and I found a seat. Within minutes, I'm joined by Dayna & Bryce and the show begins. One satisfying screening later, I end up watching the Canadian Student retrospective with Bryce, Dayna and Lynn. I'm amazed at the level of quality and professionalism in these films. THIS is what I remember from my first Ottawa Festival, waaaay back in '94.

The two Canadian screenings were the best I saw throughout the festival. the films were "that" strong. Becoming a trend where I like the International and Canadian screenings better than the films in competition. Eh, that's the best thing about what the festival is becoming, there's something for everyone.

On the way out of the theater, I bumped into Morgan from Pratt. She's a junior now. One more year and she'll be launching into the workforce. Hope she's hooked up with ASIFA East. Should make the transition easier.

After Bryce, Lynn, Dayna and I said our goodbyes, we all scattered to the winds. I walked through the market decided to skip the Hotel Transylvania 2 screening. It's such a lovely day and I can see it back in the States anyways.

I continued through the market, visiting some old haunts from when my brother would attend the fest with me. Bought a juice. Saw the tea shop. The Keg wasn't open yet, so decided to forgo my yearly steak dinner and had a late lunch at the Highlander Pub (another old haunt). Gotta love a restaurant where they serve cottage pie and the dress code requires everyone to wear kilts!

After lunch, it was time for another tradition: my eating a Beavertail at the market. I'll feel bloated for the rest of the night, but who cares, a. I'm on holiday (kinda) and b. I've been walking all friggin' week! Have walked more this week than in the past few months... combined! Feels good in a sweaty, sore, chafing sort of way. Just a little while longer and I'll be on my way home--and then back this way to Montreal...

The great Canadian "Beavertail"... for my fellow 'Mericans, it's basically
an 'elephant ear' just smaller and with maple syrup.

The Karl Zelman documentary was pretty cool. Was surprised to see how influential he was on Terry Gilliam's work--and the similarities with Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. Also seemed to influence some of the practical effects on the Ten Commandments. Bumped into Bryce on the way out. had a nice conversation with him on the way to the Best of the Fest screening--he also made a detour to get a beaver tail before flying back to Toronto.

The Best of the Fest screening was good. I hope that the version we get to screen at the ASIFA Central Retreat will include Hertzfeld's "World of Tomorrow". For those who want to see it, follow this link to Vimeo. You can rent it for 30 days for just $4.00. It's well worth sixteen minutes of your life. :)

Driving back home tomorrow. No big epiphanies. Probably will get them on the ten hour drive back home. After the screening, I found myself in my hotel room, watching Rick and Morty on the internet while eating another shawarma. The only thought going through my head was: 'I love being an animator'

After laughing my way through the episode of Rick and Morty, I chose to break with my normal routine of being a hermit and walked across the street to the end of the festival party--just in time to say goodbye to Brooke, Gary, and Pilar! What a wonderful end to the festival.

Monday morning, I received probably the nicest "farewell" I could have from the OIAF. I was checking out of the Novotel and saw Chris Robinson standing there. Got to say 'goodbye' and 'thank you for an excellent festival'. Can't wait until next year. 2016 is the 40th anniversary of the Ottawa International Animation Festival... and my 18th OIAF. It's gonna be big!

* the other is Corrie Francis Parks' upcoming book: Fluid Frames: Experimental Animation with Sand, Clay, Paint, and Pixels.