I must apologize that this article is late to the point of irrelevance. Over the last month I’ve been traveling a lot. I had this romantic idea that I could pull out my computer in transit and write in all these weird places, but I fond that typing on the go gave me motion sickness. One thing they never talk about being a jet-setter are the dumb parts like being trapped at Scarborough Town Centre in the middle of the night and freezing your fucking balls off.
In any case, this article was going to be a preview of the Ottawa International Animation Festival, but since that’s passed now I guess it will have to be a review. I assure you it’s not just due to laziness. In this case I had a very good reason to procrastinate. I believe it was the only ethical choice I had.
On October 5th I was fortunate enough to attend a special press screening event for the festival held at the Japanese embassy. I very pleasantly surprised that my contributions to the Art Engine blog have begun to grant me status as a legitimate member of the press. The reason it was held at the Japanese embassy is because this year there was a special focus on Japanese independent animation. They gave us an overview of what to expect at the festival and showed us a few trailers. We were served sushi and Sapporo beer and given swag like these fancy Japanese mouse pads.
The aspect of the festival that stood out to me were the independent short films of Osamu Tezuka. Osamu Tezuka is considered the godfather of anime, having developed that distinctive style through the creation of Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, and Phoenix among others.
Festival artistic director Chris Robinson wanted to point out that there is more to Japanese animation than just anime which was the purpose of programing independent short films. Although there is some anime I truly enjoy, the Ghost In The Shell series, the art of Yoshitaka Amano, the designs of Tetsuya Nomura, for example, I was just fine with that. I know anime has a tremendous sleeper fan base, but every story I have about an encounter with anime fans is also a story about an awkward introduction to some kind of deviant sex practice.
They play Jumping by Osamu Tezuka. From a first person perspective we see a character jump to increasingly ridiculous heights around a neighbourhood. Special attention is given to momentum, and weight, the physics of the action. There is something about it that feels right, even if the action is impossible in real life.
Another film they showed, Fumiko’s Confession by Ishida Hiroyasu, falls more into the standard anime faire, but with a decidedly subversive slant. While Fumiko’s Confession, the story of a school girl trying to get the attention of a school boy, contained many of the trappings of anime, over the top actions, incomprehensible screaming, psychedelic camera moves, it displayed a keen self awareness. It also projected an undeniable energy which I feel is missing from a lot of North American animation.
Don’t get me wrong, there were tons of homegrown hits as well. The National Film Board of Canada had a huge presence at this year’s festival. Stationery by Monica Rho and starring hometown hero Sandra Oh starts with the story of a woman trying to get paperclips for a report she has due. It escalates into a contemplation on modern women in the workplace. What I liked about this piece is something I quite enjoy about animation as a medium. It allows an audience to visually experience what is happening in a character’s mind more so than say live-action film or theatre.
Similarly, Robe de guerre (Robes of War) by Michèle Cournoyer is described as a feminist examination of the contemporary issue of war. Without any dialogue, we’re shown what appears to be hand painted, black and white water-coloured images of burka clad women morphing into icons of war. This film was produced by the NFB and looks the part. It shares the aesthetics of many classic NFB animated shorts. It kind of reminds me of a depressing version of things they would play between Canadian Sesame Street and Mr. Dressup like Log Driver’s Waltz or Universe or something.
One thing I love about animation is how diverse it is. I Without End by Laleh Korramian uses stop-motion and timelapse to tell the story of two lovers in a prolonged state of ecstasy. It depicts the lovers using cut up orange peels. After their intimate moment, the orange peel people rot in the sunlight. It’s simple and beautiful.
It was the complete antithesis of last year’s Oscar winner Logorama by H5. Not to say Logorama was not beautiful, but its beauty exists in complexity. Logorama uses 3D animation to create a world populated with logos engaged in pulpy crime story melodrama. At the end of the film a cataclysm destroys the world. A long camera pull back reveals the entire universe is shown to be made up of logos. Logorama was well done, visually exciting and witty. It was obvious why this film has won an award at Cannes and the Academy Awards. For motion graphic monkeys such as myself, it was also a relief to see someone do something interesting with logos.
