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Ottawa 2012 – And So It Begins Again…Again

Somehow, I knew my journey to the Ottawa International Animation Festival would no go smoothy. Alas, I was not to be disappointed.

By  Dan Sarto

For some reason, every time I attend the festival in Ottawa, something happens along the way to remind just how fun it can be to visit this last great bastion of politeness and public drunkenness.   This trip was no exception.  Against my better judgment, breaking a solemn vow I made back in 2002, I flew through Toronto.  Back in 2002, the last year of my mullet phase, I was stopped by security at the airport in Toronto and held for close to an hour.  Whether it was my sunny disposition or dreadful hairstyle that put me on someone’s watch list, I’ll never know.  Some junior G-Man barely old enough to shave grilled me for 45 minutes, asking me the same set of questions over and over, as if I’d finally break down sobbing and divulge where Bruce Willis should go to find the nuclear device.   I kept thinking that Chris Robinson was somehow behind the interrogation, because this agent kept going into another room and coming back with more ridiculous questions about animation. It made me chuckle, which made my inquisitor even more annoyed, which probably attributed to the length of the grilling.  However, upon my release, I swore I’d never fly through Toronto again, a vow I upheld until Tuesday. 

I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say, the 40 minute flight from Toronto to Ottawa was delayed an hour because the ground crew couldn’t figure out how to secure a passenger’s cello in the cabin. After 30 minutes, my suggestion to stomp on the big fiddle for a few moments until it could be stuffed under the seat went ignored.  It’s sad no one appreciates American ingenuity anymore.

I finally got to Ottawa late Tuesday night.  My shuttle driver, a nice, patient young volunteer, told me of her summers spent interning on organic farms, learning about sustainable agriculture, heritage pig breeds, eco-friendly soap making, medicinal herbs, nutrient rich soil and the healthy foods you can grow with it.  We stopped so I could buy a bottle of water.  She stood by the car and had a smoke.  God, I love this country!

Bento Box co-founder Joel Kuwahara talks about Bob's Burgers.

Wednesday started with TAC, the Television Animation Conference. Each year, TAC seems to hone in a bit more on practical sessions and networking opportunities, which is good. Of course, the session I moderated on Writing Animation Comedy for Kids was fantastic, especially the part where I called Teletoon original content director Alan Gregg “Alex.”  Joel Kuwahara’s case study presentation on Fox’s Bob’s Burgers was a highlight.  Joel, one of the principals at Bento Box in LA, walked the audience through his entire production process, focusing on how technology is used at various stages to enable his artists to collaborate within the studio as well as with their South Korean partners.  Lots of short videos showing how programs like Toonboom Storyboard Pro and Harmony are used within the studio.  A veteran animation producer of shows like The Simpsons, Joel really dug into the challenges of running such a large production, now in Season 3, churning out 22 episodes per season. I paid attention and actually learned something.  What it was I learned, I’ve already forgotten this morning.  But, my notes say I learned something, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The opening night competition screening was a mixed bag, as is usually the case for any experience in Canada. As is tradition, Tom McSorley, head of the Canadian Film Commission, spoke first, welcoming everyone, though unlike in previous years, he didn’t offer any poems or jokes or other oratorical gems that I always found amusing. For some reason, Tom’s opening notes always seems to elicit grumbles and catcalls from the audience. After enduring several minutes of groans last year, he finished his comments with, “Thank you. I live to disappoint,” which sums up my own existence and was quite funny. This year, he spoke and was back in his seat before anyone could start hissing. Shame.

Richard O’Connor shared a few words in memory of Tissa David, a New York animation community icon who recently passed at age 91.  One of the most articulate, funny and knowledgeable people I’ve ever met in the animation industry, Richard spoke very eloquently about Tissa before showing a short tribute reel.  AWN’s post about her passing, with links to Richard and other remembrances, can be found here.

Una Furtiva Lagrima by Carlo Vogele

Festival Director Chris Robinson, with usual humility and grace, got up and spoke, rifling through a small notebook, stopping now and again on a random page as if to remind himself of the need to pause, not say anything, then continue rifling through the notebook. He screened an odd but funny (at least, to me and 4 others in the theatre) short he made with Theodore Ushev, done in silent slapstick Buster Keaton style, a tragic tale of death and testicular loss. I’m not sure which is worse. Who knew popped balloons could be so poignant?

Competition Screening 1 had some good films.  There isn’t enough time to dive into any meaningful assessment yet. However, I did enjoy seeing Carlo Vogele’s Un Furtiva Lagrima again.  Set to a 1904 recording of Enrico Caruso, the film explores the operatic drama of winning a young woman’s heart, as sung by a fish on its journey from market to fry pan.

Day 2 has just begun, with more adventures I’m sure to follow.

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