It was, I believe, Prescott Wright (and perhaps André Martin) who first posited the idea of a biennial competitive animation festival in Ottawa. The new North American festival would, together with the long-established Annecy festival, provide a western counterbalance to the pair of behind-the-iron-curtain festivals that took place in Zagreb and Mamiya, Romania at the time. What better place to do it, he argued, than in Canada, home of the National Film Board, and, within Canada what better place than Ottawa, perched on the border between Quebec and Ontario, bilingual, picturesque and close to the major centres of Toronto and Montreal.
I remember when Prescott first came up from California to the Canadian Film Institute in what must have been late 1975, to start working with Frederik Manter, Wayne Clarkson and later Kelly O'Brien to introduce the CFI team to the myriad complexities of presenting such an event. He was a regular at all of the other festivals, the founder of the International Tournée of Animation, had long served on various ASIFA boards, and knew every detail of a successful animation festival.
Prescott was the inspiration, the teacher, the magnet that drew people here in that first year, and, during Ottawa 76 when it finally took place, the back-stop for every vacuum that cropped up during the five days of the event. He had done it all before; he knew everybody in the animation community and would greet them all with his big bear hug; he knew all the politics and sensibilities; and he could do a hot splice in the projection booth if that was needed in the assembly of the programs.
It was from the projection booth that he stage-managed every competition screening and awards presentation for every subsequent incarnation of the festival right up to at least Ottawas '88 and '90, which I had the pleasure and honour of directing. Wearing his headphones and mic, he would cue the bilingual announcer, the projectionist, the lighting people, and any on-stage presenters or speakers. When problems occurred, and they sometimes do in any such event, Prescott would unflappably steer us all back on course.
He knew from the start how important Chez Ani would be to the atmosphere and reputation of the Ottawa Festival and he also emphasized how important the character of the picnic would to the branding of the new festival.
Prescott's big laugh provided the aural backdrop to at least the first decade and a half of Ottawa festivals and is his gift for laughter – sharing it, causing it and, occasionally, being the brunt of it – that we all so much appreciate.
Prescott Wright wrote the book on the Ottawa International Animation Festival. While all of us who have been involved with it over the years have added little bits here and there, it is his original vision for the event that, nearly 30 years later, continues to shape it.