Nightingales In December - WSFF - Featured

WSFF: The Final Weekend

The final weekend of this year’s 18th annual CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival comes stacked with some of the week’s best programs getting repeat showings, plenty of debuts yet to come, and plenty more fun. Jenna Hossack and Brandon Bastaldo take a look at their picks in several programs heading into the end of this year’s festival.

For more information, a full schedule and list of films, and tickets, please visit www.shorterisbetter.com.

Official Selection: War, What is it Good For? (Saturday, June 9th, 7:00, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema)

Eight films depict and analyse war and conflict from a variety of angles in this thoughtful but ultimately depressing package. Few of the entries offer much in the way of hope or a way out, though the filmmaking is generally stunning.

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Animal lovers in particular should be fair warned – The Last Bus and Creature use animals as the lens through which war is viewed. In the former, a group of forest creatures attempt to flee hunting season in a haunting tale that frames “us” and “them” as “human” and “animal.” The latter shows a cat navigating a postapocalyptic landscape, finding few living companions and hope only in a luminous pool of water. It’s very sad, but touching to watch how expressive a cat can be.

A disturbing incident with a dog also colours Bellum, a Danish film showing a soldier’s last 24 hours at home before he deploys to Afghanistan. The soldier, his sister and his best friend engage in a debauched night of alcohol, drugs and revelry that begs the question: this is who we’re sending to save the world?

Rounding out the animal theme is Nightingales in December, a stunning film of painted images that blurs birds and people, work and war, a journey and detention. It’s a terrifying and confusing entry, and one of my favourites.

Also featured are the heartbreaking Last Christmas, about a boy protecting his grandmother from the destruction outside her home; the doc Goldilocks Nation, analysing the West’s approach to war and conquest through the fairytale; the too-arty-for-its-own-good We’ll Become Oil; and the incongruously placed but lovely Waking, which doesn’t seem to have much to do with war but is excellent anyway. (Jenna Hossack)

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Official Selection: X-Ray Spex (Friday, June 8th, 6:45pm Isabel Bader Theatre & Sunday, June 10th, 4:45pm Bloor Hot Docs Cinema)

The CFC Official Selection: X-Ray Spex series promises a number of short films that will force you do don X-Ray glasses, in order to see the ‘truth that lies beneath’. Weaving impressively intricate narratives dealing with sex, magic mushrooms, and roofing store robberies the directors of this series of shorts do a commendable job at making even the complex layers that compose our instincts look quite corky.

In Battle of the Jazz Guitarist we watch director Mark Colombus’ free spirited father Maxwell Colombus pluck away at his electric guitar. Entirely set to a soundtrack of Maxwell’s playful strumming, Mark’s hilarious closed caption narration is the most ingenious and entertaining story telling method of any short in this series. The Hounds follows three young friends on route to a party which they may have not really been invited to, but once they bargain their way in its clear this is the place to be.  In a pool of what seems to be hundreds of cute, young Parisian women, The Hounds sets up a light hearted feel that drastically spirals out of control once some uninvited guests prove the virulence of violence.

A heist short, love triangle, comedy piece- Sunday Robbers is many things and for this it is undeniably charming. As three friends attempt to knock over the biggest roofing company in their quaint suburb, director Alexandre Leblanc enwraps this dramedy in many enjoyable layers to form what is probably the closest thing to a Quebecoise Bottle Rocket. When an Esquire writer visits an elderly man’s retirement home to buy magic mushrooms for a journalistic experiment of sorts, even in its short running time What It’s Like certainly gives Weeds a run for its money. Both of the short’s actors (David Bewley and Dirk Van Allen) give convincing and funny performances, and the ‘old man knowledge’ that Allen drops is priceless- I can already see Robert Downey Jr. and Steve Martin in a full length feature remake of this one.

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With a title like Sex of Others, it’s really no surprise that this short is really all about, well, the sex that other people are having. Back in Montreal for the weekend, Etienne hooks up with an ex-girlfriend and with some steamy, candid sex scenes Sex of Others becomes an interesting fore about the thin line that separates sexual excitement from embarrassment. (Brandon Bastaldo)

 

Official Selection: Stranger in a Strange Land (Friday, June 8th, 4:15 PM, and Saturday, June 9th, 10:15 PM, Isabel Bader Theatre)

Everyone is looking for something in this set of films about finding yourself out of your element and trying to belong. I found half of it to be really interesting and engaging, and the other half to be unremarkable.

The opening film is Reinaldo Arenas, an experimental documentary that seems like a sad immigrant’s fish-out-of-water tale, but turns out to be about something else entirely… maybe. Very clever and thoughful.

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Reinis Petersons’ Ursus is a sweet story about a circus bear trying to go back to the forest. It’s beautifully animated, asking if it’s possible to go home again, and if home is even still home; either way it’s okay.

