Kevin — October 22, 2008, 1:32 am

Ottawa and my ongoing hatred of experimental movies

Long time no chat! I was in Ottawa, then Paris, now I’m back in New York.

Ottawa first!

The Ottawa Animation Festival was a bit of a bust – I look forward to it each year (oh, and a big hello to Chris Robinson, who obviously has a Google alert on his name – he kicked off the screenings with a very amusing shout out to yours truly! Seriously! At the opening of screening one, he was like “I just want to do a big shout out to Kevin, who think is I’m a miserable old fart”. How awesome is that! Seriously Chris, I don’t think you’re a miserable old fart. I just think you pick a lot crappy films for your festival). Anyhow, this year the big “industry conference” was a little on the dull side. The new head of Nick gave a keynote speech where she revealed the following:

A: Nickelodeon makes shows for kids
B: Those shows are funny
C: Nick is really great.

Wow. Really? Yeah, we know. The shows you’re talking about? We kind of, you know, make them. It’d be a bit like the president of Ford addressing a collection of car salesmen and saying “Ford cars are great! They run on GAS! Did you guys KNOW THAT?” Actually, yes. We did. Thanks.

Seriously, a couple years ago Michael Olean, the number two or three guy at Cartoon Network at the time did this fantastic keynote at Ottawa where he talked about what kids are watching – showing a video of the Numa Numa kid (among others) to sell his point. It was a really interesting talk about how as producers of “old media”, we have to adapt and be as revolutionary as “new media” because the landscape is changing so rapidly. As a producer of both, I found it really, really interesting. A couple years before that, cartoon superproducer Fred Siebert did an absolutely amazing keynote speech about how to develop the key relationships you need to get your show produced. I was really hoping for a great speech from the new head of Nick – who, after my Chris Robinson shout out, I’m NOT going to post her name here. Perhaps SHE subscribes to Google alerts for her name too! I’d hate for my next Nick pitch the same way Chris started the Ottawa screenings! THAT would be dreadfully embarrassing.

Anyhow, Ottawa’s screenings are always hit or miss. Sometimes you see something amazing like Over Time or Peter and the Wolf, sometimes you see a bunch of crappy, faux-bohemian, boring shit (but you do get you get to watch an Ambiguously Gay Duo short now and then to break it up). By the third night I was literally ready to slit my wrists – it was just so god damned bad. SO BAD! Having come on the heels of the brilliant screenings of Pictoplasma, I couldn’t do it anymore. After the third competition screening it was just too painful to go on – I quit. Chris, you beat me. I skipped out on the last two screenings. I couldn’t stomach it anymore. Every other short I just sat there fuming, hating the shit I was seeing on the screen. At one point I thought I was going to break a filling I was gritting my teeth so hard. One short was just so pretentious – two kids made a short about making a short (wow, how clever) called “The Mixy Tapes”. At one point in the film one of the kids claims that “didn’t want to make an ordinary film”. I just about threw my drink at the screen. Here, you take a look.

Do you know WHY experimental filmmakers make experimental films? I honestly believe it’s because they try to make proper ones, but they fail. They’re too pompous to admit failure, of course, so they just say “well, I’m a genius, but you’re too stupid to figure it out, obviously”. That sure is an easier pill to swallow than looking in the mirror and saying “boy, this movie making shit sure is a lot harder than it looks, I guess I just don’t have what it takes”.

And the funny thing is they say this bullshit about how we “just don’t get it” with such conviction that people actually BELIEVE THEM! In fact, people believe them SO MUCH, they make FESTIVALS showcasing these failures where other people who have no idea what they’re watching can sit around and go “hmmm” and “aaaah” loudly so that the people sitting NEXT to THEM think “wow, that person there obviously gets this film, they must be MUCH smarter than I am! I’ll just nod and pretend I get it too so I don’t look dumb”. It’s a horrible vicious cycle that festivals like Ottawa just keep feeding.

The whole thing just makes me want to throw up.


That’s not to say there’s no place for this type of work! No no no no! These misguided people just need to do something better suited to their random, non linear style, interpreative style. Do I love abstract and modern art? Absolutely! Would I want to watch a film made by these artists? No way in hell. Andy Warhol made a “movie”. It’s a eight hour long real-time shot of the empire state building. Warhol? GREAT pop artist. Not so great with the movies. Hey, perhaps he got better after “Empire”. He sure made a load of them, according to IMDB. Who knows? I’m not exactly dying to find out.

Like it or not art nerds, but film, by its nature, is LINEAR and NARRITIVE. Movies are the modern equivalent of a group of folks sitting around a fire bring told a story. The storyteller controls the mood, the pacing, the message. You want to make art that is vague, interpretative and expressive? GREAT! We have a wonderful forum for that stuff. It’s called PAINTING, and last I heard, it was pretty popular. I LOVE PAINTINGS! And believe it or not, I love modern art best of all! The more random and crazy, the better. I love letting the mysterious message of the painters settle on me. What the hell does it mean? What is the message? Is there EVEN a message? I can take as little or as much time as I need to figure that out. If I don’t like it, I can turn around and look at another painting to see how that one fits. But FILM, it doesn’t work like that. It’s a straight line. The train goes from A to B, with stops at C and D along the way to keep it exciting. You, the artist, control the pacing, the visual style, the subtext, everything (and in animation, it’s even MORE deliberate – there’s literally nothing there in the beginning except a blank canvas). When you treat movies like abstract paintings you disrespect and wreck the process, because you FORCE people to take a specific amount of time to “get” your message.

