Ottawa Day 1: Please Move Out of My Way!

Is it just me, or do Canadians like to congregate and talk hockey while blocking the entrance to every elevator, hallway, doorway and turnstile in the vicinity? It seemed every single path I took yesterday was impeded by some throng completely oblivious to those trying to navigate past them. Oh, plus I saw some good films!

By Dan Sarto

Is it just me, or do Canadians like to congregate and talk hockey while blocking the entrance to every elevator, hallway, doorway and turnstile in the vicinity?  It seemed every single path I took yesterday was impeded by some throng completely oblivious to those trying to navigate past them.

After spending the day in meetings and sessions at TAC (more about TAC tomorrow) I spent the evening immersed in film.  First up was Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, a film I’d planned on seeing twice in LA at two separate press screenings that, unfortunately, I missed.  This was followed by the first competition short film screening.

The Illusionist, directed by Sylvain Chomet. © 2010 Django Films Illusionist Ltd / Cine B / France 3 Cinema, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

I have wanted to see The Illusionist for some time and was not disappointed.  Though the film was quite beautiful, with exquisite backgrounds and wonderfully expressive characters, nothing in the story compelled me, none of the characters moved me in any particular way.  The relationship between the older man and the young girl didn’t bother me, though some might snicker and assume the worst.  I just never quite understood it.

The first shorts competition was quite strong.  Many of the films embraced political messages, some more overt than others.  The program started with the Oscar winning short Logorama, which is always a crowd pleasure.  While I applaud the film’s bold saturation with everything commercial, I still get the feeling the film would have benefitted by a US – centric “touch” in the story. As an American, I love good foreign parody.  Goodness knows we parody ourselves mercilessly.  However, it would have been much funnier had it benefitted by a sharper story and not seemed like it was driven by the thinnest of stereotypical jabs and gags.  The brilliant visual style and execution would have benefitted by a less gratuitous and more biting commentary.

Dustin Grella's Prayers for Peace.

My favorites of the program were Dustin Grella’s Prayer for Peace and Steven Woloshen’s Playtime.  Dustin’s film, about the death of his younger brother, a US soldier killed after only being stationed in Iraq for 3 months, was brilliant for all the reasons short films can be brilliant.  He brought together a cohesive and poignant story, not overly sentimental or preachy, more about his own struggle with a casual indifference to his brother becoming a soldier than to the obvious pain his death brought to the family, with a beautifully crafted, artful and almost palpable style of animation that reminds that all is not CG and we should be thankful for that.

Mr. Woloshen, whom I’ve known for many years, single handedly introduced me to the world of experimental film and gave me hope that at least once in a while, when he released new work, there would an experimental film that wasn’t 9 minutes of agony.  His latest film, Playtime, is short, smart, set to a great piece of Oscar Peterson jazz.  You get in, you get out, the visuals are great and then you move on.  Scratch films are about as basic a display of the medium as you can get, though they are exacting in their execution and difficult to do properly.  Done well, they’re fantastic.  Steven’s film was one such example.

A Knife Party's Coalition of the Willing.

Coalition of the Willing, an animation collaboration produced by A Knife Party, was also done very well, a non-stop linear visual mouse trap of image leading into image leading into image, a seamless integration of little vignettes illustrating how people can re-capture the spirit of the 60s and use the internet to swarm all over the issue of “global warming” to find new ways of reducing carbon footprints and healing the planet.  This style of filmmaking is quite fun to watch, an almost stream of conscious rambling of image and ideas in a state of constant motion.  A very powerful way to get across a political message, if of course, you believe the message.