The Canadian Film Institute’s Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) returns in person this year, once again giving you the chance to watch films on a big screen with other folks. Almost all the screenings will be at the ByTowne Cinema and the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG), with a few at Arts Court.
This article gives tips on where to start when faced with a massive variety of films (over 170!) and highlights some free events for young kids and teens. So let me be your guide to introduce you to five days of fantastic animation.
The OIAF is big. Really big. It’s the largest animation festival in North America and one of the largest in the world. Due to its size and longevity—it began in 1976—it’s also one of the most prestigious animation film festivals. This year, there were 2,457 entries from 96 countries. Of those, about 100 short films were chosen. The short films in competition are grouped into 10 screenings, so a ticket to a screening gets you into a curated collection of five to 19 flicks. These screenings include 19 films in the Canadian Student Competition, eight animated series, and 17 films for children—one competition for movies for the very young (age three and up) and one for slightly older kids (age seven and up). There are even five virtual reality (VR) works in competition. Feature films have their own competition; seven feature films made the cut, and it’s one ticket per screening. There are also various passes: a good deal if you’re seeing multiple screenings (which you should).
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There are also lots of short films outside of competition in the three Panorama screenings: Canadian Panorama (16 films), World Panorama (12 films), and World Student Panorama (13 films). Also on the schedule are screenings of two VR films that were “Best VR” winners in recent years. Not enough for you? There are retrospectives and special screenings of five individual animators and the films of this year’s featured country, Chile.
A brief description of each film is on the Films & Screenings page of the OIAF’s website.
So, where should you start? I always begin with short film competitions. Each of these competitions contains five to 19 films that range from 30 seconds to 33 minutes. This will help you get an idea of what animation is capable of—the wide range of techniques and subjects. It’s much more than what you’re accustomed to seeing at the Cineplex or on Disney+.
I circle films from Estonia (a tiny country that punches above its weight in animation) and Canada, especially from the National Film Board (NFB) and Sheridan College. I have a soft spot for several animation techniques, such as stop-motion (think Wallace and Gromit), and there’s a wealth of stop-motion films this year. Beautifully drawn impressionistic films attract me. And it wouldn’t be the OIAF if there weren’t films that made me laugh or left me with a lump in my throat.
My first choice for a must-buy pass this year is a split decision between Short Competition 1 and Canadian Student Competition, because both contain many intriguing films.
Short Competition 1’s Being Sisyphus for One Second a Day and The Garbage Man have lovely still photos. Sed Saepe Cadendo has a bizarre synopsis: “A beautiful sunny day for spanking and dancing.” The Humane Society’s Save Ralph film will likely be memorable: It’s about a day in the life of a cosmetic testing rabbit and stars the voice talents of Taiki Waititi, Zac Efron, Olivia Munn, and others. And The Flying Sailor, inspired by an incident during the 1917 Halifax Explosion when a sailor was blown 2km through the air, is from the NFB.
The Canadian Student Competition has Mangoes with My Mom, about a nurse’s experiences; L’etincelle, whose drawing style looks beautiful; the gorgeous film The Lost Seahorse; and what looks like a real winner from Sheridan College, Train Project. But every short competition bracket has a few gems, so you’re sure to find something you love in each, including excellent stop-motion and some heavy hitters from the NFB.
Be sure to see the Young Audiences (YA) films in the competition. Yes, even the ones for the 3+ age group. Every year, several of my favourites are YA films. This year, I’m betting on Parasol in Young Audiences 3+ and The Queen of the Foxes in Young Audiences 7+. The former is a Japanese stop-motion starring a bento (a boxed lunch); the latter revolves around unsent love letters.
I recommend sampling short films outside of competition in the Panorama screenings. In the Canadian Panorama, I was drawn (sorry, bad pun!) to Witch Woman by Ottawa’s own Pixie Cram. It’s a story about a midwife, a new mother, and a witch hunter. And because I’m a huge fan of the 1970s Montreal group Harmonium, I must see L’Orchestre symphonique de Montreal ‘Harmonium Symphonique: Harmonium. Then there’s Eat Your Carrots, a stop-motion film that is definitely not a PSA.
Moving on to World Panorama, Pony Henge caught my eye, about a magical place where rocking horses are left to rust. And because I haven’t seen many animated films from India, I’d like to see Once More With Feeling. I know a sculptor who often sculpts in wood, so I’m curious about a stop-action film that uses wooden figures and backdrops called, naturally enough, Of Wood. Then there’s Dies Irae, about two playful angels, seven sinful pigs, and one poor, righteous soul.
Lastly, in the short film collections, World Student Panorama has Mind Garden, a colourful imaginary garden. There’s Championsheep about, well, a championship competition for sheep. Winning the silliest title in the festival: An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe It. (The ostrich is pretty silly looking, too.)
Once you’ve settled into the OIAF, I suggest you try at least one of the films in the Feature Competition. Personally, I’m torn between The Island and Silver Bird and Rainbow Fish. The first is about illegal refugees; the second, the filmmaker’s harsh childhood in 1950s Communist China.
And finally, there’s the Retrospectives & Special Screenings section. Lots to explore, but I’m starting with Special Delivery: The Films of John Weldon. I’m familiar with some of Weldon’s NFB work, such as the ever-popular Log Driver’s Waltz. I’d like to learn about his various animated films.
I mentioned earlier that there are freebies for young folks: Bring your kids 12 and under to Family Day on Sept. 24 for lots of free films and workshops. For budding teen animators, grab a free Toon Apprentice Pass and attend the free Toon Apprentice Day on Sept. 23 and the Animation Exposé on Saturday.
To wrap up the festival, there are two “Best of the OIAF” screenings on Sunday evening at the ByTowne of the short films that won prizes.
Well, that should get you started. Have fun at the OIAF!
The Ottawa International Film Festival runs Sept. 21-25 at several venues. You can buy tickets and passes here.