OIAF Review: Short Film Competition 1

Monkey Love Experiment
The Short Film Competition gets off to a great start at the 2014 Ottawa International Animation Festival with Shorts Comp 1. The films at SC1 are a fun mix of films. Make sure to see the Short Competitions in order, though, since SC1 starts with a running gag on the legacy of Kim Jong Un (best dictator eva!) from filmmaker David O’Reilly that continues throughout the competition. There’s something for everyone in SC1 whether one fancies fantasy or reality. Some nifty promo spots also show that innovation is just as alive and well in the commercial side of animation as it is in the independent side, since some of the best shorts in the programme are commercials. They’re mostly adverts for animation festivals, though, so it’s no wonder they’re so inventive!

Two of the three promotional animations are for film festivals: Elevator (Valentine Kemmer, Germany) for the Internationales Trickfilm Festival and Fight! (Marc James Roels, Belgium/France) for the 2013 Festival National du Film d’Animation. The former is a droll joke about the worst elevator pairing one could imagine while the latter is a riotous fest of friends fighting dirty. Both films are programme highlights for their quick wit and clever animation. Fight! director Marc James Roels returns to Ottawa after bringing the crowd-pleasing Oh, Willy to the festival last year, and animation fans can expect more riotous sock puppetry, only with a little less penis and a lot more vomit this time around. Anyone who thinks OIAF has some wild marketing will enjoy this pair of shorts.
Fight. Photo courtesy of OIAF.
Equally effective is the third promotional short, Monster in the Closet (Yves Geleyn, USA), which is a bit of a buzzkill, but it’s quietly effective for the jolt of violence that makes imaginary monsters palpably real. On the other hand, SC1 imaginatively brings monsters to life when it exhumes vampire history in the outstanding Imperial Provisor Frombald (Elizabeth Hobbs, UK). This fantastic short delves into vampire history by interpreting the findings of Serbian administrators examining the case. Sparse images, reminiscent of watercolours and ancient scrawls, gives Imperial Provisor Frombald an ingenious aesthetic. The classical compositions are a treat for vampire romantics!
Imperial Provisor Frombald
Violent animation then jumps off the screen in the poetic and disturbing Hipopotamy (Piotr Dumala, Poland). This provocative meditation on rape culture features a quartet of bathing women assaulted by a quartet of boner-bearing men as director Piotr Dumaia converges the bodies in a metaphorical rhythm. Hipopotamy has an ambiguous ending, though, that makes much of what precedes it feel like shock value. The arresting images nevertheless have a power that resonates throughout the programme even if the film ultimately feels like rage without an argument.

 Stronger all-around lasting power comes with 1000 Plateaus (Stephen Woloshen, Canada), a jazzy experimental number that has an energy that can't be beat. This lively travelogue, a standout among the experimental shorts of festival so far, is one of the most impressive films in the competition, not simply for its hypnotic images, but also for the final endnote that notes how the entire film was made in the front seat of a car with only the most basic materials. The energy of improvisation and riffing ring throughout this number and make it a wondrous sendup (and addition) to the creative power of animation. Three cheers to things conceived in cars!

Before conception comes a courtship in the fun opening act, Bear with Me (Agata Bolanosova, Slovakia), which opens the programme. This fun and adorable creature cartoon has characters and edges reminiscent of Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and the nostalgic nod is a warm, affectionate start to the programme.

Animals figure prominently in three more films from the upper tier of Shorts Competition 1. Lumberjacked (Joel MacKenzie, Canada), for example, is a very funny spoof in the crazy Canadian wilderness. This music video for “Yelling in Sleep” by Rich Aucoin plays like cool video game as one lumberjack connects with nature to defeat the alien bumblebee thing wreaking hoc on the forest. Woodland animals assemble in Disney fashion as the lumberjack develops superhuman strength by cranking out pancakes and fresh maple syrup for the owls, deer, and bears. It’s a wild spoof on Canadiana. SC1 follows Lumberjacked nicely with a fellow jaunt in the wilderness, The Divide (Brent Sievers, USA), and equally fun and trippy farce on the limitations of man and nature.
The highlight of the programme, however, comes in the animal showcase, Monkey Love Experiment (Ainslie Henderson & Will Anderson, UK), which screens second to last in Shorts Competition 1. Monkey Love Experiment is simply one of the best shorts of the year. This funny, yet unexpectedly moving, short chronicles one monkey’s naïve friendship with his fellow lab partner, which is a false monkey made out of cloth, googly eyes, and a stick. The monkey watches space experiments in awe from his cage and takes comfort in his friend—especially in the scent of the face cloth—as he eagerly awaits his turn to be the next monkey in space. Monkey Love Experiment displays a remarkable hand at humanizing the poor little critter as the lone monkey, Gandhi, takes the viewer on a range of emotions including excitement, joy, despair, loneliness, relief, and disappointment. Directors Ainslie Henderson and Will Anderson pull off a notable coup by giving such tangible feelings to Gandhi in this film that deftly blends live action and animation to blur the line between forms and realities. Much like Gandhi sees the cloth as a monkey, Monkey Love Experiment gives life to the inanimate and, in turn, renders human what is we perceive as inhuman.

Shorts Competition 1 screens again on Sunday, Sept. 21 at 11:00 am at The ByTowne.
Please visit www.animationfestival.ca for more information on this year’s festival.