Animation Consultants International
Begun in 1997 by the Ottawa
International Animation Festival as an stopgap measure, the 2003 International
Student Animation Festival (SAFO 03) will mark the final edition of what
has become the world's premiere student animation festival. Artistic Director
Chris Robinson explains it all and gives an update on the Festival's funding
Robinson says simply, It's all a question of money. Recruiting has dropped off and although some schools are quite supportive, we need more; and sponsors are not interested in supporting a student festival. Finally, it does not make sense to have a ghetto festival, so we will incorporate it into the main festival, which will now become an annual event.
Ironically, Robinson says, Back in 1996, I was essentially told by our boss in Montreal, Serge Losique who also runs the Montreal World Film Festival, that he wanted an annual festival. At the time, I did not feel very confident about doing something every year like Annecy. Instead, I came back with idea of a student festival, which I thought would be great for both recruiters and schools.
Robinson started working for the Ottawa Festival part time in 1991 and became festival director in 1995. Three years ago, he stepped down as director to become artistic director, while Kelly Neall, his wife, became managing director. During his tenure, he became known for his combative style, in which he challenged long-standing traditions and policies. For instance, he publicly brought to the surface long-standing disputes between ASIFA-International and the major international festivals they sanctioned, which led to a break between Ottawa and ASIFA. Though the rift has since healed, Robinson, who now edits the ASIFA-Canada newsletter, feels ASIFA is not as relevant anymore. The break, he feels, enabled him to, Open the festival up to more of the public. It did not make sense to show to same club all the time.
'For couple of days, we were completely in shock. Kelly and I were getting a bit tired trying to raise money every year. I thought, To hell with it, we're just going to move on. However, as word got around, we got letters and phone calls of support.
It was weird, at the time, we also found out that Kelly O'Brien, who founded the Ottawa Festival in 1976, died in early May. Given the combination of all those things, along with my stubbornness, we decided to fight. We really went to bat, contacting both local and federal politicians, as well as the entire animation community, which gained us both national and local attention. A few weeks later, we got our money back for 2003.
We are now out of the woods, he says, but I suspect we will be back in the woods again, as Telefilm is still pursuing the same policy. However, we have had an offer from a Canadian studio who came to us and said, 'If it comes down to it, we will take over.'
Though Robinson remains cautiously optimistic about the future of the Ottawa Festival, he says, 'I suspect either Kelly or I us will be leaving the festival after 2004, because of the economics. If one of us had another job, then the festival closing would not be such a hardship.
In addition to the individual competition, there is a school competition, in which six schools will be competing for Best School Award. Robinson notes, There will be three screenings for this award, with two schools sharing each program; each school has 35 minutes to show the best work from the last year or two. The Royal College of Art has always won, but CalArts may dethrone them this year.
The jury this year includes Marcel Jean, head of the French Animation Studio of the National Film Board of Canada, Martha Colburn, American independent filmmaker who lives in Holland, Argentine-born animator Oscar Grillo, who is now based in the UK, Richard O'Connor, a producer with The Ink Tank in New York, and Signe Baumane, the Latvian filmmaker who now lives in New York.
The selection of Colburn as juror is an example of how Robinson tries to, Consciously bring unsung people in. Martha Colburn is totally from outside the animation community. She has made a whole slew super 8 collages which are both personal and funny wacky to say the least. They are not up to technical standards many festivals want, and is more known in experimental film circles.
On Saturday and Sunday, he adds, there is a mix of workshops, including several on production, Ellen Besen will give one on storytelling in animation, while Oscar Grillo has a Meet the Masters class.
In terms of retrospectives and special screenings, Robinson says. What I try to do is showcase people who have an independent quality to them, but who have also succeeded in the industry. Oscar Grillo is a good example, where we are showing a mix of the commercials and short films he has done. There is also a retrospective of the work of Andreas Hykabe, whose Ring of Fire won the Grand Prix at the 2000 Ottawa Festival. He's made a few independent films and music videos, is in his 30s who, and since he has been at school, he is good guy for students become aware of.
During its short run, SAFO has clearly become the leading international student animation festival. The sheer size of the submissions this year is testimony to the explosive growth of animation schools around the world. It can only be hoped the qualities which made it such a draw for students and the public will continue as it becomes incorporated into the Ottawa Festival proper.
-- Harvey Deneroff
Here's some images from films in competition at SAFO 03: