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The Animation Pimp: Doofs

The Animation Pimp sets the record straight with sensitive artist doofs who get upset when their films dont make a festival competition, but still make a special screening section.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Guy I know recently took his film out of Annecy 2005 cause they had placed it in the Panorama section. This pisses me off cause he seems to think that Panorama screenings are afterthoughts a purgatory for the mediocre. The guy, frankly, is a doof.

First, for those of you who dont know what panorama means, its well getting a full view of a field. For our purposes, its a survey of the films that did not make a festivals official competition. Last year, I started calling Showcase screenings or Best of the Rest (some sensitive types found that insulting, though).

Festivals have a limited amount of space for competition screenings. As Ive written before, in Ottawa, we have six competitions at about 80 minutes each. Because Ottawa does not separate commissioned and independent films (as Annecy does) that means that almost 2,000 entries are fighting for 480 minutes of film.

In 2004, we took 16 films in the narrative short category and about nine in the first film/student category. Youre being judged on two levels in the end. On one level, youre really judged ONLY against the other films in your category. However, youre also up against the clock as well because while we do give favor to independent work and ensure that the competition is primarily composed of personal films, indies are also, in terms of time/space, competing against commercials, TV stuff etc so at the end of the day the reality is that some GOOD indie work is getting pushed out of competition because of the commissioned categories.

So, you say, why not do what Annecy does and have a separate competition for commissioned and short films? First, I simply like the idea that we always show everything together. All these films, no matter their category, are being judged from an aesthetic point of view. We look at their technique/design/conception and how its all executed whether its Atomic Betty or Paul Bush. In a sense, competition is like a panorama of the animation community the best stuff being made internationally for TV and not-TV. Secondly, from a programming perspective, its nice to be able to put something lighter or shorter between longer artsy-fartsy films. It gives the screenings more flavor and can create a bit of a rollercoaster ride. One minute you might see Dog by Suzie Templeton the next minute youre watching Creature Comforts.

Thirdly, just from a logistical perspective, we dont have the space to create another competition screening. We just have too much stuff going on as it is and frankly, unlike euro towns, the folks in Ottawa dont leave their office cubicles until after 4:00-5:00 pm so daytime screenings in terms of the public are a waste. And then... what happens then I have to decide on prime spots. Feature competition (which is separate of course) goes at 7:00 pm. Shorts go at their traditional 9:00 pm. Where do I put the commissioned? I guess we could put them at 3:00 pm and who the fug cares if the public doesnt come cause its all TV shit anyway, right? Nah I just cant do that. I like it as is.

Okay so that preamble was an attempt to explain the temporal/spatial realities that confront entrants. Were not even dealing with the issues of taste. And I aint getting into that again we covered that a few years ago and it still gives me a headache when I think about those taste articles. But okay taste is relative and if an artist hasnt figured that out, then let me be the first to explain it to you not everyone thinks youre the genius you think you might be; not everyone thinks your latest work is the masterwork you believe it to me. And hey, maybe they are full of shit and are wrong but so it is my friend.

When you submit to a festival you know what youre in for you know that there are no guarantees with selection committees or festival organizers (hey rememberall you folks who think I have a hard-on for all things Estonian I didnt take Priit Parns Karl and Marilyn for competition). Selection committees are especially tricky because theyre all coming from different cultural backgrounds and then you factor in the normal baggage of culture, economics, socialization, education all the ingredients that go into forming the tastes of an individual and youre really into uncertainty. And hey lets say that two out of three committee members LOVE your work, the other guy/gal might be SO incredibly abhorred by it that his/her passion could win out over the other two. See those are the moments when deals are made the guy/gal might agree to go along with another film if he can ensure that the one he hates is removed.

Ive already written about juries and all this stuff, so Im not gonna rehash it all again here, but look, animators have to realize that festivals are as Ive said so many times like going to a casino: its entirely out of your hands and you just have to trust and respect the process. Not everyone is gonna see things your way and ya just gotta live with that.* I make decisions about films in competition and retrospective and juries each year that not everyone is going to agree with or even understand, but most of the time they seem to respect my right to make these choices and also understand that right or wrong (is there such a thing?) I do try to do the best that I can. I might seem like a reactionary person at times (in person, I am), but I put a lot of fuggin energy and time into programming. And yeah I make mistakes. So be it.

