Animation | Film Festivals

North of the Border

1 Oct , 2000  

Written by Devon Damonte | Posted by:

New England animators receive accolades at this year's Ottawa International Animation Festival.
Ever since Spike and Mike infected theaters with their traveling frat boy cartoon circus, for most movie-goers the term "animation festival" conjures horrific images of beer-sweating beach ball bouncing, stoned hordes of college kids watching endless farting and penis gags. The Ottawa International Animation Festival is an event of a different stripe — a sophisticated ‘A-List’ competitive gathering of the world’s top animation talents. Second only to the Annecy Animation Festival as the world’s premiere animation event, OIAF happens every other year, alternating with a student animation festival in odd years. Of several dozen film festivals I’ve attended around North America, OIAF is among my very favorites.

This year New England animators made an impressively strong showing at OIAF, where traditionally, Europeans, Canadians, and Los Angelinos dominate. Doing us especially proud is Bostonian Jeff Sias from Olive Jar Studios (and occasional instructor at Boston Film/ Video Foundation) who won the Best Station Identification prize. The jury cited Sias’ effective deployment of seven seconds total time in his piece titled "Workshop" showing a robot clomping across the room to create a new NBC peacock.

While the other New Englander to claim a top prize may be only a temporary resident, I’m happy as a pig in … er … as a pig peeling potatoes to claim Harvard visiting faculty, Wendy Tilby, as one of our own. Tilby’s wondrous "When the Day Breaks" (co-directed by Amanda Forbis) took Grand Prize for Best Canadian Film honors among stiff Canuck competition. In my eyes, Tilby’s film (which if you were smart you saw here in last Spring’s BF/VF New England Film and Video Festival as a special addition) is one of the most sublime works in recent memory. It’s a poignant, intelligent expression of death and life, power and light, lemons and spuds, and tragedy and affirmation.

More New England Film and Video Fest (NEFVF) veterans cropping up at OIAF included Amy Kravitz’s brilliant "Roost" (NEFVF 1999 Best Experimental) which screened in both the International Panorama and in a special retrospective program of experimental works called "From Scratch." Both programs also showed Sandra Gibson’s vibrant "Edgeways" (NEFVF 2000 Best Animation), and the From Scratch lineup also featured Steven Subotnik’s gorgeous 1994 work "The Devil’s Book" (Subotnik and Kravitz are professors at Rhode Island School of Design). Another Boston talent with a work in the prestigious OIAF Official Competition (of 1300 entries, 112 were selected for inclusion) is Dan Sousa, also at Olive Jar Studios, who submitted another NBC Station Identification piece (Sousa’s film "Minotaur" won honorable mention in NEFVF 2000).

The Honorary OIAF President was Yvonne Andersen, a quintessential New England personality who has gained fame for her children’s animation classes known as the Yellow Ball Workshop, as well as her tenure as head of the film department at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). And yes, she too is represented in Yank annals for her film with poet husband Dominic Falcone "We Will Live Forever" which took the 1995 NEFVF Best Animation prize. OIAF 2000 presented two programs with Andersen. Screened first was an amazing selection spanning 37 years of films by kids from her workshops in Everett, Newton, and Cambridge with titles like "Just a Fishment of My Imagination," plus some of her earliest films in collaboration with artist Red Grooms.

The kid’s films are bursting with a spirit and creativity that puts many adult animators to shame. A real treat in this program was a documentary Andersen and Falcone made for CBS Television in 1970 about their workshops called "Let’s Make a Film" which features a pre-teen Amy Kravitz making a film with her sister. The second Yvonne Andersen program featured a selection of outstanding senior projects from the past fifteen years at RISD. Many of the works were quite dark and challenging in tone that seemed to put off some wimpy, new animation types in the audience. I found the program rich and rewarding for skills, risks taken, and diversity of subject matter and techniques. As you might guess, several NEFVF all-stars were represented by early works including Julie Zammarchi, Steve Gentile, Jamie Maxfield, and Ian Wilmoth.

As we experienced at our own NEFVF last year, this year at OIAF the RISD presence was an omnipresent and somewhat overwhelming force to be reckoned with. Kravitz and Subotnick make a point of bringing a busload of RISD kids to OIAF every year. It’s an immeasurably valuable experience for them and with proactive teachers like that, it’s no wonder RISD dominates the animation scene in New England and beyond. Other colleges should take note of this exemplary approach — and yes the NEFVF will accept busloads of unruly film students!

To be fair, the aforementioned Spike and Mike have contributed hugely to independent animators and awareness of the field. In fact, this year, Ottawa paid tribute to Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted collection. Now, every year, an award will be given in tribute to Mike Gribble.

Beware, students from RISD and other animation schools do run somewhat rampant around OAIF (this year some smiley face balloons were even batted around the house during the closing ceremonies). However, for the most part, the beer swilling is kept to bars and hotel rooms after the screenings. The crowd is balanced by the presence of legendary senior animators and bleary eyes are usually caused by sleep deprivation and film screening overdose rather than illicit substances.