In Canada, the city of Ottawa has earned a reputation as a hub for film festivals, and one of its most popular is the Ottawa International Animation Film Festival. Part of that reputation comes from its community-building before, during and after the screenings, and part comes from its openness to local and amateur filmmakers, but a major ingredient has to be the pure quality of films each year.
But there’s no need to travel to the Great White North, as the festival packages an 80-minute compilation of its prize-winners to tour. This tour stops at Santa Barbara’s own Contemporary Arts Forum this Thursday to show, as part of First Thursdays.
The good news is that the weakest of this compilation is still very strong stuff. If the story is sometimes lacking or the message somewhat facile, the style more than makes up for it.
But for most of its running time, this compilation shows what happens when idea and execution work together. A good number come from students in varying animation programs around the world. Another majority come out of computer graphics, though not the kind we’ve been seeing in multiplexes.
Let’s work backward in the running order as an example. “Madagascar, a Journey Diary (Madagascar, carnet de voyage)” by Bastien Dubois brings a sketchbook to thrilling life. In a series of tableaux that jump from watercolor to pen-and-ink to collage, Dubois animates an impressionistic journey of a backpacker through the title country. None of the effects, which make the journal look like a dreamlike pop-up book, could have been done without computers, yet technology is furthest from the mind. The film breathes life.
“The Bellows March” from Eric Dyer also uses technology in a new way. With a 3D printer, Dyer and his team made hundreds of miniature squeezeboxes in different stages of expansion and then colored them, rainbow style. The resulting animated eye candy is organic, psychedelic, fractal and purely beautiful.
Sometimes the animation is as old-school as repetitive drawing, but there is still innovation, even here. Marv Newland’s “Postalolio” is a flip-book of sorts — a cartoon dog that morphs and rides skateboards — but each frame was drawn on a postcard, which then was mailed back to the animator. The resulting stamps and postmarks become as much a part of the film as the dog.
“The Black Dog’s Progress” tells a grimmer animal tale, one of a dog abused in the foulest way. But it’s executed with a terrifying beauty by Stephen Irwin, with a series of looped Post-it notes that fill in and expand the story in several directions. It’s a reminder that a lot of this festival is not for children, or at least not the sensitive ones.
Not everything works, of course. The inclusion of MGMT’s music video for “Kids” bends the animation theme, as the first two thirds of the film are live action. And the closer, Rao Heidmets’s “Inherent Obligations” is a dense media satire that falls under the weight of its symbolism. “Madagascar” would have been a much better choice for the final film.
There is still one last very enthusiastic recommendation for David O’Reilly’s stunning “Please Say Something,” which wrings all sorts of emotions from a story about a cat and a mouse’s relationship. And this is no “Tom and Jerry.” The female cat may tower over the tiny mouse, but the rodent is an emotional tyrant. O’Reilly’s animated world is influenced by sleek, futuristic magazine design and a bit of Chris Ware’s graphical layouts, when words incorporate themselves into the architecture.
Of course, the story is really about how we humans hurt each other, even while we love. But by telling this tale in this icy, glitchy and sometimes cartoony terms, O’Reilly trumps realism. That’s what animation can do, and what it often does in the festival.
BEST OF OTTAWA INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION FILM FESTIVAL
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 5
Where: Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, 653 Paseo Nuevo
Information: 966-5373, sbcaf.org