It’s hard being a short filmmaker. As the desire for higher profits for theatrical venues and distributors rose through the late 60s, short features were usually the first things cut from most programmes, jettisoned long before the cartoons and newsreels in many cases. (They were increasingly replaced by goofy slide shows, endless pre-shows, games, and about 20 minutes of commercials, but that’s a different can of worms when talking about the theatrical marketplace) Today, outside of special screening series or festivals, shorts have becoming an increasingly harder sell, and often unnecessarily derided as a stepping stone to potential work in features and television.
It’s this kind of limited means of exhibition that makes Air Canada’s enRoute Film Festival programme a breath of fresh air. With many flights offering feature films that many travellers might have already seen, for the past seven years offered a competition where short filmmakers could get their wares viewed by a larger number of eyes. From August until December, Air Canada passengers can watch a series of selected short films from emerging Canadian artists, and until October 31st, they could vote on their favourites for a People’s Choice Award.
That award, however, is only one distinction that the competitions four finalists are vying for. In addition to being the people’s champion, there is also a grand jury prize worth $5,000 (courtesy of co-sponsor Cineplex) and an all inclusive trip for two to the Sundance Film Festival in January. (Don’t worry, the People’s Choice Winner still gets a cool prize: a trip for two to any Canadian destination.)
The winners for both awards will be announced at a private cocktail that will be livestreamed on the enRoute website starting at 9pm (following a free public screening at the Cineplex Odeon Varsity Cinemas in Toronto at 7:00pm), but instead of landing a jury made up of corporate executives for the main prize, Air Canada has always managed to line up an impressive list of Canadian professionals to make the decision.
This year’s jury includes beloved character actor Enrico Colantoni (Flashpoint, Veronica Mars), Seth Rogen’s frequent comedic partner and Goon co-writer Evan Goldberg, producer Martin Katz, up-and-coming Sarah Prefers to Run director Chloe Robichaud, actress Suzanne Clement, Still Mine director Michael McGowan, veteran actress Wendy Crewson, and Toronto’s own, actress Sarah Gadon.
The finalists that the jury will be voting on can be viewed on the enRoute website, but we were able to catch up with Gadon (while she’s in Ireland currently working on Dracula Untold) to talk to her about her experience on the jury, what she looks for in a short film, and her own feelings on shorts have progressed as an artform.
Dork Shelf: Since you’ve moved between features and shorts and television in your career, do you think sometimes there’s a little bit more of a challenge as an actor trying to get across character and emotion in a short as opposed to a feature? It seems like in a short there can sometimes be a bit more room for imagination than in a feature where there’s always a much larger picture to keep in mind.
Sarah Gadon: I don’t think it matters if you are working in features, TV, or short films, a script that is well written is just a script that is well written. As an actor you can convey an emotion without words in just a moment, so the length of the actual piece is irrelevant. When an idea is fully formed, it exists on the page first. This is why I love shorts, the great ones are clear and their ideas are executed very well, or, they just don’t work. I think that is why when you watch a short film you have a strong reaction of like or dislike, it’s rarely in between.
DS: As an actor on a jury of any kind, what do you look for in a film as a viewer?
SG: At first I am looking for something that speaks to me. When I am a juror I watch material with a hunger. I am looking for something to satisfy me. It’s an active way of looking. I crave something that effects or challenges me.
DS: What about short films excites you the most, in general? What makes them special to you?
SG: Short films can be more current and experimental than feature films, simply because they cost less money to make and take less time to put together. Shorts can also act like a calling card for directors, actors and other technicians. It’s a place for them to show off their skills before making a feature. Shorts circulate festivals and they are often seen by many industry professionals so they help propel careers.
DS: Would you ever consider making a short yourself?
SG: I would love to make a short film. I’ve been in many, some that have even been in the En Route film festival. I think it would be a really fun and challenging exercise.
DS: Do you wish there were more opportunities to see short films outside of festivals, on flights, or sometimes randomly on TV than there is now?
SG: I do! I long for the days when you could go to your local cinema and instead of being bombarded with commercials you were shown a few short films. I think a short film is a better way to warm up to a feature. I really appreciated it when Pixar was showing an animated short before the feature bill. That was a great revival moment.