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The 2021 OIAF poster, by Amanda Bonaiuto and Angela Stempel.

Where to start at the Ottawa International Animation Festival

By Barbara Popel on September 13, 2021

The Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) begins on September 22, and animation lovers have a lot to look forward to in this year’s selections, which were chosen from a record-breaking 2,528 entries representing more than 100 countries. So it might be overwhelming to know where to start.

Although Apt613 already published a preview of the festival, here I’ll give you tips on where to start when faced with a huge variety of films—over 150 of them, to be precise!

OIAF 2021 Trailer from Ottawa Animation Fest on Vimeo.

Let’s start with a few of the 10 competitions for short films, which include about 100 films. Each of these competitions contains between six and 23 films that range in duration from 15 seconds to 27 minutes. This will help you get an idea of what animation is capable of, in terms of the wide range of techniques and subjects. It’s much more than what you’re accustomed to seeing at a multiplex movie theatre or on your streaming service.

Eight of the competitions have live virtual events featuring Q&As with the filmmakers. Tickets for these events grant you access to both the live event and for 24 hours afterward. Everything else is available to view for seven days. Check the screenings schedule for details.

And here’s a bonus! The OIAF has free ticket codes for any of the Young Audience screenings and for the Canadian Panorama, with the latter available on-demand throughout the festival. The codes are YA2021 for the Young Audience screenings (live and on-demand) and CanPan2021 for Canadian Panorama.

The short competitions

My first choice is the Short Competition 4, because it includes Angakuksajaujuq/The Shaman’s Apprentice by Zacharias Kunuk. It’s his first foray into the world of stop-motion animation. Kunuk’s live-action film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner is considered by many (including me!) to be the greatest film ever made in Canada.

Short Competition 1’s selections include the buzzworthy NFB film Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics by Terril Calder. The competition also has a 30-second work called Renaissance: Changing Lives, about how life is full of changes that are reflected in the clothes we wear. Audiences can also look forward to the Russian film Dogs Smell Like the Sea and the Latvian film Guard of Honour.

A short with a title that just begs to be seen, What the Walls Feel as they Stare at Rob Ford Sitting in his Office can be found in Short Competition 6.

The Panorama screenings

There are three Panorama groupings: Canadian, World, and World Student. Like the short film competitions, these 48 films range from less than a minute to about 16 minutes. They’re always well worth exploring.

In the Canadian Panorama (remember, it has a free ticket code), you’ll find the NFB’s Affairs of the Art. This short won directors Joanna Quinn and Les Mills a jury distinction at the Annecy 2021 festival. It also has a hilarious trailer.

I also like the look of Claude Cloutier’s Mauvaises herbes (Bad Seeds), which promises to take viewers into a strange world full of carnivorous plants!

Make a note to check out the other two Panorama collections later.

Everything else

Be sure to visit the Young Audiences (YA) films (another free ticket code!) in competition. Two of my favourites last year were YA films.

Canada has been an animation hotbed since the days of Norman McLaren, so check out the emerging talent in the Canadian Students Competition. The films Dust and Mammoth Gorge look like fun.

Like cartoon series? There’s the Animated Series Competition. The two that caught my eye were “Hatchepsut” from the French series Unsung Women and “The Politics Episode” from American sitcom One Day at a Time.

Once you’ve sampled the other festival offerings, I suggest you try at least one of the films in the feature competitions. I am personally torn between Japan’s Fortune Favors Lady Nikuko, which looks gorgeous, and Canada’s Mount Fuji Seen From a Moving Train, as the director Pierre Hébert has a fascinating resume.

And finally, there’s a very rich Retrospectives & Special Screenings section at the festival. I’m going to start with Flannel Fever Dream: The Films of Mike Maryniuk for two reasons – it looks like fun and he’s from my home town of Winnipeg. The advice in the program is “Dig out your toque and let ‘er rip.”

Well, that should get you started. Have fun at the Ottawa International Animation Festival!

See the full festival schedule, purchase tickets or passes, and learn more about the Ottawa International Festival at