Now entering it’s 18th year as one of the world’s premiere festivals for short filmmaking the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival kicks off this coming Tuesday, June 5th (but technically it really starts this Sunday afternoon) and runs until Sunday June 10th, showcasing 244 short films from 35 countries, 207 of which are premiers making their world, Canadian, North American, or Toronto premieres.
The shorts packages always come packed with some unexpected star power both in front of and behind the camera for adventurous viewers willing to sit through a bunch of films in a single sitting rather than just one. Today we kick off our coverage with looks at the opening gala program, the always prestigious CFC Short Films program, several of the Official Selections programs, two batches of family oriented shorts, some comedy, and an outdoor Christmas party that all add up to one of the most eclectic festivals in the city.
Come back on Monday for reviews and previews of even more programs. For tickets, venues, films, and more information, visit www.shorterisbetter.com .
Opening Gala: Award Winners From Around the World (Tuesday, June 5th, 7:00pm, Bloor & Sunday, June 10th, 9:30pm, Bloor)
Themes of love and loss seem quite abundant through this year’s official opening program selections comprised of a batch of films that have been making some noise in the short film world quite recently.
Opening the batch is Juan Pablo Zaramella’s stunning live action/stop motion animated hybrid Luminaris that will appeal to those who found themselves transfixed last year by Hugo and The Artist. Taking the approach of a modernized nickelodeon production, this surreal tale of a light bulb assembly worker uses time lapse photography to create a technically marvellous love letter to early cinema.
Love of a different kind of cinema closes the package in the bittersweet 60s sci-fi homage, The Elaborate End of Robert Ebb, where a film set security guard gets stuck in a cheesy rubber swamp monster suit and no one wants to help him get out of it.
Then there’s the matter of the adorably cheesy German short Armadingen, about a cantankerous old country man drawn closer in love to his wife by the impending apocalypse. This one gets a lot of mileage out of two wonderful lead performances and an incredibly clever twist that can be gleaned somewhat from the title.
Also in the opening package is Dripped (an animation about a NYC art thief who can live vicariously through the paintings he steals by eating them), Grandmothers (another film utilizing recreations and stop motion animation hand in hand as survivors of Argentina’s military rule in the 60s and 70s express their loss), The Fisherman (where a Mexican angler literally fishes for memories with hopes of resurrecting his lost love of the Day of the Dead), and a short from last year’s TIFF, Trotteur (a stunningly shot film about a young man racing away from his past and against a giant locomotive). These films all fit well together, making for a great opening package.
Official Selection: Love Hurts (Wednesday, June 6th, 4:00pm, Isabel Bader Theatre & Friday, June 8th, 9:15pm, Isabel Bader Theatre)
The program Love Hurts features films that explore the pains of love—as well as just plain physical pain. Thankfully, the films in this program are a delight to watch thanks to some carefully composed cinematography and several excellent performances.
Perhaps the most thoughtfully crafted film in the program is Amanda Dawn Christie’s Off Route 2. The film is a dismal and deliberate look at a car accident in the middle of nowhere on a snow covered forest road—where wolves track a deer and a woman dangles upside down in the driver seat of an overturned car. The film manages to perfectly convey a sense of isolation and desolation by juxtaposing images of the wrecked car—and the woman inside—with images of the pristine woodland surroundings. Off Route 2 also has a bit of a surprising ending that brings to focus the filmmaking process.
Under offers viewers the best performance in this program from lead actress Zoe Winters. As a couple becomes trapped under snow from an avalanche it is Winters’ performance that successfully creates the tension and fear the film conveys to the audience.
Another film with carefully crafted cinematography is Remember Me My Ghost. Black and white images of forgotten toys, photographs, and run-down apartment buildings fill the screen as a mother—through a voice-over—tells the viewer of her abusive relationship with her children’s father. The images of rubble and rundown apartments wonderfully compliment the mother’s story of love and pain.
The program also features two surprisingly funny films: Parachute is a delightfully quirky and playful film about the most amazing and expensive parachute helmets and the couple that debates paying the money to wear them. The Master Cleanse also boasts big laughs as a couple becomes a little too honest as they “cleanse” both their bodies and their relationship.
Also in the program is Tuesday (a surprisingly memorable film that covers the reactions of a group of housemates as they learn that a gunman has began shooting people at their University) and Life and Stuff (a film that explores a man’s life through a funny combination of stop-motion animation and voice-over narration). The films in this program deliver some laugh out loud moments and gut tightening scenes, as the joys and pains of love play themselves out on screen. (James Farrington)
CFC Short Dramatic Films (Sunday, June 10th, 12:30pm, Isabel Bader)
One of the biggest highlights of the WSFF every year is the annual showcase of filmmakers currently in residence at the CFC. Comprised of four shorts, the program is meant to show the viewing public the large amount of hard work that CFC alums put in every year.
