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The Animation Pimp: Just Kept’ Walkin’

Chris Robinson has a new take on the impact of Chris Landreths Ryan and the need to celebrate those who have successfully overcome their demons.

As great as you are, man, youll never be greater than yourself.
Bob Dylan, High Water (For Charley Patton)
Nigga I will bury ya bone. Im the one who burned ya home
Ol Dirty Bastard, Nigga Please
Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

Illustration by Andreas Hykade. Courtesy of Chris Robinson.

I was bothered all during the Ottawa festival. Ryan was in competition. I was glad to have it. It deserved to be there. Figured it was equally good to have Ryan Larkin there too. A homecoming of sorts. I even arranged to have Ryans film Walking, shown. But the week uncovered some of what I expressed in an earlier Pimp this year about Larkin. I had felt guilty about Landreth and me exploiting Larkins life to face our own demons. That doesnt bother me so much now. I was an alcoholic and Ryan represented a road that I might very well travel down. In exchange, I invited him to the festival and offered a place where maybe hed get inspired and want to change the structure of his life. In the end, I quit drinking, but he got worse. I didnt know it was worse until he got to Ottawa this year.

From the time he awoke till the time he stumbled to his hotel the guy drank. He needed constant supervision which meant either me, Landreth, David Miller (NFB publicist) or Petr Maur (our graphic designer and festival driver). We keep feeding him with beers to keep him happy, kept making beer and smokes runs, anything to stop him from flipping out. Of course, by late afternoon, hed be pissed, incomprehensible, emotional and just generally fucked up. We might as well have shot him. We were just feeding him poison anyway.

As much as I enjoyed watching Ryan piss on the streets of Ottawa in broad daylight, there were times when I wanted to grab him and slap some sense into him. Tell him to stop playing these ridiculous games, stop being such a child and take some responsibility for his life. At night he took his bows and people applauded, approached, shook his hand like he was royalty. We got plenty of media coverage included a primo national TV spot. Isnt this what I wanted? A little give and take, right? Its all wrong. Its all fucked up. Ryans not a hero. He was never a hero to me. He was a guy who had gone down a road that I very, very easily could have followed... and maybe I would have if I hadnt met him. But that same year I also met Michele Cournoyer and Paul Fierlinger. They had recovered. They had been sober for about 17 and 10 years respectively. I wrote about them too. They were absolutely pivotal figures as much if not more than Ryan and yet here we were four years later, Micheles almost 20 years sober, has a new film (Accordion).

Fierlingers about 14 years sober, has a new film (A Room Nearby) that wins one of the Grand Prizes but nothing is said of them. Did you KNOW that Fierlinger was diagnosed with cancer in 2002? While winning that battle he and Sandra (wife and collaborator) made A Room Nearby! Holy criminy. Why isnt Fierlinger getting standing ovations? Instead here we are celebrating the life of this guy who will die from alcoholism, who cannot and will not change We are more interested in him than with these two people who OVERcame some major demons and forged successful and satisfying new roads.

Or, hey forget the alcohol angle altogether. Last year, five directors (including Michele Cournoyer) were relieved of their full time staff spots at the NFB. Two of those were Jacques Drouin and Co Hoedeman. They were at the board for almost 30 years. They quietly went about their work, producing acclaimed films and living their lives. Co, it should be known, has helped care for his wifes daughter and grandchildren for years the guy, from all accounts, is a loving, toting grandfather basically a father to these kids. He works to help support them. Ive never been a fan of Drouin or Hoedemans films and Ive had my share of conflicts with both but I cant help but think of them right now. These guys who were part of Larkins generation who were at the NFB with Larkin, but who followed the path Ryan did not.

Applaud and appreciate Ryan Larkin (left) and filmmaker Chris Landreth as well as others. Courtesy of Copper Heart Ent. and the National Film Board of Canada. Photo credit: Liam Maloney (left) and Shira Avni.

Applaud and appreciate Ryan Larkin (left) and filmmaker Chris Landreth as well as others. Courtesy of Copper Heart Ent. and the National Film Board of Canada. Photo credit: Liam Maloney (left) and Shira Avni.

Both men are among the nicest, politest people youll meet. Even though, Ive been nasty to them, theyve always acknowledged me and been friendly. Co was our festival president this year and the guy was phenomenal. Really loosened up, had a good time, and brought some class (and a jacket) to his position. He cared about it and made me realize that I hadnt cared enough about it before. Im not saying that Fierlinger, Cournoyer, Drouin or Hoedeman are heroes. Theyre not. They just lived their lives, tumbles and all but I dunno they take responsibility for it.

Ryan is not a hero and it was never my intent to make him one, but somehow I lost control of that Landreth lost control of that Isnt it odd that the NFB takes more care with Ryan the film than they did with Ryan the human being? They were once ashamed of him, but now they celebrate him at every turn. I dont blame them. Its their job. But isnt it funny? Would they ever produce a film BY Larkin?

And then theres this documentary, Altered Egos. Fuck them. Exploitive piece of nothing. Ive even reached a point where Im not so sure about Landreths film anymore. Maybe it was a week of hanging out with the real Ryan that changed me. Kelly just interrupted me and said, Maybe everyone just wants to help Ryan. Yeah. Maybe. I dont think anyone involved with all this is out to hurt Ryan I too believe that we all want to help him get him off his feet... but theres only so much that we can do. Hes had ample opportunity this film has put him in a position where he has options now but until he stops chuggin black labels it aint gonna change. Yeah also so where was I? I have no doubts about Landreths intentions but I think he made the wrong film. Chris saw his mother in Ryan, but in the end, he didnt deliver the goods there. The film IS called Ryan so technically... hey thats okay... but I dont believe that Chris really confronted his demon. Hes clearly got some mother pain to resolve and he just didnt do it in the film. But hey, maybe hes not ready yet. Im not judging or slamming him for that BUT the image of Chris in the end on the street with broken face, resembling Ryan, following Ryans path just doesnt add up because of this. Its not earned. Chris isnt honest enough about his own fears and demons to make us really believe that he might very well end up on the streets with Ryan.

Ok. Yeah its an inverted world. Were inside Landreths head. I know. I get it. But there are other things too. We dont really get a good grasp on why Ryan has fallen. Were led to believe that alcohol is the main problem but little is mentioned about Ryan witnessing the death of his brother as a teenager. I still believe to this day that that tragedy and the subsequent, unspoken, negative reaction of the family to Ryan played a big role in where he is today. Not to mention some definite personality disorder issues.

Ryan feels unfinished incomplete. Dont get me wrong its a good, very good film about the fragility of identity and definitely merits the attention and acclaim its getting but I think we me and you all need to sit back, take a breath, some distance and get some perspective. Anyway enjoy, embrace and applaud Landreth and the real Larkin, But hey, do the same for Fierlinger, Cournoyer, Drouin, Hoedeman and the many, many other people who overcame demons or just learned to live with or without them. No, theyre not heroes, but neither is Ryan.

This went too far.

The path between our festival venues includes a small bridge where a lot of panhandlers hangout. I passed by there at least three to four times a day. I never gave them change. I didnt look at them. I didnt give a shit. Wish theyd go away. Just kept goin.

Merry Christmas (really, I mean that).

What the hell is going on? says a voice like my own.

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

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.