Drawn together 

Animation’s best comes to the Crystal

In the early ’90s, traveling “best of” programs from various animation festivals played regularly at the old Crystal Theatre.

Fifteen years later, with the Crystal stirring to life again under new management, it’s only fitting that something like Best of Ottawa ’06, comprising 12 standout shorts from the 30th annual Ottawa International Animation Festival, make an appearance.

Here are some highlights of the highlights:

by Run Wrake
8:30, 2005
This amazing short didn’t even garner an honorable mention in the Ottawa competition. But if there had been a Most Disturbing Reclamation of Vintage Commercial Art category, it would have won hands down: Rabbit is like a Russian folk tale acted out by wholesome-looking line drawings from an antique reading primer. A pair of small children (think of a malicious Dick and Jane) slice open a rabbit and find a mischievous golden idol with an insatiable appetite for jam and the power to turn flies and hornets into jewels, feathers and bottles of ink. The kids waste no time manipulating the situation to their financial advantage, but things come apart when they leave the idol alone to trade the ink and feathers in for more jam. Brutal at times—these kids can’t get enough of slicing things open—and effectively creepy, it’s my favorite piece in this traveling festival.

Dreams & Desires: Family Ties
by Joanna Quinn
9:50, 2006
There’s a short like this in every animation festival: just too much of a good thing. Animator Quinn has won 46 awards and counting (including a grand prize at Ottawa with her latest) in contests presumably not decided by restraint or subtlety. In Dreams & Desires: Family Ties, her subject and style are almost perfectly matched: wedding-day bedlam complete with defecating dogs and bursting zippers, paired with a jittery “handheld” style to suggest the DigiCam footage of an increasingly tipsy wedding videographer.

Typical of the earthy humor here is a self-portrait on the loo, complete with pulled-down panties and martini glass resting on knee. Amusing enough, but a bit too frantic overall.

The Carnival of the Animals
by Michaela Pavlatova
12:00, 2006
Czech animation is practically synonymous with the puppets of Jiri Trnka and Jan Svankmajer (whose pixilated Conspirators of Pleasure remains a deathless favorite of cult-movie fans worldwide), but polymath Pavlatova has started to clear a patch with her distinctive filmography: an eclectic mix of live-action, documentary and animation. Ottawa judges awarded Pavlatova an honorable mention for The Carnival of the Animals, noting the “whimsical animated carnality” of its various interspecies couplings. Carnal/carnival: are the two words related? For all its coyness (sandpiper-like birds tugging at the nipples of sunbathing women, daisy-chained bunnies stroking each others, um, ears), Pavlov’s Carnival will leave you thinking yes, apparently they are.

Crossing the Stream
by Skip Battaglia
4:00, 2006
Hats off to Skip Battaglia for his ambitious agenda: “I am trying to reinvent motion pictures, moving them away from the assembly-line, corporate and naturalistic approach. Motion pictures are now 100 years old; it’s long past time that they be personalized.” Too bad his roughly rotoscoped Crossing the Stream is one of the lesser lights of this touring best-of-the-fest. But then, don’t the least confident artists always seem to have the readiest philosophies?

Animation, any kind of animation, takes so much time and energy that it’s deflationary to have to ask: “Okay, but what else does it do?” But that’s kind of how I feel about Crossing the Stream, the title of which pretty much tells the whole story.

Jason Forrest: War Photographer
by Joel Trussell
4:12, 2005
The awkward title—Forrest is a musician; “War Photographer” is the name of the song this piece was commissioned to accompany—has nothing to do with the video itself, which pits Viking ships against each other in an all-out rock battle. The artwork is terrific—kind of a Rocky-and-Bullwinkle take on Alexander Nevsky.

Lightning Doodle Project [Pikapika]
by Takeshi Nagata and Kazue Monno
4:00, 2006
“We spend a very enjoyable evening through making this animation,” note directors Nagata and Monno, the creative team behind this eye-popping short. Anyone who’s ever twirled a sparkler around a backyard will relate: Nagata, Monno and a large group of their friends evidently spent several enjoyable evenings air-doodling shapes, patterns and words with flashlights in parks and train stations to produce this spontaneous essay in tracers. Lightning Doodle Project revels in its organic, in-the-moment quality, which is further complemented by the minimalist snap-crackle-pop soundtrack. Though it garnered only an honorable mention in the festival proper, it’s the touring version’s most charming envoy.

Best of Ottawa ’06 runs Thursday, Jan. 18, through Sunday, Jan. 21, at 7 PM in the Crystal Theatre. $3. Call 327-1515.


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