The experience of sitting in a theatre at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, amongst retirees and kids alike, laughing at the absurdity or accuracy of an image is comforting. We were all like children laughing at Saturday morning cartoons, although many of the adult themes and images didn’t resemble cartoons at all.
After spending the weekend watching more shapes and figures bounce across the screen than I can usually stomach, I came away with a lot of feelings. There is something poignant about the images that animation can create — creatures, worlds, and visions of pure, unadulterated imagination — images that bring feelings a camera recording cannot.
Attending the festival as an animation admirer is a different experience than attending as a creator, connoisseur, or student of animation. For those in the industry, there were plenty of practical events — an all-day career fair with employers like Nickelodeon and Disney, and events like the animator’s picnic, where people got to mingle in Strathcona Park and carve pumpkins. Although I didn’t attend, looking through the abundance of events like this made me so excited for the people who did, and for the work they will produce.
Instead, I mostly attended events where I could soak in what people had created. I squeezed in a lot of short film competitions. There was such a variety of work — from abstract visual spectacles to fully fleshed out narrative stories. Some of the films contained nothing that resembled our world, some worked within it, and some merged live action with claymation or illustration.
A purely animated film that snuck in close to my heart was Weekends, directed by Canadian filmmaker Trevor Jimenez. It takes place in the beige haze of 1980s Toronto, through the eyes of a young boy going back and forth between his divorced parents. Although no words are spoken, I immediately recognized the personality of the dad’s new girlfriend, and the look on the young boy’s face as he tried to piece together how he fit in to his parents’ new lives. The recurring mundane scenes of the boy being picked up and dropped off by his dad on the weekends struck a chord, as I know the routine too well myself. To see this story through the eyes of a child will make a lot of people feel something.
One of my favourites, and evidently a festival favourite (which I gathered from the roar of applause in the theatre, as well as the fact that it won the Public Prize award) was Facing it, directed by Sam Gainsborough. A live action-stop motion hybrid, animated faces mutate to vividly show emotion while starkly contrasting the very real bar setting, and very real knitted sweaters and bodies. I don’t know if I have ever experienced so many emotions from facial expressions on a screen. The film revolves around a meeting in a bar, and the protagonist’s acute perceptions of others and his anxious attempts to socialize and connect. Gainsborough produced this as a student of the National Film and Television School in the U.K.
My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes
Perhaps one of the films with the most hype was My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes, directed by Ontario’s own Charlie Tyrell. It has already burned itself in to the eyeballs and memories of TIFF-goers and people who watch the New York Times’ Op-Docs.
Composed of old home videos, stop motion with his dad’s old possessions, and more little tidbits of the past, Tyrell works to understand the parental figure he never got the chance to understand while he was alive. The film comes alive through the voices of his siblings, mother, and images of his dead father. We come to understand his father bluntly, as he really was.
Tyrell traces back the roots of his father’s odd characteristics and understands the parasite that is intergenerational trauma. We admire his father and mother for being the ones to stop this trauma from being passed on.
The films that resonate
Overall, the films that I liked the most are the ones that touched the tenderest parts of my personal life, where I recognized scenes from my own life. For everyone else in the crowd at the OIAF, these could have been different. But for a few, they were the same — I could tell in the hard claps of the person next to me.
I often think of the cover of an old issue of Little White Lies that sits on my boyfriend’s desk and asks, in big yellow letters, Can Movies Save the World? Here, at the Ottawa International Animation festival, I think that maybe they could — or at least make the world a little more liveable.
Stay tuned later this week for an interview with author and historian Mindy Johnson, who tells the untold stories of the badass women who worked in the early days of animation.