Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Animated Thoughts: Festival Season part four: OIAF 2016

The Arts Court
Well, it's Fall and that means three things for me: the leaves are starting to change color, Potter Park Zoo has taken the bunny out of the 'petting zoo' display for the season, and it's time for me to travel to Ottawa for the annual Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Got off to a relaxed start today. Weather is gorgeous. Breezed through the Canadian border (thank you Nexus pass). Exchange rate is superb. And the weather is gorgeous! Spent the drive to Toronto listening to the audiobook adaptation of the diaries of John Rabe. Brutal story. I'll wager that the truth about the Rape of Nanking is far more horrific than Rabe reported. Much like when I learned about Oskar Schindler, there's this really odd disconnect when you hear about someone using Nazi symbols to save lives. Three hours into the audiobook, I am left with the thoughts that, setting aside his unfortunate affiliation with the Nazi party, I can only hope that if I'm ever tested like that, that I show half the integrity that Rabe or Schindler did.

CN Tower
Made it to Toronto and decided to meander after checking into the hotel. Got on the wrong streetcar so ended up walking up from three stops past Spadina on Lakeshore Blvd up to Queen and Spadina. Mental note number one: it's the 510 Streetcar that goes up Spadina Avenue, not the 509!

This year, I didn't go butterfly hunting in Cambridge on the way to Toronto so instead took some nice pictures of the CN Tower and flowers along the sidewalk. Seems like every pub in Toronto has an arrangement of flowers out in front of their establishment.

Since I was close enough, decided to visit Meeple Mart and see what new games were out, then it was on to Navito World. The salesdude at Navito remembered Justin and I from our Spring visit to see the Hatsune Miku concert. Had a nice chat with him before buying an anime figure for my collection. Made a mental note to bring an extra $30 CDN next time to pick up one of those nice metal Tachikoma figures from Ghost in the Shell. Will look nice next to my figure of the Major in her full cybergear.

Had no real plan for the day, but got to enjoy some 'greatest hits' locations. Stopped at the Dragon City Mall Dairy Queen for my usual cherry Arctic Rush--which helped immensely with all the lap sweat from walking! It's been one year since last Ottawa's discussion with Bryce Hallett about getting in shape for the 2016 festival. Lost ten pounds at the beginning of the year, gained fifteen back by mid-summer, lost five by September. Put me back to square one. Dang it! At least the heart and legs felt stronger than they did last year. Mental note number two: unplugging from the computer and going to the Potter Park Zoo every weekend is fine, but need to do more walking than just once a week. Probably wouldn't hurt to vary up the schedule as well. Camera and sketchpad notwithstanding, I spend enough time hanging out with the bunny at the petting zoo area that it's probably making the zoo keepers a little nervous...

Hanging out at Uncle Tetsu's with "Rin"
Was late afternoon at that point, so I stopped by Uncle Tetsu's Angel Café for a snack. The maids were friendly and the crepe was very tasty. Probably won't have the creme soda again though. Too much ice cream. I can push my lactose intolerance a little before it starts pushing back, but not far enough to enjoy another one of those! Turns out my maid, "Rin", is a comp sci student at the U of T. Mentioned how she cosplayed Rin at the Miku Expo concert this past Spring. She was using a different maid name when Justin and I met her earlier this year. Sweet girl. Wants to be a game designer. Hope it works out for her. Game design is almost as fickle and brutal a field to work in as animation. Even worse for the game designers themselves as I don't think that they have a union that they can turn to in times of trouble.

Yeah, gonna get this again...
Given how filling the crepe was, I decided to skip dinner and just mosey on back to the hotel. Stopped by the Mind Games game store and had a geeky 'esprit de corps' moment with this kid named R.J. who was working there. Started with gaming and ended up talking about Miku Expo and the local anime convention scene. Between, him, Rin, and the salesdude working at Navito World, felt rather welcome here. And social, strangely enough. Not so alone. Am very thankful for that. Usually, I'm just lost in my thoughts, but this time it was really nice to have people that broke up the routine. Sometimes, when you spend most of your time alone working on projects, you kind of forget that even the most jaded introvert needs social contact with like-minded individuals.

