Following the kick-off to our coverage of the CFC’s 18th annual Worldwide Short Film Festival on Friday, here’s a look at a handful of programs from this year’s gathering of some of the best short films from around the world that starts tomorrow night. Today, we take a look at several more of the high profile Official Selection Programs, indie comedy, music video, and science fiction showcases, and the highly anticipated all night horror marathon The Night Shift and the always star studded Celebrity Shorts.
For more information, tickets, venues, and a full list of films and programs, please visit www.shorterisbetter.com.
Celebrity Shorts (Thursday, June 4th, 7:45pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema)
Each year the WSFF finds within their thousands of yearly submissions a handful of films that carry a bit of star power; films acting as showcases for high profile talent in a medium that many casual filmgoers wouldn’t normally see such luminaries starring in. This year’s batch tends slightly towards the more dramatic and four of the films have meta leanings, but it’s the opening comedy and closing genre exercise that steal the show here.
In the opening comedy Friend Request Pending, Dame Judi Dench gets to show off her comedic chops in a lighthearted romp about a neurotic older woman infatuated with a man she’s practically cyber stalking with her best friend (Penny Bider). It’s a joy to watch Dench and Bider get in touch with their inner teenagers and the film has a genuine sweetness and warmth that sadly doesn’t return for the remainder of the program. Also, Tom Hiddleston co-stars briefly and factors into a pretty funny gag.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, former Beta Band keyboardist John Maclean makes his directorial debut with the black and white Pitch Black Heist. Two thieves – one a high-strung perfectionist (Michael Fassbender), the other a cool headed motormouth (Liam Cunningham) – must train and work together to pull off a safe heist in a room with light sensitive alarms. Boosted by two great lead performances from actors with such good chemistry that one wishes the film were a feature, Maclean’s film is remarkably slick and stylish before genuinely going in unexpected directions when it comes time for the film’s titular job.
Rita Wilson justly gets a chance to shine in a starring role for once in the emotional and intriguing short The Carrier. Wilson plays the mother of a notorious ladies man and artist (Chad Michael Murray) who finds out after her son has been killed by a speeding car that he had HIV. Taking it upon herself to be the responsible one, she sets out to tell all of her son’s former lovers about his condition (including one played by Anna Paquin). Wilson carries the film on her own, crafting a fully realized character even when the film ultimately ends suddenly at the most intriguing point. As a woman gradually realizing that she never knew her estranged son, she’s constantly at war with her anger towards her son and towards herself for a life spent distanced from someone she really cared for despite a gruff exterior.
In the Twilight Zone-ish short The Voorman Problem, Martin Freeman plays a psychologist asked to a supermax prison to evaluate an inmate who claims to be a God (or demon as he somewhat admits to later) that has been riling up the prisoners and who the warden wants shipped to a hospital so he doesn’t have to deal with him anymore. The sequences between Freeman and Tom Hollander as the inmate showcase some nice acting on both parts, but the film never settles on a satisfying tone and its turn from quirky to distressingly dark feels all too rushed.
The other four films all have a decidedly “inside baseball” feel to them on several levels and with varying degrees of success. David Duchovny dryly and sarcastically narrates the animated tale of a polar bear caught up in Hollywood’s cycle of excess in The Beaufort Diaries, which calls out by name Diablo Cody, David Mamet, Star Jones, and the Church of Scientology. John Malkovich shares his wordless thoughts on what he thinks of television in the heavily stylized, extremely brief and wordless art experiment Butterflies. Rainn Wilson co-directs and plays himself in the somewhat wonky and not all that amusing Blitzen Trapper Massacre where he systematically plots revenge against the members of Portland indie rockers Blitzen Trapper for not letting him play guitar on stage with them. It’s delightfully amateurish and an odd love letter to fandom, but there isn’t much going on there.
Charlotte Rampling, on the other hand, fares extremely well in the Charlie Kaufman-esque short The End, playing herself and one day realizing after watching her 1985 film On ne meurt que 2 fois that she’s being digitally replaced in her older films by a younger actress. Confronting the film’s producers and leading man before showing a somewhat trippy world where anyone can be replaced and erased from memory, the film stands out largely to it’s original premise and low key approach to satire.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Someone to Watch Over Me (Thursday, June 7, 7:00pm, Isabel Bader& Saturday, June 9, 4:30pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema)
A condom wrapped cell phone, a man on fire, butterflies, and missing fingers: Welcome to the films of Someone to Watch Over Me—a program that examines how we watch over each other and the different reasons for having an ever-watchful eye.
