OIAF Review: Short Film Competition 4

The Pride of Strathmoor
Short Film Competition 4 might be the best of the shorts programmes so far at this year’s Ottawa International Animation Festival. SC4 is an animation cornucopia and the strongest films of the programme lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. Three standout films make this programme such a winner: two are deep and dark while the third is as bright and colourful as animation can be!

Before getting to the trio of standouts, Short Competition 4 certainly has some worthy films that make for an overall solid screening. Firefly (Kim Tae Ri, South Korea) opens the programme with some of the most beautiful paint on glass animation audience will see at the festival. Man on a Chair (Dahee Jeong, France/South Korea) provides a wonderful feat of form-meets-content when the animation process becomes the thread that unites the elements of the protagonist’s existence as he sits on a chair and ponders his being. Other quick and clever entries come in the promotional works Toyota Canada Moving Story ‘Marilyn’s Family’ (Andria Minott & Julian Grey, Canada) and Oreo ‘Hockey’ (Dan Abdo & Jason Patterson, Canada/USA) contain the kind of humour, emotional verve, and family-oriented warmth that could inspire any budding animator to be the next Don Draper or Peggy Olsen of the promotional field.
Crime: The Animated Series

Less commercial is David O’Reilly’s installment in the competition’s running gag of Heaven’s Countryland with ‘Part 7: Pharmaceuticals’, which gives Kim Jong-un a break and turns the propaganda lens on America’s (alleged) habit of pill-popping. It’s more of the same, but that’s not a bad thing when the films are this funny. More of the same (but in the fun way) happens when Crime: The Animated Series (Sam Chou & Alix Lambert) plays SC4 after preceding the feature documentary Truth has Fallen during its screenings throughout the festival. Crime, a doc itself, plays in an abbreviated form in SC4—twenty minutes long with the feature and ten minutes long with the shorts—and this film actually offers a case where shorter is better. Crime is equally amusing and compelling in its extended version, but the short cut (only three vignettes long) features the best of the bunch, especially the hilariously sassy account of the worst offense of all—police indifference—that  comes from a man who tried to report his stolen car. By taking the words from real life and pairing them with farcical images (or in some cases, unsettling archival work), Crime strikes the right chord to bring out the honesty and absurdity in the ways we cope with deviant behaviour.

Deviant behaviour forms the core of the programme’s centrepiece film, The Pride of Strathmoor (Einar Baldvin, USA/Iceland), which is one of the three aforementioned standouts of the programme. Strathmoor is simply a masterful feat of animation as director Einar Baldvin envisions a gothic interpretation of excerpts from the journal of a pastor from Strathmoor, Georgia, who ruminates on the perceived decay of the American South. This visually stunning tragedy feels like a horror film brought to life as the pastor’s racist ranting paints a grotesque portrait of the South. This surreal film becomes more nightmarish as it reaches its climax. Strathmoor builds to a point of dizzying madness when it combines the pastor’s haunting narration with hypnotically frantic flashes of light. (The film includes a disclaimer that it might invite seizures.) Baldvin makes The Pride of Strathmoor an utterly startling experience by making the sepia-tinted canvas (aided by intuitive use of coffee stains) look like a page of history ripped from the archives, pulled out from the darkness and exposed to the light like a vampire in its final hour. Strathmoor is a fantastic film!
Gushings of praise also being to the programme's other dark showpiece, Canis (Marc Riva & Anna Solanas, Spain). Canis is an arresting ballet of survival told with tattered puppets. The film paints a post-apocalyptic world with visceral grittiness as the filmmakers restrict the focus to one isolated cabin, housing the last stand for humankind, as the sole survivor and his trusty dog fend off—and eventually feed on—the wild dogs that encroach on their territory. The bleak grayscale vision is potent and stark, breathless and exhausted with feverish insomnia as the final boy confronts the greatest threat of all: another human. A violent rape brings an unexpected turn and a dreamlike frenzy of puppet-on-puppet violence makes Canis a brutally unsettling, yet ultimately hopeful, experience. Canis, like The Pride of Strathmoor, is one of the best films of the festival.
Me and My Moulton. Photo courtesy of OIAF.

SC4 then lets the audience breath as it closes with the delightful Me and My Moulton (Torill Kove, Canada/Norway). Moulton comes to OIAF after a great reception at TIFF (review here) and it suffices to say that it gets better with repeat viewings. Kove, an Oscar winner for 2006’s The Danish Poet, offers a whimsical tale of storybook innocence as a young girl makes sense of her eccentric parents within her comparatively (far more comparatively) conventional friends and neighbours. The bright colours and cheery humour of the film—it’s very clever—offers a sigh of relief from the tense films that precede it. These latter three short are reason enough to catch Short Competition 4.

Short Competition 4 screens again on Sunday, Sept. 21 at 5:00 pm.
Please visit www.animationfestival.ca for more information on this year’s festival.