Breakfast at Marche, then off to the St. Lawrence Market for my annual mustard run at Kozlik's to replenish my brother's stocks of gourmet Canadian mustard. Then it was off to Ottawa. Turned off the John Rabe diary audiobook. Started over from Chapter 1 of the 'Rape of Nanking'. Needed a better grasp of the historical context of what happened. Still leaving me in an odd place emotionally. Can't fathom that depth of evil--even though we still see examples of it today in the Middle East, Eurasia, and Africa, no matter how far we think we've progressed as a species.

Made it to Ottawa in record time. Missed all the rush hour traffic by leaving Toronto by 11 a.m. Definitely the right decision to make. Then it was a classic example of 'right place/right time'. Instead of checking in at the hotel, I first picked up my festival pass at the Arts Court... right when Gary Schwartz and Brooke Keesling were doing the same. Then I bumped into Chris Robinson... then Madi Pilar. That evening, it was rapid fire: first Patrick Jenkins, then Kelly Neall, then Pillar Newton-Katz, then Lynne Slater. No matter how much social media helps us stay in contact with the people in our lives who are spread across the continent, there's still nothing like seeing them in person.

My first screening of the festival was Ann Marie Fleming's film Window Horses. Was a very touching film. I definitely want to see her film again, though with the subtitles turned on. After getting lost in the visuals during the first screening, I'd really like to go back and absorb the dialog next time.

Afterwards, saw Glenn Ehlers, Skip Battaglia, and Carole Beecher outside the Bytowne Theater at the opening ceremonies and competition screening.

Piano // Trailer from Eesti Joonisfilm on Vimeo.

The film selection was pretty good tonight. My vote was for the Piano. Have seen it once before, but I still liked it. As a whole, it reminds me fondly of many OIAF's ago when Ted Pratt and I talked about the Eastern European visual styling of the Klasky-Csupo film that went on to win the Grand Prize that year--wish I could remember the name. After the Gala screening, I chatted up Skip and Glenn some more before picking up a shawarma on the way to the hotel. Was a good way to start the fest, but no opening night party for me. Felt drained from the day's interactions. Need some rest.

Woke up to a very pleasant surprise, they opened up the Daron Nefcy TAC talk to OIAF attendees. Hastily reorganized my schedule for the early afternoon. Couldn't miss the opportunity to hear her talk--more intel for my woman animators class in January!

Met up with Glenn and Pilar for the morning OIAF retrospective screening. Absolutely loved seeing Caroline Leaf's 'The Street' on the big screen. Really amps me up to write the lecture material for my class. Afterwards, I raced over to the Bytowne to see the short film Competition. Was really taken by Kristian Pederson's abstract animated film Boygen (The Boyg). The trailer really doesn't do it justice as many of the other scenes have waves of color reminiscent of the aurora borealis and still others harken back to the 'Beethoven's 5th' segment of Fantasia 2000. It easily picked up my vote.

Bøygen (teaser) from Mikrofilm AS on Vimeo.

Next, it was off to Saint Brigid's Center for the Arts for the one-two punch of a 'One on One' interview with Caroline Leaf followed by an interview with Anne Marie Fleming on how she funded her feature Window Horses. Two more women I would love to talk to more in depth about their filmmaking processes.

Caroline Leaf and Donald McWilliams
Went to the evening's competition screening afterwards. Got drenched on the way there, so bought an umbrella on the way. They were forecasting rain at the picnic on Friday. Wish I'd have brought my umbrella from the car. Thought about it as I left the hotel, but didn't have my car keys with me. Assumed that the weather report was correct: no rain today, rain tomorrow. Will definitely go with my gut feeling next time.

Met up with Patrick and Madi at the evening screening. Was really nice to chat with them in person seeing as I didn't attend this year's TAIS events and have let my membership lapse. At the screening, the films were more miss than hit for me, but there were a couple gems there: Fired on Mars and an Igor Kovalyov film, Before Love, where the entire animation team appears to have been composed of women animators.

Fired on Mars is online in its entirety. I recommend you watch it now and then come back for the rest of the blog post.... I'll wait.

Fired on Mars from Nick and Nate on Vimeo.

