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The Animation Pimp: The Beginning of The End of The Beginning — Part 3: The Tent

The Animation Pimp continues his life ponders in the third part of The Beginning of The End of The Beginning series.

Read the first The Beginning of The End of The Beginning and The Beginning of the End of the Beginning Part 2: Revolver.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Well, you know the saying: be careful what you wish for Things began to change in 1994/1995. First, the CFI president laid off some deadweight and I ended up inheriting the job as director of non-theatrical services. It meant more hours, money and responsibility. It was a joke really. The film rental division was sagging. Hardly anyone rented 16mm films anymore. We housed a collection for UNICEF and the National Research Council. Real dull science films. UNICEF eventually cut our funding, as did the NRC. I spent most days going through the massive amounts of film just to see what was there.

We had a lot of animation prints on 16mm (Hubleys and NFB stuff mostly) but the real thrill was discovering these old educational films from the 1940s to 1970s. I found so many that, with a friend of mine, Lee Demarbre (Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter), we ended up starting a monthly movie night in Ottawa (Reel Mondays) where basically we got drunk and showed off the wall films (and gave away prizes like chocolate ass balls from the nearby sex shop. As Lee said, They melt in your ass, not in your hands.).

Okay so [Tom] Knott left. That left me, [Tom] McSorley and the presidents son (who had been put in charge of the CFI). It was a very awkward time. First, the son offered me McSorleys job. As much as I wanted that job, I refused and told McSorley what had happened. Did this happen then or earlier? Cant remember. Not important. Do remember that I was made interim director of the OIAF in late 94 or something six months later I conned my way into the position when I pressured the boss son by saying that I had to have an answer about the OIAF job cause I was gonna go back to school (actually maybe it wasnt such a con) so, having no other options I was given the job of running the OIAF.

It was spring 1995. That gave me a year and change to get my shit together. In hindsight it was probably a stupid decision on the sons part. There were more qualified people (Kelly [Neall], for example!) but so be it. I got it and except for a drinking problem, fights, panic attacks, firings, and the office fire, things turned out okay.

Being director meant travel. June 1995. First trip abroad. Annecy. Kelly made me buy a suit (sorry, a blazer, she says). I was so naïve. Felt that the director should be dressed for the occasion. Hell... I remember in those days thinking how important ASIFA was. I was scared shitless of ASIFA and especially that grumpy David Ehrlich (who is now among my closest friends). I actually printed out about 25 copies of our report and budget to present to the ASIFA board. I really thought they were powerful and had an active role in our organization. What a laugh. That was my first airplane ride. Some charter flight with a lot of middle-aged Quebec folk. I remember that takeoff. Holy shit, man, I thought I was gonna die. I was gripping the seat with all my strength I was sweating shaking convinced we were gonna die (that ol death phobia again). Fortunately, the free booze eased things up.

What a pain in the ass getting there (still is). I had some heavy-ass boxes and had no idea where I was going. We got into Paris and I had no idea where I needed to go. Fortunately, Michele Pauze of the NFB was there with some other NFBers and they guided me along. I had some nasty arguments in later years with Michele, but Ill never forget how sweet she was to me during that trip.

Annecy was overwhelming. I knew maybe 5-6-7 people. It was a scary experience. Fortunately, Knott and oTTo Alder and Linda Simensky were there and they introduced me to some folks (including rockin Ron Diamond. He was telling me about some crazy idea to do some big animation website for the World Wide Web whatever the hell that was!). It was maybe the purest festival experience I had.

Because I didnt know anyone, I went to all the screenings. I hardly drank and went to my room early most nights (at least till I met a posse of Aussies, including Dennis Tupicoff, and Irish animators then the nights got longer and blurrier). The craziest experience was getting lost in Annecy. The hotel was at least a 1-2 miles away and I just kept making the wrong turns. It took me about an hour to figure it out.

Hah I remember Candy Kugel. That was the year that someone entered her room while she was sleeping. Freaked her out. Was also the year of the infamous Annecy closing ceremony, which was totally disorganized and out of whack (hah unlike the OIAF! Kidding.) Hung out with Maureen Furniss a lot. Went to see whats his names films Stareowicz really got off on those films. Dead bugs committing adultery!

Fast Forward

This piece is getting too long. My second festival was in Stuttgart. This was really the satori for me in animation. No suit this time, but did fly to Charles de Gaulle again. Had to spend nine hours there waiting for the two-hour or so flight to Stuttgart. Ended up dazing on a bench and missing the flight so make it three more hours. Finally got to Stuttgart and passed out on the bed, exhausted.

Next night I hooked up with Jayne Pilling. We were chatting away when this freaky looking guy with shaggy hair, big glasses and a black leather coat took a seat with us. This was Gerben Schermer from the Holland Festival. Id like to say that we hit it off immediately, but we were so pissed that I cant recall much except that we sat around talking all night and then the three of us headed back to my room at the Maritim (the best festival hotel!) and drank some whisky. I passed out and spent the next 24 hours in my room trying to recover.

