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The National Film Board Takes Center Stage at OIAF 2020

10 NFB original films/VR projects, representing unique visions and personal stories, will screen in both competitive and curated programs; the festival runs September 23-October 4.

As one of the animation industry’s most important and influential festivals, the annual Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) hosts five days filled with talks, presentations, workshops, the famed animators’ picnic, and a thoughtfully programmed set of competitive and curated screenings. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that has sidelined so many industry events while forcing others to move online, this year’s festival will not fall short. OIAF 2020, thanks to its new virtual format, takes place globally from September 23-October 4.

The vision and scope of the online festival, under the watchful and discerning eyes of OIAF artistic director, Chris Robinson, and managing director, Kelly Neal, should be just as impressive as previous years. This year, however, OIAF will host audiences from around the world.  

OIAF traditionally gives audiences a chance to discover unique visions and powerful personal stories told by the auteurs of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB); this year will be no exception, with the NFB sharing ten films/VR projects that will screen in both competitive and curated programs.

There are two world premieres in official competition:

Thanadoula (Gaudete Films/NFB), Toronto-based director Robin McKenna’s first animated documentary, features the art direction of Elise Simard.

  • Two sisters entwined by love; when Annie disappears, her younger sister, Natalie, seeks her out in an unconventional way: as a thanadoula, accompanying the dying in their final stages. Between their slow and final breaths, Natalie finds a bridge between life and death and, ultimately, a pathway to her sister.

HIDE (La Cellule Productions/NFB/CUB Animation Studio), is the international co-production from UK-born, Hungary-based creator Daniel Gray, whose 2006 short t.o.m. (with Tom Brown) was named Best Graduation Animation at OIAF.

  • Two brothers entertain themselves with a game of hide and seek while their parents cook dinner. As one boy counts, the other quickly hides in a small cabinet full of glasses, stubbornly determined to win. Seconds pass… then minutes… years… and decades. Every so often the boy peeks out of the sideboard. What he sees is strange and unfamiliar. With each glance, everything, and everyone he once knew changes and fades, until he is left alone.

Also, in the animation competition:

From the creator of The Necktie (2008), Moi, Barnabé (I, Barnabé) (NFB with the participation of ARTE France), Quebec animator Jean-François Lévesque’s latest NFB work.

  • Confronted with doubt and feelings of emptiness, Barnabé experiences a curious metaphysical visitation; lightning strikes the spire of his church and a mysterious bird appears, forcing him to reconsider his life. What is his truth pointing him towards? What is the deeper meaning of his life on earth? A spectacular arsenal of animation techniques brings the character to life and illustrates his spiritual quest, achieving an extraordinary level of visual refinement in both the puppets and the settings. 4 North A, the first collaboration between Newfoundland native Jordan Canning and Saskatoon- born Howie Shia, now both based in Toronto.

4 North A, the first collaboration between Newfoundland native Jordan Canning and Saskatoon-born Howie Shia, now both based in Toronto.

  • A woman sits in a hospital room, alone with her dying father. As the din of hospital noises pushes her to confront her inevitable loss, she escapes into a series of lush childhood memories. Told with a quiet, expressive soundtrack and beautiful, subdued 2D animation design that shifts between the pale hospital palette and the impressionistic landscapes of the woman’s memories, the film is a celebration of the fleeting joys of life and a bittersweet reminder that we do not always get the closure we seek.

Altötting (Studio Film Bilder/NFB/Ciclope Filmes) by German animator Andreas Hykade, featuring design by Portugal’s Regina Pessoa.

  • In the small Bavarian town of Altötting, a mother takes her young son to visit a nearby chapel. The boy becomes entranced by the Shrine of the Virgin Mary inside the chapel and begins daily pilgrimages to see his beloved Madonna. His love, devotion, and passion for her continue to grow, until one day his world is crushed by the devastating secret behind her eternal beauty. A coming-of-age story about love, faith, mortality, and shattered illusions.

Three VR works in competition:

The Book of Distance, by Calgary-born creator Randall Okita, now based in Toronto and Japan.

  • In 1935, Yonezo Okita left his home in Hiroshima, Japan, and began a new life in Canada. Then war and state-sanctioned racism changed everything—he became the enemy. Three generations later, his grandson, artist Randall Okita, leads us onan interactive virtual pilgrimage through an emotional geography of immigration and family to recover what was lost.

The Hangman at Home (Late Love Production/Floréal Films/NFB) by Israeli-born, Danish-based animators Michelle and Uri Kranot.

  • Inspired by the iconic Carl Sandburg poem (1922), this VR single-user immersive experience explores themes of acknowledgement and participation. It is not about hanging people, but about the awkward intimacy that comes with being human, and the connection between spectator, witness, and accomplice. The animated, interactive experience invites you into five interwoven stories, capturing pivotal moments in people’s lives. The Hangman at Home – VR ultimately reveals that we are all more alike than different, while raising questions of responsibility.

The Orchid and the Bee by Montreal interdisciplinary artist Frances Adair Mckenzie.

  • Nature is wondrous and clever. As Darwin taught us, those who improvise most effectively prevail. There are species who under threat revert to earlier forms, others who cultivate parasitic relationships with neighboring beings, while the most inventive ones transform their bodies to mimic and seduce unsuspecting companions. The Orchid and the Bee is an expressionistic VR ode to life’s struggle for existence, explored through a chain of genetic love affairs.

Canadian Panorama:

The Fake Calendar by emerging Atikamekw creator Meky Ottawa, produced through the Hothouse program (2D animation and rotoscope).

  • A neon glimpse into a personal world within an urban landscape. From FOMO to JOMO, The Fake Calendar is an artist’s expression of how people come up with interesting and creative ways to avoid social functions in favor of their own private space.

NFB Animation: 80th Anniversary, by Montreal animator Alex Boya.

  • A powerful, impressionistic tribute to NFB animation on its 80th anniversary in 2019, created by Hothouse alumnus Alex Boya with the help and archives of Donald McWilliams, veteran NFB filmmaker and past OIAF honorary president; McWilliams is also a jury member at this year’s festival.

Don’t miss a moment, September 23-October 4, when Ottawa International Animation Festival 2020 goes online worldwide; single tickets or passes now available here.

Source: National Film Board of Canada