The program features several films with focused and carefully crafted narratives, two such films are: The Factory and DeafBlind. Aly Muritiba’s The Factory is about a mother who visits her son in prison and the lengths she will go to hold her family together. The Factory is an especially well made film with a thoughtfully plotted narrative that slowly builds its tension only to release it in a surprisingly touching moment of familial love and commitment.
Ewan Bailey’s DeafBlind (about a young man who secretly lives with a blind and deaf woman) is a particularly creepy film. The unsettling nature of the film is largely due to James Young’s performance as Ben (the young man living with the deaf and blind woman). Young delivers a generally understated and calm performance that makes the actions of his character all the more disturbing.
Bradley Manning Had Secrets and The Meaning of Style offer excellent stylized counter-points to the strong narrative films in the program. Bradley Manning Had Secrets utilizes transcripts of the hacktivist’s online chats and an 8-bit pixel art style to question preconceived notions of gender and identity. The Meaning of Style acts as a beautifully shot visual essay exploring the connections and tensions between style, violence, nature, and media.
The other films in the program also feature strong performances with tight narratives. Joy (about a teenager who does not want to deal with being a new mother) is a poignant film about the fears and joys of motherhood. Elephant Feet is a film about a young man’s first nightshift at a gas station. The night, predictably, becomes increasingly outrageous (culminating in a man catching on fire). My Sweetheart (featuring excellent performances from the cast) is about a young couple trying to have forbidden sex. Overall, these films create a package of predominantly strong story-driven films that showcase the art of crafting complex narratives within a short format. (James Farrington)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Homeland Security (Thursday, June 7, 9:30pm, Isabel Bader & Sunday, June 10, 2:45pm, Isabel Bader)
Themes of lost homes, broken boundaries, and the cycles of destruction and reparation coalesce in a solid program featuring several excellent animated films and one superb radioactive narrative.
The Seamstress, We May Meet, We May Not, and Walkin’ on Snow Grass are all beautiful and distinct animated films. The Seamstress follows a young seamstress as she tries to literally stitch together her “broken” husband and a broken world. The film manages to express through the colourful and naïve gestures of the seamstress and an oily black bird that ruins her attempted fixes, that not all wounds can be easily “stitched” back together.
We May Meet, We May Not uses stark black and white animation to express a mother’s loss as her daughter leaves home. The film’s stark images work well to convey the sense of loss and fear the mother experiences.
And then there is the delightfully peaceful and gorgeously drawn/animated Walkin’ on Snow Grass. The film follows a small dormouse in a winter forest as it attempts to make friends with a white rabbit. Unapologetically hopeful and cute, Walkin’ on Snow Grass is a delight to watch thanks to the films use of colour and superb music.
Wattanapume Laisuwanchai’s Passing Through the Night is an abstract film that is both visually stunning and phonically disturbing. Focusing more on tone than narrative, the film uses a brilliant mixture of photographs, shots of a rundown building, and unnervingly close/vague shots of an unknown figure’s body to create a surprising amount of tension and unease for the viewer.
The best film in this package is Marcus Schwenzel’s Seven Years of Winter, a film about a young boy named Andrej who enters the irradiated zone of Chernobyl looking for identity papers that his “guardian” can sell. An excellent script along with a truly touching performance from Sasha Savenkov, who plays Andrej, creates a deeply moving film about family, belonging, and manipulation.
Other films featured in the program are: Dol (First Birthday) (about a gay couples struggle to be accepted into one lover’s Christian family), Last of The Snow (about a couple who lost a child and the slow process of healing), and Places Other People Have Lived (a stop motion film featuring nostalgic reflections on a family home). Overall, this is an excellent program featuring some truly standout films. (James Farrington)
Scene Not Herd (Friday, June 8th, 9:30pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema)
While some say the art of the music video has been eaten up by the internet and short attention spans, others keep plugging away and making impressive, artistic videos that will in fact leave an impact on us. It’ll fit perfectly in line with the song’s storyline or it’ll be pretty, colourful images. This year, the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival includes a program of 15 music videos from the last year from artists (and their big teams) such as Rhianna, Gotye, M. Ward, Battles, Walk Off the Earth, M.I.A., St. Vincent and more.
