Friday, June 1, 2012

WSFF 2012: Preview

Previews of screenings from the 2012 CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival (WSFF), Toronto, Canada.

In the realm of pop music, the argument has raged for decades as to whether singles or albums are the fundamental units of the art form. Singles are quick, concise and can ride one thing — a riff, a chorus, a rhythm — to a pinnacle of zen perfection. An album, however, can unpack ideas, allow themes to develop, and explore more complicated terrain.

In film, the corresponding battle has been long won, and very few would think to argue the merits of shorts versus features in the same way. The dominant mode for "proper film" is the feature, and short subjects are now the domain of youtube cat videos and, once a year, that category in the Oscar pool that you mostly just pick at random.

Which is a shame, as there are way, way too many movies that ride one thing — a concept, a joke, a special effect — way past the point of diminishing returns. And so, at the start of every summer, the Worldwide Short Film Festival returns to remind us that, cinematically speaking, there is another way.

With thirty programmes crammed into six days, there's an awful lot to choose from. Every screening gets you about five to eight selections, and if there's one you don't like, fear not — you'll be watching something else soon enough. In the interest of trying to get a grip on the diverse offerings, I'll suggest three different ways you could pick something to see:

Name recognition

A familiar name is a surefire way to get folks out to see a film, and that's no exception at the WSFF. The Celebrity Shorts programme has the highest density here. That can be both a blessing and a curse, as there are no few vanity projects that make it through quality control on the back of a marketable name, but this year's selection is actually stronger than some I've seen in the past, and features good turns from Judi Dench, Martin Freeman, John Malkovich — plus Charlotte Rampling in the fascinating The End. (Look for a full review on Sunday.)

Beyond that, there's some other noteworthy names sprinkled throughout. Kids in the Hall fans will be very interested to see The Immigrant (part of the Stranger in a Strange Land programme), written by Scott Thompson and starring him and Dave Foley. The surreal-flavoured Who's Your Dada? programme features a quick dose of famed documentarian Errol Morris in The Umbrella Man, while the family-friendly "Shorts for Shorties" at the festival's most unique screening location — the CN Tower — features The Itch Of The Golden Nit, a new one from Wallace & Gromit's Aardman Studios, a true trademark of quality.

Theme nights + genre satisfaction

Beyond a big name, if you're just looking for a certain style, there are screenings dedicated to most niches. Date Night is pretty self-explanatory, and might even lead to the slightly more risqué Slap 'n’ Tickle. Comedy comes served in international and indie flavours, the latter in the comfy confines of The Garrison (and featuring locals such as Kathleen Phillips, David Dineen-Porter and Nick Flanagan, all familiar faces in the local music scene.)

The, ahem, nerdier genres are served with helpings of Sci-Fi (which, last year, was a bit too much like a workshop showcasing new special effects concepts; this year's features more strongly-written work and is recommended) and the midnite-movie marathon of The Night Shift, which includes back-to-back-to-back screenings at The Bloor, running until 4:30 a.m. — by which point viewers may be having difficulties separating the onscreen aliens, monsters, ghosts, zombies and chuds from their own hallucinations. This should, of course, be a selling point for some.

Get Curated

The third — and most recommended — way to do the festival is simply to pick something from the curated ranks of the "Official Selections" and have a go. These screenings are also thematically selected, but given the broad expanses that they cover (like, say, control, love, family and war) there's room for a huge range of moods and styles — so any of these may include documentaries or animation side-by-side with more conventional drama and comedies. It's here that some real surprises can be found. For these, I'd recommend worrying less about the topic (and the specific films) and just go to something playing on a free night in your schedule.

Reviews (of as much of all of this as I can take in!) will start flowing tomorrow, so keep an eye out for more advice on which screenings to go out of your way for.

And to close, the practical details: this year, the main screening venues are The Bloor and Isabel Bader, comfy spots both, and regular screenings are a reasonable ten bucks. (An even better deal is the Festival Six-Pack, which gets you six screenings for $50.) "Official Selections" usually get two screenings, and others just one — check out the full schedule here.

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