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  • Brandon MacMurray

Reviews from the Ottawa International Animation Festival

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Electra, dir. Daria Kashcheeva

The most audacious film shown in competition at OIAF is Electra. The film opens with the (live-action) Electra rethinking her 10th birthday, mixing memories with imagination and hidden dreams. Her (animated) fantasy world is populated with mannequins who participate in group therapy, and Electra’s mother Clytemnestra, who looks like she just got her plastic surgery done in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Plastic body parts, rotten strawberries and shocking dental procedures help Electra come to terms with her own relationships with her body and sexuality, as diving deeper and deeper into her childhood memories, Electra has to go through the most painful memories to let her suppressed feelings come out. In the end, she is ready to reveal what has really happened during her 10th birthday.  

Kashcheeva’s previous film, the puppet animation Daughter, premiered at Annecy Animation Film Festival and was a nominee at the 92nd Oscars. The wide success of Daughter allowed Kashcheeva to work with a bigger team in semi-professional conditions on her graduation film Electra. Electra played in Cannes’ Cinéfondation section which focuses on films made by students at film schools. It was later screened at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the award for Best International Short Film, qualifying it for submission to the Oscars’ Animated Short Film category.

Kashcheeva uses the animation method of Pixilation, a stop motion technique in which live actors are used frame-by-frame, repeatedly posing while one or more frame is taken and changing pose slightly before the next frame. This technique is used as a way to blend live actors with animated ones in a movie and is often seen in the unsettling works of Czech animator Jan Švankmajer. In Electra, human-sized mannequins sit side-by-side with live actors, who themselves becomes a kind of living stop-motion puppet. The jerky, shuddering movement of the actors and puppets alike give the entire film a sort of eery non-reality. While Electra may borrow its terrifying dream-logic (and ominous red curtains) from the films of David Lynch, Kashcheeva brings an important new creative voice to the world of animation.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

Families’ Albums, dir. Moïa Jobin-Paré

A spectre is haunting Families’ Albums. Moïa Jobin-Paré’s short film is a collection of photos given to the Canadian director by friends and family, cut and pasted, etched and scratched into an incredibly moving meditation on the past and the pull of nostalgia. The film begins simply, as photos slowly fade in over an ambient soundscape. As groups of these photos begin to be layered on top of each other they gain a haunting power: such as when a couple disappears from a hallway leaving an empty liminal space. That these hollowed-out places gain their specific hauntological meaning from each viewer give Families’ Album a spectral power that will be different for each person who views the film.

A deserving winner of the Best Non-Narrative Short award at OIAF, Jobin-Paré embellishes and manipulates her found photos in a myriad of different ways, scratching into them so that sometimes a constellation of stars spreads across the screen, or so that details are obscured by an area of cross-hatching. The intentional obfuscation of these photos brings to mind the decayed nitrate fantasias of Bill Morrison, where the disintegration of historical film stands for the entanglement of past, present, and future, as well as for the impossibility of locating any sort of singular origin.

As the music grinds and scrapes out of phase with itself, the sprockets and vignetted corners of film negatives cross the screen, bringing with them the nostalgic pull of 35mm celluloid. A collaged series of disembodied hands with no bodies, and bodies with no faces cross the screen, the figures hovering between life and death, between presence and absence and haunting us with the lost futures of spectres of our collective pasts. Families’ Albums ends with a lingering photo of a landscape, with chairs scratched into the photo and left empty, always-already waiting for their occupants to return.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

Aleph, dir. Slobodan Tomić

Croatian director Slobodan Tomić takes on the seemingly impossible task of adapting Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges’ mystical short story The Aleph. The Aleph is a point in space that contains all other points. Anyone who gazes into it can see everything in the universe from every angle simultaneously, without distortion, overlapping, or confusion. The plot of the story, such as it is, follows a mediocre poet who has made it his lifelong quest to write an epic poem that describes every single location on the planet in excruciatingly fine detail. When a business attempts to tear down his house, the poet becomes enraged, explaining that he must keep the house to finish his poem, because the cellar contains an Aleph which he is using to write the poem.