Some videos become popular and introduce the artist to the world not just for the fact that they look cool, but the song just happens to be darn catchy. Take Gotye’s Somebody That I Use to Know, which doesn’t do much more than paint on Gotye and featured singer Kimbra and a wall behind them, but the song’s rocketed through the charts since, including a jillion covers, which ultimately ups the video’s counts. Walk Off the Earth even saw their first worldwide attention and signed to a major label for their cover, and they quickly followed up with a video for another cover, Malvina Reynolds’ Little Boxes, which is also featured in this program, showing the band cutely placed throughout a room made of boxes.
Some should be watched carefully purely for the amount of animated art that’s put into it. M. Ward’s The First Time I Went Away is a tale that will tug on your heartstrings even just as a song, but the video’s tug is even stronger as you see a character try to run away at three different points in his life. Fleet Foxes’ eight minute epic of death in a mystical animal kingdom (The Shrine/The Argument) is beautiful artistically, but sometimes the chaotic imagery just seems to distract from the odd music stylings that are included in the song, such as when a two-headed underwater dragon fights itself to the tune of horns going berserk in an otherwise quiet folk song.
Battles’ video for My Machines is hilarious and frightening as a guy can’t stop from tumbling down an escalator, and St. Vincent’s Cruel is played out as a family takes a mean turn towards lead singer Annie Clark as a mother. Grimes’ Claire Boucher is taken out of her seedy comfort zone in Oblivion and thrown into bro-town at sporting events and in shirtless dudes-filled locker rooms, and realizes that she can make the most out of the situation.
M.I.A.’s Bad Girls and Rihanna’s We Found Love are purely those pop videos with a lot of bling. M.I.A. shows off her riches because she’s, well, a bad girl, all the while keeping her worldly in the Middle East, while Rihannaa shows she can or can’t handle drugs. (Jessica Lewis)
Indie Comedy Showcase: For Shorts and Giggles (Thursday, June 7th, 9:30pm, The Garrison)
Comprised entirely of rapid fire sketches from mostly Canadian filmmakers, this year’s Shorts and Giggles feels tired and less inspired than last year’s showcase, with many of the films focusing on repetition instead of actually trying to be funny. Comedy overall shouldn’t be as much of a slog as this program turns out to be, but thankfully The Garrison has booze on hand, which should help greatly.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a few gems in the program. The two best shorts of the package come early on, and both are courtesy of Kathleen Phillips. Linda (about a tiny paper doll fashionista) and Useful Things (a crudely sketched animation about a friendship between a broken astrologically themed coffee mug and a moldy hot dog bun) have a general sweetness to them and actual wit.
Also worth a peek is Buyer’s Market (the tale of an awkward realtor trying to sell a trouble property with a squatter inside), Pixar (a goofy little prank on all those celebrity impersonators that hang out along the Hollywood walk of fame), Visionary Times – Episode 1 (a faux television conspiracy exposé show about the link between kissing and ancient Egypt), and Say Yes to the Pants (a charmingly lo-fi almost grindhouse styled knock off on that other show about saying yes to articles of clothing).
But more often than not, these sketches reek of Mumblecore and people trying just too hard to riff on what Tim and Eric have been doing for year with very little success. SWHD, from Levi MacDougal and Charlyne Yi, is an utter waste of time and an unfunny slog that pads its threadbare premise out with full length credits (which none of the other shots in the package have) and outtakes. It’s more art than comedy, and it’s not even good art. A trio of skits for a fake fast food joint named Burger Johns reek of forced effort. SCR_BLE, where two friends are playing that Words With Friends styled game, but end up talking about other stuff, is a real missed opportunity because it thinks that people saying “What” repeatedly equates original comedy. Old Friends comes close to working with it’s depiction of two people who vaguely remember each other after running into each other on the street, but even then it’s a joke that gets old pretty quick no matter how well the actors sell it. While the pluses here outweigh the minuses, the annoying and forgettable sketches sadly outweigh the winners. With a buzz on, one can probably get some laughs out of this.
Sci-fi: Out There (Saturday, June 9, 9:15pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema).
The sci-fi program features a series of very entertaining films that are not so much related in terms of theme but are related more through their use of outrageous premises (like a paper infection apocalypse and tour bus raiding Vikings).
