How North America’s largest animation festival has survived 40 years!
Arts & Culture

How North America’s largest animation festival has survived 40 years!

A lot of things can go sideways in 40 years, especially when you’re dealing with the wacky antics of a psychotic chihuahua and a dim-witted manx, a group of raccoons saving Evergreen Forest from the evil machinations of Cyril Sneer, or anvils dropping from the sky.

(Illustrations: Michael Zavacky, courtesy of OIAF)

When it comes to the homegrown but internationally recognized Ottawa International Animation Festival, antics can involve a heartbroken projectionist who was so distracted that a film caught on fire; a computer short-circuiting, which burned down the offices; or an innocuous-sounding animation Hipopotamy drawing complaints of misogyny and glorification of domestic abuse.

In spite of these and other pitfalls, North America’s largest animation festival has survived for nearly half a century — a feat that has less to do with the enduring popularity of a vengeful puddy tat or the recent spotlight on a forgetful fish but rather “eclectic, edgy” animations representing “independent voices,” says artistic director Chris Robinson.

“Why Ottawa?” you ask.

Animation has deep roots in this city. Innovative techniques were pioneered by Norman McLaren at the National Film Board when it was here, Nestor Burtnyk and Marceli Wein — dubbed the “fathers” of computer animation — created new techniques at the National Research Council here, and local notable animators — including John Kricfalusi (Ren and Stimpy) and David Cooper (Futurama, Pig Goat Banana Cricket) — sprang up here. Though much has changed since 1976, the essence of what makes a good animated film hasn’t: the depth of the craft, which Robinson relates to poetry, “can take you to deeper places than a lot of live action.” We break down four decades of animated magic.


Memorable controversial films in recent years. A student film from 1998, Black Burlesque, was accused of being anti-Semitic, while in 2014, an Estonian film was deemed pornographic. Despite the sound and fury, the festival continues to screen interesting and provocative material


Hours watching and selecting submissions this year

Year the festival said “adieu” to film, accepting digital-only final submissions


Number of Canadians who’ve won the Grand Prize over the past 40 years. They include Caroline Leaf, Frédéric Back, and
Chris Landreth

Volunteers who welcome guests, schlep stuff, help animators, and generally just have a good time


Cost of an AnimaPass, the VIP ticket that gets guests into all screenings, special events, workshops,
and parties

Permanent year-round staff who keep the fest’s reels greased and cameras rolling


Submissions received in the inaugural year
of the festival in 1976

Submissions received this year, the second highest submission rate in the festival’s history


The number of songs that, if used, will get your film automatically rejected because of overuse and lack of originality: “The Blue Danube” (the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey), and the “William Tell Overture”

Pumpkins carved in 2015 at the annual Animators’ Picnic, which is a highlight of the festival and a chance for “the dysfunctional family” of animators to mingle and relax, says Robinson