Tag Archives: Ottawa International Animation Festival

Blood of the Family Tree

Blood of the Family Tree is an experimental piece of animation; they’ll tell you it’s told in 14 instalments, though in fact it flows quite nicely from one vignette to the next. After all, they’re all part of the same story, and that story’s protagonist is blood.

Blood is a mother’s first gift to her baby; it carries life, of course, and her love, and sometimes more besides, hereditary traits and markers for future illness, for example. The narrative, if you can call it that, is as fluid as blood itself, coursing through memory and history, forging familial bonds, and carrying intergenerational trauma.

The film, which feels more like a meditation, is simple but beautiful, reflecting but not dwelling on the relationships between women, strong and beautiful bodies, the acknowledgement of yesterday’s pain. Bodies are trees are nearly interchangeable, a jumble of lines either a root system or a nervous system, or neither, or both. History and wisdom passed through the veins, intimate story-telling and secrets stored in the body.

Director/animator Christine Panushka expresses our inheritance with mesmeric hand-painted animation that looks and feels like poetry. No ordinary movie, Blood of the Family Tree inspires you to look inward and find the pulse of your own story.

Blood of the Family Tree is an official selection of the Ottawa International Animation Festival 2021.

Chicken Of The Mound

Imagine a somewhere that is not here. Imagine there are crab robots (with pinchers, naturally), and hard-edge robots, and both think they are the ‘humans’ by which I can only assume they believe themselves to be the dominant species, the apex predators, so of course the only solution is to continually invade each other’s planets and try to kill each other off. But in a war of robot versus robot, there are no quick winners, and the robots are eventually exhausted. The hard-edge robots form weird jellyfish cocoons that ultimately destroy the crab robots’ planet.

I can’t logically or lucidly explain why, but this is somehow the precipitating factor in a chicken larva not reaching adulthood and instead of hiding away in a cave, he wanders the planet wearing robot armour. He’s a mystery and a marvel, but he’s the least of your worries. There are robot ladies, big eyes, doll heads, chicken heads, creepy-crawlies, and things that look vaguely Star Wars-like. Robots continue to fight, so I can only assume they continue to battle for supremacy.

I understand how this sounds. You can’t make sense of this because I can’t make sense of it because, I suspect, it doesn’t wholly make sense. It’s like my 5 year old niece Ella, distracted by someone having fun on the trampoline without her, is relating a story to her 7 year old cousin, Jack. Jack is hopped up on sugar and has to pee, but does his best to understand, and then to recount the story to Xi Chen over a Zoom call during which Jack’s first priority is showing off all his trophies and medals. And then Xi Chen, whose first language is not English, animates the thing to the best of his ability but without asking a single clarifying question. It’s delirious stuff. A lot of the robots look like weird hybrids that a child’s imagination might produce given a box of crayons and enough blank paper – a mix of their limited but enthusiastic understanding of robots, and limited by their artistic abilities.

Xi Chen’s minimalist narration, an imperfect translation, is like toneless poetry (perhaps the kind of poetry written and recited by a robot?). They are rare interjections between dialogue-free scenes scored by the kind of beep-boops kids imagine robots voice, and the phaser sounds they make with their sticky mouths while play-shooting each other in the backyard.

Chicken of the Mound is undoubtedly odd and a little austere, but it’s like taking a ride on the magic school bus into a child’s imagination, where all things are possible, few things make sense, and everything can be turned into either a gun or a robot, or better yet, can transform between the two.


Elulu is Gabriel Verdugo Soto’s passion project. He worked on it solo for 8 years, pouring it out directly from his heart to the movie screen.

Primarily animated, Elulu mixes real photo backgrounds with animated 2D effects and 3D characters. It has no dialogue to speak of. it is an exploration of grief and goodbye like you’ve never seen.

A man returns to his childhood home after the death of his mother and finds that mourning her is complex and non-linear. In between every day tasks like feeding his cat and pursuing a career in theoretical physics, this man is grieving, inspired by the objects and spaces last occupied by his mother. Her spirit seems to live in them, as if her consciousness had somehow been absorbed by them, a shadow of her life and memories remaining, leaving a gateway for the man to remember and celebrate her. His thoughts devolve into memory, revisionism, and fantasy, the stories recalled from childhood resurfacing, and his mother herself found living in one of his paintings (I did warn you this was going to be different).

As for Elulu, you’ll find that he is a magical caterpillar come to ask something of a grieving man. But he also inspires the man to discover love, connection, past and present from different angles. Elulu is a physical manifestation of string theory. You heard me: a string theory magic caterpillar. Don’t be intimidated; Elulu, the film, is meant to be felt more than understood. It’s like the wind. And while I won’t pretend to define string theory for you, let’s just agree that it at least posits the existence of more than just the dimensions we’re familiar with (length, width, breadth, time). String theory contends that elementary particles aren’t just mathematical points but tiny strings which require not 3 but 10 spatial coordinates in addition to time, but most of these, sometimes interpreted as ‘alternative universes’ are simply too small to observe. But Elulu seems to navigate these, and helps the man drift between physical and metaphysical worlds, finding that his deceased mother still exists in some of them.

