*** This interview originally appeared in Sept./Oct. ’21 number Animation review (N ° 313) ***
We had the opportunity to chat with Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) director Chris robinson to get this version of this year’s fantastic virtual edition. Here is what he told us:
How does it feel to have a virtual event for the second year in a row?
Chris Robinson: I didn’t like having to do it last year, but it turned out much better than I expected. Having said that, I was sure this would be the only time we would have to do an OIAF online… so when we internally decided last spring that OIAF21 should be online, I wasn’t happy. I was probably the only staff member who worried that we were being too conservative and acting too quickly, but having had time to see what was going on, I think this was the best choice for 2021.
There are so many uncertainties about the variants, but more than that, the border with the United States remains (at least on land) closed … and a lot of people still aren’t comfortable with flying to the instant. We could access some cinemas, but there would be capacity limits. We don’t own our theaters, so it really doesn’t make sense to rent a movie theater when we can’t fill it or even approach it due to the restrictions.
Did you learn any lessons from the 2020 edition that you applied for at this year’s festival?
It was much more intimate than I had imagined. The other thing that stood out to me was to avoid pre-recorded chats as much as possible. Joel Frenzer and I pre-recorded all the intros for the screening in advance. I also pre-recorded all the ‘Meet the Filmmakers’ interviews a month before the festival. Pre-recorded sessions allowed us to involve almost all the directors of the OIAF21 Competition. During the “normal” festival, only the filmmakers present participate.
Having said that, the audience is so much a part of the experience that I felt they lacked the usual energy and unexpected humor. We realized this immediately last year and made the decision to do the awards show live online rather than the pre-recorded one we started working on. I just wanted to take the risk of being live – and I think it was a good call because the awards show had the original energy of the usual OIAF. So this year we will be doing Meet the Filmmakers immediately after each in-competition screening – that way the audience can be involved and it can have a more improvised feel that we like.
What are the main highlights of the 2021 festival?
Competition aside, I’m really excited about the retrospective screenings. Last year we planned a huge tribute to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and a retrospective of the Hong Kong artist Wong ping. When we switched to the Internet, I put those two aside. OIAF and RISD have a long history together and we have so many past and present RISD students coming to town, so we thought it would be best to wait and take the program in person. When I realized we would be back online, we just said “fuck it” and decided to go ahead with these programs. I am truly delighted that we can pay tribute to the decades of great work that has resulted from RISD. And Wong Ping will be a revelation for many. Her work is perhaps best known on the gallery scene, but I think audiences will love her dark, unemotional style. His work is somewhat like stand-up comedy.
Beyond that, there is a long-awaited tribute to the American freelance collage artist. Jodie mack and Canadian host Mike Maryniuk (OIAF fans will remember Cattle call, the film he co-directed with Matthew Rankin). We also have a retrospective of our animated feature film grand prize winner, Mariusz Wilczyński (Kill him and leave this town). He’s made a bunch of awesome shorts that he’s never submitted to festivals, so we find them and share them.
Do you think artists were more productive during the pandemic?
I think we were down a bit in 2019 and 2020. And I’m still okay with that. Some festivals love to fight for entry records… but I totally agree with not break records every bloody year. We have the same limited number of competition seats and I find that the more registrations we get, the lower the quality. However, 2021 set a new high for the OIAF – and artists have clearly taken advantage of the pandemic to work on it. And despite what I said about the decline in quality as quantity increases, I will say it has been a pretty strong year.
What’s your secret to sitting down through so many submissions?
Okay… I’m starting slow. So when we launched the call in March, I’m just taking my time, watching a dozen short films a day. I usually have March to mid June to complete everything so I found a way to make it a bit manageable. Additionally, the OIAF has categories which really help organize your thoughts / choices as you go along. Naturally, whatever strategy I think of, animators love to wait until the last minute to submit their work… so the end of May (May 31 is the deadline every year) is a bit crazy.
I You know you hate this question, but have you noticed any trends diving into the mountain of submissions?
Can you imagine There were a lot of films about life during a pandemic. I would say that one in 10 films deals with one aspect of this experience. This is not surprising and I am sure it will be interesting to see these films again in 10 years after a few years of some semblance of imperfect normalcy. But I would also say that some were a little indulgent towards themselves, myopic and turning to the temperament “Woe to me”. Beyond that was the usual abundant supply of cats, eating soup and grandparents talking about their lives!
Here are the thematic headings: Soup. Pandemic references. Literal vaginas. Metaphorical vaginas. Pee (animals and humans). The horror of single-use plastics. Fish people. Rude mouth sounds. Soft poop. Filters that look like an 80s TV show!
Tell us a bit about the feature selections – it looks like we have a particularly eclectic collection in 2021, which is a great antidote to the similarity of studio releases.
Yes, that might be the most eclectic selection of features yet. It was truly refreshing to meet stories and approaches so far removed from the mainstream. The most “normal” is probably the Studio 4ºC function, Fortune favors Lady Nikuko. It is a funny and moving family drama comedy. Bob spit is a truly wonderful and unique stop-motion fusion of fiction and documentary. Two experienced animators, Pierre Hébert (Mount Fuji seen from a moving train) and Christine Panushka (Family tree blood) bring fascinating works tinged with experimentation. Then there is the beautiful and poetic take on the history / identity of Quebec, Archipelago, by Félix Dufour-Laperrière. And by far the most surprising were Elulu and Mound Chicken. You really have to see these films. No word I try to say will do justice to these memorable works.
Do you have any tips for making the most of the richness of the festival’s offer this year?
Well, it is much easier to navigate the OIAF online! Most attendees find it hard to see everything during the festival in person, but online it’s a lot more relaxed and because we offer almost everything on demand, you can choose what you want to see. Having said that, the short competitions are all live and I think it’s a lot of fun and a great way to make people feel like they’re part of the festival. Each competition is presented pretty much like the in-person screenings (each film is presented, the filmmakers salute…) and I like the chat function that is offered during the screening. At first I was worried it was a bad idea, but it turned out to be wonderful and really helped people feel a bit connected. So I think attending so many live events is a great way to feel involved – the competition screenings, meeting the filmmakers, the OIAF hangouts.
Which short film made you laugh the most?
Ged Haney’s music video, Freudental rocket “Der Stuhlkreis”. It is the opening film of the competition. It’s just a funny, goofy, and unemotional piece that fits the personality of the OIAF a bit. Night bus (Wen-Ming Hsieh) and Steak House (Špela Čadež) are not comedies, but their darkness made me laugh softly.
The OIAF takes place online from September 22 to October 10. 3. Visit animationfestival.ca for more information.