Ottawa 2011 was declared officially open last night by this year’s honorary president David Verrall (recently retired from the helm of Animation at the NFB.) Chris Robinson, the artistic director of the festival, was at his post-modern best alternatively confusing and charming us with his edgy sense of humour (right down to the shoes.)
From one film to the next I was amazed at the excellence of the selection. Over the many years that I've attended the festival I’ve heard complaints that Chris doesn’t use a selection committee. As David Verrall so clearly reminded us last night, this festival is shaped by the artistic director and not by a committee. Chris’ selection is consistent in it’s being unconventional while bringing us imaginative films we’d rarely catch in the mainstream festivals. And that’s one of the reasons that we attend year after year.
That said, on to the highlights of Short Competition One.
Right out the gate, the first film had me captivated. A high school entry, Paper Man directed by David Borish is a wonderfully delightful (I’m using up my superlatives here) film about a small man set against a huge child’s world of toys. Built up from 300 cut outs and 700 photos, this stop motion short is imaginative and charming even in its contradictions. Likely due to the limitations of resources available to the filmmaker, rather than impeding the film these limitations lend the film charm and resonance. As one example, the “dangerous” animals are stuffed toys who bump along in their fixed sitting position as they pursue the Paper Man. That’s a lot richer than had they been menacingly in pursuit on all fours.
The filmmaker has a web page http://www.wix.com/davidbb99/davidborish  but the links to Paperman seem to be broken. Hopefully it will be back up soon. Stay on it, the film is well worth viewing.
Many Go Round (pronounced manny) directed by Yoshihisa Nakanishi is an experimental animation composed of paper cut-outs - the ancient Japanese art of papercutting meets the Phenakistoscope (precursor of the zoetrope). While the menu of human motions are limited - walking, running, swimming - the silhouettes and structures they are cut out from are in constant motion. Note also the original music which is a flawless fit.
Check out the director’s website  to see still images of the cutouts.
An audience favourite (enthusiastic clapping and shout-out) was Swimming Pool directed by Alexandra Hetmerova. A Czech Republic grad school submission, the simple lines belie an engrossing and gently humourous modern day tale of romance between two outsiders. I won’t give away the punch line, but if you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend this delightful film.
And finally, another romantic entry, Georges Schwizgebel’s Romance, is a classic Schwizgebel film. I frankly don’t know how he does it. The POV of the film is that of a camera on a dolly moving smoothly and strategically through space. Sometimes we see from within the subject’s perspective, sometimes from without. Given the rich metamorphosis in the film, it’s fairly clear that he does this all from his roaming mind’s eye. I can only imagine how vast his visual knowledge of form, depth, and space is. For more on Schwizgebel, check out his page on the NFB’s website .