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Tickets to the Academy Awards are a rare commodity, and the National Film Board of Canada has had to pull a few strings to get enough for its two Oscar-nominated directors, their spouses and a handful of producers.

But the NFB's biggest star this year won't be going. Ryan Larkin was invited by the film board, but he would rather not attend.

Once a protégé at the NFB in the 1960s and now the subject of the film board's Oscar-nominated animated short Ryan, Larkin won't be making the trip to Los Angeles, as he did in the late 1960s when he was himself nominated for his hand-drawn short Walk ing, now considered a masterwork of Canadian animation. Back then, Larkin went in hippie finery to the conformist Oscar ceremonies. He was a little more at ease then with being on show.

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Today, as shown in Ryan (along with the accompanying NFB documentary Alter Egos), Larkin, 61, has survived years of substance abuse and associated problems. He now panhandles in Montreal, yet has established a comfortable routine living in the Old Brewery Mission and spending a few hours most evenings at the Copacabana, a local bar. Larkin says his reason for not going to the awards show is simple: He's not a very good traveller.

"Especially now that you have to take jet planes. Over American skies!" he said with a soft laugh.

Yet he also hasn't travelled with Ryan as it has made the rounds of international film festivals, and he didn't attend a special early screening last spring in Toronto. Those who know him say he just doesn't want to leave his daily routine, although Larkin added that he doesn't want to steal any of the spotlight from Chris Landreth, Ryan's director.

"I was just the lead actor. I was hoping to get nominated for best actor," Larkin joked. He said he'll be watching the Oscars from his "office" -- that is, the Copacabana.

If Larkin did go to the ceremony, it could have become perfect additional footage for the soon-to-be-released DVD release of Ryan, since the film itself includes an animation mock-up of a younger Larkin at the Oscars in the 1960s.

But it wasn't to be. Ryan director Landreth is instead going with his spouse, two producers from the Toronto film production company Copper Heart Entertainment, which co-produced the film, and the film's producer from the NFB. That extra ticket for the NFB producer was hard to come by

"Post-9/11, there's a lot more clampdown, and it's actually much harder to get tickets as a result," said Landreth, who was also nominated for best animated short in 1996. "I understand now why the awardee for best picture gets up and says hi to the kids watching from home on TV. Why are the kids watching from home? Because they couldn't get tickets. Seriously!"

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The main character in the NFB's other Oscar-nominated film, Hardwood, will be going to the Oscars though.

Mel Davis, a former Harlem Globetrotter, is the subject of his son Hubert Davis's half-hour documentary short. While the film looks at a life in basketball, it is mainly about the father's relationship with a woman in Vancouver and his now-adult child with her (the film's director). The father's Vancouver family represented a double life that tore apart his marriage to a woman in Chicago. The film is about both families' reconciliation.

Because Davis only has two guest tickets to the Oscars, he is bringing his father, whom he insisted on taking. He is also bringing his wife. Producer Erin Faith Young, a co-nominee for Hardwood, plans to bring her fiancé. But in the musical chairs that Oscar-nominated filmmakers have to go through to decide who gets a ticket and who doesn't, Young's last ticket appears to be going to Davis's Chicago-raised brother who is another central character in the documentary.

Meanwhile, Davis's mother is making the trip from Vancouver, but likely won't attend the ceremony. "My mom -- because I only ended up with the two tickets -- she felt it was best for my brother to go. She was very selfless in that way. So she's coming down to L.A., but she will be watching it with my brother's wife," Davis said.

In addition, the NFB managed to convince the academy to give up two more tickets: one for film-board chairman Jacques Bensimon and one for veteran NFB producer Peter Starr, co-producer of Hardwood. The other big, official event for the NFB contingent is a lunch reception today at the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles.

Given this rigmarole, Larkin is perhaps wise to watch the Oscars more comfortably from Montreal. And even though he has come out of retirement, as he said, and is developing a new animated film called Spare Change, he still sticks to his daily routine, panhandling on Saint-Laurent Boulevard. "I can't disappoint my clientele," he said.

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