After the screening, I walked over to the Club SAW party with fellow R.I.T. grads Glenn and Sarah Hanson. If Skip had walked over with us, we'd have had an R.I.T. quorum. Club SAW was packed for the Salon des Refuses party. Problematic for the reason that a month ago, I posted on my Instagram account how I was canning jam instead of brewing wine for the summer's foodie project. Pilar asked for a jar of the apricot jam, so I brought a jar with me. Kept forgetting it at the hotel though. It took some help from Barry Sanders to find her at the Salon des Refuses party but the delivery was made!

Despite the fact that I can do electrical and plumbing repairs on my house, minor repairs on my car, and have two black belts in Karate, my friends still razz me for having interests that aren't "butch" enough. I get where they're coming from, but I would honestly rather learn some aspect of food production (like canning or baking bread from scratch) that my and the younger generations have labeled as obsolete than play sports or whatever the hypermasculine men are doing nowadays. Eh, whatever. Compliments like the above make it all worth it... or at the very least, the knowledge that I'll have jars of jam to use as currency during the zombie apocalypse!

'We need the funk...
We gotta have that funk'
Was a pretty good day for breaking through the social anxiety and talking to folks. Met Anne Marie Fleming in person today. She remembered me from our talks online! Wish I could've chatted with her a little more, but right after her presentation really wasn't the time or place. Have seen Candy Kugel twice now. Still haven't been able to say 'hi' yet. Would like to chat her up more about her experiences in the New York animation scene but might be a conversation better left to e-mail.

Also saw Steven Woloshen, but he was busy talking to someone so I didn't want to interrupt. Didn't see him for the rest of the festival so had to content myself by jumping from wifi hotspot to wifi hotspot and messing with him on Facebook.

Feeling somewhat good, emotionally, especially after listening to the Nanking and John Rabe audiobooks on the way here. Trying not to let the small aggravations get to me--like the rude students who keep cutting in line. At this point, if I was a recruiter, I'd never hire anyone from a couple of these universities. I know I probably shouldn't let it get to me, but if these kids have no integrity in the small things, then how could I trust them to look after the big things? Like my business interests, or project deadlines, or customer relations? Eh, better to focus on the good: nice lunch at Chapters today, made it to the Daron Nefcy and Anne Marie Fleming talks, and had a good talk with Glenn about his book and our R.I.T. thesis films. Besides, the picnic is tomorrow and that's always a time filled with hidden opportunities and little treasures.

Spoke to a pleasant girl this morning when picking up my morning bagel and juice from the hotel café. She was a student attending the festival--noticed that she was carrying the OIAF swag bag. Nice how that's a perfect icebreaker to break me out of my usual headspace and get me talking to people.

Saw Barry and Caroline Sanders at the morning screening. Apparently they're coming back to Toronto. Glenn and Sarah sat in front of me. Then Madi ran over and sat with me during the screening. Felt good not to be alone. Even had the girl from the café walk by and say 'hi'--certainly helps restore a little of my faith in some of the students attending the OIAF.

Mini R.I.T. reunion: Sarah Hanson, Glenn Ehlers and Me
Had a lovely lunch with Glenn and Susan at the annual Cartoon Network Animators Picnic. Met Daron Nefcy while picking up a cupcake. Between her TAC talk and our all-too-brief chat, got the impression that she's a really interesting person with a lot of good experiences within the industry worth sharing. Said she liked the idea of my Women of Animated Film blog and my women animators class. Might ask her for an interview in the future when I'm all caught up with my backlog of women to interview.

The Cartoon Network 'OIAF' cake

Was also cool that I got to share a little wisdom about the business side of the industry with some students while we were waiting in line for cake. They seemed particularly interested when I started talking about LLCs and finding a good accountant who can tell you the difference between a valid and an invalid business deduction for your taxes. Sometimes I get the impression that college programs are so focused on imparting the skills that kids will need to get a job that they're not teaching them how to manage their business.