NOW as for this Panorama stuff see I dont think being selected for Panorama is an insult in the least. In 2004, for example, almost every film in Panorama was worthy of competition but hard decisions had to be made. Panorama is very important to me these are films that I remain very confused about films that I feel maybe I could be wrong about so Panorama, for me, is not just a survey of the international animation world, its like a sneak peak at the deleted scenes in a sense (okay I know that most deleted scenes are deleted for good reason!... but thats not what I mean here) you can see 4-5 programs of films that I was uncertain about films that I thought were good films that I felt strong enough about to want to show.

Lets remember that panorama films are being shown in the same venues, for the same audience. Its not like youre being tossed on a video monitor in a corner of my basement. So, really, aside from the fact that you dont get offered a free hotel room, (you still get a comp. pass something that TOO MANY OF YOU take for granted), and youre not competing for a shiny trophy, whats the problem? Buyers, recruiters, festival programmers etc. are all there watching your work all the same.

And you know what? I cant tell you HOW many times Ive had people say to me at a festival (whether its Ottawa or Zagreb or Annecy) that they thought the Panorama screenings were better than the competition. Ive said so many times that separating the GREAT and the SLOP is easy its the work in the middle, the good stuff that is the toughest part of selection thats when its such a crapshoot and ultimately it boils down to personal taste and, like life, YOU cant control that. Comes down to individual psyche I guess. Do you roll with the uncontrollable or do you let your ego fight a fight of futility? In the end, its a battle ya aint never gonna win.

Crass and vulgar or raw and honest? Judge Gary Panters poster for this years Ottawa festival for yourself. © 2005 Ottawa International Animation Festival/Gary Panter.

Crass and vulgar or raw and honest? Judge Gary Panters poster for this years Ottawa festival for yourself. © 2005 Ottawa International Animation Festival/Gary Panter.

So folks lets clear the air here. Panorama is an important component of a festival. Its NOT there to be a slap in the face of the animators, its there because, although the programmers didnt take it for competition, they still REALLY believe in the film and WANT their audiences to see it Panorama shows are an admission of doubt on the part of the programmers. They could easily say forget it its competition or nothing that way they cover their asses but they dont (and okay wait NO we cant simply just call the 4-5 Panorama screenings competitions and be done with the issue cause it aint that easy see logistics above).

If you are one of these people who think that being chosen for Panorama is a slap in the face, you best be asking yourself some questions Who did you make your film for? Did you make it to win trophies or did you make it because you had something to express and you want people to see it?

Competition or Panorama, your work is being seen. Why you would take this as an insult and choose not to be seen makes me immediately wonder about the motivations and mental health of the filmmaker. What other art form gives you this possibility? I can tell you that when I have a manuscript rejected by a publisher, they sure as hell dont give me the option of a Panorama publishing category. Or hell, man do you think that the hockey player who gets told that hes MADE the team as a spare or fourth liner is gonna bitch and moan and say no thanks Id rather be cut or sent to the minors? I dont think so.

In case there is any doubt about my feelings here, let me say for the record that if you consider having your film shown out of competition an insult and would never accept it, do NOT submit your film to Ottawa. Doofs need not apply.

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

*In another DOOFUS moment, this year our poster was created by a pretty fine artist named, Gary Panter. We were lucky to get him and he was extremely generous with us the result, in my view, was a fine poster a work that combines Panters so-called punk art style with folk art. Its colorful, playful and its got that raw feeling that really, for me, captures the spirit of the Ottawa festival and, in particular, my tastes (or lack of). I like raw, honest, faulty works and Panters graphic books are right along those lines (by the way, a big thanks to Richard OConnor for leading me to Panter).

ANYWAY this year we got a savage letter from a veteran animator out of Vancouver who absolutely LOATHED the poster and felt that wed gone and sold our souls to the demons of all that is crass and vulgar. First, I was pleased that we got a damn letter about the poster! I have NEVER in my years in Ottawa had anyone write with such passion about our poster.

That being said, the guy was, in my view, full of shit speaking from his ass (he seemed to think we are a govt. institution and, as such, we were spending Joe Canucks money on this American created crap not so, most of our money is from the private world), not his head BUT its his right to say he doesnt like the poster (even if hes wrong).

Chris Robinson's picture

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.