The National Film Board of Canada Animates Its Way From Ottawa to Vancouver

16 Sep

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) will soon be making a presence at two different celebrations across this country. New shorts will be playing at the Ottawa International Animation (OIAF, Sept 20-24, 2017) and afterward make their presence known at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF, Sept 28-Oct 13, 2017).

The variety that will be found is perfect! From dramas to virtual reality presentations (the Oscar-nominated Blind Vaysha got adapted to this new medium), this studio is embracing the new wave. In addition to Bear 71 (An interactive documentary which looks at the wildlife around Banff National Park), there’s also a retrospective from Theodore Ushev on pioneer Canadian animator, Ottawa’s own Evelyn Lambart, to be excited about.

Three titles of particular note are The Mountain of SGaana (which is also screening at Edmonton and Calgary Film festival), The Tesla World Light and Skin for Skin.
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SGaana spins a tale from Haida legend where a local master sea hunter Naa-Naa-Simgat gets “spirited away,” and his partner Kuuga Kuns must rescue him from an undersea world ruled by a monstrous whale. From time to time, the story unfolds in the white space of the larger art which makes up the movie screen/canvas. This alternative split screen approach is very novel, and a style I personally like to see more of.

Animator Christopher Auchter may have been inspired by Cartoon Saloon‘s own mythic works (Secret of the Kells, Song of the Sea). There are similarities which I like, especially in showing that in folklore, shapeshifters are abundant everywhere! With this story, the traditions of the Haida culture come alive and they can be felt in every frame.

In this short, the imagery is just beautiful to behold and very entrancing.

With Tesla World Light, I could not help but be reminded of the works of Guy Maddin, Man Ray and Georges Méliès. This eight-minute short by Matthew Rankin is a visual treat. It’s a mixed media project which tells the tale of the famous inventor (played by Robert Vilar) making one more appeal to J.P. Morgan to help finance his experiments. He says he’s on the verge of one great discovery, to share electricity freely to the whole world, but …. Did this recluse suddenly snap? In this narrative, the bird is more than his muse. She is also his closest confident. The gonzo light show that surrounds him suggests his state of mind; it’s in constant flux and there are ideas waiting to explode out.

Rankin’s magical odyssey suggests Tesla had an epiphany. This fact is certain. Sadly his life took a bad turn not chronicled in this short. Anyone who knows his biography will recall he never got the recognition he deserved, and I could not help but wonder what the world could have been like if he was hailed the better genius instead of Edison. We might be living in a free world than one governed by industry.

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Skin for Skin, in contrast, uses darker imagery to deliver a message about how not to overextend yourself. This tale blends some traditional animation with computer rendering to tell a contemporary myth about arrogance and greed as it existed during early days of the fur trade in Canada, when the Hudson’s Bay Company held the greatest power. The deals made and the bloodshed involved are the highlights in this horror tale about a governor seeking greater fortune. He’s hunting beaver and other animals to the brink of extinction. As he sails deeper into unknown territories along the St. Lawrence, the spiritual forces which live within the land, sky and rivers take notice.

When he kills the Raven, a symbol revered by many Native American tribes, the world around him turns against him. The imagery this man sees is unsettling, the mood turns inevitably gothic and the tone turns bleak. This murder of the bird evokes moments straight out of Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. As he descended into madness, I was reminded of Dante’s Inferno.

(cont’d on next page)

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