I don’t mean to make this sound complicated, I only want to give you a tast4e of Soto’s ambition and the borderless, limitless world in which his protagonist exists. With flashbacks and magical realism, we make the jump between the observable universe in which his mother is dead, into pockets of time and space where she might never die. It’s a comfort and a salve. But the film itself isn’t complicated at all as long as you treat it like a dream in which rules simply don’t exist. The narrative is what we make it, the story can change without notice, the images aren’t necessarily direct representations. It’s what you feel that matters, what the stories and images evoke for you. Elulu is both emotional and cerebral, operating on a higher plane than most other films, but it still feels accessible and looks beautiful and strange. Soto’s meditation on consciousness and grief will have different meanings for each viewer, making it a unique film experience and a wondrous exploration of life’s mysteries and the nature of existence.

Elulu is an official selection of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.


Writer-director Félix Dufour-Laperrière presents an animated film unlike any other. On a black background, the outline of a woman appears. Inside the woman’s outline is moving water, a river, la fleuve. I know it well. I grew up on this river. It’s the St. Lawrence, a great river that flows along the provinces of both Québec and Ontario, connecting the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, a source of food, of commerce, and of dreams. Leonard Cohen sang about it in Suzanne. I’ve swum in it, eaten from it, skimmed its lively surface while sitting (screaming) in a tube, and once, unadvisedly, I attempted to water ski on it. I fished it for years in my grandfather’s little aluminum boat, it’s how we bonded, and where we loved, and every single person mentioned it at his funeral 3 months ago. The St. Lawrence ran in my grandfather’s veins. You can smell it from my mother’s house. I still think of it as home.

Dufour-Laperrière’s film is moving poetry dedicated to a river, to a land, to islands real and imaginary. Tracing a people’s history along the river, chasing their future and their ambitions, Archipelago is always beautiful, often philosophical, hinting at a truth truer than true.

Two narrators, the woman from the beginning (Florence Blain Mbaye), perhaps the voice of the river herself, as well as a man (Mattis Savard-Verhoeven) engage in a verbal waltz, like a pair of figure skaters dancing across the frozen river, sparring in such an elegant and delightful way that it’s impossible to look away.

This strange work, not a documentary but not not a documentary, reflects on time, community, our sense of belonging, our shared memory, our fractured identity. It demands little from us but suggests much more than simply the sum of its words and images. It absorbs you into its own landscape, its own reality. We may not know who is speaking to us, or from what time, or which place, but the effect is absorbing, and hypnotic. Archipelago is not a movie, it’s an experience.

Bob Spit: We Do Not Like People

Welcome to the Ottawa International Animation Film Festival, a festival which always includes an eclectic lineup of fantastic animated movies, movies that will likely challenge your notion of what an animated movie can be. Most are not kid-friendly. There are no Disney princesses here (though we have seen the folks from Pixar attend, give great talks about their creative process, and host a hiring booth at the career fair). You’re more likely to see something about the war, or Alzheimer’s, or an esoteric exploration of the meaninglessness of life. Although not always dark, these movies are likely to leave you with something meaningful to chew on. So what better way for us to start this year’s festival than with Bob Spit: We Do Not Like People, a meta, self-referential claymation about a popular comic book, and its creator.

Director Cesar Cabral interviews popular Brazilian cartoonist Angeli, who bemoans his current writer’s block, and his evolving style, feeling like he’s no longer the artist he once was, or that others would recognize. The interview is of courses stop-motion animated, there’s nothing live action to see here. Angeli decides to overcome his block by killing his most famous character, Bob Spit, an aging, angry, misanthropic punk.

We deep-dive into Angeli’s head, where character Bob Spit lives in a post-apocalyptic desert with mutant cutesie pop stars who want him dead. A couple of his old followers help him confront his creator (Angeli himself) to make a plea before it’s too late.

Part documentary and part comic book adaptation, where both get equal treatment in clay, Cabral makes an interesting connection between the artist and the art he creates. The relationship is clear; the delineation is not. Bob Spit is Angeli’s most autobiographical character, a character Angeli is now determined to kill off.

This film defies expectation, defies label, defies genre, defies logic. It is, however, eminently watchable. Bob Spit, caught off guard on the toilet by a bunch of homicidal pop stars, picks them off one by one with his trusty shotgun. His pants around his ankles (full-frontal claymation!), the popstars burst with a riot of glitter in place of blood. The Bob Spit universe inside Angeli’s head is a marvel. Angeli himself is a mystery, but it sure is fun to live in his world for a bit. This film needs to be seen to be believed and lucky for you, it’s screening online at the festival right now.