Freed up some duplicate events which left me nothing to do until 7 p.m. Had time to relax a little so I meandered around the Byward Market area looking for old landmarks from the twenty-two years of attending the festival. Wish I could remember the name of that pub that John Mamano and I ate at all those years ago. Could probably message him on Facebook, but don't feel like bothering him at work. Instead, found the 'Blue Cactus' where Erik Timmerman, a couple R.I.T. alums and I had lunch back in '96. He died sixteen years ago and I still miss him as acutely as I did as when I got that obituary notice from Marla Schweppe after he passed in June 2000.

Had an early supper at the Highlander Pub--one of two pubs that my brother, Ted, and I used to hang out at when he attended the festival. Still can't believe that Mom and Dad let me pull him out of his High School classes for a week to visit Ottawa way back then! Dinner at the pub didn't help make me feel any less nostalgic. Would like to eat at Darcy McGee's before I leave town but not sure if it's going to happen. Won't feel the same without my brother or sister-in-law being there with me.

Since I was only a block away though, I walked back to the Arts Court to enjoy the posters exhibition that Kelly and crew put together before I had to schlep over to Saint Brigids for the Japanese animation presentation.

Though I doubt they could invest the time and money into doing it, I'd really love to see the OIAF produce a small book containing the posters (in full color plates) with a little history of the festival and interviews with the artists who made the posters. Ah, if time and money were no obstacle...

The Japanese exhibition was pretty much what I expected: indie films that were more experimental than narrative. Some really interesting technique, especially Ryo Orikasa's animated text films. He's not really breaking any new ground that I can see, but his films still have a certain visual appeal. Might just be my English degree talking. Not sure. Can't put my finger on why I like his work, but regardless, I plan on keeping an eye out for his future films. Apparently, a fair number of students in the crowd were expecting to see anime. Saw a number leave the room during the presentation and heard others saying as much on the sidewalk afterwards. Heh. They should've read the program booklet a little closer beforehand. I liked how the festival brought in the Japanese ambassador to Canada to speak about the program. Was a really nice touch.

Made it to the evening "Grand Prize Winners 3" screening. It was really fun to see Nick Parks' film the Wrong Trousers with a room filled with high school students. They loved the film almost as much as we all did back in 1994, even though so many of them probably had already seen it on video beforehand when they were younger. The second film, Bird in the Window was the film whose name I couldn't remember. Immediately, I was awash with good memories of sitting at 1996's closing night party with Ted Pratt and hearing him eloquently explain Klasky-Csupo's Eastern-European visual style and approach to 'slice-of-life' storytelling. Wish I could remember more of that conversation. But at the time, it did have the desired effect of expanding my artistic horizons. I got a lot more out of seeing 'Bird' this time than I had back then.

On the way out, thought that it was amusing to see festival director Kelly Neall working the check-in station when I left the theater before remembering that it was the evening for the Festival's "students-only" party. This year's Toronto Animation Arts Festival International was all the more special because it afforded me the opportunity to get to know her, and by extension, the OIAF better.

The 2016 festival poster

Wow! What a blessing. After the morning screening, I walked over to Saint Brigid's for the Pixar presentation and who should sit down in front of me but Lynn Scatcherd and Andrew Doris from Dainty Productions (or at the very least, sometime collaborators with Chris Dainty). Right place, right time to be blessed by a visit with friends before the presentation. Looks like Pixar has another hit on their hands with Piper. Whatever feature film they show with Piper, the price of the ticket will be worth it just to see that short film again!

As my next event wasn't for another three hours, I decided that I needed to see Crab Phare and Boygen again before I left town, so thought I'd give the screening room a try. Unfortunately all three stations were in use so I drifted upstairs to the Arts Court Theater. Passed out some of my Women of Animated Film blog cards to a couple of high school girls on the elevator who said they wanted to be animators. Bought the 2016 OIAF poster for my collection and took a little more time to appreciate the festival poster display. Then had the good fortune to meet Ms. Caroline Leaf! She was very gracious and said I could contact her for an interview.

Afterwards, I went to the market and got my traditional Beavertail--this time with apples. Was as tasty as I remember it to be... though one per year is probably as much as I should have. Then it was back to the OIAF Screening Room. Still no love. Many others have had the same idea as me apparently.

