Chris Robinson is the artistic director for the Ottawa Animation Festival – a role he has held since 2000. Robinson spoke with Ottawa Beat on staying true to the values of animation, the importance of a space for independent animators, and the festival’s origins.

The Ottawa International Animation Festival ushers in their 42nd year this September. The renowned festival features some of the most recent and remarkable films in animation, acting as a space of network and celebration for animations’ greatest names and studios.

The explosion of animation began in the mid-90s; this was in part due to the widespread admiration of “The Simpsons,” Chris Robinson explained.

The first animation festival was in 1960 in Annecy, France, and grew to be hosted in such countries as Ukraine in Eastern Europe, and Bulgaria in the Balkans. These festivals were organized by the Association Internationale du Film d’Animation, an association of animation artists. The organization is also credited for bringing the animation festival to North America, and specifically to Ottawa.

“[Ottawa] had the Film Board at the time and were seen as more artsy than some of the other parts of North America, so they chose us. Also, I believe animation festivals tend to occur in smaller cities,” Robinson said.

How did Chris get involved?

Robinson fell in love with film by accident. “I was a film studies student at Carleton University, not knowing where my life was headed and wondering what a film studies degree would do for me,” said Robinson.

A classmate alerted him of a box office manager position with the Canadian Film Institute, a job that required him to rip tickets of attendees upon their arrival. A few months following his acceptance, Robinson discovered the Ottawa Animation Festival.

“In 1991 and 1992 we would type in the entries mailed to us. My job was to coordinate the entries we received, and watch over the selection committee,” said Robinson. In the early 90s, the selection committee was made up of four or five people from around the world, brought in to review submissions for the festival.

In 1995, Robinson took on a more senior role with the festival as the Executive Director, before demoting himself to the title he holds today, Artistic Director. “I wanted more of a hands on approach to the selection,” said Robinson.

How has the animation festival changed?

“When I started we would receive 16 mm film, and now it’s a Vimeo link,” said Robinson. In the early 90s, the festival would receive 750 submissions over a two year period. Presently, the festival receives 2,500 submissions per year.

“The festival is growing. It started as an insular event for people in the community, now it’s more public and you get the whole spectrum of   animation; the animation student, the experimental in the basement, as well as studios such as Pixar and Disney recruiting,” explained Robinson. These days, the selection is done in-house.

While much has changed, the festival’s core value has remained the same. “The festival provides a venue for independent animators. These are people making works primarily for themselves with no easy distribution outlets. It allows animators to come together and share their works and ideas,” said Robinson. “That is what it has always been and always should be about.”

What makes for great animation?

Robinson has a clear vision for what makes great animation. “I’m not an artist, I’m a writer. [This brings] a different approach to looking at the films. I [am not] enamoured by things that are very polished. I care more so [whether] the work has anything to say. It’s okay if it’s scratchy or a little bit out of focus.”

Robinson says he looks for that “punk feeling” within animation, something that is “genuine.”

The Ottawa International Animation Festival takes place from September 26-30 at several venues in downtown Ottawa.  The festival includes film screenings and also features a three-day conference. Screenings are $13 for adults (six for $65). You can access screenings, workshops and events with a daypass for $40-75, depending on the day.