While this year’s selection is a bit of a comedown from last year’s stellar package, there are still two thoroughly excellent films screening. Director Lisa Jackson’s Parkdale kicks the program off quite nicely with a subtle tale of two young sisters (beautifully portrayed by Sara Brynn Foster and Cassidi Hoag) as they escape from a potentially bad situation that could split them up and force them back into foster care.
Also a big winner would be the other film focusing on a different kind of child in Jordan Canning’s Oliver Bump’s Birthday, a bittersweet Wes Anderson-esque tale of a young genius approaching his 13th birthday during which every one of his other siblings passed away at exactly 9pm. With great attention to detail and a sly wit, the film plays quite nicely as a young child’s dream of escaping death.
The closing film, Park Bench’s The Secret of the Goat isn’t bad, by any stretch, but it feels more like a cutsey fairy tale riff on CFC alum Vincenzo Natali’s Splice, as a man and a woman straight out of Grimm’s find that a magical goat has come between them emotionally and sexually. It’s purposefully silly and pointed, but with a deeper meaning that gets lost somewhat in the medium.
That one still fares better than the unremittingly bleak Silent Cargo from director Adam Azimov. This tale of several illegal immigrants who find themselves trapped in a ship’s cargo hold for weeks on end is certainly commendable in just how far it’s willing to go to depict abject misery, but despite some surface gloss about how the promise of a better life is sometimes at the whim of other careless people, there’s noting here beyond beating the audience into submission. There’s no allegory here, and it doesn’t seem like any was intended, but the sheer dourness of it all belies a lack of depth.
Official Selection: Who’s Your Dada? (Wednesday, June 6th, 1:30pm, Isabel Bader & Saturday, June 9th, 7:45pm, Isabel Bade)
For anyone who enjoy surrealisms, art films, or shorts that just don’t make much sense comes Who’s Your Dada?. This program promises of the strangest, most unpredictable, and delightfully confusing shorts at the fest. Drug use is not a requirement for the screening, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Opener The Big Tree sets the tone with an oddball Canadian short about a lumberjack trying to cut down Vancouver’s tallest tree using a stilts organ and ends up falling onto a girl with a key in her mouth. It’s best not to ask why that happened and simply enjoy the exquisitely reconstructed old timey matinee serial feel and wacko humor. If you ever wondered what would happen if Guy Maddin directed a Kids In The Hall sketch, here’s your answer.
Eccentric documentarian Errol Morris pops up with The Umbrella Man, an interview with JFK assassination scholar Tink Thompson about the man holding an umbrella on a sunny Dallas day in the Zapruder film and happened to stand right where the shots were fired. Some claim he was involved in the conspiracy, but apparently it was a painfully obscure protest. A funny, insightful, and deeply odd (hence the programming) short about Morris’ favorite subject: the unfailingly bizarre nature of truth. Now if only this guy would make a full JFK movie.
From The NFB comes Edmond Was a Donkey a gorgeously animated CGI story of an office drone who everyone considered an ass, so he decided to embrace it and turn himself into one, eventually spending a night in the zoo with a donkey. That decision leads to a trip to the mental asylum in this fascinating, funny, and tragic short about isolation and the joyous escape of insanity. An inexplicably moving film for the delusional loner in us all.
Also screening are Men On Earth (detailing the secret lives of construction workers, filled with gentle humor, greased beer bellies, death, and song…obviously), Woodcarver (A dubstep mashup of surveillance footage and audio police reports that hopefully the filmmakers at least enjoyed), Nothing Else (An empty bore about a sadsack who can’t dream), Kali The Little Vampire (A beautifully hand-drawn animation narrated by Christopher Plummer about a lonely little vampire trying to make friends. A sweet n’ sombre tale that finally addresses vampire bigotry), and The Twin (a 30-minute Swedish film about an architect who coughs up a tiny twin that is somehow even stranger and more entertaining than it sounds). Overall, a fantastic line up for anyone who like to dip their toes into the surreal and experience the elation of arty confusion. (Phil Brown)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: All Tomorrow’s Parties (Thursday, June 7th, 4:30pm, Isabel Bader & Sunday, June 10th, 7:45pm, Isabel Bader)
Featuring a collection of films about partygoers and party seekers, the films in All Tomorrow’s Parties may restore a viewer’s faith in the party life-style or may make one question the need to take that one last drink.
Joseph Pierce’s The Pub is certainly the most visually stunning film of the program. The film uses sketches and drawings overtop live-action black and white film to reveal how a bar tender views her customers and herself. Watching a man, trying to display his bravado by claiming he was once a gangster, slowly transform into a screaming gorilla is just one of the treats of The Pub.
