Ottawa International Animation Festival 2016 Review

They're so old now.

So another year has come and gone and with it brought another installment of the Ottawa International Animation Festival, one of the biggest animation festivals there is and (I believe) the largest in North America. This year was the festival's 40th birthday, so it's hitting it's midlife crisis but is handling it with grace and a new Porsche in the garage. So how did it stand up this year to years past?

The first big positive take away from the festival this year for me was that there seemed to be a lot more women film makers with films in competition and being featured in the festival. As you may or may not know, the animation industry (much like all of the film industry) is predominantly run by guys. So it with animation and the film industry being held to a higher standard (finally) and women like Rebecca Sugar of Stephen Universe fame being more and more prominent it was super great to go to Ottawa and see lots of films both by women and more focused on women viewers.

In an extra bonus of that I got to see the real impact it had an the audience, I was up there and was able to meet up with the animation program I went through at the Massachusetts College of Art and design and talk to and hang out with their students, and seeing their female students be excited about how many women were featured in the festival really drove home the point of how important something like that is in a festival setting.

It's tough for someone to watch something they want to pursue as a career and not see themselves represented in it. So that was a really nice element that Ottawa had going for it this year.

Since it was the 40th anniversary this year most of the screenings outside the main short competition were retrospectives of past Ottawa festival grand prize winners.

Unfortunately I had already seen almost all of them because I have nothing better to do with my free time than watch independent animation alone at midnight eating pizza, but for an audience member who may be newer to animation or one that is new to the Ottawa film festival these were a great chance for them to catch up on some truly spectacular short films.

Not everyone is going to agree with the winner of the festival each year, and there can be some controversial choices for sure, but overall they are a great resource for finding short form independent animation that stands out and really excels at what it's doing. It was a special treat for me also that Wallace & Gromit The Wrong Trousers was up on the big screen again being shown to audiences. Wallace and Gromit was a big influence on me growing up and wanting to get involved in animation, and The Wrong Trousers was my favorite of their 3 original short films. It even has one of my favorite jokes still to this day in it, where the penguin takes off his glove hat and Wallace realizes he's a penguin not a chicken and says; "Good grief! It's you!" Hopefully a new audience could be brought to Wallace and Gromit through this screening.

As for the main heart of the festival, the animated short competition, it felt a little bit lacking to me this year. Nothing really stood out to me as a "wow that's the best film I've seen in a while" kind of vibe. That being said all the films were pretty incredible, but nothing really punched me in the gut and made me go "wow I want to make a film that good!"

I think my favorite film of the festival actually came from the Canadian Student Competition, that featured student animators at various universities across Canada. Mike Horowitz's Genesis really got me good, it's a fast paced, black and grey, seemingly random clips, montage type animation I don't know how to describe it but it was fantastic. It really hit home for me, it's not online currently (probably because it's still doing the film festival rounds) but you can follow his Vimeo here or check out his site here, and hopefully (Mike if you're reading this) he'll put up Genesis once it's finished it's festival circuit.

The only other bit that stood out to me was actually pointed out to me by my friend Trinity (who's work you can see here on her Vimeo). There wasn't really any stop motion featured in the shorts competitions. I'm sure it wasn't a deliberate choice, usually stop motion is featured just as much as any other form of animation, but this year it was surprisingly lacking in that field. The other showcases had more stop motion in them, but not really within the main bread and butter of the festival with the short competitions. It makes me wonder if people are creating fewer stop motion pieces or if it was just a coincidence that barely any ended up within the short competition. I think of all the pieces there was 1 stop motion piece? Hopefully this was just a weird coincidence and not a sign that stop motion is going by the wayside.

So all in all Ottawa's 40th birthday came and went, and it pulled off another fantastic festival. Each year it never ceases to impress me with both the incredible events it puts on, like the animator's picnic or the parties every night, and the incredibly wide reaching net it casts on the world of animation. Incredibly varying styles as well as films from across the globe really never ceases to inspire me to get back home and start cranking on my own work. I'm lucky and fortunate to be able to go to Ottawa each year, and if you couldn't make it this year you should check out their website listings and try to track down as many of the films online as you can. If they're not up now, they will be soon so keep your eyes peeled for some truly fantastic independent animation.