Playing on the fact that the Winter Solstice (which is about to happen on Sunday) is the shortest day of the year, The Shortest Day is a free film festival taking place this weekend that celebrates short films (cute and appropriate, right?). The festival originally started in France, but has now spread to about 50 different countries; here in Canada, our version celebrates Canadian short filmmakers and is put on by the National Film Board of Canada, SODEC, and Telefilm.In Toronto, the three programs — Kids, Family, and Comedy — will be screening at the Carlton Cinema all week (again, it’s completely free).
The Kids program is less than an hour long and is advertised as being for children 8 years old and under. There was a bit of nostalgia for me watching it, since I remember watching NFB short films between programs on YTV while I was growing up (did anybody else wait and hope for their favourite animated shorts to come on before it was time for Reboot?). There are a couple classics scattered in there, like The Cat Came Back and The Dingles, but I was pleased to see that most of the program consisted of newer films. My biggest criticism, though, is that there is no thematic through-line to these shorts. It’s just a succession of quick, random films — some of which make more sense than others. To be honest, I probably would’ve been confused by half of these films as a kid, but one could argue that it’s a chance to expose children to a form of art they don’t get to see every day, as well as give them a sense of Canadian culture. I mean, it’s not every day you get to watch a stop-animation Inuit story like The Amautalik.
The Family program runs about an hour and a half, and is for those who are “7 to 77 years old” (sorry all you 78-year-olds! You’re out of luck!). This was actually my favourite of the three programs, with some cheeky humour (Isabelle au bois dormant/Sleeping Betty, The Bear Facts), some touching personal stories (Josef et Aimée, The Danish Poet, The Magic Ferret), and even the most famous Canadian short film there is (The Hockey Sweater), thrown in for good measure. My biggest caution here is, though, that a few of the films are in French with English subtitles, so if you choose to bring someone who’s closer to the 7-year-old age of the spectrum and isn’t fluent in French, they might not be able to read the subtitles as quickly as they go by (and these films are about 10 minutes each, so there’s the possibility of squirminess happening).
Finally, the Comedy program is for those 13 years old and up, and is about an hour and forty minutes. Now, please understand, I’m that person that my friends like to bring along whenever they go to see a funny movie because I LOVE to laugh and I laugh VERY easily. It has actually been suggested that I should find a way to monetize this service. With that in mind, you should know that I only found the films in this program mildly amusing (if not downright offensive — we’ll get to that). Generally, they were just wacky, creative ideas that felt like they were trying too hard. And when it comes to a film like Infanticide!, which I get is trying to do a South Park sort of thing and use a dark joke to make a point about society, I just ended up feeling pretty uncomfortable. And don’t even get me started on Petit frère, in which a Big Brother is spending his last day before leaving for Russia with his Little Brother — and not only starts out by yelling “cunt” until everyone on the street is offended, but also ends up sexually assaulting a woman in the park and condoning the theft of someone’s wallet just because he was a douchebag. All because the Little Brother felt bad about himself and needed someone to not rag on him for once. Gross.
Overall, though, you can’t go wrong with free films, and this is a good chance to see what Canadian filmmakers might be up-and-coming. If you’ve got time this next week, I’d recommend at least checking out the Family program.