Okay maybe this wasnt the worst but since I was in a foreign country this hangover seemed like the worst. Oh God I remember twisting, turning and vomiting watching Jackie Chan films in German on TV and then FINALLY venturing outdoors at about 1:00 am where I got a bit of whatever program was on.

Things got much better. Met some Brits (Ruth Lingford, I think) and a real sweet Scottish girl. Ended up palling around with her all week. Met Peter Dougherty, the New York-born MTV Europe creative director. Acidic sense of humor. Right up my alley. But beyond that I remember one competition screening above all others. This was the year of Hilary by Anthony Hodgson, a film I loved so much (it ended up getting three awards in Ottawa) and a crazy film by some Estonian guy. My Scottish pal and I took seats in the balcony so we could drink our beers in peace.

The Estonian film was first, I think. Man I just remember being jolted out of whatever the moment that film started. Until I saw Ring of Fire and Son of Satan, it was really my big satori in animation I had NO idea what the film was about it was just loaded with cinema references a sarcastic British narrator and really sloppy drawings. It was so smart, alive, funny and unpretentious. I had never seen anything like this film and was just in stunned silence the whole time. Oh man this was life I just felt so good about life I wanted to embrace people. I was buzzing with energy. This is what animation could be!! It didnt have to be so damn cute or so cartoony and perfectly drawn of course being a film studies major

I felt some comfort in the film it was about, sort of, the history of cinema there were references to Bergman, Godard, Truffaut I really had no idea what the film was REALLY about (not sure I do fully grasp it today) but whatever it was, it lured me right smack into animation it gave me a home in a sense a connection I found my center.

After the screening I saw Otto. I excitedly asked him about this film. He asked if Id like to meet the filmmakers. Holy shit yeah... that would be great. Later that night or maybe the next night we went to their room. They were these older guys, dressed in shirts from the film they were just sitting around having some vodka or whatever hard liquor. They invited us in I was introduced, Chris, this is Priit Parn and Janno Poldma. Im sure I was like a kid meeting a hockey star. I loved your film. I have no idea what it was about, but I just loved it. It was funny and smart and just great Parn said thanks and offered a drink. Before I left. Parn, like a hockey player giving a boy an autographed pictures or free tickets, gave me a cel from the film. Oh man that was amazing. I still have that cel of Jean Paul on the walls.

Funny during the closing ceremonies I remember seeing this young man with flowers in his hair collecting the best student film award. He struck me as a bit arrogant. Only later did I realize that this was Andreas Hykade who had won for a film I didnt see then, We Lived in Grass. Two years later that film would finally grab my soul.

The night after the festival ended, oTTo, Priit and Janno and I went to dinner at a small German restaurant. It was, even now, the most memorable dinner Ive had. The place (which no longer exists) was locally owned. We had, Christ, about 4-5 courses and the rule was that you had to finish everything off your plate. Meantime we kept drinking something or other real sweet, delicious, dangerous stuff. We laughed so much that night. I was finally learning to relax a little and be myself (whoever that was) that was the night I earned a nickname that sticks today.

This strange older guy who worked at the restaurant part time kept sitting with us and pouring us drinks at one point he called me Sepp. No idea why. But the name stuck until this day oTTo and the Estonians call me Sepp. When Jarvis was born in 1998, it became Papa Sepp (if you look at the end credits to Parns film The Night of the Carrots, youll see a Papa Sepp in there).

For years I really had no idea what the name meant. Sepp in Estonian is like Smith maybe Blacksmith.

Oh, and the film was called 1895.

Whats it about really?

A guy trying to figure out who he is and what hes supposed to be doing with his life. (Reminds me yes... when I program the OIAF, I pick films that I think are worthy but its also clearly subjective and there are pieces that will undeniably reflect my life/concerns of that moment.)

My almost brotherly relationship with Gerben Schermer was born there and my long, long road down the path of Estonia started in that Stuttgart balcony.

That year in Stuttgart was when I, literally, entered the tent (I say literally because Stuttgart does have a tent!). Everything clicked. So many relationships that are important to me today (Pilling, Alder, Dougherty, Lingford, Schermer, Parn, Poldma, Hykade) all have some link to Stuttgart 96. I left Stuttgart with confidence. I could run the festival.

The downside? It was also the period that elevated my drinking habit. I was like a kid at camp. We had fun everyday. There were films to watch, people to meet, sights to see. I was actually sad to leave Stuttgart. One of the only times I remember feeling that way after a festival. I didnt want the feelings to end. I wanted everyday to be like the festival. So when I got home I started drinking more. For the next four years I became increasingly lost in the festival, in animation, in booze.

Last fall, when I was staying with Hykade, I asked him about the name. He told me it was like Joe but usually used to describe sort of a dim guy.

Ha, I was the village idiot.

Chris Robinson is little more than a man. In his spare time he cares for the elderly.

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A well-known figure in the world of independent animation, writer, author & curator Chris Robinson is the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.