Six Insights On Montreal’s Lively Indie Animation Scene
Montreal’s Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation is a festival with a sense of fun and a notion of art that extends beyond animated film. At this year’s edition (December 3–8), veteran filmmaker Theodore Ushev’s masterclass ended in a group maypole dance. One competition screening was hosted by a local drag queen. A rapper sat on the jury. Even as festivals go, there was a buzz about the place.
All this reflects the tastes of Marco de Blois, the artistic director, who imprints his effervescent personality on the festival. But Les Sommets also gains in liveliness from being set in Montreal, one of the global hubs of artistic animation. This is, after all, the home of the monolithic National Film Board of Canada (NFB), the publicly funded powerhouse producer of short films.
Inevitably, the NFB’s presence was felt across Les Sommets: its filmmakers were everywhere, and its productions scooped the prize for best Canadian film, as well as the honorable mention in the same category. Yet the NFB, for all its reach, can hardly work with every indie animator in Montreal — especially at a time of upheaval within the organization.
While some animators lamented to me that the NFB dominates, even stifles, the city’s indie animation scene, Les Sommets pointed to many ways around it. What follows is an overview of other systems and institutions in Montreal that facilitate the creation of artistic shorts. This isn’t an exhaustive list — merely my impressions of a week spent at the festival.
1. Animation residency at the Cinémathèque québécoise
The Cinémathèque québécoise, which hosts Les Sommets, runs an annual residency around the festival. Half a dozen filmmakers come to develop an animated short over five and a half weeks. Each is given a mentor and other benefits, such as visits to the NFB. The cohort then present their projects at the festival. This year’s were a vividly eclectic bunch, from Boris Labbé’s philosophical video installation to Lora D’Addazio’s zany occult sex drama.
The program is technically open to all, but Marcel Jean, the Cinematheque’s director (and the artistic director of Annecy Festival), stresses that some knowledge of French is preferred. At least two places are reserved for Canadians, with the rest going to international filmmakers.
Those who stay in Montreal to produce their short receive support. “We try to present them to either private co-producers or the NFB,” Jean tells me. He adds that private producers are relatively rare in the city, and cites Unité Centrale, where he has served as a producer, as one example.