Aleph uses an aggressive monochrome style to capture the madness of The Aleph. Black lines are scratched across the white screen, tumbling from one arrestingly terrifying image to the next. Ear-splitting industrial noise soundtracks the progression of ominous Borgesian images: a train barreling across the screen, a teeming sea, daybreak and nightfall, black pyramids, a splintered labyrinth, unending eyes watching themselves, industrial areas of metal and steam, equatorial deserts and each one of their grains of sand. The spidery strokes that create these images pile on top of each other, starting with only a few harsh lines scrawled on an empty white expanse, but becoming so dense with figures and scenes that the screen is consumed by an overwhelming, total blackness.

While Tomić doesn’t necessarily attempt to capture the plot of Borges story, his film is a perfect encapsulation of the themes of so much of the author’s work. Sometimes figural, sometimes architectural, and often totally abstract, Tomić visualises themes of dreams, labyrinths, chance, infinity, mirrors, and mythology, all slither across the screen in Aleph’s relentless sensory assault. While it might lead to nightmares, the density of images on screen makes for a film that is eminently rewatchable, with new themes emerging upon each descent into Aleph’s strange world.

Review by: Joshua Hunt

Aphasia, dir. Marielle Dalpé

Art can portray a variety of life’s situations like love, growing up, death and sickness. What changes when it comes to creating art is how artists choose to approach these themes and make the viewer reflect upon them. In the case of Aphasia, an animated short directed by Marielle Dalpé and produced by the National Film Board of Canada, we see a very unique approach.

Narrating the devastating progress of Alzheimer's disease on an individual, the movie uses lyricism and poetry to take on complicated and painful issues. The animation style plays an important role in the telling of this story. The lines are curved and imperfect, reflecting a person's body and mental state as Alzheimer’s progresses. The colours vary each frame, but the constant motion contributes to the poetic style conceived by Dalpé. According to the director, there are 90 animated layers. They blend together and create a visually pleasing sense of fluid animation.

In its short runtime of just less than 4 minutes, it may be difficult for the viewer to go through these animated layers so rapidly. The constant deterioration of the subject guides the progression of the disease even in a general senses; it carries emotional weight and leaves an impression on the viewer. It is quite remarkable to hear that Aphasia is Dalpé’s directorial debut as she shows maturity in her directorial and visual choices.

Aphasia is aesthetically impressive and tackles a complicated and difficult topic, all the while while being mature, delicate, and emphatic for those who suffer from Alzheimer’s. Dalpé has shown her potential and that she’s a director to watch, with her mature directing ideas and powerful emotional impact in this debut. Aphasia was part of the Official Selection of 2023's Toronto International Film Festival and of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

Review by: Pedro Lima

Miserable Miracle, dir. Ryo Orikasa

Book adaptations are essential to film writing. While it seems that there is a default pattern for the creation of these adaptations, "Miserable Miracle" is a fresh take. Based on the 1956 poetry and drawing book of the same title written by Henri Michaux, this animated short explores a unique hand-drawn animation style. It is directed by Ryo Orikasa and co-produced by Miyu Productions, New Deer & National Film Board of Canada, with the support of CNC & the Clinic Animation Residency.

Orikasa's work overcomes conventional forms of animation and explores in a way that is both creative and breathtaking. The writing on screen that guides the story transforms to take viewers on an intriguing, experimental, and challenging journey. Poetry is not only present in the imagery, but also in the narration and sound effects, which are blended together to provide a strong sensorial story. Orikasa's merits are not only in the animation style choice but also in the direction of the narration, which is narrated by Tony Robinow. The narrator’s tonal delivery complements the sound design and serves the greater story of the animation.

Miserable Miracle began development in 2018 and was part of this year's Ottawa International Animation Festival, where it won the Grand Prize for short films and is now qualified for the 2024 Oscars. Miserable Miracle is a sensorial experience that highlights how the combination of form and style can deliver great work.

Review by: Pedro Lima



The short end of the stick: The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal

When it comes to cinema and the Oscars it always feels like short films and getting the short end of the stick. Lack of coverage, lack of predictions from experts and an afterthought in the conversation. With this site we hope to change that, highlighting shorts that stick with you, predictions, and news on what is happening in the world of shorts. 

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