When I Grow Up I Want To Be René Jodoin
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Rectangle and Rectangles directed by René Jodoin. © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

Computer Research and Retirement
Jodoin's liberal attitudes also extended to an interest in developing computer animation as an artistic tool for animators. "The National Research Council came around to visit and discuss their problems and that they were working on a project with CBC and Radio Canada," says Jodoin. "I wasn't too impressed with all that, but finally they asked the Film Board to cooperate. We went down to see what they were doing and I was impressed and we realized that we could animate line drawing." Unfortunately the Film Board was never really in a position to follow through on their early computer exploration. "Things changed," notes Pierre Hébert, "because the NFB couldn't afford to keep up and the people doing the same in the USA were better funded." Indeed, Jodoin was not in total agreement with the NFB's aim to be at the forefront of computer animation development. "René favoured lighter equipment that would be put in the hands of the animators," notes Hébert. "This is what he had in mind and of course, this is the way it is today. René was seeing things differently."

Rectangle and Rectangles directed by René Jodoin. © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

In 1979, Jodoin resigned from his position to work on his own films. "When René left," notes animator, Paul Driessen, "I think it was a heavy blow to the department. After that the people in charge of the department where much more commercial and didn't really stand for anything and you can see that, it's still like that." Between 1979 and his retirement from the Board in 1985, Jodoin completed two films, A Matter of Form (1984) and Rectangle and Rectangles (1985). A Matter of Form is an intriguing and clever film, but is really just a variation on ideas previously explored. Three dots interact to form a line which expands from different points to create various shapes and colours. Echoing the thoughts of Heraclitus, Matter of Form presents a world in a constant state of change.

More interesting is Rectangle and Rectangles, an almost violent film that assaults the viewer with an onslaught of colours, shapes and an incessant, disturbing flickering (the video comes with a warning that it may trigger epileptic seizures!). "The aim was to show time. I tried to make a film with the absence of almost everything so that you could see time move and visually you can become interested through the play of colour and motion." It is a film that leaves one with impressions, not absolutes. There are traces of movement and colour, but nothing definitive.

A Matter of Form directed by René Jodoin. © National Film Board of Canada. All rights reserved.

Remarkably, Jodoin just completed a new film, Between Time and Space. For some, this black-and-white film looks like a primitive screen saver from the 1970s, but beneath the apparent simplicity lie complex analytical ideas about the nature of time and space. Influenced by anthropologist Edward T. Hall, whose studies of space, language and time are seminal, Jodoin has re-contextualized these ideas within the framework of our experience of music. What appears to be a primitive interaction between white and black objects is instead an insightful investigation into the movements between notes of music. On the other hand, if you've got a headache and just want to kick back, it's got a cool galloping soundtrack.

"I find it extraordinary," says producer Pierre Hébert, "that this man of 80 is still looking for things he had in mind in the 1940s. There is a strong sense of necessity in him that has a lot of continuity in what he did. I would like to be like that." It was Heraclitus who believed that the universe is in a constant state of change and that "the beginning and end are the same," but like the words of all great philosophers, they are little more than abstract musings by distant voices. Jodoin has however applied these words both artistically and institutionally throughout his life. Oddly enough, Jodoin's determined exploration of the infinite is deeply rooted in a traditional belief (inherited from McLaren and ultimately Grierson) in the active function of the civil servant. In age where we view the institutional as 'dead weight,' the work of René Jodoin, a man of the institution, suggests that perhaps we, not our institutions, have become stagnant and unchanging.

Over the past two years, Jodoin has finally been acknowledged by the animation community. In 1999, the Ottawa International Student Animation Festival honoured Jodoin and the National Film Board of Canada released a two volume video of his work as a filmmaker and producer. This year, both ASIFA-Canada and ASIFA-International honored his work, and in November, the Holland Animation Film Festival will present a retrospective. It's about time.

Chris Robinson is executive director of the Ottawa International Festival and the founder and director of SAFO, the Ottawa International Student Animation Festival. He is also a board member of ASIFA International. In his spare time, Robinson writes a column, "The Animation Pimp" for Animation World Magazine which will debut next month. Robinson has curated film programs (Los Angeles, Norway, Korea, Holland, Estonia, Singapore, Vietnam and several other places), served on juries (AnimExpo, World Animation Celebration), and written articles on animation for Animation World, FPS, Plateau, Animation Journal and Take One. He prefers writing over cartoons. He also irks a lot of people with his often-inflammatory opinions about many things. He has a son. His son likes him. But maybe it's because he's only 2 (Jarvis -- the son). Maybe when Jarvis knows better he won't feel the same way.


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