OIAF Review: Canadian Showcase

Soup of the Day
The Canadian Showcase at this year's Ottawa International Animation festival boasts a range of shorts as expansive and diverse as the land between St. John's and Vancouver. The OIAF CS has everything from musicals to sci fi, from independent works to anijams, and from NFB productions to NFB assisted productions. Yes, the Canadian Showcase had animated shorts of every colour.

The Canadian Showcase serves up a three course meal of foodie flicks with Breakfast (dir. Elise Simard), Impromptu (dir. Bruce Alcock), and Soup of the Day (dir. Lynn Smith). Each of these films brings a unique flavour to the showcase as they pepper the screen with their own special ingredients. Each film has a vibrant palette, from Simard's unique humor to Alcock's jazzy slice of life style. (Click here for an extended review of Impromptu from TIFF.) The rhythm of Impromptu is followed especially well by the fun musical number of Soup of the Day, which is a witty ditty about dining etiquette. Soup of the Day is a creative blend of styles and tastes as Smith’s painterly colours and characters add some animated spice to an amusing song by Canadian songwriter Zander Ary. Like Breakfast and Impromptu, Soup of the Day has a zesty feel of improvisational joie de vivre as the beat and tempo of the soundtrack works in time to the animation (and vice versa), thus creating a sense of riffing and creativity like a chef whipping a great meal on the spot with the tools at his or her disposal. This tasty trio begins the Canadian Showcase by greeting animation fans with a healthy salute of “Bon appétit!”
The Showcase, unfortunately, then gets a little gassy as some foodies often do after a rich hearty meal. The unseemly burp of the programme, if not the festival, is Cochemare (dir. Chris Lavis & Maciek Szczerbowski). Cochemare, a highly imaginative exploration of both nature and the human body, is a mess of ideas and styles. The mix of live action and animation never really jives as skin-crawling fake aliens spy on a human woman as she writhes passionately in bed. Some viewers will doubtlessly be amazed by the enveloping pushing nature of Cochemare’s galaxy quest between flesh and fiction, but the film is bound to polarize and divide audiences.

On  the better end of the spectrum are three exceptional conceptual films in the Canadian showcase. Crossing Victoria (dir. Steven Woloshen) and The Clockmakers (dir. Renaud Hallée) are both hypnotic experiments with form and meaning. One film that is sure to receive a unanimous endorsement from OIAF viewers, though, is the celebratory collaboration Yellow Sticky Notes | Canadian Anjiam (dir. Jeff Chiba Stearns and friends). I covered the Anijam during Hot Docs for Point of View magazine, but it’s the kind of film that rewards with multiple viewings. This alliance between 15 award-winning and independent animators is a true showcase of talents, as Yellow Sticky Notes displays the range of inspiration and creative that over a dozen artists can bring to a singular concept. The artists all received a black marker and a stack of yellow sticky notes from Chiba Stearns and simply got the direction to create a “To Do” list for any given day. The result is an animated archive of yellow sticky notes past, present, and future. The range is fitting since the anijam is a nod to animators who have come before it and a great display of current talents that is sure to inspire animators to come.

Echoes of the archive appear in two other films in the Canadian showcase, Le courant faible de la rivière (The River’s Lazy Edge) (dir. Joël Vaudreuil) and Errance (Wandering) (dir. Eleonore Goldberg). Both shorts are as different as films can be, as the former film offers a sardonically anecdotal account of a stillborn date at the lake by an old man who recalls the memory as he wanders to the water to have a smoke. Wandering, on the other hand, is a soberly nostalgic story of a woman in exile. Both films use an appropriate style to service the tone of their stories, as The River’s Lazy Edge is laid-back and quirky while Wandering is rendered in precise ink drawings that convey a sense of history recorded.
Finally, the Canadian Showcase offers a pair of films that deal with the difficult and sometimes endearing relationships that children have with their parents. The promotional animation Would You Rather… (dir. Gail Noonan) ends the programme with a funny game that captures our parents’ lack of imagination with an imaginative flair. An equal hand at creating a fantasyland out of the familiar can be seen in the dark and masterful Foxed! (dir. James Stewart & Nev Bezaire). Foxed! is a visually stunning stop-motion work wreathed in eye-catching use of light and shadows as it provides a cautionary tale, or a fairy tale told in the vein of classics in which the animals aren’t the friendly critters of the “Happy Working Song” variety. Foxed! is among the most ambiguous and open-ended works of the festival and, like the best of shorts, it lasts far longer than the mere minutes of its running time. From the animals of the earth to the dishes serving those atop the food chain, this year’s Canadian Showcase has a healthy range of styles and stories to show that our country’s animators are operating in top form.