By Dan Sarto
I know it must be Ottawa Animation Festival time because it’s been roughly a year since my last verbal manhandling by an airport customs agent. Happy Anniversary! I seem to be a magnet for every disaffected flak vested agent looking to brush up on their 12-step time mismanagement drill. My path through customs at the Ottawa airport was no different this year. It must be my Vans. The checkerboard pattern is on some secret watch list. Or, maybe it’s because I’m Jewish. Despite my feeble compliance, I couldn’t help but wonder if, sans sidearm, multiple 13 round clips, taser, pepper spray and truncheon, this fellow dissecting my passport was any match for me. Yah, my ego whispered, I could take him. If I wanted to. But I don’t want to. Lucky for him. And so starts my 2011 visit to Ottawa.
Opening night brought the usual hoots and howls from an enthusiastic audience. Canadian Film Institute Director Tom McSorley got things started, as he does each year, with a brief introduction, half formal, half informal, filled with poems and obscure inside jokes. He had the evening’s best line when he wrapped things up by saying, “I live to disappoint.” A man unto my own heart.
Honorary festival president David Verrall, recently retired Executive Producer at the NFB, said a few words, praising the festival’s 35 years of existence as well as Chris Robinson’s more recent time as creative director.
The festival can’t really start until Chris takes the mic. This year was no different. I’m never sure if Chris is tremendously prepared or haphazardly unprepared because like usual, we sit patiently though not quietly while he silently peruses a rumpled sheet of paper, or in this case, some index cards. Occasionally he shares a random thought, often amusing, as he talks to himself, like he’s trying hard to recall the couple things he knows he’s supposed to mention but just can’t remember. This year he also gave away a pair of men’s shoes someone left in the festival office and never reclaimed.
The Competition 1 screening was pretty tight, a good selection, with a few notables. Gianluigi Toccafondo’s title sequence for Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is a brilliant piece. His painterly style, images morphing from one to the next, integrating images from the film, made for a unique and beautiful sequence. Note that this was produced by Acme Filmworks, the production company run by Ron Diamond, AWN’s president. Regardless of the affiliation, it’s excellent work.
Swimming Pool, a graduate student film by Czech animator Alexandra Hetmerova, is a cute film about new found love in the midst of the urban jungle, at of all places, a community swimming pool. The animation is simple but the story flows nicely – it’s nice to see an animated short that actually has a real ending that says more than just “I ran out of time and money on my film. The End.”
The highlight of the program was Georges Schwizgebel’s Romance. Georges brings an unbelievable sense of movement and space to his films, the POV constantly shifting in one continuous morph of swirling backgrounds and characters. Just when you wonder where you’re going, you’re brought back to a place of familiarity. As my British nanny used to say, “Simply brilliant.”
Come Thursday morning, I knew the 4 hours I’d slept the previous night wouldn’t be nearly enough to propel me through 2 consecutive shorts programs followed by Phil Mulloy’s new feature, Dead But Not Buried. Not a chance. I’m not a coffee drinker and there’s not enough caffeine in any drinkable volume of Diet Coke to get me through one of my mom’s “impatient and inconsiderate son” telephone lectures, let alone a festival shorts screening. By sheer will, I made it through the Canadian Showcase and one of two International Showcases. But then came Mulloy and I knew I was doomed without assistance. So, I did something I’ve never, ever done before – I bought an energy drink. Though I’m sure you need piercings or tattoos or healthy disdain for authority to buy one, I managed to procure my lightening in a can from a small shop in the Rideau Center. I felt like surreptitiously handing a teenager some cash and asking if they’d go buy one for me – a funnier role reversal in the states because unlike there, I think the drinking age here in Canada is 5.
So, much like a junky scoping the surroundings before breaking out his kit, I looked left, looked right, and in about 5 gulps, downed my ginseng and taurine-infused energy drink. While not tasting as bad as expected, nonetheless the drink was actually quite underwhelming. Since I left my skateboard at my mom’s house...back in 1975, maybe I’m just not the right demographic to fully appreciate this $4 can of piss and vinegar. Maybe that’s actually what it’s made from?
Picking up where Goodbye Mr. Christie left off, Dead But Not Buried continues the adventures of our gloriously dysfunctional web of characters in search of Mr. Christie, the central character of our tale. Sex, lies, love, greed, deceit, hatred, jealousy, we’ve got them all, in every scene. Phil Mulloy’s latest is thoroughly enjoyable. As my British nanny used to say, “Smashing.”