Opening the program is Joey Ciccoline’s 88:88, a film about a young woman who methodically prepares herself for an unknown threat by bolting doors, nailing down furniture, and restraining herself in her bed. Impressive sound effects assault the viewer as a bright light and a mysterious figure undo each bolt and restraint in the room. 88:88 uses a simple premise to create a surprisingly entertaining film.
Filling the zombie quota of the sci-fi program is Sedare, a film that explores a virus outbreak in India that causes hyper aggression in the infected. Though the infected are not necessarily zombies (there is no indication that the infected actually eat people) the film borrows heavily from recent zombie films. The film’s documentary style and critique of big pharmacy help keep it visually and thematically interesting to watch.
Out of Erasers certainly offers the most unique premise in the program: A paper infection is uncontrollably spreading and erasers—or fire—are needed to stop it. Shot in a kind of film noir style with a healthy doss of campiness, Out of Erasers is funny, clever, and certainly a lot of fun.
Pioneer is a slower paced film about a father who tells his young son an over-the-top bedtime story. Pioneer is a film that rests all of its potential on the actors on screen. Thankfully the film features strong performances from its two leads and the story the father tells is entertaining enough to keep one’s attention till the end credits.
Finally we come to Johnny Barrington’s gimmicky but hilarious film Tumult. At first the film looks like a violent period piece as a group of three warrior Vikings, one of whom promptly looses a limb, march across a barren landscape—then a tour bus emerges from behind a hill. Even though the film follows a predictable path (once the bus arrives) it still offers a number of genuine laughs.
With its strong mix of films with delightfully bizarre premises, this year’s sci-fi program should satisfy fans of the genre while still offering entertaining films to those who do not normally watch science fiction. (James Farrington)
The Night Shift: Dependents (Saturday June 9, 11: 30pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema)
Horror fans always get their dirty desires catered to at The Worldwide Short Film Festival, but this year those nocturnal folks will be spoiled. The fest offers three full programs of dark delights, screening in an all night butt-numbing marathon. The first chapter of the WWSFF late night trilogy takes “Dependents” as the theme, finding spook outs and gags in families and entities that feed off each other in a more literal sense.
Bookending the program are love letters to two familiar brands of monster. Requiem for a C.H.U.D. opens the series by finally answering that age-old question: what would happen if you accidentally chopped up a baby Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller with a tractor. It’s simplistic, but undeniably impressive considering the 48-hour horror film festival credit at the end. The program closer is The Unliving, a Swedish zombie flick that starts with an interesting premise of a world where zombies exist, but the outbreak is contained and then complicates matters when a scientist discovers his zombie mother and brings her home to his wife. Shockingly, it doesn’t work out in a slick, smart, n’ sick mini feature by filmmakers who will hopefully get to make an actual feature soon.
Two entrail-infested French dinner parties pop up next, proving La Grand Bouffe still has fans in the motherland. The mad scientist monster experiment CTIN! mixes slapstick and gross outs with impressive design and effects, but mixed results beyond the technical achievements. Quebec’s Odette fares better with more modest ambitions. One-man filmmaking band Nicolas Bacon’s short transforms from a dysfunctional family meltdown into a bloodbath, laced with a taste of venomous humor. If you secretly find little old ladies terrifying, this bud’s for you.
Former Rue Morgue editor Jovanka Vuckovic offers up her directorial debut in The Captured Bird about an innocent young girl who wanders into crumbling mansion and witnesses the creation of five monsters (dripping with goo, obviously). Vuckovic wears influences raging from Lovecraft to Del Toro on her (tattoo?) sleeve, creating an evocative and unnerving gothic fairy tale. The short feels more like the start of something than an isolated piece and it’s a testament to the talents involved that you’ll want to see more.
Other entries include two more “children in peril” genre outings Ghost (a recently deceased young girl tries to find her way home through gorgeous afterlife design and little else) and Children Of The Dark (Two young boys stumbling home in an apocalyptic landscape that’s effective, but too similar to The Road). Finally, filling things out is I Am Your Grandma (an old viral video that already made the internet rounds and should have stayed there). Overall, it’s a strong start to the all-nighter. (Phil Brown)
The Night Shift: Co-Dependence (Sunday June 10, 1:15am, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema)
The light night shorts romp continues with Co-dependence, a series of flicks routed in unhealthy love and obsession. Just when you thought it was safe to enjoy a relationship with another human being or a soothing illegal substance, this program comes along to set you straight.
