The second annual Montreal International Animation Film Festival (MIAFF), presented by Animaze, ran from April 16th to April 19th and, trust me, this festival is going to blow up. Though it’s only in its second year, the MIAFF definitely has a distinct festival style. Plain and simple, this festival is fun. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to be there and the screenings felt really intimate. Animation is one of the more fun and creative ways of making a film and the films showcased did not disappoint. The festival was teeming with brilliant filmmakers, some of whom I had the pleasure to sit down with and talk to. I soon learned that Aristofanis Soulikias, Steven Woloshen and Jacob Greenawalt are not simply talented filmmakers, but also incredibly passionate, friendly and down-to-earth.
I first chatted with Montrealer Aristofanis Soulikias, or Ari, about his unique documentary short Last Dance on the Main. Ari’s film is about the destruction of historic red-light district buildings and the subsequent construction of new buildings on The Main, also known as Saint Laurent Boulevard. How much more Montreal can you get?! Ari has a Master’s in architecture and just finished up his BFA at Concordia, this film being his final project. It has been a great success, with screenings all over Canada and the US, as well as Germany. In the coming months, Last Dance on the Main will be screening in India as well as Madrid. It was also chosen as one of the top ten Canadian student shorts by TIFF’s Canada’s Top 10 Film Festival.
The animation of the short is very unique: paper cutouts on a light table. “All animation was made with my own two hands on a light table,” Ari explains. This technique works especially well with the subject matter of the film, creating beautiful silhouettes of buildings that once stood tall. When watching the short, it becomes quite clear that is was a labour of love for Ari, combining his two passions of film and architecture. “I wanted to reconnect with the city… People [in Montreal] are not connected to built heritage. I wanted to voice that in the film, that there’s value to buildings,” he says.
What did Ari find especially awesome about MIAFF? “I’m very, very impressed at the quality of the films shown. I’m very honoured that I got to be with other professional filmmakers. [MIAFF] didn’t label me as a student filmmaker.” At most of the past festivals Ari has attended, his film was in student categories, so it was a nice change for him to simply be labeled as a filmmaker, student or not.
Steven Woloshen, an animator and filmmaker, presented 18 short experimental animations showcasing the use of pen, ink and scratching on actual film at MIAFF. Steven, another Montrealer and Concordia alumnus, began making films in 1982, but has been working in the industry since 1977. His shorts are astonishly unique, colourful and musical. His shorts are a perfect marriage of sound and image and colour. Personally, I found them quite mesmerizing. Steven also uses old or found footage and incorporates them in his work to create something brand new. As he says, “It’s all about finding stuff and trying to make art with it.” This year’s festival was his first time screening at MIAFF. “I didn’t know if my films fit in,” admits Steven, but after his experience at this new festival he felt differently. “We’re setting the pace for future festivals,” he explains.
Steven’s films have been screened all over the world at countless festivals. Last year alone he traveled to Morocco, Scotland, France, Poland and even all the way to Gatineau for festivals, just to name a few. In the coming months, he’ll also be travelling to Madrid, Brazil, Germany and South Korea.
Something extra cool about Steven is that he holds workshops at most of the festivals he visits. MIAFF was no exception. He had a multitude of film strips featuring headless bodies. It was up to festival-goers to draw in the heads, which Steven then animated. I even got into it and did my own! “It’s a nice way to meet people and introduce them to my technique in a non-threatening way,” says Steven, “When you show a technique, the technique stays alive.” Steven is also an author; his book Recipes For Reconstruction: The Cookbook for the Frugal Filmmaker came out in 2010. The book has nine chapters showcasing nine techniques and includes a DVD with nine shorts on it. He also has Scratch, Crackle, Pop: The Whole Grains Approach for Making Films Without a Camera coming out next month. I should also mention that Steven has the coolest business card I’ve ever seen.
Philadelphia’s Jacob Greenawalt, who has been working as freelance artist in graphic and multimedia design for years, made the quirky, colourful short One Drink. The tag line? “Somebody’s uncle gets drunk at a holiday party.” In Jacob’s words, “He has one glass of wine, gets drunk, and it follows as he sort of antagonizes people at the party.” We’ve all been there, right? The short is animated in UPA style (think early Hanna-Barbera) and was completed in December 2014. Jacob worked with Edd Glassmire, who helped come up with the story and did the sound design.
Each character shown in the film has the same distinct characteristics of their booze glass of choice. Our drunk uncle (because he really is everyone’s drunk uncle) is shaped like the wine glass he so happily empties, while the woman drinking a martini is shaped like her martini glass. This short is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, whether your enjoy wine, martinis, champagne or bourbon. One Drink’s screening at MIAFF marked its first international showing and also Jacob’s first visit to our grand city. Of course, he loved it.
When comparing Montreal to Ottawa, the only other Canadian city he’s visited, Jacob says “Montreal is more of a hub. The culture here is great! I was a little nervous about the language thing, though.” Turns out he worried for nothing; he got along just fine in English! On the festival, Jacob says, “I’m just happy to be here, to be represented internationally. [MIAFF] is very personal [compared to other festivals]. It doesn’t feel too corporate. And you don’t always get to meet the organizers of the festival.” For now, Jacob’s going to keep working in animation, showcasing his artistic skill and combining old styles of animation with new technology. His ultimate goal is to get involved with a big studio, either American or Canadian, and continue animating. It was quite obvious to me that Jacob is someone who loves what he does and loves being able to share it with people.
The second annual Montreal International Animation Film Festival has come to an end, but the filmmakers who brought it to life will continue to create fantastic works of animated art. It may have started small, but this festival will continue to grow and bring us unique animations from around the world. I know I can’t wait for next year’s festival and I look forward to what Ari, Steven and Jacob have in store for the future.