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Two former St. Albertans up for Oscar tonight for animated short

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts nominated Wendy Tilby, formerly of St. Albert, and her partner Amanda Forbis for their short animation.

Canada’s contribution to the animation industry has strengthened with each passing decade. Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, formerly of St. Albert, are putting Canada on the international stage at the 95th annual Academy Awards. They are nominated for an Oscar in the Best Animated Short Film category. 

In partnership with the National Film Board, the duo created The Flying Sailor, an animated short film inspired by the incredible true-life story of a man blown two kilometres through the air during the 1917 Halifax Explosion. It was the largest accidental non-nuclear explosion in history. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts broadcast its shortlist January 24 at 6:30 a.m. while Tilby and Forbis were attending the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. It was the Calgary-based duo’s third Oscar nomination. Tilby and Forbis were also nominated for their NFB shorts When the Day Breaks (1999) and Wild Life (2011). 

“We went nuts,” said Forbis describing their initial reaction. 

Tilby adds, “The Academy and the NFB required us to shoot a reaction video live. We were more stressed about that than the nomination.” 

When the big reveal happened, Forbis and Tilby had climbed into bed with their producer and publicist and erupted into screams and hollers. 

About 90 animators world-wide qualified. During the first round of voting, 15 films were selected. They were whittled down to five. The other four films are The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie MacKesy and Matthew Freud; Ice Merchants by João Gonzalez and Bruno Caetano; My Year of Dicks by Sara Gunnarsdóttir and Pamela Ribon; and An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe It from Lachlan Pendragon. 

The Oscar ceremony is the world’s most prized film platform, and both animators admit the wait to hear the results was nerve-racking. 

“We’ve been anxious for many months. The Oscar race is a big deal and we’re put in the race as part of it. Despite our best intentions not to get caught up in it, it’s very important. The NFB have put a lot of resources into it and we don’t want to let them down,” Tilby said. 

Having attended the actual event twice, Forbis says, “Weirdly it’s not as much fun as watching it on TV. It’s not a show that is particularly interesting for the audience. It’s fun to be in the proximity of all the big names, but I get a kick out of the seat fillers. They’re the ones who if you get up for a cocktail, they immediately fill your empty seat.” 

In past years they’ve had a chat with Gary Oldman and met the affable George Clooney at a nominees lunch. For most individuals, it is difficult to understand the sense of scale unless attending the actual presentations. 

“Everyone looks good and polished and very photogenic. There are not many opportunities to chat. It’s mostly rubbing shoulders,” said Tilby. 

Forbis added, “Celebrities are on their home turf. But even if you are invited to the Oscar ceremony, you are still a nobody.” 

Both visual artists took time to explain that the Dolby Theatre, renamed Ovation Hollywood, has a five-tiered lobby where nominees mingle. The ultra-famous are escorted to a lobby that leads closest to the stage, while the less famous are escorted to different tiers. 

To date The Flying Sailor has received 10 awards. Several of the awards are Best Canadian Film at the Ottawa Animated Film Festival, Best Animation at New York City Short Film Festival, Best Narrative Film at Countryside Animafest Cyprus and Best Character-Based Award at Los Angeles Animation Festival. 

In scanning the list of competitors, Tilby said “It’s a strange field this year. There are no big studio films from Pixar or Dreamworks. It’s a very indie kind of year. Our next big problem is deciding what to wear.”

The Oscar Awards are presented Sunday, March 12 on CTV.

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