Kicking things off is possibly the world’s first crack-based surrealist horror tale Crown. Told silently, the short follows a collection of urban kids who run a crack den for some white business types in a bizarre societal reversal. It’s a fascinatingly oblique short that should please vintage Cronenberg fans with a body horror based narcotic twist. To lighten the mood the cartoon Moxie comes next, telling the life story of a teddy bear. Of course, this is technically a horror program so Stephen Irwin’s short is about the last week in a perverted teddy’s life, involving aggressive masturbation, violence and a number of other depraved activities. A sickly hilarious and incredibly well animated piece that needs to be seen to be believed.
Continuing the disturbed adult animation trend is the creepy Mexican short Black Doll. Combining stop motion animation and live action, it’s easily the most technically accomplished short of this section of the night and an aesthetically stunning watch. Sure, it might not make much sense, but two hours into a light night freak out program, that doesn’t really matter and it’s impossible not to be impressed by the visuals on display. That short n’ sweet highlight is followed up by the 40 minute Danish horror/romance Upstairs about a recently single guy thrilled to be out of a relationship, but not so pleased to be alone. Though well paced overall, it takes a while to get going and the “bad relationship as a nightmare” payoff isn’t quite worth all the lonely sadsack build up.
Rounding things out are In A Musty, Misty Thicket (a deeply twisted Finnish short about an obese woman, her middle-aged lady slave, and a deadly insect. Definitely unlike anything you’ve seen before, but that might be a good thing.), The Myth Of Robo Wonder Kid (a bizarre music video that tries to find a sweet spot between anime and Adult Swim humor, but doesn’t quite have enough laughs despite some appropriately trippy visuals), and Believe The Dance (an absurdist piece about a Lord Of The Dance with magical powers who forces people medial jobs to dance against their will. It’s not nearly as funny as it thinks it is and an odd choice for The Night Shift). Though there are some worthy entries in this program, it definitely doesn’t have the same level of consistency as Dependents, but don’t worry late night movie fanatics, the next chapter in this short film all-nighter gets things back on track. (Phil Brown)
The Night Shift: Independence (Sunday June 10, 3:00am, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema)
Just when you’re ready to pass out in your seat comes the final round of The Night Shift. There will be no dependency issues this time. In fact, don’t expect to have much of an idea of what’s happening as the program is almost exclusively dedicated to surreal, graphic, and disturbing animation. Given that it all starts around 3 am, you might wonder if you’ve drifted off into a nightmare and that’s probably intentional.
Adjust Tracking opens this round with a blood soaked fantasy for horror fans who still remember the days of grungy parent-bating VHS horror. It’s pretty basic wish-fulfillment about a video nasty loving kid who gets revenge on his father with a magic a tape, but it’s a funny gag surrounded by a loving attention to detail for that wonky analogue technology. Next up is Rabbid, an unforgettably wacko short starring bunnies, CGI, puppets, and the hand of god that is practically made to be seen after hours of late night movie watching, if only to keep you awake.
Things get weirder in Bobby Yeah an almost inexplicable stop motion short about a demonic looking puppet who pisses off some projectile vomiting tongues and flies on a severed head to visit a cherub with a monster baby in it’s chest. Yeah, I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean either, but it’s a ludicrously entertain trip into the mind of some animators who probably need a lot of therapy. Two more intriguing animated shorts follow in Body Memory (a film from the perspective of a tree that’s far better and more nightmarish than it sounds) and Decoration (A vase possesses a girl and puts on a puppet show. Your guess is as good as mine.).
Finally, there’s only one way to cap off a series of dark n’ twisted animated shorts and that’s with the latest work by the incomparable Brother’s Quay, boasting a title that takes longer to say than watching the film: Through The Weeping Glass: On The Consolations Of Life Everlasting (Limbos & Afterbreezes in the Mutter Museum). The twin filmmakers’ latest effort is dedicated to the collection gruesome and gorgeous medical oddities at the titular medical museum. Though the Quays favor a hypnotic montage of images, objects, and archival footage of their increasingly grotesque subjects over their typical puppetry, the short is the just as eerily enthralling as expected. A perfect finale for a solid triple bill of late night short programs. Would it be a better night if some of the weaker shorts were cut and The Night Shift cut down to a double bill? Sure, but you’ve got to admire the ambition as well as the viewers who manage to survive the 260 minutes of blood, guts, perversion, and nightmares. (Phil Brown)