Ottawa International Animation Festival
In another tell-tale indication of the current state of animation, five out of the six films entered in the overtenminute category were designated for recognition of some sort. What this means is hard to fathom--unless you were the unfortunate sixth entrant.
Paul Driessen's The End of the World in Four Seasons, with 8 and 9 images competing for the viewer's attention at the same time, took the category prize. By doing so, he somewhat redeemed the NFB's reputation, which had been tarnished more than a little by having all but two of its films rejected for the competition in its home country. The other NFB production, Robert Doucet's stirringly beautiful folktale Flying Canoe won the best Canadian film award; so the NFB went two for two (or maybe 2 for 20).
Priit Parn's amusing but perhaps overlong twisted-history of the LumiereBrothers before they invented cinema, 1895, won a special prize for design. And Wat's Pig, a dauntingly detailed, often split-screened medieval story of a ruler and his poor, misplaced twin, done in claymation by Peter Lord, helped win Aardman Animations a Special Jury Prize. It was a pretty good year for long-form animation.
Promos, Educational & TV
The most bloated category in the entire festival, not surprisingly in this overly and overtly commercialized era, was the promos and ads category. Twenty-two productions were in the running for prizes.
In a refreshing challenge to the predominance of brassy, computer-generated, 3D modeling, the first prize was given to Winnipeg animator Cordell Barker for his simple animated doodles on Quebec telephone bills. For those of you wondering about what happened to this Oscarnominee (for The Cat Came Back), the award shows that he has not lost his touch; he's just narrowed his audience and temporarily succumbed to the lure of advertising.
As if further evidence is needed for the current state of affairs in animation, the promos and ads category had almost as many entries as the final four categories: children's, educational, made-for-television, and episodic television. Two of these categories (educational and episodic TV) were (arguably) too under-represented for the jury to decide on an award. Whether this means that good stuff is not being done or whether it is just not making its way to Ottawa or whatever, is where the good secondguessing comes in.
In the made-for television competition, Nick Park's latest Wallace and Gromit story, A Close Shave was clearly more ambitious than its two main competitors Johnny Bravo and Raging Rudolf.
Johnny Bravo, a celanimation about an overmuscled, politically incorrect Elvis lookalike with blond hair, is already slated to be a TV series, but it was less interesting than some of the other Cartoon Network material. Raging Rudolf is a clever retelling of the Christmas reindeer's story in terms of Scorsesean profanity, intimidation-tactics, and gore.
As amusing and precise as Nick Park's previous efforts, A Close Shave was missing some, perhaps indefinable, quality. It pits the hard-working Gromit against a sheepnapping, controlling pet of a knitting-store owner with whom Wallace the inveterate inventor is smitten. While it is marvelously inventive and pleasing, it is already too familiar to legitimately claim "Best of Show" awards.
Likewise the Simpsons episode Treehouse of Horror VI: Homer 3D which, despite its computergenerated graphics and Tron references, was neither as funny nor as biting as the best episodes of this series can be. Still, the jury selected it, in an unprecedented twinning of the Grand Prize, as the winner for Best Television Production. Intriguingly, there was no prize in The Simpsons' regular category. Plenty of room for speculation and second-guessing there.
If the competition part of the festival was not quite up to the quality of some previous festivals, the rest of the events at Ottawa '96 were spectacularly successful.
Promos, Educational & TV