Chaos reigns at this year’s Animation Festival … and that’s a good thing

Detail from Turbine by Montreal artist Alex Boya. Courtesy National Film Board of Canada.

Chaos promises to be one of the benchmarks of this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Not that the festival itself, running Sept. 26-30 and featuring 161 films plus other events, will be chaotic. After more than four decades, it tends to tick over smoothly.

But many of the films spotlight unconventional narratives and “chaotic elements,” says artistic director Chris Robinson. “People dealing with identity, parental issues, cultural issues – stuff that’s certainly reflecting the weirdness, the non-linear nature of what’s going on around us right now … I think that’s what comes out of all this: ‘Who the hell are we? Where are we going?’”

A scene from Electrician’s Day by Vladimir Leschiov. Courtesy OIAF.

Robinson says concern about what social media may doing to us was also evident among the 2,400-plus entries this year, entries that were ultimately whittled down to what’s being screened in the festival’s feature and short-film competitions, retrospectives, and other categories.

Worries about technology inform a couple of films in a different way. Turbine, by Montreal-based animator Alex Boya, is about a mid-20th century man who merges with his war plane and can no longer connect with his wife. 

Calling the film complex and funny, Robinson says, “It deals with post-war PTSD yet also investigates when technology started to take over. Rather than just looking at smartphones, he’s gone back to look at when technology slowly started to dominate our lives.”

Boya is among those who will join Robinson in the festival’s Meet the Filmmakers Q&A series.

An image from John Morena’s Bi-Polaroid. Courtesy OIAF

Brooklyn-based John Morena will also be on hand for Meet the Filmmakers. He has five films in this year’s festival, four of which are from his Area 52 project. Originally – and still – a commercial filmmaker, Morena spent 2017 making one experimental animated “micro-short” film every week and releasing it on Instagram.

And the films are short. For example, Flea Circus, which is about gaining perspective on our problems and part of the festival lineup, clocks in at 53 seconds.

Making the films for Instagram, where there’s a limit of one minute, was “conducive to actually getting them done,” says Morena. “I wanted to give people something they could watch in its entirety inside the (Instagram) frame without having to send them somewhere else.”

YouTube and allied platforms, with their massive reach and endless videos, were a non-starter for him. “You’re a needle in a haystack, and it’s a cesspool — I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the comments section? It’s really more of a blogger’s platform (than for showing) art.”

Morena says Instagram is also ideal for presenting the social and cultural commentary that underpins his films. He believes that when articles about such subjects are shared online, often only the title gets read because we don’t have the time to burrow into the whole thing. In Instagram, “That 60 seconds is a lot of real estate, more than you might think, to say what you have to say.”

The self-imposed challenge of producing a film a week wasn’t easy, but Morena says the rewards were immense. Not only has the resulting buzz and quality of the work helped net him a string of festival spots, he says the experience also made him more daring in his approach to filmmaking.

You can view Morena’s Area 52 films here.

Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes) is an animation by Amanda Strong. Courtesy OIAF.

Also onboard at the festival: Indigenous (Michif) interdisciplinary artist Amanda Strong. Currently based in unceded Coast Salish territories (Vancouver), she’s bringing her short film Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes). It recently premiered at TIFF, where several Indigenous features and shorts were screened this year.

Strong’s stop-motion animation uses 2D and 3D computer techniques, animated objects, and puppets to follow Biidaaban and spirit beings as they set out on the ceremonial harvesting of sap from maple trees in an urban Ontario neighbourhood.

She says animation is helping bring the rich tradition of Indigenous storytelling to a larger audience.

“There has never been a lack of stories or talent or strength in Indigenous creators.  I feel access to training and technology is becoming more available to Indigenous people and artists both in cities and in remote communities. Our stories have always been here waiting to be created and told.”

She says there are also more Indigenous people fighting to claim space for their work on mainstream platforms like festivals.

Strong sees animation as a valuable ally to Indigenous storytelling because it allows non-linear experimentation with characters, environments and the way a story is told.

“Animation is a powerful medium where there is no limit to the worlds and stories we create.”

The Ottawa International Animation Festival runs Sept. 26-30 in various downtown venues. Watch for more ARTSFILE interviews next week. For iunformation & tickets: 613-232-8769,

A Fly in the Restaurant by Xi Chen & Xu An. Courtesy OIAF

Share Post
Written by

Patrick Langston covered English professional theatre for the Ottawa Citizen from 2008 to 2016. He also wrote about music, travel, the local housing industry and other subjects for the paper. Patrick continues to contribute to Ottawa Magazine, Diplomat and International Canada Magazine, and other publications.