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Ottawa Int’l Animation Festival: Christmas in September

Christopher Panzner looks into the increase of stunning student animated films from European schools and the factors contributing to why they are turning out often better than pro.

Is there such a thing as too much festival? With five days of screenings, parties and schmoozing, its hard to have a bad time at OIAF. Producer/animator David Fine (right) gets ready to hit another screening. Festival images courtesy of OIAF.

Its Christmas in September. Thats what the Ottawa International Animation Festival feels like. Is there such as thing as too much festival? Weve just had five days of back-to-back screenings, workshops, panels, master classes and parties. Pack all that in with networking, pitching, trading, schmoozing... and youd have to work very hard not to have a great time at this festival.

To give you a real taste of the Ottawa, Im going to present this review like an OIAF workshop. Ill moderate the views and comments of three attendees who come from very different backgrounds and are looking for, I think, very different things from this festival.

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Joseph Beyer of the Sundance Film Festival and its online component was impressed by the international range of projects and artists.

Lets begin with Joseph Beyer, associate programmer, Sundance Film Festival and manager of the Sundance Online Film Festival. Joseph Beyer attended this years festival for the first time. I wondered what he was doing at an animation festival. In Ottawa. Maybe he got lost on his way to Toronto?

Sharon Katz: Joseph, you work with live-action filmmakers. What brings you to the Ottawa International Animation Festival?

Joseph Beyer: [W]hat brought me to Ottawa was our desire to reconnect with the animation community and to scout for films for our festival... we are planning to include an animation sidebar program for 2006.

SK: So, what was your general impression of the festival and how does the OIAF compare to American film festivals?

JB: ... [W]hat was most appealing from my seat was the international range of projects and artists... it was clear that the focus of Ottawa seems to be the artistry and creation of the work versus the market and business that dominates other showcases. This was refreshing and, I think, gives Ottawa a unique identity.

SK: Edgey and artistic animation is hard to place in commercial venues. What do you think about the role that more artistic/experimental animation plays for those who come to a festival looking to pitch and network on commercial projects?

JB: I think it shouldnt be marginalized, apologized for or distinguished as non-commercial in any way... this same experimental work, while certainly not likely to lead to a series based on it, can open doors and find audiences... In the panel on short film distribution, we talked a lot about new forms... Unique approaches always open doors, maybe not directly, but the business of animation seems (to me) very open to this, having taken a lot of chances especially in television over the years.

SK: What did you think of the venue Ottawa? Was it easy to get here? Was the town what you expected?

JB: Nicest and most beautiful airport of recent memory, fairly easy for me to get there, yes. And as an overall venue I thought it was great, especially how the fest incorporated the top notch venues in town, such as the National Arts Centre and the National Gallery as well as the funky Bytowne and Saw Gallery.

Producer/animator Alison Snowden found Pitch This! the most fascinating and most terrifying event where two teams pitch their latest offerings to a panel of broadcasters and the audience.

Next I turned to Alison Snowden, a producer/animator who, along with producer/animator David Fine, created the wonderfully successful animated television series Bob and Margaret, based on their Oscar-winning short, Bobs Birthday.

SK: Alison, what brought you to the Ottawa this year? Were you looking for anything in particular at the festival this time round?

Alison Snowden: I was eager to attend Ottawa this year as Ive been out of the festival circuit for a while and have really missed being inspired by the latest new films. Its always great to hang out with other filmmakers from all over who we mostly only see at these events.

SK: What did you think of the Television Animation Conference? Did it meet your expectations?

AS: It was interesting to hear about the animation business from different perspectives. Meet the Broadcasters was very educational as its always interesting to hear what the broadcasters are looking for and how they perceive their audience. But probably the most fascinating and most terrifying was Pitch This! where two teams had to pitch their latest offerings to a panel of broadcasters and the audience. The most disappointing debate was ironically The Great Debate which featured a stellar panel of producers and broadcasters who were meant to debate the issue of creativity vs. commerce. Unfortunately, the moderator chose to mainly ask the panel questions about their backgrounds which most of us knew already.

SK: Did you get a chance to see any of the retrospectives, take in a workshop or two, check out the tech forum?

AS: I went to the TELETOON Scriptwriting Masters Program workshop by Ian Corlett, which was excellent. Although Ive already created a series and done a bunch of writing, its always good to hear other peoples approach and compare notes. Ian was a very encouraging and captivating speaker at the same time being very realistic about the business of series animation.

SK: What do you think about screening edgy, artistic/experimental work with more commercial films, in the same competition, at the same festival?

Animator Steve Woloshen discovers more about himself as an artist and other filmmakers through OIAFs panels.

AS: I think the animation festival should be open to all types of animation and all techniques. Whats wonderful about this type of festival is that it brings people together from all different facets of the industry rather than just being the TV side or just the independent scratch on film maker.

Youll notice that nobodys mentioned the parties yet. Maybe its because, three days later, theyre still trying to digest the greasy finger foods. Anyway, to finish off, I contacted Steve Woloshen, an animator from Montreal, for his views. Steve makes a living driving for a film production company and his life would be very simple if hed just quit creating his terrific independent films. Hes hit many animation and film festivals this year, so hes a good candidate to rate the Ottawa.

SK: Steve, how does the OIAF compare to other festivals, e.g., the range of films selected, the focus on independent animation, the screening together of narrative, non-narrative (abstract/experimental) and commercial-based films?

Steve Woloshen: Im always exited about the Ottawa festival. I have always had very diverse interests, and I believe that Ottawa satisfies my desires to view a wide range of styles, attitudes and art in animation today. Since 2002 I have come to appreciate the programming mix and the length of the festival.

SK: While the OIAF addresses the needs of the trade, it also values the work of independent animators, the creative risk-takers, the inventors. Is this the case with most of the festivals youve attended recently, or is this special to the OIAF?

SW: Most of the festivals that I attend cant balance art and trade. For most of the festival organizers, combining art and commerce is sinful and maybe a little bit rude. This is not the case in Ottawa. It has always been possible, in my experience, to have informal chats with many large producers and artists alike. Actually, in 2002, I was surprised with some of the conversations I had. Sometimes, I step outside myself and come to the realization that Im discussing hand-made film techniques with great figures in animation.

Amidst the panels, workshops and screenings, attendees found time to board a bus for a group picnic and take a boat cruise (right).

SK: The OIAF puts together a very loaded package of retrospectives, workshops, panels, presentations and forums. Do you take advantage of these, and how important are they to your festival experience?

SW: The panels and workshops are the greatest surprise. I serve on panels every year. I cant say no to them. They are the best way to discover more about myself as an artist, as well as other filmmakers.

Finally, I just had to ask

SK: Did you get to any of the parties? Or were you so knocked out by the end of the day that you just crashed?

SW: I think I got to all the parties. The most interesting thing about them is that when the last gala screening is over for the night you want to rush to the party and debate it. I starved all day so I could get all these elements satisfied at the same time chitchat, food and booze. The week goes by so fast, and theres so much to do, by the end Im totally fueled on animation.

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So there you have it. This festival is a forum for all animation, including commercial, creative and unique work. For those in the trade, it offers a showcase of their best productions, and a rare opportunity to trial new directions, to shop cutting edge styles and voices. The OIAF is a forum for the independents, and a shopping spree for those in the industry. What more can you ask of a festival?

But dont take my word for it. The mayhem begins again on Sept. 20, 2006. See you then.

Sharon Katz is an independent animator who lives and works in Ottawa. Her recently released animated short film, Slide, is now traveling more than she is.