Ottawa Animation Festival: Pixie Cram makes her debut with Emergency Broadcast

The animated film Emergency Broadcast by Ottawa's Pixie Cram features objects from the Diefenbunker.

ARTSFILE is talking to some of the artists who are attending the Ottawa International Animation Festival this week. Today Ottawa’s Pixie Cram talks about her work seven minute animation Emergency Broadcast (2017) and much more including her name, which she says was given to her by her mom who told Pixie she “had pointy ears.”

Q. Please tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to animation?

A. I’m an Ottawa native. I’ve been making films since my early 20s. I’m mostly self-taught. After graduating from theatre school with a focus on performance and playwriting, I got into a filmmaking course that was being offered through IFCO (the Independent Filmmakers Co-operative of Ottawa). That was how I made my first animation.

Q. What were your early animation interests?

A. I grew up with films like Tron and Star Wars and Jim Henson’s puppets. I don’t think I was particularly taken by animation as a form; it was more the stories and the settings that captivated me. I would say I was interested in sci-fi more so than a particular technique.

Pixie Cram is making her Ottawa International Animation Festival debut wth Emergency Broadcast.

Q. You are also a filmmaker and a mixed media artist. These seem to be variations on a theme. How do they connect in your art-making?

A. These different approaches connect through a desire to tell stories, explore ideas and, perhaps, shift perspectives as well. Most of my animation and my fiction is narrative. By that I mean that there’s a beginning, middle and end. The installation-based projection work that I’ve done is about disrupting people’s ideas of architecture and public spaces, and bringing the experience of live art into the streets. It’s more performative.

Q. What was your first animated film?

A. My first film was an animation. It was called Coil. In the film, a live-action fisherman catches a bunch of fish, then cuts one open to clean it and what you see are the gears and cogs of a mechanism inside the belly of the fish. (This was the part that was animated.) That was the beginning of a style of science fiction that I’ve been developing ever since — an exploration of nature, the organic, and technology or human-made constructs.

Q. Why Stop-Motion Animation?

A. Before I made Coil into a film, it was a play I had written in theatre school — a solo monologue. I had to figure out how to turn the words on the page into visuals on screen. I was encouraged by IFCO to try animation. I liked the results, so I’ve been animating objects ever since.

Q. Let’s talk about Emergency Broadcast?

A. Emergency Broadcast takes place entirely inside the Diefenbunker Museum. There is no human presence, only objects that move and take on a life of their own. It’s the story of a nuclear war starting.

Q. How did it come about?

A. I was making a fiction film and I had planned on using the Diefenbunker’s blast tunnel as one of the locations. Then we decided to cut the scene and I was really disappointed. I remembered that there was an annual call for artist-in-residence projects, so I quickly came up with the idea for the animation. I was hoping to have the opportunity to create a film in the space, but also to have access to the archives so I could do research on the nuclear issue — to do some fact checking for the fiction film.

Q. I am also intrigued by the 2014 piece called Joan. Why Joan of Arc?

A. I’ve always been fascinated by her story. She’s been described by contemporary thinkers as a schizophrenic; others still see her as a visionary. What did she experience when she heard the voices of Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret speaking to her, encouraging her to go fight for her country? The image of the woman warrior is very powerful and necessary, I think, especially in this day when more and more people are openly challenging patriarchal views.

Q. I really respect the fact that you are giving back to the community. What’s Hot Shoe Productions?

A. Hot Shoe Production is a video training program and social enterprise that employs youth-at-risk.  We run video workshops in community houses and Alternate High Schools, then we hire some of the youth to work on productions for clients. The youth are paid a starting rate of $15 an hour and we have about 10 on the payroll. 

Q. As a woman working in this field, is it hard to find traction? It is kind of male dominated.

A. Yes. But the big funding agencies, festivals, distributors (and the like) are all working hard at introducing new policies and quotas for women-led projects that will hopefully make things easier for people like me to make films.

Q. What’s next?

A. I just finished a 30-minute science fiction film with a similar theme to Emergency Broadcast. It’s called Pragmatopia.

Here’s the synopsis: “Based in part on the recollections of a Hiroshima survivor, the film follows two young women as they journey from the outskirts of the city to a radioactive area deep in the woods. Along the way, they encounter a young drifter. As they travel together, they are forced to confront their new reality.” I’m working on setting up a screening of Pragmatopia in Ottawa later this fall. Here’s a link to the trailer.

This is Pixie Cram’s debut at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. Screenings of Emergency Broadcast are on Sept. 27 and 28 as part of Canadian Panorama. For more information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.