Sunday, October 25, 2009
The two top questions you get from friends and strangers alike at the Ottawa International Animation Festival are:
-What day did you get here?
-Do you have a film in the festival?
My answers to these questions were, "Wednesday" and "No." In fact, I've never had a film play at this festival. The film I entered this year was "Owl and Rabbit Play Checkers." When I went to the festival's children's shorts competition screening, I was watching the category where my film would have played had it been accepted. The children's films that tickle festival director Chris Robinson are far darker and experimental than my film. As a filmmaker, I find it very informative to see how a festival programs. My film would not have fit in with Robinson's vision for this category, and his taste is part of why it's worthwhile to attend the festival in the first place. Programming a screening is like arranging an important dinner party. One has to consider whom is sitting next to whom as well as the desired overall effect.
I thought the festival was superb this year, perhaps the finest of the six times I've attended. New Yawker's were very well represented with two of our own (Jake Armstrong and Steig Retlin) even scoring awards. Congrats also to the following filmmakers who had films in competition this year: Mike and Tim Rauch, Fran and Will Krause, Signe Baumane, Gary Lieb, Kristy Caracas, Tatia Rosenthal, and Jennifer Oxley. And, congrats to Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata for having their pitch proposal selected for the "Pitch This" competition in TAC (Television Animation Conference).
A special treat for me was finally seeing Paul and Sandra Fierlinger's grand new feature, "My Dog Tulip," which won the honorable mention award in the feature category. The husband and wife creative team were in attendance at each of their screenings where they graciously accepted handshakes and gushing compliments. I was very touched by their film, which continues the wonderful tradition of their intimate and intelligent previous works such as "Still Life with Animated Dogs," and "A Room Nearby." Paul reported that the Ottawa audiences received the film far more enthusiastically than had Annecy. On a personal note, Paul reminded me that I had a role in the making of "My Dog Tulip."
"You introduced Debra Solomon to us and one day she happened upon a financier who needed to find a director to make an animated feature. Debra thought of us and we got the phone call, which was a dream come true," Paul recalled.
I hope everyone gets the chance to see this special film. It paints a sophisticated relationship between its lead characters in such a simple, honest, and poetic way. It's a true animated masterpiece, providing what could be the best example yet of the animated feature film as a mature work able to stand alongside the best live action films. How often can we say that about animated features today?
While I have not had success breaking through with a film at Ottawa, when it comes to book signings I am 2 for 2. It was very gratifying that my panel event, "How to be Pitch Perfect in the Imperfect World of Development," was filled to capacity. Special thanks go to my stellar panel (pictured above courtesy of a photo by Richard O'Connor, who has a great 5 day coverage of the Ottawa festival at his blog): Eric Homan, Heather Kenyon, Fran Krause, and Linda Simensky. The conversation really seemed to jell and we got lots of feedback afterwards suggesting it was one of the best panel discussions ever presented at Ottawa. I began the event by half-joking that my book should have been called, "Self-Development," because that is the real message of the book. As an added bonus, my book "Animation Development: From Pitch to Production" sold out at the festival book table.
By the end of the week, I was exhausted from all the festival fun. As great as the screenings were, the best part of the festival is that it gives one the excuse to stop everything and hang out with good friends. I was very happy to enjoy time with Justin Simonich (who was also my roomie!), Chris Boyce, Dayna Gonzalez, Linda and Jeremy Beck, Glen Ehlers, Andy Kennedy, Sean McBride, Jessica Plummer, The Krause Brothers, The Rauch Brothers, Tatia Rosenthal, Jen Oxley, Doug Vitarelli, Linda Simensky, Heather Kenyon, Eric Homan, Birk Rawlings, Eunice Kim, Dan Sarto, Ron Diamond, Candy Kugel, Jake Armstrong, Kat Morris, Alan Foreman, Barry Sanders, Isaac King, Richard O'Connor, Liesje Kraai, Stephanie Yuhas, Susan Godfrey, Art Sir, Pilar Newton, James Murray, Celia Bullwinkel, Amid Amidi, Jerry Beck, and Janet Perlman.
But, my rest was short lived because a few days after Ottawa concluded, my wife and I flew to Chicago where I had two children's films ("Owl and Rabbit Play Checkers," and Iwanna Wanda in: "Don't Wanna Brush") in competition at the 26th Chicago International Children's Film Festival.
After our screening at The CICFF, Bob Charde (my co-director on "Owl and Rabbit Play Checkers") and I were asked to stand up for a Q and A. The kids (ages 2-5) asked:
-Do you like owls and rabbits?
-Why did you make this film?
-Why do they show movies in the dark?
-What day did you make this film?
The parents asked:
-Why can't we see quality children's films like yours on TV?
-How long did it take to make the film?
-What programs did you use to make the film?
-Is this the same theatre where Dillinger was shot?
Okay, I made up that last question. But, I am happy to report that two festival scouts from rival festivals tracked us down in the theatre lobby, inviting us to submit to their festivals. And, best of all, a children's book agent asked me if I'd like to represented by her agency. When you make a film you don't have a clue as to how it will be received or what good consequences might follow your efforts. So, it sure is nice when you get a nibble or two of interest.
I explained to the young audience (during the Q and A) that Bob and I make films to share with others and, although it takes a very long time to make a film, we know that at some point the film will be done and ready to present to an audience–– just as we were delighted to do this day. And, that's the most rewarding part of all.