Bob Spit: We Do Not Like People is an official selection of the Ottawa International Animation Festival.

This Magnificent Cake!

There’s a definite trend toward using gimmicks to give depth to films, and it’s particularly prevalent in animated movies.  These days, almost everything is available in 3D, and often for new releases it’s hard to find a screening that’s NOT in 3D.  This Magnificent Cake! (Ce Magnifique Gateau!) is not in 3D but in no danger whatsoever of feeling two dimensional.  ThereCMG_concert is so much texture here, you’ll want to pet the screen.

The texture comes from the animators’ use of felt and yarn for basically everything you will see on screen.  Co-creators Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels have ensured that the characters, the animals, and even the water are fuzzy.  All the texture will captivate you throughout the film’s short 45 minute run time.  Every frame is packed with a ton of details and textures for the viewer to notice and absorb.  So even if you are lost in the narrative, which will happen due to its nature, you never mind all that much and are happy to just absorb what’s on screen.  The animation is incredible, and I would say that the visuals are the main reason that This Magnificent Cake! was the Grand Prize Winner (Best Feature) at the 2018 Ottawa Inter
national Animation Festival

The narrative is easy to get lost in because it’s left to the viewer to determine what is real and what is a dream or a hallucination.  This Magnificent Cake! features five interconnected episodes that revolve around Belgium’s colonization of Africa in the late 19th century.  The episodes begin and end abruptly and usually the next in the sequence starts soon after the previous one ended, but tells the story from a different perspective.  Most of the episodes unfold in Africa, but there is also some Belgium backstory as well as some bonding to take place during the several months (?) it took to travel by steamer from Europe to the colony.  How many of these events were imagined is hard to say (intentionally, I’m sure) but I “felt” at least half of it only happened in the characters’ minds, which hopefully includes a particularly memorable snail adoption by a lonely colonist.

This Magnificent Cake! is a unique experience that may leave you scratching your head when it ends, but your eyes will thank you for taking the trip.


My Dogs, JinJin and Akida

Jaeyoung is a kid struggling at home to find some space between his abusive father and his religious mother. His dad, remote at best, has little time for any of his kids, but he does seem to have lots of attention for his precious dogs, JinJin and Akida. It’s not all that surprising that Jaeyoung is actually jealous of the dogs, but it is very, very sad to behold, and so kind of understandable when one day Jaeyoung gets it into his head that releasing one of the beloved dogs will, if not actually solve the problem, at least gain his father’s attention.

My_Dogs_JinJinAkida520.jpgDirector Cho Jong-Duck sets his adventure story amid the backdrop of the rapidly changing South Korea of 1983. It’s developing economically but Jaeyoung’s father still works in the fishing industry of a small village. There are lots of such conflicts crossing Jaeyoung’s path. Western influences are crowding in but the traditional Confucian Korean culture still has a stronghold on its people. All of these things put strains on a family already in transition.

The animation style is quite simple but the story is richly observed. There were so many scenes that were really moving in their ordinariness: Jaeyoung’s mother’s use of holy water as a deterrent to her husband’s abuse; the neighbours overhearing but not interfering with the fights going on in Jaeyoung’s house. Make no mistake: this may be an animated film, but it’s no happy-go-lucky Pixar offering. The kid deals with serious, heart breaking issues and there’s no easy out to the problems that plague his family.

Torrey Pines

So here’s a movie for all you people who like to take some risks with your cartoon watching!

Torrey Pines is stop-motion animated, but there’s no clay in sight, it’s all paper cut outs, which I kind of loved. I mean, I’m a sucker for stop-motion any day of the week, but this one looks like something your or I could do, if only we had tonnes of time and talent and patience and a kick-ass story to tell. Clyde Petersen has all of those things, and this is (sort of) his story.

It’s about Clyde when Clyde was still a 12 year old girl dealing with gender identity and the struggle of finding his way. The film is filled with wild hallucinations and MV5BMjEzNjMwMTc0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjk4NDg4MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1763,1000_AL_psychological projections, so even though the movie is without dialogue, we still feel what Clyde is feeling. When in the car with his mother, we don’t hear them argue, but when a speech bubble features a bear biting off the head of a rabbit, we get the gist. Clyde’s mother is schizophrenic, and what she sees as a fun-filled family road trip from San Diego up to New York, the rest of the world views more as kidnapping. It’s a trip that will change Clyde and his family forever.

My love for stop-motion exists because there’s just no better way to visually represent the love and attention that goes into making a film. Stop-motion will often show us how something works close up, and we see beauty in this new perspective. Torrey Pines doesn’t disappoint; I particularly loved seeing the jointed fingers at work. But it’s also not traditionally beautiful animation. It reminded me of being in high school – my friend Kelly one day said to me that my shoes were so ugly they were cool. Up until that exact moment I’d only seen the cool in them, and forever afterward couldn’t stop seeing the ugly (she was right). The look of Torrey Pines is also ugly-cool (although legitimately both), and perhaps there is no better aesthetic to explore a coming of age story in the 1990s.