Martin Tronquart’s Four Doves on the Aerial at first seems like a rather simple sex comedy about a group of girlfriends who call for some male prostitutes for the night. Showing the distinct and often funny ways each woman uniquely and awkwardly “handles” her prostitute gives this film some life but it is the end the film that dramatically alters the tone. The end transforms the film from a generic sex comedy into a touching, if slightly clichéd, example of friends going out of there way to help one of their friends feel alive—as opposed to simply being alive.
One particularly funny film in the program is What if Famous People Weren’t Famous: Prince. The film is based around the gimmick of making the singer formerly known as Prince an air conditioner repairman. The gimmick largely pays off with some genuine laughs but beyond its premise the film has little to offer.
Other films being shown are They Stay for Dinner (a film that tries to offer a complex representation of a hyperactive artist’s fear of having children). Good Night (a film that chronicles the attempt of two fourteen year old girls to appear older and sexier than what they actually are) offers strong performances but the clichéd plot takes away much of this films potential. The documentary Eighty Eight is the one truly positive and uplifting film in the group as it shows how an 88 year-old man tries to live a youthful life. This program is a bit hit or miss but the impressive visual quality of The Pub and generally excellent performances all around help make this an entertaining program to watch. (James Farrington)
Shorts for Shorties (Saturday, June 9, 10 AM, CN Tower)
With themes of growing up, going on adventures and learning from bumps and bruises along the way, this package of films for kids takes us up into space and under the sea. The first handful of films are very short and sweet, from the adorable mishap-filled chase of The Little Bird and the Leaf, the joyful lesson of Dreampacker, and Ernesto‘s energetic jazz music.
Standing out from the group are Yves Geleyn’s Colosse – A Wood Tale, which is a brilliant little story about a robot and a woodpecker told with outstanding puppetry and CGI; and Anne Kristin Berge’s pl.ink!, a swirling trip through art, drawings, monsters and imagination set to Chopin.
The final entry, The Itch of the Golden Nit, honestly feels like it should just be shown on its own, as it’s longer than the other nine shorts put together. It’s a fantastic superhero story facilitated by Aardman Animation Studios (the folks who brought us Wallace and Gromit and Pirates! Band of Misfits) and made by several hundred British schoolchildren through the Tate Movie Project. The melding together of all the drawings and voices is done with finesse and a ton of charm, and Catherine Tate shines as the voice of the villainous Stella. It’s a mishmash of everything, at times veering off as kids’ imaginations do, but gently reined in by the grownups to a tight 32 minutes.
Filling out the bunch are Moving Forward (about facing fears), Brad & Gary (the moral of the story is don’t stick your fingers in your orifices, kids), The Lost Years (a beautiful stop-motion story about a baby sea turtle), and Gadget Boy (fix-it mishaps). They’ll invite some giggles, but are nowhere near as fun or insightful as the rest of the group. (Jenna Hossack)
International Comedy: Laughter Without Borders (Wednesday, June 6th, 10:00pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema & Saturday, June 9th, 6:00pm, CN Tower)
Generally speaking, comedy tends to be an ideal genre for short films. Get in and out fast with a few laughs and you’ll have a happy audience. Laughter Without Borders has more films than most WSFF programs because the best comedy shorts get their dirty business done quick. Don’t worry about quantity outweighing quality in this one though…well, maybe a couple times.
First up is Awkward Goodnight a simple n’ sweet date finale between a happy lad and a lady not interested in a lip-smack. That’s really it, but there’s some enjoyable physical business between the two actors. The Aussie short Bear continues the focus on guys who just don’t get the ladies with a boyfriend who pretends he doesn’t remember his lovely gal’s birthday only to plan a costumed surprise. Unfortunately he’s not very good at surprises, leading to a hilariously dark punchline. Another one-gag film, but it’s a great one.
Next up is the highlight of the program, the fantastically titled 92 Skybox Alonzo Mourning Rookie Card about two hyper-competitive brothers who go home for their father’s funeral and spend most of the time trying to prove who is superior in every conceivable task, while trying to find the titular trading card. A hysterical portrait of dumb dude-itude with machine gun dialogue and two lead performances that are even better than the title. The French comedy Stronger follows, about two former friends arguing while posing nude for a still life drawing class and it’s almost funny enough to justify all the gratuitous shots of gangly hairy flesh…almost.
Following those bickering guy shorts, the UK takes over for three rounds. The Heist is an absolutely fantastic Irish crime/comedy about a trio of wannabe bank robbers unable to finalize their plans while parked out front. It’s well-worn territory, but the performances are so hilarious and one particular Mr. T reference is so perfect that it still qualifies as one of the best of the program. Bertie Crisp combines trailer park sleaze with cuddly animals that is decent as a piece of handrawn animation, but not so much as a comedy. Then the bitter photographer in School Portrait once again proves that adults irrationally yelling at children is always funny, even if that’s all a filmmaker attempts.