Odysseus’ Gambit is a lovely portrait of Saravuth Inn, a homeless Cambodian immigrant who plays chess in Union Square. The chess games are both literal and metaphorical stories of his life, and Inn’s sharp mind and observations teach us a lot.

The rest of the films are I am John Wayne (a story of grief, loss, change, and a horse that is very well done); The Crossing of the Living Room (a woman struggling to adjust to home after getting out of rehab); The Changeling (an animated medieval story about a baby swapped for a troll); and finally, The Immigrant (about a Canadian comedian trying to make it in the US again, which feels like it was inserted to make Can-con requirements). (Jenna Hossack)

 

Country Spotlight: Switzerland- Near (Sunday, June 10th, 5:30pm Isabel Bader Theatre)

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Dramatic accounts of the immigrant experience, subway beatings, and miniatures made out of chocolate seem to dominate the minds of the filmmakers whose shorts comprise the WWSFF’s Country Spotlight: Switzerland- Near series.

Just one part of the festival’s exclusive coverage of Swiss shorts, this segments playful surrealist attitude shows that even the most severe situations can be kind of funny. Animators Nil Hedinger and Martin Waespe wonderfully imagine an immigrant story in Bon Voyage. Using simplistic stick figures, we’re taken alongside the wild and tiring ride that an immigrant embarks upon to get to Europe. When Bon Voyage abruptly switches back to live action, the cushion of comedy is quickly removed only to bring us back to a very sobering reality. It’s Me. Helmut begins as old Helmut celebrates his 60th birthday in a bland room, and indeed this is the way director Nicolas Steiner wants it. Through truly commendable set design, It’s Me. Helmut becomes an increasingly momentous and amusingly clever dream sequence that doesn’t cease to impress. As we watch an undercover department store security guard admire a sales girl through a security camera, Reto Caffi makes it clear that On the Line is all about who is watching who. After doing nothing to stop a conflict that results in a brutal beating, what begins as a comically fortunate turn of events for the guard slowly denigrates into a deep guilt which shows the consequence of selfish inaction.

Shot completely in first person P.O.V., Objection VI easily stands as one of the most interesting takes of the immigrant experience that this series has to offer. Through Nigerian refugee Alex’s view, Rolando Colla recounts the tragic and unnecessary real life events that caused a Nigerian asylum-seeker to die from Switzerland’s rough ‘level 4’ deportation tactics in 2010. Showing rather than telling for its entire 18 minute run time, Objection VI makes it possible, yet impossible to ignore, the hardships of the refugee experience. In Ash Brothers we see two brothers reunite once their father passes away. On a mission to dispose of his ashes at the place specified in his will, the small ceramic jar of dust takes these men on a funny yet life altering journey. Christina Benz’ Station is probably the most appetizing fun you’ll experience during this short film series. Simply following a miniature train set around a chocolate crafted landscape, Station reminds us of the quaintest joys of childhood: chocolate and toys. (Brandon Bastaldo

 

Country Spotlight: Switzerland- Far (Saturday, June 9th, 12:00pm Bloor Hot Docs Cinema)

In great contrast to its counterpart, the Near series, the WWSFF’s Country Spotlight: Switzerland- Far gives us an enjoyably diverse examination of culture in Switzerland. However different, the directors of these shorts still touch on issues with the immigrant experience, and it’s possible to discern from these films that the most defining characteristic of this country may just be their delightful sense of humour.

In Good Bye Mandima , director Robert-Jan Lancombe uses still images to narrate his family’s migration from Mandima to Europe in the mid 1990’s. Through sometimes eerie still photos and personal accounts of feelings and thoughts at the time, Lancombe gives us an undeniably unique and intimate account of the jolt of culture shock. Animated short Romance is easily one of the best whirlwind-romantic films I’ve ever seen, and that’s because its point of view is constantly in rotation. Surreal and dreamlike, Romance’s near constant shifting perspective allows it to maintain a certain flow, making it definitely the short you should be watching while on shrooms. With a run time of 15 minutes, Snowing in Marrakech is as brief yet sweet.  A Moroccan immigrant does what he can to fulfil his elderly father’s dreams of skiing in Switzerland, and in the process learns that with and some hard work nearly anything is possible. Las Pelotas follows two football obsessed fathers who are fixated on making their sons the next big football superstars. When they learn that they each have a little bit of what’s needed to be the best, we’re given an odd but funny firsthand look at how insemination was carried out in the old days.

After watching Yuri Lennon’s Landing On Alpha 46, I’m convinced that director Anthony Vouaradoux must be a rabid Science Fiction film fan. Using the reflections on astronaut Yuri’s helmet, we’re given stunning visuals that grant us clever access to three perspectives at once, and the mind bending conclusion to this short is well crafted. Even with its meagre running time, this is the type of filmmaking that full length feature filmmakers should be aspiring to achieve. (Brandon Bastaldo)

 

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