Quickdraw’s GIRAF brings artful animation from around the globe to Calgary film fans

Sometimes the acronym doesn’t quite do the thing, itself, justice.

So it is with local arts group the Quickdraw Animation Society’s annual event GIRAF.

GIRAF. It’s interesting, sure. Even kinda cute.

But when you completely spell it out, when you unravel the five little letters, it’s almost impossible to ignore.

The Giant Incandescent Resonating Animation Festival.


Even if you don’t know what it means, you’re hooked, you’re intrigued, you’re gonna want to know more.

To help you out and make sure you’re more informed, more intrigued, we chatted with Quickdraw’s executive director Peter Hemminger to get the scoop on this year’s event, which takes place Nov. 23 to 26 at the Globe Cinema.

Q: What is GIRAF, how would you describe it?

A: GIRAF is a festival that celebrates the best independent animation from around the world. And when we’re looking at that we’re looking for animation specifically that is artful … The festival is our way of just showing off stuff that’s going on in short and feature films around the world and what’s getting us excited about animation as a medium.

Q: This is the 13th year for it. Has it gained a reputation during that time?

A: Yeah, I think so. It’s changed a lot over the course of those 13 years, too. When it first started, it was started by a local animator named Brandon Blommaert who now lives out in Montreal, but it was really focussed on showing Quickdraw work, showing small experimental work and doing stuff that we wouldn’t usually do at a festival like having a barbecue as part of it in the Quickdraw studios. And over the years it’s drifted a lot more into being something closer to a regular international film festival, so doing it at the Plaza and then at the Globe trying to reach a bigger audience and trying to show works from outside of our community. We’ve been trying to find a balance between those two ideals in the last couple of years. Animation is kind of niche community but we can see even other big festivals like the Melbourne International Animation Festival will reach out to us — and they’re one of the biggest in the world — (to see) what do we have on our radar and they’ll show us what they have on theirs. Ottawa, we have the same conversation, too. We do feel like we’re a part of that larger film festival community, which is hugely important for trying to get the work from those artists that actually excites us.

Q: What are some of the things we should definitely check out at this year’s festival?

A: I’ve been trying to bring (French director Sébastian Laudenbach’s The Girl Without Hands) to Calgary for at least a year and a half now. We wanted it for last year’s festival and the stars just didn’t quite align for it, but it’s such a beautiful film. There’s a tendency in modern CG animation to try to make every single frame stand on its own visually. One of the things that I love about The Girl Without Hands is that it’s not the case, really every image is designed to be seen in motion. So sometimes if you’re looking at it frame by frame it’s so impressionistic that if you’re just looking at them as stills you might not quite see what’s going on and then you see it as a piece of animation and it’s honestly one of the most stunning ones I’ve seen in years.

Q: There’s obviously local content that’s part of GIRAF, too.

A: For local content there are three films and one artist that we’re spotlighting. One of the films, Skin for Skin by Carol Beecher and Kevin Kurytnik, we don’t usually play films that have played in Calgary before and that one did at the Calgary International Film Festival. But it’s such an incredible achievement. It takes a pretty special film to win the audience award and jury award in Calgary, it won the jury award in Edmonton, it just won the (award) for excellent short film at the Morbido film festival in Mexico, which is one of the biggest genre film fests out there. It’s one of those films that we had to make an exception for just because it’s such an incredible piece of work. And then we’ve got two other films from local short filmmakers, one of them is our scholarship student Tank Standing Buffalo …

One thing I’m really excited about is we have this artist Brandon Hearty. He just recently finished an MFA at the U of C and is working a lot with augmented reality, so where you can use a phone app to hover your phone over an image and it will bring up a video or something interactive or things along those lines. From his involvement we’ve got a few things going on with that, one of them is our program guide this year, every single page is something you can hold your phone over and you can trigger the trailers for the different films — it’s just a really neat way of doing it. And then he’s also hosting a workshop where people can basically make an augmented reality piece.

Q: What else should people know?

A: The visiting artist this year is Sean Buckelew (from California) and the workshop that he’s going to be doing is something that we’re really excited about. It’s about how to make impressive looking, cinematic style animation with absolutely zero budget, which is something that I think a lot of artists in Calgary are pretty familiar with these days, just having no resources to work with and trying to make the most out of that. He’s an animator that’s worked on several really big feature films as well as his own work. He’s really getting a lot of momentum in the animation community, so having him around to talk about his work … it is something that I think people are going to get a lot out of.

And outside of that I always recommend that people check out the animated shorts packs because for me that’s really where the best work out there is coming (from), in these super short form films. Some of them are only a minute long, but when we’re booking them we’re really looking for films that are doing stuff that we’ve never seen before or if they’re doing something a little more traditional that they’re doing it better than anything we’ve seen in a long time. This year, we had a little bit of a smaller crop of submissions, but they were far and away the best crop of submissions that we’ve had in quite a while. It was really tough picking the ones that we wanted to put in, so people can know that when they’re coming to the shorts packs that they’re really seeing the best of the best.

(Still from The Girl Without Hands.)

GIRAF takes place Thursday, Nov. 23 to Sunday, Nov. 26 at the Globe Cinema. For tickets and more information please go to https://www.giraffest.ca/.