The big deal feature at this year’s festival was The Illusionist by French director Sylvain Chomet who also directed 2003’s Les Triplettes de Belleville. The Illusionist is visual story telling at it’s finest. It is engaging while using very little dialogue. It had a good story and great animation. It exemplifies all the best qualities the medium is known for. This film has a wide release so you should be able to catch it easily if you’ve missed the festival. If you do, be sure to stay past the end credits for a secret scene.
My favourite film from the festival is a short, Meat or Die by Tai Murayama. The story follows two hungry dinosaurs in the future, but really it was a minute and thirty seconds of utter madness. It was short, funny, and technically very well done. Maybe it’s my lowbrow tastes, but sometimes that’s all it takes for me.
Now at the press screening, in addition to food, gift bags, and a preview of some standout short films showing at the festival, we were also given review copies of all the films. The review copies were on DVDs and conveniently organized into the screenings in which they would appear. Basically I received a digital copy of the festival before the premiere.
People who know me know me as many things; story-teller, futurist, brown guy, cat-lover, but above all pirate. A pirate would never advertise, much less admit to being a pirate, especially on a blog, but if I were a pirate, I would be obligated to make a giant torrent of the festival and put it online. Much like seeding at a 2:1 ratio, it’s just part of the pirate code. The pirate code is a serious thing. Breaking the code has significant consequences. They could revoke your membership to all the 1337 forums, take away your hax-sword.
There are many arguments for why making a gigantic torrent of the festival before it started and putting it online would be a bad thing to do. I could possibly ruin the festival, embarrass Art Engine, get sued by extremely litigious and well funded companies such as Disney. Furthermore many people have moral qualms about piracy in general. They view it as equivalent to stealing.
Proponents of piracy have a different view altogether. The first distinction they make is that stealing is taking something while pirating is making a duplicate of something, leaving the original intact. As much as the MPAA would say otherwise, there is a quantifiable difference between shop lifting a blu-ray disc from a store versus making a copy of the file held on blu-ray disc and sticking it on a hard drive. Secondly, and more importantly, proponents of piracy believe access to the entirety of human art and culture trumps any objection one may have. I believe piracy is an interesting and controversial subject, especially now during the information age, and especially for artists, who are caught in the middle of this debate.
Artists, specifically media and technology artist that would be involved in a centre like Art Engine, are both content providers and disseminators. On one hand we want to own and control the art we create. On the other, ignoring the matter of access to the entirety of human culture for a moment, art, like every other human achievement, does not take place in a bubble. A lot of technology based art relies on re-contextualizing existing work into something completely new. People like Ryan and myself have done it. Ryan probably wouldn’t want me to lump him in the same category as dirty pirates, but the point I’m trying to make is that one cannot argue that copying in one context is okay, while copying in another is not. Creativity thrives when information is freely accessible. This video explains this argument far more eloquently than I could.
But I don’t have to say any of this stuff to you people. If you’re reading this you probably already agree with the base concept: collaboration makes things better; every innovation is built upon a previous innovation. I’ve read the Art Engine website, kind of. You guys are big into open source, circuit bending, creative commons and whatnot.
Anyway, so you see in one hand I had a digital copy of the festival and the pirate code and in the other my responsibility not to ruin stuff in Ottawa as a representative of Art Engine. I did nothing, which is my standard action item whenever I run across a moral dilemma. Now that everything has passed I feel free to write this article and tell you all I had such a lovely time at the festival this year. If you’re a fan of animation, I recommend checking out a lot of the films which are available online and on home video. If you missed the festival, well nothing really compares to watching something in a big theatre with an audience of like minded people, but something tells me a search of the real internet might bring some results.