Image: Ottawa International Animation Festival.
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The digital event features juried competitions, international compilations, and more

Most of Ottawa’s arts and culture scene has migrated online for the foreseeable future, and it’s a tough pill to swallow. Ottawa’s a festival town, and the loss of in-person gatherings for 2020 has taken away a certain quality of life for the city’s growing population of artists.

Just because festivals are online, though, doesn’t mean they’re not happening (and, it’s worth noting, happening more accessibly for more people). The Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF) is one such event. 

Festival organizers have migrated OIAF to a digital space, spreading the event out over two weeks from Sept. 23 to Oct. 4 rather than the usual single jam-packed weekend. Attendees get to take their time with OIAF’s programming – a necessary change, in light of how much time we now seem to spend in front of screens due to COVID-19.

“We wanted to avoid screen fatigue as much as possible,” said artistic director Chris Robinson with regards to spreading the festival out.

For the local arts and culture scene, OIAF is a big deal. It’s the second-largest animation festival in the world, and screened the Oscar-winning animated short film Hair Love last year. 

Moving a 28,000 in-person event online was a daunting task. Robinson said “it felt like [he] had five minutes left to live” in the more chaotic moments of last-minute planning. But the OIAF team worked day and night to produce an online festival that some might say is even better than last year’s – one full of new talent and must-sees for anyone interested in film.

Thanks to a sponsorship from Netflix, OIAF Animation Student Passes are only $30 this year – half of what they were last year. The pass gets you into all OIAF screenings, talks, and events, and gives you exclusive access to the Artist Gallery; if you’re an emerging animator yourself, you can submit your work to the Gallery in order to network with studios and recruiters in attendance at OIAF.

What to look out for if you’re a first-timer, or if you want a taste of everything? Robinson recommends the Short Competitions, which are forty-five-minute compilations of eight short films each. Robinson called them a “buffet of animation,” with a blend of artistic styles and genres. 

And don’t be fooled: animation isn’t just for kids, not by a long shot (though there are juried competitions for audiences ages 0-5 and 6-12, which are always a big hit at the festival). Some of the feature-length film screenings this year include the Latvian My Favorite War on growing up in the Soviet regime, and The Nose from Russia.

When asked how COVID-19 seems to have impacted the animation world at large, Robinson’s optimism was encouraging.

“The work is continuing on. We worked in isolation a lot already – the pandemic hasn’t slowed artists’ output for this year.”

The Ottawa International Animation Festival is a staple of Ottawa’s arts scene, usually attracting tourists from all over the world to the cultural hub that is the Arts Court. COVID-19 is a disruption to the festival’s growth, sure, but it’s also provided Robinson and his team with “the ability to experiment and reimagine the festival.” 

For more information about OIAF 2020, you can check out their website HERE.


  • Spring 2022: Desiree Nikfardjam Fall 2021: Zofka Svec 2020-2021: Aisling Murphy 2019-2020: Ryan Pepper 2018-2019: Iain Sellers 2017-2018: Ryan Pepper