Ottawa International Animation Festival
Retrospectives of the works of German animator Raimund Krumme, Estonia's Priit Parn, the incomparable Shamus Culhane who labored in many of Hollywood's animation factories, Kaj Pindal and Derek Lamb from the NFB, and especially Fedor Chitruk from Russia not only showcased the immense talents of these animation giants; they also showed, inevitably, how indebted many of today's animators are to their work (including festival winner Kovalyov) and how alert many other animators should be to their techniques and especially their storytelling mastery.
Screenings of rare Israeli and Mexican animation were less rewarding, except to show that Israel was influenced too by UPA, and Mexican animators can do full frontal nudity and sex better than anyone.
A salute to Nelvana Studios of Toronto, a sampling of the Cartoon Network's new shorts (previously unavailable in Canada, although already hits with many of the Americans in the audience), and the premiere of the NFB's new feature animation La Plante Humaine all served as welcome tonics to the crushingly opportunistic previews of Warner Bros.' break-the-bank Michael Jordan film Space Jam and Disney's latest ventures into feature-length advertising for plastic merchandise available at McDonalds.
The highlights of the festival for me were the screenings of Greg Ford's long-awaited documentary Freleng: Frame by Frame and the personal favorites chosen by Honorary President Louise Beaudet from the vaults of the Cinémathèque Québécoise.
Ford's thorough examination of the contribution of Friz Freleng has to be the best study of animation ever filmed. Freleng has too long taken a back seat to his more garrulous Warner Bros. contemporaries. With many examples from classic films, Ford demonstrates why Freleng's flawless sense of timing and unsurpassed use of music should give him pride of place at Termite Terrace. This was long overdue and well worth the wait.
Louise Beaudet's program featured exquisite prints of some remarkable artistic animations. Oscar Fischinger's wonderful 1937 An Optical Poem with its lovely geometrics, two of Lejf Marcussen's hard-to-see films The Public Voice and Lederkonkurrence, the legendary Frank Film and UPA's excellent The Telltale Heart (both firsts for me on the big screen), as well as the incomparable The Thieving Magpie were but a few of Beaudet's fine choices. They will provide lasting memories for me.
In this day of inane cartoons for TV, ritualistic cloning of empty successes, and the relentless throb of rampant commercialization (all of them in evidence at Ottawa '96--this was a festival with a wide sweep), it is invigorating to see that undeniable masterpieces are still allowed to share the program.
The Ottawa International Animation Festival may be known far and wide for its pumpkin-carving picnic and its opening and closing night parties (in a grunge bar called The Cave, complete with enough pool tables to let even the neophytes at AWN compete, and then in the actual Canadian Parliament buildings, no less). It's also renowned for its willingness to combine the business of recruiting with the necessities of useful workshops (a great one on the making of the 3D Homer) and the pleasures of seeing new animation. All of these things, plus the generous sampling of works from the masters, have made this the "festival of choice" for many animation fans. There's no secondguessing that.
Gene Walz is head of the film program at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. He is currently finishing a biography on character designer Charlie Thorson and is now editing a book called Great Canadian Films.