September 23, 2004
Typically, I recommend the train as the best way to get to Ottawa from Montreal. It's cheap (under $70 Canadian, round-trip, taxes included), fast (about 90 minutes) and good (even economy has the comforts of a plane, minus the engine noise).

Unless the engine conks out twenty minutes out of Montreal, in which case the trip takes four and a half hours and you slowly bake in the humidity. But there was an up side: because I'd run into Hélène Tanguay, a National Film Board of Canada (NFB) product manager on the quay, I ended up sitting in what I jokingly referred to as the NFB Alley—and right in front of Co Hoedeman. I mention this only because he mentioned that the Ottawa festival's opening ceremonies would be at the Bytowne in advance of the feature.

Thanks to that offhand comment, I skipped what I was originally going to see (the first part of the "Words in Motion" programme, a collection of films that highlight the written word) and went to the Bytowne instead.

It turned out the opening ceremonies, such as they were (artistic director Chris Robinson dryly poked fun at his seeming obsession with Estonian animation) were actually preceding the later competition screening, so I didn't need to miss "Words in Motion"— but instead I saw a French feature, La Prophétie des grenouilles (English title Raining Cats and Frogs, which was simply a joy. Think of it as a gentle, funny, and slightly whimsical retelling of the story of Noah's ark, along with some Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm. Delicately hand-drawn with textures that are controlled using digital tools, it's like a children's storybook come to life.

And then there was the first competition screening for short films. Quality varied wildly here. To pick two examples at random, the flash-animated, monochromatic La révolution des crabes (The Crab's Revolution), another French film, was enjoyably absurd, using just enough animation to get its points (and laughs) across; meanwhile, we have the American Grasshopper, directed by Bob Sabiston, animation director on Waking Life. Grasshopper, with its use of heavily stylized, digitally rotoscoped footage, apes Waking Life somewhat—so much so, I'm not sure why he felt the need to expand the concept to 14 minutes (which felt like 30).

And, of course, special mention must go to Chris Hinton, who comes across a harmless, affable fellow, and yet continues to make films that move at a brisk pace and feature some sort of noisy mania. Nibbles is autobiographical in that it depicts a fishing trip with his two sons, and the stops they make along the way. I'd say more, but you have to experience it.

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