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The 2016 Ottawa International Animation Festival

Recently, I was on a tour of the Canadian Maritimes. We rode in a bus all the way from Toronto to St. John’s Newfoundland and back. On the way back, as we headed from Quebec City to Ottawa , Canada’s capitol, I noticed something strange. As we were closing in, none of the signs on the highway mentioned the city at all. I asked the driver guide what the deal was and how far we were from our destination. 

She pointed to a sign that said, “Gatineau.”

“There it is,” she said, “Fifty miles away.”

Gatineau? What the heck is Gatineau?

Formerly Hull, Gatineau is a deliberate insult to the rest of the country, created by the government of Quebec. A glorified suburb of the capitol, it’s right across from the Ottawa River, easy walking distance from the Parliament building itself. They changed the name to something French and replaced the city on all the highway signs. 

To paraphrase the late comic genius Rodney Dangerfield, “Ottawa gets no respect, no respect at all.” In fact, aside from the government, the only thing that goes on there that has an international cultural reputation is its annual Ottawa International Animation Festival, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary and ran September 21 -25, 2016.

The art of animation, like Ottawa itself, hasn’t been given all that much respect over the years, although in recent decades it has been better appreciated. Most people think that animated films are just for kids (with a little smut here and there), and are easily dismissed except for the annual Disney and Pixar blockbusters.

It is so much more than that. 

Ottawa is justly proud of OIAF, and it takes over much of the neighborhood of Bytown — due east of the Parliament building. 

The festival has four venues: 

The ByTowne Cinema, an arthouse about half a mile east of said parliament.

The National Gallery, a quarter mile northeast, which is a lot grander and prides itself as a world-class museum.

The Arts Court, which has a some galleries, offices and a theater, and a de-commissioned church called St. Bridget’s; presentations, interviews and a jobs fair (open to all but they only hire Canadians) are offered there.

They also have a professional conference called The Animation Conference (TAC, very original, that), which is not open to the press.

Most animated films are shorts, and that’s what is focused on. Within this mega-genre are several subsets: 

for kiddies (which includes TV)

  • Abstract artistic films
  • Narratives
  • Commercials  

They also showed a retrospective of grand-prize winners from all 39 previous festivals (two of which took place in Toronto, because Ottawa don’t get no respect), which illustrated the evolution of taste and subjects over the last quarter of the previous century and the first fifth of this one. 

There were also five features shown, two of which will not get a theatrical release in the United States, two others which barely got out of the festival circuit, and one more which will be coming out in December. 

Finally there was some experiments in virtual reality, one of which was genuinely exciting. 

The festival lasted five days, and it was really worth it.

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