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SAFO `97: The First Time Around

The first Student Animation Festival of Ottawa is reviewed by Joan Ashworth of the Royal College of Art. Will this become another Ottawa tradition?

The September 1997 SAFO was a new festival on the world circuit with the emphasis particularly on students, their work and their future. It was designed to bring them together with educators and practitioners in the industry so that there might be a cross-fertilization of ideas and exchange of needs, wants and practices.

We Lived in Grass by Andreas Hykade took home the Grand Prize.

Good Solid, Down-to-Earth Advice

The students seemed to relish the five days. Here they were being taken seriously by awe-inspiring names like Pixar, MTV, PDI and Cartoon Network. Their work was being seen outside their college, projected even, to an audience beyond immediate friends and family. Instant comments from viewers who had not struggled through the production agonies were priceless. Students from other colleges, prospective employers, heroes and film crews were asking questions and, perhaps most importantly, offering advice and fresh-eye comments, often from a slightly different cultural background. The festival was invaluable to those lucky enough to attend.

The Arts Center, home to both SAFO and the biannual Ottawa International Animation Festival. Photo © Animation World Network.

It doesn't matter how many times a student's college tutor gives them advice on presentation and pitching, but when J. J. Sedelmaier tells them to keep their reel to three minutes, their portfolio tight and their resume clear, they know he's right and they know that they should save their twenty minute unedited rushes for another viewing - even if they are a visual poem! For students to be able to walk around and see the faces behind those powerful animation stalwarts, to realize that the companies aren't ogres or impregnable, that they have needs too, that there will always be room for genuine talent... Well, these are experiences that no classroom or school can really give. From an educator's point of view, it was just a little reassuring that some of the advice handed out about living in the real, professional world was being backed up and taken in. Hopefully, the first-hand experiences will be passed around the studios and bars back at college to spread the benefits beyond the (relatively) few who could attend.

David How of Sheridan College presenting a seminar. Photo © Animation World Network.

Mainstream Mania

At times, though, it seemed as if the mainstream was perhaps a little too dominant. Maybe it was because of the inevitable prevalence of the North American feature industry, but to this (European) animator it was a shame that more experimental or innovative work was not more evident; that work from the Canadian film schools did not exist alongside the many commercial, happy cartoons. Students are often told that their graduation film is their calling card, and they have accepted that. However, they also shouldn't forget that the film they make at college is one of the very few times that they will be able to express their art so freely and shout so individually. Prospective employers are often artists too, and they can see job-worthy quality in more artistically challenging work. There is no need to dumb-down to get a job in a mass-market industry. I was surprised and disappointed by the screening room reactions to some of the more thoughtful works: shouting and slow clapping a non-narrative film highlights the lack of acceptance, even in these circles, of animation as a more expressive and experimental art form.

Many schools exhibited at SAFO, offering festival-goers an opportunity to look at the different educational programs available in animation. Photo © Animation World Network.

The Future

Overall the festival certainly has a place and is welcome. It shows again just what a high animation is on at the moment. Ten years ago the industry was so much more limited and incestuous. Now the proliferation of courses around the world is creating a feast of talented, young filmmakers, many of them genuine voices. Inevitably technology has had its part to play, opening up animation to smaller colleges and more students. Companies and colleges showed off their finest computer animation wares to students who devoured all on offer. The Pixar stand was an especially popular focus with students made aware by the success of Toy Story that there is life for inventive computer-based storytelling beyond flying logos, spaceships and digital tunnels. Computers have quickly become a massive boon to animation, helping to make it more attractive as a career and pulling in a wider variety of young talent from science as well as art backgrounds.

Teletoon, Canada's new all-animation channel, was among the corporate exhibitors in SAFO's AniMarket. Jodi Hazzan, Communications Coordinator for the network, greeted visitors. Photo © Animation World Network.

Now events like Ottawa are helping to integrate the industry and the educators, bringing graduates into the fold. As long as the students remember that they are more than just cartoon technicians, the future for the producers, educators, students and festival organizers looks bright indeed.

For a full list of SAFO's winners, please see below.

Joan Ashworth has run the animation department of London's post-graduate Royal College of Art for the last three years, winning the prize for the most innovative school at both Annecy and Ottawa. She has a long and distinguished client list from around the world for her commercial work through her studios, 3 Peach and Seed Fold.

The following prizes were awarded at SAFO:

  • Grand Prize: We Lived in Grass by Andreas Hykade (Germany)
  • Best Unfinished Film: Love Story by Pedram Goshtusbpour, Jason Rennie (Canada)
  • Runner Up Best Unfinished Film: The Tenor by Thor Freudenthal (Germany)
  • Best Character Animation: Cappucino by Ulo Pikkov (Estonia)
  • Best Computer Animation: Riante Contr by Francois Vogel (France)
  • Runner Up Best Computer Animation: Adrenaline by Lionel Richerand (France)
  • Best Experimental Film: Fruhling by Silke Parzich (Germany)
  • Best Background Design: Season's Greetings by Michael Dougherty (USA)
  • Best Canadian Film: Mr. Lucky by David Soren (Canada)

Special Jury Prizes:

  • Experimental: HISAO by Mashiro Sugano (USA)
  • Stop motion: Shadows in the Margerine by Pekka Korhonen, Leena Yaaskelainen, Kaisa Penttila (Finland)
  • Original Concept: Arnold Has A Thought by Peter McDonald (Australia) and The Ticker Talks by Stephen Harding-Hill (U.K.)