In fact, when you create a film that doesn’t tell a story, or impart a clear message, or worse, make a film that doesn’t make any god damned sense or have a message AT ALL, it’s like “creating” a soup spoon full of holes. It’s not revolutionary. It’s not clever. It’s just ANNOYING.

So stop it already!

There’s a bit of a back-story to my frustration.

When I was a young lad, I knew I wanted to do something in the movie or TV area. I didn’t really know what it was, I just knew I really liked telling stories with pictures. My curly haired movie making partner and I would create stuff every weekend, and some of it we’d screen at school festivals, where we’d get to see stuff from the post-secondary kids when we got to that part of the program. There were really only two choices at that point – attend a university program like SFU or UBC, which was four years, or attend a shorter, more art focused school like Vancouver’s Emily Carr. I liked the idea of shorter – I didn’t want years of theory, I can get that in a book that I can read on my own. I was leaning toward the “art school” angle until I went to one screening and this girl from Emily Carr was “presenting” her film; I guess it really sucked and she decided she hated it, so she took all the negatives, bundled it up in a ball, scratched the shit out of it, and hung it from a rope and glued a bunch of crap to it. Apparently she got an A. Know what she should have got? EXPELLED, that’s what! Why do schools encourage that shit? It’s not a damned elementary school where everybody gets a gold star and is told everything they do is special and wonderful (the subject of another rant for another day). This is the real world! If a student enrolled in a pottery school can’t work a kiln or a pottery wheel, what would happen to them? The instructor would eventually say “dude, you’ve been at this for months, obviously aren’t cut out for pottery, so why don’t you try your hand at something else”. Why do we smile and nod when these artists flail around in film? These are people who obviously love movies but unfortunately, try as they might, have no movie making abilities. So why do we then SHOWCASE their failures and call it ART?? STOP IT! For CRYING OUT LOUD! Go paint! Go sculpt! There’s SO MANY OTHER ART FORMS that you can do! Just go DO SOMETHING ELSE already!!!!

BAAAAAGH!!!! I makes me so god damned CRAZY!!!!

BOY I bet Chris Robinson hates me even MORE now.

Anyhow, THAT’S why I hated Ottawa this year, because so many films were a showcase of somebody’s absolutely inability to tell a story, bedazzled with glittery lights and whored up with thick eyeshadow and a goofy wig so that we mistakenly think it’s “art”. Sure, film should be CHALLENGING (which I’m told was Chris’s closing message at the festival; apparently he picks the films he does because he wants to challenge the audience) but let’s not confuse challenging with NONSENSICAL. Sure, ask me tough questions. Get me to make tough choices. Take me into dark areas of morality and shine some lights around in there. Give me characters that flex my moral fiber and push my buttons and splash some cold cinematic water on my face. But respect the conventions of the medium. Eating soup with a spoon full of holes isn’t “challenging”. It’s just… stupid.

That’s why I get so steamed at “experimental” stuff. It’s not a movie. It’s a broken soup spoon. Throw it away, call it a lesson learned, and go make another one. Perhaps you’ll get it right next time! Do you know how many short films I have on VHS tapes? I shot one, like, EVERY WEEKEND, for YEARS. Guess what? Most of them suck. Hell, we REUSED the tapes, because it wasn’t the film we were concerned about. It was the process. That, and we were twelve, and VHS tapes were expensive. Every time we failed in an edit or screwed up a story or blew a shot or lighting setup, we just rewound the tape, came up with a new idea, and did it again until we eventually worked out most of the kinks. We didn’t throw the mistakes up on a screen and force 200 people to sit through them for three hours.


The festival did have a couple good bits – a new post graduate film from the kids at the Goblens University in France called Octopodi. Check it out. Don’t forget to click the “watch in high qualiry” button so you get the best image.


Photos from France next!

Sorry for the rant, I had to get it out of my system, and Buckley has been bugging me to post something about Ottawa, and this is the only thing I could come up with.


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  1. Comment by Torie @ October 24, 2008, 9:23 am

    i would have to agree with you on that one video i couldn’t even watch half of it it was that bad all the words and then some weird cartoon like characters in a car. i didn’t even get half way through i can understand you wanting to throw stuff at the screen.

    the octopus video was cute though. i liked that one..

  2. Comment by Cameron @ October 24, 2008, 12:18 pm

    Great post.

    Hey, have you seen Southland Tales?

    Don’t… or do… depending on how much you enjoy being confused, and maybe angry.

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