After a somewhat unsatisfying steak at the Highlander Pub, I went back to the Arts Court. Screening stations were still full--just missed an opening by five minutes--so I went to St. Brigids for the Disney presentation. Wasn't more than ten or twelve people there already, so we waited for the doors to open. Well, I'm standing in line and it turns out the girl right in front of me is a sophomore 3d animation student in R.I.T.'s BFA animation program! Right place, right time to make a new acquaintance. Disney's Inner Workings was cute, but it was no Piper. Pixar definitely beat out Disney this year.

On the way out, saw Jessica Borutski standing there. Said 'hi'. Looks like motherhood agrees with her. Such a sweet young lady. Made another mental note, this time to pick up her Bunnicula series on iTunes when the full season is released in the States.

Raced over to Daly Avenue and made it to the Arts Court in record time. Finally feel like I'm getting the hang of navigating Ottawa and it's construction. Chatted up Susan on the way and Pilar when I arrived. Again, it's nice to not feel alone in a crowd--probably the biggest change for me since I started attending the fest in 1994. This trip always does wonders for dealing with my social anxiety.

Joy! A screening station was open so I watched Boygen and Crab Phare before the World Student Panorama screening. Those two films are definitely my favorites of the festival so far. Then, it was off to the Night Owl party. Met Kelly Neall's husband on the drive to the party location. Can't shake the feeling that I've met him before.

Even with the initial technical glitches, the Cybertronic Spree was awesome! Not sure who had the better time, me or Pilar. Got lots of pics and video and even got to do Hot Rod a solid after the show. After I got my picture taken with the band, he said he was parched and asked me if I could get him something to drink from the bar. When I returned with the bottle of water, he seemed a little surprised that I had hooked him up. Though they didn't have to, he gave me a Cybertronic Spree button from the merch table. Would have helped him regardless just to say 'thanks for the show', but hey, was a really nice gesture. My brother has a venue back in Michigan where they show live music... and Ted is a die-hard Transformers fan. Wonder how hard it'd be to get the Cybertronic Spree to play in Michigan?

After the show, I spent the better part of the party chatting with Glenn, Susan and Skip. Finally got my photo of our little R.I.T. SoFA reunion! Even got to ride back on the bus with Skip and catch up on what he's been doing since retiring. Though I do wish I had brought a sketchbook with me. I really liked how the festival had a separate room where folks could draw the cosplay models they brought in.

The festival hasn't ended yet, but I'm about ready to go home. Looking forward to the final screenings and party. Hope I'll have a couple more experiences like the ones today--meeting that sophomore from RIT or encouraging that girl from Algonquin College. On my way to the bus after leaving the Night Owl party, I stopped by the food truck that the Festival had brought to the party. While waiting in line, I had the chance to chat with this girl who mentioned having social anxiety. I had a lot of fun at the festival this year. Probably more than I have in had the past twenty-two years. But it was this one moment that will probably stick with me more than the others. In our short conversation, I had the chance to encourage her with stories about how the festival has changed for me over the years--and changed me--once I started to break out of my shell and engage with people. I gave her some tips and icebreakers to talk to folks at the festival. Hope they help. Us introverts have to stick together... when we're not at home.

Interesting moment. After trying to get as much sleep as possible by hitting the snooze button, I get up, get ready, and then make my way to the elevator. There's a 'ping', the doors open, and its sole occupant is Barry Sanders. Got to wish him 'safe travels' before he left and then I was on my way to St. Brigids for the one-on-one with Giannalberto Bendazzi. Good start to the day.

Feel like my batteries are almost finished charging. haven't had any grand epiphanies while I'm here, but I still have that ten hour drive home and lunch with Ellen Besen. Don't think that I need any earth-shattering revelations while I'm here, having some rest and recharging the creating batteries is more than enough.

Canada's National Art gallery
Got to say goodbye to Glenn on the way out of the Bendazzi talk. he's heading home after the next screening. I'm off to the National Art Gallery for the panorama screenings--my favorite screenings of the festival. Side detour to the Byward Market for a juice and some cookies first. Saw Pilar on the way over. She's leaving on Monday like I am. As friends drift away from the festival on their way home, I'm finding it harder and harder to stay out of my headspace.

