OIAF Review: 'New Ghosts in the Ol' Haunt'

The Alphabet
The Ottawa International Animation Festival spooks up a storm with the special screening “New Ghosts in the Ol’ Haunt: Regrets, Residues, and Crossing Over.” This selection of strange and unusual shorts is a mix of morbid humour and existence musing. Ghosts do roam, especially in the witching hour, and this eccentric programme offers a fun choice for OIAF-goers and folks dabbling in the arts on Saturday’s overnight fete, Nuit Blanche. This mix of classic and contemporary stories is just the ticket for festivalgoers who love to turn on the flashlight and tell a tale in the dark as their imaginations run wild.

“New Ghosts in the Ol’ Haunt,” curated with a playful eye by OIAF’s Keltie Duncan, gets the audience in the mood for the avant-garde by resurrecting an old ghost from animation’s past, David Lynch’s 1968 classic The Alphabet. This experimental nightmare is a must-see glimpse into the ol’ haunts of David Lynch’s weird mind. The macabre Alphabet still feels formally daring today, and proves that resurrecting old spirits may awaken some inspiration for us all. Plus, the vomiting blood still grosses audiences out thanks to the collective “Ick!” that punctuates this trippy flick.

The bulk of “New Ghosts” comes from a series of films, “Ghost Stories,” by the Late Night Work Club. This collection of spooky tales gives a fine sample of the currents emerging from one pocket of the animation scene, as eleven artists offer various approaches in terms of animating the afterlife.  Some are funny, some are serious, and some are ripped from life while others are fantastical. Let’s hope that one particular short, Asshole (Dir. Conor Finnegan), is not based on a true ghost story. This funny film gives one poor unsuspecting bather the worst case of the shits imaginable when a scary tooth-gnashing thing erupts from his anus and attacks him. Asshole is potty humour in its finest form.

Phantom Limb (Dir. Alex Grigg) gets a second chance to be seen by OIAF-goers as it hits up “New Ghosts” after playing in Shorts Competition 2. This short has fun interpreting the ghostliness of the character’s condition and doubles the trauma for her father who feels responsible for the accident. It’s an amusing and cunning leap on some creative wordplay.

Also joining the party from the LNWC haunts are American Dream (Dir. Sean Buckelew) and Loose Ends (Dir. Louise Bagnall) both of which are affective tales about the journey of crossing over from life to death. The surprisingly devastating American Dream takes a mockumentary approach to the afterlife as filmmaker Sean Buckelew pairs hand-drawn animation with a calm, reflective narration from a young woman who was killed at the age of twenty-eight. The sparse shadings of the film evoke the image of an unfinished life as the narrator tells the audience about the hopes and dreams she has for the years to come. It’s a quietly affecting piece of filmmaking as the woman struggles with acceptance and chooses life in the face of death. The same can be said for Loose Ends, which visualizes how even the slightest thing, like a scent or an old coffee mug, can remind a person of a departed loved one. Bagnall displays a tender hand at subtlety, which gives “New Ghosts” an emotional push as it explores different facets of the life and death.
Mountain Ash.

The highlight of the “Ghost Stories” anthology and, in turn, “New Ghosts” overall is Mountain Ash (Dir. Jake Armstrong & Erin Kilkenny), which playfully tells of the cycle of life and death as one wily fox finds itself caught in the circle. The endearing fox draws viewers into the film as learns how the local lumberjack and the tasty mice on which it feasts all share a stake in the ecosystem of the woods. The film is reminiscent of Iain Gardener’s extraordinary The Tannery as it visualizes death through simple changes in colour palettes. The vibrant film is just as poignant as it is amusing.
Ghost Burger.
 Coda (Dir. Alan Holly) takes a more philosophical approach to seeing one’s life flash before one’s eyes as “New Ghosts”  wraps up its most profound meditations on crossing over in this beautiful, moving, and strikingly composed exploration of the journey from life to death. The programme then has a rollicking finish with the out-to-lunch Ghost Burger (Dir. Lee Hardcastle). This certifiably insane Claymation adventure turns “New Ghosts” into a veritable blood bath as two cousins pump some ammo into ghosts and serve them to unsuspecting customers as yummy burgers. The popular “blanc burgers” fuel a laugh-a-minute gong show as director Lee Hardcastle has a riot with this absurd take on ghostbusting. Ghost Burger is one of the funniest films you’ll see at the festival, and the programme couldn’t ask for a better endnote to leave audiences floating out of the theatre like giddy ghosts. It’s a hoot.

“New Ghosts in the Ol’ Haunt: Regrets, Residues, and Crossing Over” screens:
-Friday, Sept. 19 at 9:15 pm at the Arts Court Theatre (2nd floor of Arts Court)
-Saturday, Sept. 20 from 9:30 pm – 2:00 am (looped) at St. Brigid’s (310 St. Patrick St.) during Nuit Blanche.

Please visit www.animationfestival.ca for more information on this year’s festival.