Two Nights in Jail (and an Animation Festival)

I just came back from a three day trip to  the Ottawa Animation Festival, whose organizers generously provided some buses for Sheridan students (and one professor) so that we might travel to attend the festivities. I had not attended the Ottawa festival since 2008 and it’s gone through some mighty changes since then.

There were some new categories, such as Canadian Student Film and World Student Films, to give a better showcase to some of the most exciting work in animation today. I can truthfully say that I often find the student films more entertaining and interesting and original than the commercially produced work.

Truth be told I did not get to too many of the competition screenings due to conflicting schedules. I saw a really remarkable documentary about Evelyn Lambart   produced by the National Film Board of Canada, where she worked for many years with Norman McLaren. In fact, many of the films McLaren produced should be considered coproductions, and one ‘newly found’ film of his was actually created by Lambart. Once again, to its credit, the NFB gives Lambart credit on these films. In Begone Dull Care, she actually animated the last thirty seconds of the film, solo.

Evelyn Lambart was eventually allowed to make films in her own style, which is commendable of the NFB. Her cut paper animation of birds and creatures is superbly done and has a unique, disjointed style that was completely her own. So, I wonder, why is she not better known? She lived until 1999.

I guess I may already know the answer to that question, but I am glad that the documentary was made and still gladder that I saw it.

I stayed in the Ottawa Jail Hostel which has been described as one of the ‘spookiest buildings in the world’. I did not find the place too frightening; the bed was as wide as the cell, and the noises were strictly of this world. Other than having to yell “Be quiet, idiot!” to one loud person describing the cells’ history in the corridor at two in the morning, I managed to sleep pretty well. They have a decent breakfast, the showers and baths down the hall were not different from those you find in any other hostel,  and it was near all of the screening venues. When you are travelling solo, and don’t want to do  anything in your hotel BUT sleep and wash, it’s a fair bargain to stay here.

Of course there is the noose and ‘drop’ at the end of the hall on the eighth floor. People used to gather in the courtyard to watch the hangings; there is a big semicircular window where you could see the  convict led to the railing, then strung up; then as the trap was released, they would descend directly over a doorway for the amusement of the sometimes considerable number of people who assembled there to watch. I am glad that we now have our violence in cartoons; people used to watch hangings and lynchings for entertainment.

Ottawa can be 40 below zero at midwinter, and many people froze to death in the stone cells, where they often did not even receive a pallet bed or a blanket. I was feeling great sorrow for the sick people, who received no treatment and whose dead bodies were actually burnt in the courtyard where they held the student party.

But their spirits do not seem to have lingered. As I said, I slept well.

Ottawa is a nice city that I would like to visit again. As for the rest of the festival, I really did not see too much of it and so can’t report on much, except for the student films (which Sheridan students took a prize in). and the general organization, which was excellent. The career fair was over before I got there but I was able to chat with colleagues from Sheridan and see what the other colleges were offering.

Maybe my film will be there next year. In which case,  I will be back.

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