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The Animation Pimp: From Quays to Krays?

Animation Pimp ponders the effect of comprising the Ottawa Festivals jury with worldclass criminals instead of international intellectuals.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris J. Robinson.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris J. Robinson.

I used to joke with staff and friends about how I was certain that I could grab a quartet of mission dwellers, install them as pre-selectors for the Ottawa festival, and have no one notice the difference between their tastes and those of so-called animation professionals. Sure theyd make some strange choices but hey so do the pro selection committees. And, hellwe sorta did it one year when we invited former NFBer Ryan Larkin to participate (he lives in the Old Brewery Mission in Montreal). OK but as I said... I was pretty much just having a laff.

I just visited the very fine Fantoche animation festival in Baden, Switzerland where this journalist from Parnu, Estonia (beautiful seaside town) told me about an experiment an Estonian festival tried last year using an ex-con as a member of the selection committee. After I rolled my eyes and said yeah right ya drunk phucker he pulled out a copy of this festivals catalogue and sure enough theres the committee page including the likes of Estonian animator, Priit Tender (Fox Woman), a Finnish journalist, a Russian academic (Mikhail Surevich) a Latvian animator (Nag Emist) and this noted Estonian criminal, Ülo Voitka (who along with his brother, Aivar formed the famous Voitka Brothers). I couldnt stop laughing as looked over the page which not only featured the guys mugshot, but also this detailed biography of his, umm, accomplishments. But this is all very serious, part of an attempt to help criminals reintegrate themselves into Estonian society. Apparently the festival receives funding to do this.

They also save a bit of money too. A local policeman is used as the secretary of the jury and, each night, the soon-to-be-released criminal is returned to the local jail (saving the cost of a hotel). As absurd as it all sounds it really does make perfect sense on so many levels. First and foremost, its a useful humanitarian gesture. This also brings a lot of attention to the festival and animation because you know that the media will cover a story like this. It also provides a fresh perspective on animation films. Gone are the same converted faces and voices.

Can you imagine the jury meetings? Who would argue with this guy? In fact, the journalist told me that the guy did in fact snap during one session. This Russian egghead, Surevich, kept going on and on about the use of light and texture in The Brothers Quay film, In Absentia, and Voitka lost it, ran at Surevich, wrestled him to the ground, all the while screaming about how he was gonna get those faggot twins (Voitka later calmed down when told that Surevich said that it was made by the Quays not the Krays. In fact, Voitka was impressed to learn that beneath what he called their faggotty cocksucker smugness, they were actually from South Philly, USA). Fortunately, the cop was there to cool things down. Surevich wasnt hurt, but he did resign from the jury.

OK clearly there is the potential for some problems here but anyone whos been on a jury with animator Mike Smith knows that animators can snap too. Still, Id like to take it one step further and have a full jury made up of international criminals. Theres no need for hotel or meal expenses as theyd all be in prison. We can use a prison guard or policeman as a jury secretary. And they could have their meetings in those jury rooms with the glass screens. Of course theyd watch the competition films with the audience. Theyd be escorted in before each screening, handcuffed to the chairs and surrounded by about half a dozen uniformed police including their cop secretary.

Can you imagine the atmosphere at the screenings? One thing competition screenings have lacked at animation festivals is anticipation, tension or even excitement. Well you can be damn sure thered be some tension at these screenings? Will a prisoner try to run for it? Will there be a hijacking of the screenings by one of the cons buddies? Even the usually apathetic-toward-animation general public would be lining up for tickets.

And what about the jury meetings? Can you imagine these guys trying to discuss the films they saw? Kucia? Driessen? Gratz? Priestley? Pappo? What would happen with four to five soon to be ex-cons deliberating? Can you imagine the threats? The good thing is that thered be no bullshitting. These guys would be very clearcut about what they liked and disliked. Wed be free of those rhetoric-laden jury comments that accompany each prize winner. Instead, wed probably get short, concise, blunt statements like cause it rocked, fuck or it made me laugh.

The possibilities make me dizzy. Not only do festivals get a ton of extra money and exposure, theyd never have problems with fuckwit sponsors bailing on them at the last minute or weasel sponsors running out of their bill cause our new buddies would be all to willing to help get our money back or maybe know people who know people ya know what Im saying?

And of course, wed have exhibitions. But instead of Caroline Leafs art wed get say Weegee type photographs of the crime scenes and maybe a more archival showing featuring textiles and materials from each crime scene (weapon, blood stained clothes). I mean in a sense the criminals are artists whether they murder, rob or rape. So why shouldnt we get to see their work? I bet theyd sell more of that art than that Kovalyov sketchbook crap. During the Meet the Masters sessions, they can then meet with festival attendees and describe the motivation behind their work (e.g., drug money, passion, pissed me off) and what they plan for the future.

Hell.this experiment might even have a long term effect on the types of animation films being made. Might give the animation community some balls. Animators might think a little bit harder about making their next film knowing that soon to be ex-cons are judging their work. Maybe wed finally see less artsy fartsy pastoral ceramic crap and more hard hitting street work like Chris Shepherds Dads Dead, or that crazy Villards Son of Satan.

I bet even Andreas Hykade would finally get the kudos he deserves. These guys would love Ring of Fire and We Lived in Grass. I imagine these guys probably wouldnt like festival animation in general though. Too white, airy, self-righteous, pristine and middle class for them. Theyd likely prefer classic Bugs, Daffy and Tex. Something funny something that makes them forget (remember Sullivans Travels by Preston Sturges?). Cant blame em.

Down the road maybe this can lead to animation workshops in prison. Priestly and Gratz (who collaborated on a prison film) could be the first animators to go. They can head over to the local Portland prison and do once a week workshops, show some films, get the guys working. Maybe even make it a week-long workshop and make the visiting animators stay in jail, give them a taste of real hardship, not the mental-emotional stuff they find time to moan about in their own often perspectiveless lives.

So yeah I like it Ive got to talk to our board and managing director, but Im definitely keen on trying this out. As absurd as this whole idea seemed to me when I first heard it, it actually makes a lot of sense and is a win-win scenario for everyone.

Chris Robinson is but a man. His hobbies include squirrel taunting, goat thumping, meat dancing and elderly peeping. You can find the results at