I mentioned earlier that there’s no dialogue to this movie, and that definitely proved challenging for Sean. Maybe it’s not for everyone but I liked that this film was a rule-breaker. Music and score play a much larger role in the film because of the lack of speaking roles, and it really moves us along through the stages of the film. There’s a lot to see and think about in this movie, heavy stuff, but really relatable and authentic  with a flavour all its own.

The Breadwinner

Not all men are bad, not even all Afghan men. That’s important to remember. Not all of them want to treat women like garbage, but the taliban sure does. It’s not enough to cover women head to toe in burqas, but new rules in Afghanistan prohibit them from leaving the house at all, except in rare cases when accompanied by a father, husband, or brother.

Parvana’s older sister hasn’t left the house in so long she’s forgetting what it was like. Parvana is “lucky” because her father lost his leg in the war and his livelihood more recently, so she assists him down to the market where they try to sell their possessions in order to eat. Her father respects his daughters, educated them, and wants better things for them, things he can no longer give them with the oppressive taliban regime patrolling with guns and indignation. When the taliban inevitably hauls him off to prison for no reason, suddenly the family is left without an escape clause. Parvana’s mother andMV5BMDg0ODM5NTYtMjNkMS00NDQ3LWI5MGYtMDg3ZTQ5MDE0OTRlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQ1NjA0ODM@._V1_ sister and baby brother could literally starve to death waiting for a man to come release them from their own home so Parvana does the only thing she can think of to save them: she cuts off her hair, wears the clothes of her dead brother, and to taliban eyes, becomes a boy.

You may recognize The Breadwinner as a recent high-profile screening at TIFF; Angelina Jolie is a producer and her red carpet appearance really shined the spotlight on this important film. People were equally excited to celebrate it at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. It played to a packed house and I imagine it will again on Saturday so if you haven’t got your tickets, get on it!

The Breadwinner’s animation is stunning.  Stunning. Like, I want to get tattoos of it on my body. That’s really the highest praise you can give, or that I can give, an animated movie, a compliment I haven’t given before or even thought to. The story is kind of perfection. It’s by no means an exact replica of the book. It diverges significantly from it but still feels like an authentic and spiritual distillation of it.

If The Breadwinner isn’t talked about come Oscar time, I’ll be shocked and outraged. Not taliban guy seeing a woman “calling attention to herself” by merely being outdoors outraged, but outraged. It’s a great story coupled with the most amazing animation but it also could not be more essential viewing at this moment in time.

Lu Over the Wall

Greetings from the Ottawa International Animation Festival, which we’re always proud to cover because not only is it our hometown festival, it’s also a really great one – terrific movies, great venues, well-organized by staff and volunteers. It makes an Asshole proud!

Our first stop at the festival was to the good old Bytowne, where all the best indie films get shown year-round. Lu Over the Wall is a Japanese film by director Masaaki Yuasa, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by it.

The film is about Kai, a surly middle schooler who seems isolated from his peers until it 48a6ae418cf7ea14caa9daee89cfc4381491527985_largeis discovered that he makes really interesting beats with his computer, and he gets recruited into a band by Yuuho and Kuniko. The band practices on a deserted island away from the mainland so that Kuniko’s family won’t discover his dirty little secret (he’s destined to be a temple keeper, not a rock star). But out there they stir up the myth that has shrouded their town for decades: that of merpeople.

Turns out, merpeople are attracted to music, and that’s exactly what prompts Lu, a very cute little mermaid, to leave the water to sing and dance with them. Everyone else is terrified of merpeople, who, legend has it, eat people, among other atrocities, but Kai can relate to Lu and so they become friends. It’s a tricky relationship to navigate when half the townspeople want the merfolk dead and gone, and the other half hope to exploit them for money.

No, this isn’t an animated take on The Shape of Water, though it’s beginning to sound like it. But it is a story about looking beyond our preconceptions, a story made all the more palatable by its incredibly sweet animation. When it’s meant to, the joy practically leaps right off the screen. You’ll feel your heart tug upward. Lu’s happiness is infectious. I mean, what kind of a person isn’t completely bowled over by mermaids? Like, how black is your soul? And Lu is so bright and bubbly she makes Ariel seem like a puddle of puke. Lu Over the Wall is giddy, upbeat, and as you might have guessed, has a soundtrack bursting with J-pop. I love how the movie evokes emotion by changing up its animation style and if for some reason your inner darkness has been able to resist up until now, I’ll leave you with just one word, the only word this review really needs: mer-doggies.