The Canadian student films were pretty good--as expected. Lots of solid technique. A lot more than I saw in the world student panorama. Even had a couple films that I want to show in my class. the Canadian Showcase and World Showcase films were as enjoyable as I expected they would be with such a wide variety of styles. Films were a little lighter on the far-out stuff we see in the competition screenings and a good mix between narrative and experimental films. No big surprise, Patrick Jenkins' film was my favorite. Phantom City is the perfect ending to his Noirland trilogy. Now to buy it when it's finished its festival run so I can watch all three back-to-back!

Saw Carol Beecher come in and sit down right before the show started. Was sitting with James Murray otherwise would've gone over and said 'hi'. After the screening, she was off like a shot. Wasn't able to catch up with her. So made my way to the Bytowne for the Best of the Fest screening, then trudged on back to the Arts Court for the party and, sure enough, there was Carol! Got to say goodbye and hear a little about her current project.

At that point, I wasn't really sure what to do with myself, so I tried out a 'barcade' for my farewell to OIAF dinner. This place is definitely a 'come back to'. Videogames and board games, an excellent burger and hard cider on tap. Need someplace like this in Lansing! Heard from Pilar on Facebook while I was there. Waiting for a FB Messenger post from her before I go back to the party. Hopefully I'll get to say 'farewell' to my fellow American before we leave the Great White North. But, nothing as of yet, so I went back to the hotel and started getting ready to go.

Well, I'm packing up and I get the message from Pilar. Okay, I head over to the party and there she is, sitting on the steps with some friends from NY. We chat. Then Carol Beecher comes out. We all chat some more about all the research she did for her new project. Then Carol and I make the funny discovery that we're both German with grandfathers who were lumberjacks in Saskatchewan before WWII and both worked the shipyards building warships after the war started. Then the conversation moved to the class I'm teaching and she gave me some solid thoughts on working with the kids when showing films that show more difficult topics like rape and abuse. Then we talked about canning and gardening and the skills our grandparents passed down and the effect that social media is having on our productivity levels... and then we realized how late it was getting. We said our goodbyes and walked away. I couldn't have asked for a better end to the festival.

I'm not saying that it's a bittersweet ending to the fest. Far from it. but every year, this week-long festival highlights the sense of community that I don't get as much of back home. Need to get ASIFA Central to be more active and our Art, Anime and Manga Lansing group resurrected from the dead!

Packed up the night before, so checking out of the hotel on time was a breeze. Jumped on the highway and it was off to Ellen Besen's. Had to stop a couple of times on the way though. With no GPS to guide me, I had to check my maps and triptik to ensure that I wouldn't find myself hours out of the way. Ellen was expecting me by 12:30 p.m. for lunch, after all.

But, the road was clear, it only rained once or twice, and Algonquin Provincial Park was beautiful this time of year. Even saw a flock of wild turkeys and the tail-end of a moose who bounded into the foliage on the side of the road--freaking out the two minivans in front of me.

Finished up the Rape of Nanking and went back to finish the Good Man of Nanking--much easier now that I had the context that I was missing earlier. Pulled in to Ellen's driveway at 12:31 p.m. and was immediately greeted by her cat who was sitting on the porch, avoiding the rain and waiting patiently to be let in.

Lunch was a blur as our conversation shifted effortlessly from catching up on life, religion, politics, the animation industry, and the history of TAIS, the OIAF, and the Kalamazoo Animation Festival International. Was worth the drive just to hear the info on those festivals alone. Driving away from Ellen's place, it was pretty clear why she and her husband moved away from Toronto. Lovely country. Peaceful. Much like what I remember from visiting my grandparents in Kalkaska, Michigan before it got all built up.

Finished the diary of John Rabe on the way back home. it had the desired effect of keeping my mind from drifting too much while making the twenty hour round trip drive. But, unfortunately, since my mind was so focused on those two audiobooks, there really wasn't any time to ponder life like I have done in the past.

If anything, my experiences at the festival have me really focused on community. Whether it be ASIFA Central or our little anime club that the Wilson twins started, the animation community here in mid-Michigan is lacking. Maybe, with a new year almost upon us, that is where I should focus my efforts... once my class is written, that is.

So long, Canada. Thanks for the hospitality and will see you next year.