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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Ottawa Report!

I'm back from the Ottawa ’05 International Animation Festival

It was a helluva week. I saw a lot of amazing animated films and met a lot of really cool people. It was scary and nerve racking to see my cartoon on a big screen, and left me feeling a bit humbled. But I feel inspired and determined to learn more about animation to make my own films better. Anyway... here are my thoughts on some of the highlights of the festival... Warning- I'm not really a good writer, just giving a sortofa book-report on what i saw.

Let's start with the Feature film category...
It was a big disappointment that all three of these films were really really bad. I think they should not have given out an award for Best Feature this year. If I had to choose one, I would’ve given the award to the Estonian film, Frank and Wendy. Frank & Wendy had some good stuff in it, but it was tedious and too long. It would have been much better had it been chopped up into a series of episodic short films. It’s failing is that it doesn’t work as a feature, but I did enjoy many of the episodes within it.

Empress Chung had a few moments as well, but mostly it was a big turd. I was skeptical going into this film, but I hoped to see something new. I suppose some credit is due for it being a first in Korean feature animation, but it suffers from too many horrible Disney formulaic clichés, pathetically realized characters, and bad t.v. style animation. Let’s call this one an unfortunate bi-product of the current line of crappy Disney sequels being produced cheaply overseas.

The judges decided to give the Best Feature award to The District, a “raunchy hip-hop look at Budapest’s downtown quarter District VII…” Raunchy doesn’t even begin to describe this piece of rancid, festering shit. I absolutely HATED this movie more than anything else I’ve ever seen. Every single bit of it was horrrrrrribble. The story is appalling. The characters are irritating at best- but mostly detestable and lack any redeemable qualities. Don’t even get me started on the gratuitous glorification of prostitution with a musical number that included the line “dripping off my chin, we’re drunk on spunk!” Or the basic philosophy of the film, which is poetically summed up in three words: “money, money, pussy.” The jury and many of the viewers turned into apologists as they applauded the film’s "innovative" and "interesting" visual style which blended cut out photos and graffiti-style drawings… I suppose making a movie using animated scabs, toe-nail clippings and human feces would be innovative and interesting, too, but that doesn’t make it good. Not even it's satire of Bush and other world leaders could save this horribly misguided film. I only pray that The District doesn’t become a beloved cult hit and I’m forever plagued by it like Shrek or Napoleon Dynamite- formerly at the top of my list of most hated movies.

Now on to the stuff I liked… I liked most of what I saw. It was a really strong festival overall with a huge range of styles and talents. I left feeling really happy and inspired at all the amazing stuff being made in the animation world.

Now onto my own category- Music Videos. I didn’t win, and I didn’t expect to. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to show my film to such a large festival audience, and it was a great experience to go to Ottawa. But I am left feeling that maybe my cartoon wasn’t quite up to par with the rest. I am still very proud of what I did with the Muffs Video, but I’m still learning. It’s only my 2nd independent cartoon, and I felt like it looked more amateurish than the rest of the festival. But getting in the festival allowed me to go and see so much amazing stuff that I’m left inspired and determined to keep learning and perfecting my own skills in animation, and hopefully I’ll get to go to Ottawa again in the future. The winner of the Grand Prize for Music Video went to Andreas Hykade’s Walkampf- a gorgeous, psychedelic cartoon that was just stunning and perfect in every way. Another award was given to Reuben Sutherland’s Hitchcock- which is a beautiful, and surprisingly funny ballet of hybrid cars.

The New Media category was of a much higher calibur than last year (in '04, my cartoon "Brother, Can You Spare a Job?" was selected for competition). I think I enjoyed nearly everything in this category. Especially The Chase, Manage Frei, S.P.I.F., and Out on a Limb. But the award was very deservedly given to Mole In The City, directed by Roque Ballesteros for the company Ghostbot in San Francisco. This little internet short film is worthy of becoming a Nick or Cartoon Network television series (except for the blood and guts). It is beautifully designed, well animated and perfectly written and directed. I met Roque, who is a very nice guy, while there and was happy to hear that he is developing some ideas for T.V. animation.

One of the biggest surprises for me, this year, was the experimental, abstract films. Normally I’m not a fan of experimental, abstract films, but this year surprised me with several stand-outs. Curse of the Voodoo Child by Steven Woloshen, Tower Bawher, and _Grau were all very interesting. But my favorite was cNote by Chrise Hinton. It is beautifully directed, and felt like an animated journey through the history of abstract painting set to a free-form jazz piece. It perfectly blended everything I love about abstract art and free-form jazz. It was gorgeous to look at, and surprisingly riveting to watch.

The most hilarious film has to be Bob Log III’s Electric Fence Story by Sebastian Wolf and Tinka Stock- what can I say about this? Apparently Bob Log III is a real person who has a lot of hilarious tales of drunken mishaps. This one, about a failed attempt at cow-tipping, was made into a short stop-motion animated film.

