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Still from "4 North A," by Jordan Canning and Howie Shia.

Where to start with the Ottawa International Animation Festival—09.23.20 to 10.04.20

By Barbara Popel on September 21, 2020

The Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) begins on Wednesday, September 23. Apt613 has already published a preview of the festival, so this article gives you tips from a longtime OIAF attendee on where to start. It’s based on one filmgoer’s tastes, but it might help overcome a “deer in the headlights” reaction when faced with close to 200 films to choose from. Here goes…

I’ve attended every OIAF since its inception in 1976. In all that time, I’ve discovered ways to “get into” the festival without spending eight hours a day watching films (delightful though that may be). The on-demand format of this year’s online festival provides more possibilities for sampling and timing your viewings to accommodate the rest of your life.

I suggest you follow the advice of Chris Robinson, the festival’s Artistic Director (see the preview article) and start with one of the Short Competitions. But which one?

Well, you could go with Short Competition 5, which includes something (unintentionally) topical: “Beyond Noh,” which animates 3,475 individual masks from all over the world. That sounds as if it will be beautiful. It may even make you feel a bit better about wearing your mask in pubic.

Or you could pick short competitions that contain serious topics, such as ageing and death, like Short Competition 8. It contains both “Kosmonaut” and “4 North A.” Short Competition 8 is attractive to me because the former film is from Estonia and the latter from Canada. Estonia is one of those countries, along with the other Baltic and Scandinavian countries, Russia, and Canada (especially Canada’s National Film Board) whose films usually please me.

Then there are the short competitions for films by students. Watch particularly for films from Sheridan College students, such as “Catch of the Day” and “Sea Major,” in the Canadian Student Competition.

And don’t ignore the films for kids – they’re much more varied than what you get from Disney and Pixar. This year’s Young Audiences Competition: Ages 6-12, for example, has two stop-motion films that look intriguing: “Abstract Animals” and “Matilda and the Spare Head.” This competition also includes the lovely Japanese film “The Girl from the Other Side.”

If you choose to start with the Feature Competition, you’re taking a bit of a gamble, not because the films aren’t good, but because you may not quickly find the animation styles that appeal to you. If you start with the short competitions, you can zero in on your favourite styles, then choose feature films made in the same styles.

If, on the other hand, you’re keen to explore virtual reality animation, start here.

Be sure to set aside some time to explore the three Panoramas and four Retrospectives. I’d start with the Retrospectives, and the first one I’d watch is on the amazing Estonian animator Elbert Tuganov. Too much Estonian film for you? Then try the retrospective of the Norwegian studio Mikrofilm or the one of Métis stop-motion animator Terril Calder.

Have fun! Explore! Be prepared to be surprised!

You can find the full OIAF schedule here and buy your festival pass here.