September in Ottawa means shorter days and cooler nights, changing leaves and the beginning of the fall bustle, as everything just seems to get a little busier. It’s also a busy month for festivals, with Nuit Blanche coinciding with a perennial favourite — the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF).
Now in its 28th season, the OIAF showcases student films, shorts and features from all over the world. “We’re kind of like the TIFF of animation,” says artistic director Chris Robinson. “We get all the stars of animation that come to Ottawa, except nobody’s heard of them! It’s just the nature of animation — people know characters and studios, but they don’t often know the people who create these works.”
This year the OIAF will screen 157 films from 76 countries, including nine feature-length films — the most the festival has ever had.
In terms of LGBT content, the 2013 lineup includes A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, about the life of the late Chapman, based on his 1980 book of the same name, by the UK’s Bill and Ben Productions. “It’s sort of the story of his life, and before he died he had recorded — I guess did a recorded audio of the book and so some people got a hold of it, the filmmakers, and Chapman stars and narrates this entire movie,” Robinson says.
Different animation styles are used to represent the stages of Chapman’s life. “It’s a film with no singular animation style, which makes it quite interesting, and it kind of fits in with the Python craziness as well.” Chapman struggled with alcoholism throughout his life, ultimately succumbing to cancer at the age of 48. “It seemed to be it was more his drinking and his dealing with fame that was more of the issue than his sexuality,” Robinson says.
Oscar-winning Australian animator Adam Elliot will also be in attendance, and OIAF will screen all of his short films, as well as the feature-length Mary and Max. Elliot made headlines in 2004 when he became the first Oscar winner ever to thank a same-sex partner. “I like to sometimes get people who’ve found that success, like they straddle that border between the commercial and the independent, and Adam’s a great example of that,” Robinson says.
Also showing is Where We Were Not, Part 1: Feeling Reserved, Alexus’ Story, by director Alexus Young, which deals with the adversity faced by the protagonist as a First Nations trans woman.
One of the challenges the OIAF faces is the closure of two of Ottawa’s downtown theatre locations: Empire Rideau closed in March, and it was recently announced that the World Exchange Plaza location might also close. “I think changing technologies are a bit of a help there for us, where we can make do with some other venues that aren’t traditional cinemas that we can just get equipment [for],” Robinson says. “We’re part of the Canadian Film Institute, so perhaps we’ll look at the National Archives as an option. We’ve used the Museum of Civilization in the past; we’ve had a long relationship with the National Arts Centre for years, so there are some options, but it’s a bit of a hassle.”
In terms of the 2013 lineup, Robinson recommends beginners start with any of the five short competitions, which include everything from commercials and music videos to experimental films and narrative shorts. “It’s a real diverse selection of films, and you’re seeing 10, 11, 12 films in one program, so I think that’s the best way to get your foot in the door.”