And the unintentionally hilarious Jona Tomberry by Rosto- this film is so ridiculously pretentious and full of itself that it deserves a special award for hilarity. I have to give it credit for an interesting visual style and some innovative use of C.G. and live action… If Rosto directed a Dimu Borgir video (or a video for any other black metal band), I’m sure it would be totally awesome. This film was just ridiculously pretentious, and it was made even moreso when Rosto got up in front of the audience to introduce it by telling us to “open up your minds and don't try to 'GET IT' (pointing to his head) but instead just try to 'GET IT' (pointing to his gut).”

Top favorites:
Icthys by Marek Skrobecki- A perfect stop-motion puppet film about a man trying to order dinner at a fancy, but slow-serviced, restaurant. The subtlety of timing and emotion make this film hilarious and horrifying at the same time.
Chestnuts Icelolly by J. J. Villard- there’s just something about this punk-rock animator that’s just perfect in my opinion. I really can’t describe what it is about his films, but they’re just perfect in every way. Raw. Angry. Funny. Ugly. Beautiful…
The Old Crocodile by Koji Yamamura- a classic legend about an old crocodile beautifully animated in a simple ink on paper style. The story, apparently an old Japanese legend, is told as a fable that reminds me of Kipling’s Just So Stories.
Meaning of Life by Don Hertzfeldt- I’ve seen it three times now… it gets better every time. At first it’s hilarious, but underneath the humor is a frightening, bitter reality. The depth of this film continues to impress me as a cynical outlook on humanity is juxtaposed with the beauty and wonder of the universe. On second and third viewing of this film, I find myself more affected by the mood of the piece than the surface level humor. And this is the appeal of much of Hertzfeldt’s work… it may be too early to tell, but in time this may be seen as his masterpiece.

Biggest Disappointment: The Moon and the Son by John Canemaker. My hopes were high for this film- a biographical exploration of Canemakaer's father and their dysfunctional lifestory. I have great respect for Canemaker's films and especially his books on the history of animation. But this film was so self-indulgent and whiney, I was left really disappointed. It has moments of great beauty and his approach to animation techniques is really interesting and well conceived... but the story? I understand that the film must be a catharsis for Canemaker as he explores his anger towards his father. In that exploration, you expect Canemaker to come to some kind of understanding or have any kind of revelation about why his father was so angry. Maybe Canemaker wasn't ready to make this film. In the end, we’re left with all the same problems, questions, and anger as when the film begins. Canemaker learned nothing from his exploration of his problemed childhood. His father died ten years ago and he still hasn’t learned to get over the anger he feels. The film isn’t just self-indulgent, it’s immature. It feels more like an amateur student film than a masterpiece of one of today's great animators.

And on that note, I’d like to turn to my absolute favorite of the festival. Which actually is an immature, amateur student film. But it’s just so perfect and wonderful… It’s not the best made film, and it really doesn’t have that much animation in it. But it really struck a chord in me. Bow-Tie Duty for Squareheads by Stephen-Flint Muller reminded me of the kinds of films my friends and i made when we were bored on a Sunday afternoon and decided to wander around town with a video camera… but we weren’t nearly as ingenious as these kids. These kids inventively poke fun at billboards, signs, buildings, streelights, and whatever else they see around town. I don’t really know how to describe it, but it’s one of the most genuinely charming, hilarious and heart-warming films I can ever remember. I could watch it over and over again and always find something new to love about it. If I could only choose one of the many amazing films I saw last week, and make everyone in the world watch it, it would be this one.

There were many other enjoyable films I'd recommend to everyone, including: The Back Brace, Milch, Workin’ Progress, The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, City Paradise, Novocento Pianiste, Surly Squirrel, Dying of Love, and At The Quinte Hotel.
Also Death By Heart by Malin Erixon was one of my favorites of the whole festival. Though it’s not really a comedy, it’s understated whit and unexpectedly charming ending made me laugh out loud. It’s a lovely, simple little tale about losing a friend.

I could write more about all these films, but this post is getting long already... so I'll wrap this up...

So, to end this, I wanted to give a HUGE thanks to Chris Robinson and everyone else who work to organize the festival. And a big thanks for accepting my film and giving me the opportunity to come up there, see it on a big screen, and spend a whole week watching awesome cartoons. I also wanna thank all the cool people I met and hung out with all week- Myron, Ward, Amid and Jerry, Signe, Pat, Gary, Sebastian, Malin, Emru, Roque, and other people I'm forgetting at the moment... THANKS!!!


Blogs R Us said...
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Gary said...
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Platinumccards said...
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Joe Powel said...
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Ward Jenkins said...

And now, a REAL comment, instead of these crappy spam comments before me....

Great post, Tom! Very candid and open responses to the films you saw. I'm still working on my post(s) on the festival, so soon you'll read about my thoughs. But, yeah -- it was great to meet you! It's refreshing to discuss and argue in a positive way this amazing art-form with a fellow artist and animator. Great job and good luck with your future projects! Let's see a i will destroy you film next year!

roque said...


Your talent and hat amaze me. Thank you for the kind words and support! So glad we got to meet and hang out. There's something great about putting a face to a name...or a film for that matter.

I agree with Ward - GREAT post. You beat all of us slowpoke bloggers. I love reading your insightful, well-documented commentary on the films (and the fact that you used "big turd" to describe one of them).

That was only your second film? Sick. My hatred for you is growing...I mean - WELL DONE!

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