Last month, I flew to Canada for the 40th anniversary of the Ottawa International Animation Festival with artist Lizzy Hobbs, whose beautiful hand crafted film G-AAAH about British pilot Amy Johnson was selected for the International Competition.
Although I didn’t see every one of the 200+ films screened at the festival, I managed to catch all of the competition screenings and a few of the special events, even interacting with some great VR experiments (Minotaur by Munro Ferguson, and Pearl by Patrick Osborne), which was quite the treat.
One of the standout events for me was OIAF’s Honorary President, Donald McWilliams’ ‘Eleven Moving Thoughts’. It was wonderful to hear how being surrounded with animation influenced the way McWilliams worked as a documentary maker. His selection really upheld the notion of the importance of movement in animation, sharing archive delights like David Alexander Anderson’s Motion Control, where the relationship between the camera and the performer is so inventive, and Jiri Trnka’s Hand, where the puppeteer’s hand is brought into the frame in a game of control between puppet and master. It was a truly thoughtful selection.
I also enjoyed attending an enlightening talk with the talent behind the feature Window Horses, chaired by the National Film Board of Canada’s Exec Producer, Michael Fukushima. It was excellent to hear the frank insights from Director, Producer, and all round superstar Ann Marie Fleming, who through dogged persistence made her idea a reality and raised the substantial funds to produce the feature animation, Window Horses. Plus animators Janet Perlman and Lillian Chan, and composer Taymaz Sabar added additional humour to the event talking about how they worked with Ann Marie on the film and the creative freedom she allowed them.
It was great to finally get to see the sinister fairytale feature Psiconautas, the Forgotten Children by Pedro Rivero & Alberto Vázquez, which I had on my radar for some time. The narrative was brilliantly woven around some curious characters, with a good dose of much needed humour in the mix to lighten the mood in what is a dark and disturbing film exploring poverty, addiction and desperation.
Across the International competition programmes there were some sensational abstract and experimental works. I love Gina Kamentsky’s work and it was a pleasure to watch again her two short shorts, If You Say Something, See Something and Tracheal Shave; Janet Perlman toyed with Prelinger Archive footage for Let’s Play Like It’s 1949; the ever brilliant Shen Jie’s latest film Monkey was yet another striking, minimal and surreal short; Evgenia Gostrer’s Frankfurter Str 99, beautifully told an everyday story with stripped back paint on glass technique; Endgame by Phil Mulloy played with scale to comment on the enormity of conflict on our collective psyche; and Marta Pajek also superbly experimented with architecture and pattern in Impossible Figures and Other Stories II.
There were also some lovely characterisations and wickedly humorous shorts. Our Crappy Town by Andy and Carolyn London was a laugh out loud, gross, delight, poking fun at the trials teenagers endure; Talking Cure by Felipe Di Poi had some of the funniest improve dialogue; Velodrool by Sander Joon gave a psychedelic imagining of a sport where anything is possible; and Diane Obomsawin’s I Like Girls (the Grand Prize winning short film) was such a sweet take on coming out with Diane’s lovely signature graphic style, that I really would have liked this to have been a much longer film.
In the competition screenings we also had NFTS graduate Terri Matthews’ Wrong End of the Stick. A film with a uniquely dark British humour at the heart of it, with the fantasy of one man’s desire to be a dog set against the more seedy side of such fantasy. The film is brilliantly animated by Terri Matthews through a combination of live action backgrounds and great 2D animated characterisations. Terri certainly has a knack for drawing the male anatomy in a way that’s not often seen, and quite refreshing in amongst all the female anatomy on display in other films.
Amongst the many enjoyable and creative films there were sadly several that pushed the boundaries of good taste including Fields of Rape by Amselm Pyta (yes it’s about the crop), a one note joke so the graduate could keep repeating the phrase, what a clickbait title to get the programmers to notice it amongst the 2000+ entries; Piano by Kaspar Jancis, which features a woman orgasmically pushing a piano up a street with her top falling down revealing her breasts to a man in a van (sheesh); The Absence of Eddy Table which most festival goers seemed overjoyed by – it was technically impressive but filled with boob plants and naked women with massive bottoms just for the hell of it (it was a bit of an exercise in eye rolling for any woman over 30); and Ivan’s Need – a small boy kneading dough moves onto saggy breasts and ends up crawling inside a lady’s vagina – disturbing graduation film fare from 2 women and a guy (why ladies, why?). And then there was Loss by Yi Zhao – a 27 minute film about domestic abuse that was unrelentingly miserable for the female protagonist, with such a cloudy narrative that it was unclear as to what the maker wanted the audience to take away from it.
I mentioned to the Artistic Director, Chris Robinson that the festival wasn’t exactly waving the flag for feminism, and he pointed out that his selection panel and the short film jury were all female, and that his programming partner is also female. So why were there so many poor representations of women? Is it just accepted that animation festivals are male territory and that’s what’s to be expected? (And this is not just an issue with OIAF).
With Shavings by graduate, Agata Mianowska, who in the Q&A mentioned that she was looking to represent vulnerable masculinity, what you get is a lumberjack who is angrily chopping down trees attaching a photo of his ex-partner to each one so it’s as though he’s beheading her. He then falls for a squirrel who reminds him of the woman’s red hair, only to be betrayed by that squirrel. Chris Robinson questioned the maker about the underlying misogyny in the film, and she was seemingly surprised anything misogynistic could be read into it. Worrying. (Though it should be noted that her tutor was Piotr Dumala who made Hipopotamy, which for me is one of the most ugly and misogynistic films ever made).
In contrast there was Brit Anna Ginsburg speaking about her Random Acts short, Private Parts, and her genuine desire to get people to open up about their relationships with their bodies, bringing a positive message amongst all the humour. It’s a fun film that brings together a lovely bunch of animations by a host of top animators, and in 3 minutes tackles a lot of issues, which means at times it’s easy to lose what’s being said, as the subjects with some embarrassment or bravado answers questions about sex and the private parts of the human body.
OIAF was truly a blast. It was great to meet so many talented filmmakers, and watch so many inspiring shorts, but come on programmers, seriously consider what your programming in terms of representation on screen and let’s have more gender equality in the mix. Here’s to more work like Private Parts and I Like Girls, and less tongue in cheek fare filled with characterless, objectified female bodies, for next year’s edition.