Of the various shorts programs playing the Kingston Canadian Film Festival, the Northern Exposure collection prides itself on featuring some of the strongest directorial voices in the country. Thankfully, the program lived up to the hype as it featured a great selection of works that displayed distinct visions and, in some cases, plenty of creativity. Here are some brief thoughts on the films that screened.
Foul (Director: Ted Stenson)
In this darkly amusing work that is overflowing with style, a middle-aged man’s inability to control his temper while playing basketball causes his life to spiral out of control. Starting off in a gymnasium, the camera slowly zooms in on some gym bags by a wall as the sounds of men playing ball is heard off-screen. The game is never shown but it is clear an altercation is brewing after one man claims he was fouled, which, apparently, happens often. From there, the film uses a series of zooms and edits to move through the man’s life, showing how his temper led to a violent decision that he would eventually regret…assuming he can get past the belief that he was fouled. The fact that Stenson never shows any of the act, only the fallout, adds to the overall crowd-pleasing humour of the piece.
Halves and Doubles (Director: Adam Mbowe)
This documentary short, an intimate look at sisterly bonds when mental health issues are thrown into the mix, was fascinating to behold. The film is centered around a difficult conversation between Adam and her sister Khadija related to the latter’s suicide attempt years earlier. As the film unfolds, it becomes clear that coming to a mutual understanding will require a lot of work. Though they love each other, there is a lot left unsaid for each of them to unpack, but Mbowe still provides moments when the pair are just being siblings–hanging out or doing each other’s hair. These moments give them and the audience a chance to breathe. Expertly constructed, Halves and Doubles offers plenty of rich food for thought.
Rebecca’s Room (Director: Gillian Mckercher)
After the death of their friend Rebecca, three best friends sneak into her room and attempt to reach her through a seance. What starts off as an act of remembrance turns into something far more eerie as each young woman has a slightly different experience that leads them to wonder if Rebecca, or another entity entirely, might be in the room. Mckercher’s film does a wonderful job of using the elements of a ghost story to present a nuanced look at grief and friendship. Selling both the emotional and supernatural beats, this layered film announces McKercher as a director to keep an eye on.
Nantic (Director: Carol Nguyen)
The recent winner of the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Jay Prize, awarded to an emerging artist, Carol Nguyen has been making waves with each short film she creates. Nantic is further proof of this. The film follows 9-year-old Trang as she spends time at her aunt’s house where her ailing grandma lies on her deathbed. Capturing how the innocence of childhood often insects with the harsh truth of mortality, the film does a wonderful job of conveying the sense of curiosity and confusion Trang attempts to navigate. Never opting for any of the tropes one would expect, Nguyen crafts a film that feels fully lived in and immensely relatable.
Diaspora (Director: Tyler Mckenzie Evans)
The horror genre has always been a great vessel for social commentary in cinema and Diaspora is a perfect example of why. Slowly building its thriller aspects, the film tells the story of a woman who begins to notice that several of the families in her predominantly Black neighbourhood are disappearing. While the short will no doubt draw comparisons to Jordan Peele’s library of work, Tyler Mckenzie Evans’ film feels unique in its approach. Presenting a darkly engaging look at the horrors of gentrification, Diaspora gives new meaning to the phrase “there goes the neighbourhood.”
Municipal Relaxation Module (Director: Matthew Rankin)
In this delightfully humorous work, a local accountant named Ken calls his Manitoba municipal works department with an idea for a bench by the highway. The audience never sees Ken, or the city official he calls, they only hear the series of voicemails he leaves over images of the highway and parks referenced. While the increasingly unhinged voicemails swing from pleasant to enraged, each message manages to be more entertaining than the next. A hilarious and refreshing work, Municipal Relaxation Module is a crowd-pleaser in the best possible way.