Finally, a handful of Second City produced shorts appear throughout and they are all pretty terrible (particularly Babies And Tiaras, which blatantly knocks off an old Mr. Show sketch). Still, the overall program itself has about the same hit-to-miss ratio as an average episode of SNL and much like that show, it’s worth suffering through dreck for the highlights. Thankfully, there are far more laughs than groans and that’s really all you could ask for. (Phil Brown)
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Iron Ladies (Wednesday, June 6th, 6:15pm, Isabel Bader & Saturday, June 9th, 3:00pm, Isabel Bader)
Iron Ladies, featuring an impressive variety of film styles (ranging from documentary to stop-motion embroidery), is a program featuring genuinely unique films with complex themes dealing with gender difference, sexual discovery, and material wastefulness.
First up is Emily Pickering’s What a Young Girl Should Not Know, which is perhaps the most unique film in the program. The film uses still photographs, live-action film, text, voice-over, and stop-motion embroidery to deftly and thoughtfully explore the usually clichéd distinctions between innocence and experience. The film’s unique structure offers viewers a visually complex take on themes of growing up.
Meghna Gupta’s documentary Unravel is certainly the standout film of this program offering a look at the colours and lives of the women in India who turn discarded clothing from the West into yarn for blankets. Featuring humbling reflections on western cultures wastefulness—and huge waists—Unravel is a must see film, even if to simply experience—in a small way—the lives of the women who unravel what we wear.
The most thematically complex film in the program is Snow Canon (about the brief and complicated relationship between a teen girl and her older female babysitter). The film features an especially intricate structure—coupled with nuanced performances—that explores the ambiguities of relationships and sexuality. Filled with moments that are at times both uncomfortable and touching to watch, Snow Canon is one of this programs best entries.
The rest of the films in the program are well-crafted films that are both visually and thematically intriguing to watch: Exode (a film about a dancer dealing with a relationship obsession) examines how memories can sometimes invade present moments. Little Plastic Figure is a fun and entertaining stop-motion film about the friendship between a young woman and her plastic doll. Girl (a film about an “older” woman who joins a party of younger, near-twenty year-old, boys) features excellent performances from the cast that help create the awkward tension between immature understandings of sexuality and a desire for a more mature relationship. Finally, Big Mouth (about a young girl who gets in trouble thanks to her big mouth) is an animated nursery rhyme extolling the virtues of being a unique human being. With such a variety of forms, styles, narrative structures, and complex themes this is an extremely strong program featuring several standout films. (James Farrington)
Shorts for Shorties – Flic-Nic (Sunday, June 3rd, 12:00pm, Dufferin Grove Park)
While the actual festival kicks off on Tuesday the 5th, there are two pre-festival outdoor programs for adults and kids alike. Both on Sunday, June 3rd, the first one’s for the kids, where parents and their little ones can head on over to Dufferin Grove Park to plop down on a blanket and watch some shorts specifically for the little ones.
Highlights of this program include the ridiculously catchy music video Animal Beatbox, which can easily put Afro Circus to shame, the adorable Stella and Sam: Night Fairies about a brother and sister having a grand old time camping in their backyard, and the intriguingly animated Acorn Boy, about an errant acorn that’s come to life and the forest animals and insects that help him on his way.
The main attraction here, however, has to be the inclusion of the sequel to last year’s WSFF Audience Award winner and Oscar nominee, The Gruffalo. The stellar voice cast of British actors (including Helena Bonham Carter, Rob Brydon, John Hurt, and Thom Wilkinson) reunite for The Gruffalo’s Child, a tale of how the mythical beast’s daughter gets into trouble while out searching for The Big Bad Mouse. The main characters from the last time out are reduced more to cameos here, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less charming or gorgeous to look it.
Christmas in June (Sunday, June 3rd, 9:00pm, Dufferin Grove Park)
The other early outdoor program takes place on Sunday night as the CFC will transform Dufferin Grove Park into a winter wonderland, featuring six holiday themed shorts. Word on the street says Santa’s elves will be on hand to initiate a dance party and to hand out gifts to lucky attendees. It’s a really sweet notion, and several of the films nicely reflect the spirit of the season, but oddly enough the serious shorts are far more successful than the lighthearted and comedic ones.
Canadian directors Dane Clark and Linsey Stewart and actors Rachel Wilson and Aaron Poole do incredibly emotional and wrenching work in the heartfelt tearjerker Margo Lily, about a couple determined to plant a tree in the dead of winter following the loss of their child. The heartwarming Toot Toot from Australia seems like a pretty standard, but amusing story about a child sneaking downstairs to open his gifts early, but the film takes an unexpected, but awesome twist that makes it one of the program’s best. Also screening here is the previously screened at Sundance Ebony Society from New Zealand, an effective riff on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that finds two young thieves looking after a pair of abandoned children after breaking into a house on Christmas Eve.