The Toronto Animation Arts Festival International’s second year commenced last weekend. From what little I was able to gleam (I’m relocating to the New York City area next week, so it was not an opportune time), TAAFI is aiming to very actively give the Ottawa International Animation Festival much needed competition. And it seems to be working.
Having visited (and almost lived) in the area for years, Toronto’s culture has an atmosphere more conductive to an open-minded affair. Whereas the few times I’ve visited Ottawa, that city struck me as boxed-in and more likely to produce an event less receptive to new ways and thinking. It may be a bit premature to say so, as Toronto’s is still in its infancy and I’ve only been to one of each, but both cities’ animation festivals seem undeniable reflections of their environments: Ottawa’s is artsy to the point of unsettling, and Toronto’s, while imperfect, is far more accessible.
Friday was mostly devoted to Teletoon Industry Day, a mirror image of the networking/pro lectures that populate OIAF. (I’ve got to say briefly that I’m extremely doubtful these festivals would exist if the rich animation schools didn’t sponsor them in hopes of giving their students connections. There sure weren’t many major studios funding TAAFI.) I missed most of the day (including all of the David Silverman events), but I got to see (and help organize) Greg Duffell’s excellent timing lecture. It was a highly educational forty-five minutes, in which Duffell (pictured below) accurately exposes how far removed the factory-made cartoons of Walter Lantz and Friz Freleng are from those of today, simply because timing is just one of many things modern directors don’t do. If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to see one of Duffell’s encore presentations, do so to see how meticulous this craftsmanship really is.
The classic cartoon vibe carried over to Jerry Beck’s presentation of The Censored 11. I’ve seen this verboten group of cartoons in public screenings more times than I’ve seen most of the real classics of Warner animation, so the lack of audience response (obviously out of fear of being perceived as racist, even if the attendees are usually all white) is unsurprising. This time, though, I was seated with friends Duffell, Pete Emslie, and Larry Tremblay, all fellow classic cartoon junkies, so the laughter was at least thick in our row, as was chitchat of the “You think that’s a McKimson scene?” variety, making it a nice change of pace.
I didn’t get to see any of the features, and judging from Mark Mayerson’s review of The Day of the Crows, I missed out. I only saw two of the shorts programs on Saturday: “Straight Up Toons” and “Hilariously Strange & Incredibly Dark,” and they were more or less the same program. The prevailing tone of independent filmmakers has always been cynicism and mean-spiritedness, and while the majority of these shorts are no exception, at their worst they’re inoffensively underwhelming. (Compared to, say, OIAF, where the routine goal of the filmmakers seems to be to torture the audience in every way possible, right from the start with a blaring opening festival tag.)
Of the “Toons,” Jamie Gallant’s The Right Place was easily the most accomplished in its exceptionally staged animation and gags, utilizing the purity of line art to illustrate a dude’s plight of trying to make it to the outhouse in time. Aaron Long’s Fester Makes Friends is the main character’s self-appreciation of his antisocial behavior with a successful perverted take on the sacred chestnut of “that little guy’s always there” thrown in for good measure. The Beards – Got Me a Beard (Chris Edser), Samurai Jew: The Eighth Night (Nadav Nachmany), and Lemons (Kate Burck) were also successful in their design and execution.
“Strange & Dark” is a bit harder to assess because a lot of them borderline utter incompetence (i.e. typical festival “artiste fare”). Nick Cross keeps getting weirder and greater with each successive film, and Perihelion defies any possible written assessment – in that good Stanley Kubrick sort of way, naturally. Of the others, only Fingers Tale (Sinem Vardarli) and Swarming (Joni Männistö) come to mind as exceptional; both examine literal human deconstruction (and decomposition) in a tastefully disgusting manner.
I unfortunately had to leave late Saturday night and did not get to see the screening of Kevin Schreck’s Persistence of Vision, the documentary about the rise and fall of Richard Williams and his magnum opus The Thief and the Cobbler. Schreck was gracious and let me see the documentary early, and it’s very good, though distributing it will obviously call for an overhauling of the entire piece to avoid copyright infringement. Having spent most of the last decade researching and writing about the chaotic world of John Kricfalusi and Ren & Stimpy, the overall theme and daunting task of presenting a self-destructive legendary figure is too hauntingly familiar. Schreck’s documentary lets the viewers draw their own conclusion about the events and is evenhanded, albeit, if perhaps a bit fawning (unavoidable in the documentary medium). A book will have to one day be written on Williams’ intriguing life story (of which Thief is really only a few sizable chapters, just the same as Ren & Stimpy is to John K.’s), though I can’t imagine who’d want to undergo that task.
I feared that what little I saw wouldn’t give me enough to write about, but TAAFI seems to have succeeded regardless. I can’t foresee what I’ll be doing in a year’s time, but I will certainly do everything in my power to attend 2014’s.