Monday, June 4, 2012

WSFF 2012: Reviews #3

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

Official Selection: War, What Is It Good For?

Screens: Wednesday June 6, 8:30 pm @ Isabel Bader Theatre; Saturday June 9, 7:00 pm @ The Bloor Cinema

The Short Take: conflict comes in many forms and is always fertile storytelling territory. This was a bit of a mixed bag, and there were several films here where I felt a disharmony between the tone the filmmakers intended and the way it came across.


Waking (Dir: Michael Pierro/Sophia Chirovsky, Canada, 2012, 13 minutes) Chloe is getting ready to move in with Peter, but she's having second thoughts. After waking from a powerful nightmare, she goes through her day in drifting disconnectedness, strongly evoking those times where you're so tired you can't focus on the world around you. The film's style reinforces this sense of dreamdrift, with audio and sound drifting in and out of sync, the visuals occasionally swimming and blurring in overlapping layers. A psychological study, the camera stays close on Chloe's face — Emma Wardle is in pretty much every shot, and performs with aplomb. A superb study of the struggle of making life changes, there's a lot of drifting layers just out of focus here — such as the way that the title slyly evokes Kate Chopin's The Awakening.

Last Christmas (Dir: Geoff Redknap, Canada, 2011, 12 minutes) Any appreciation I could give for this one will contain a *SPOILER ALERT*, as even hinting that there's something going on under the surface here will change the way you perceive pretty much everything. At first, this just seems like a bit of a sad melodrama, with Josh staying over at his grandma's before xmas. It quickly becomes apparent that grandma is suffering from a bit of dementia, and Josh is doing his best to protect her — he's concealing something, but only slowly does the magnitude of what that is become apparent. Then, suddenly, everything takes on a different aspect. The fact that this one didn't make the cut for the festival's xmas-themed programme might give a hint at the darker currents underneath here, and it's recommended to anyone with a grim anti-xmas streak.


Goldilocks Nation (Dir: Andrew Kelm, Canada, 2012, 5 minutes) It was more than halfway through this before I realized that it wasn't a faux-doc making fun of pretentious psychobabble — it's an actual doc with an earnest message. That doesn't make it any less silly and over the top — there's a message here about society being stuck in a "Goldilocks complex", but it mostly passed me by.

Bellum (Dir: David B Sørensen, Denmark, 2010, 20 minutes) It's possible that I just wasn't in the right frame of mind to appreciate this slice of Eurogrim, showcasing a sort of affectless low-key disfunctionality as a Danish soldier spends his last night at home before shipping off to Afghanistan. A last bash with his sister and a fellow soldier leads to some morning-after regrets, and the film closes with a long static shot that metaphorically hints at both the costs of war and the psychological fortitude required to undertake it. But on the whole, the emotional flatness of the whole thing made it difficult to engage with.


Nightingales In December (Dir: Theodore Ushev, Canada, 2011, 3 minutes) I'll freely admit I missed the boat on this impressionistic animated montage. What I thought was a description of the costs of war, using birds as a visual metaphor was actually a lament asking "What would the world be like if nightingales no longer migrated south?" Huh. Well — in any case this was rich with images and excellently edited to accompany its musical soundtrack.

Posledný autobus (The Last Bus) (Dir: Ivana Laucíková/ Martin Snopek, Slovakia, 2011, 15 minutes) An unusual refugee story, with anthropomorphicized animals of various species banding together to flee during the night, piling into a bus travelling down lonesome wooded backroads. In this case, they're fleeing the persecution of human huntsmen — who, manifesting in the manner of totalitarian secret police, connive to stop them and keep the best pelts for themselves. Performed by actors in costume, all of this is rendered with a film process that strongly evokes classic stop-motion animation — think The Wind in the Willows as done by Švankmajer. That makes this worth seeing just on a technical level, but it's well done in the service of the slightly grim story.

Dyret (Creature) (Dir: Malene Choi Jensen, Denmark, 2011, 13 minutes) This black-and-white account of life after an unspecified collapse follows a feline protagonist through a post-apocalyptic landscape — think of it as a sad, Danish super-highbrow version of a youtube cat video — no surprise that it comes from Lars von Trier's Zentropa production company. Technically fantastic and quite inventive, the only problem with this was stripping it of the LOLZ KITTEH kind of baggage. (And, also, of memories of that Twitch City "Planet of the Cats" episode.)

We'll Become Oil (Dir: Mihai Grecu, Romania, 2011, 8 minutes) Starting off with a group of helicopters circling like an ominous dance of insects that turns destructive, there's a grim unfolding in this non-narrative exercise. Then unfolding... and unfolding as the camera pulls further and further back. It does convey a mood, but this might be more suited to, say, a gallery installation than to theatrical viewing. Also technically impressive, but sometimes distractingly so, as I spent as much time thinking about CGI elements as I did about the film's message.

International Comedy: Laughter Without Borders

Screens: Wednesday June 6, 10:00 pm @ The Bloor Cinema; Saturday June 9, 6:00 pm @ CN Tower

The Short Take: A nice mix in this comedic selection. A couple lag a bit, but nothing out-and-out flops.


The Heist (Dir: Thomas Hefferon, United Kingdom, 2011, 9 minutes) A trio of would-be Irish bank thieves sit in their car, hashing out their heist plan, which is quickly derailed by petty personal conflicts, hunger, and the all-important debate over which nicknames to use. The film is as clever and cheeky as its characters are bumbling and inept. Quite nicely acted, and there's an indication of plenty talent from director Hefferon.

92 Skybox Alonzo Mourning Rookie Card (Dir: Todd Sklar, United States, 2011, 12 minutes) Siblings can fight over the smallest of things — perhaps most over the smallest of things. Although this one wears some Wes Anderson-ish quirk on its sleeve, it captivates with how fast the tension between brothers Jim and Dave escalates, this time sparring over a basketball card. A scenario that's both ridiculously over the top and completely believable.

Bear (Dir: Nash Edgerton, Australia, 2011, 11 minutes) From the director of Spider comes this birthday surprise. I won't reveal too much of this, except to say that the long, slow buildup gets a worthy payoff.


Bertie Crisp (Dir: Francesca Adams, United Kingdom, 2011, 8 minutes) Not an out-and-out flop, this animated short was a bit too unsubtle for me. Set in a trailer park, this didn't do much to upend any of the "trailer trash" clichés, save to repopulate its world with animals.

Mulvar Is Correct Candidate! (Dir: Patrick Désilets, Canada, 2011, 1 minute) Even less subtle, this would-be campaign ad gets a lot of mileage out of its gonzo enthusiasm, but feels long even at commercial length — by the end I thought it was just yelling at me.


School Portrait (Dir: Nick Scott, United Kingdom, 2012, 3 minutes) An embittered school photographer can't put up with all this happy childhood innocence any longer and decides to start telling them that there's nothing to grow up for any more — until he meets his match, an equal and opposite package of boundless smiley happiness.

Stronger (Dir: Hugo Benamozig/Victor Rodenbach, France, 2011, 14 minutes) A meditation on friendship and the true origin of Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger", this gets easy laughs from situating a reunion between two former friends as models in a nude drawing class but really draws its success from strong characterizations that quickly establish some real emotional depth.

SCR__BLE (Dir: Mike Fly, Canada, 2012, 3 minutes) Over casual banter, date night gets competitive for a couple having a game of Scrabble at a café. You can see where this is going, but it still amuses.

Jesus Lover/Show Me Yours/Babies & Tiaras (Dir: Joshua Funk, United States, 2011, 1 minute/2 minutes/2 minutes) Joshua Funk (of The Second City's Hollywood division) goes a respectable 2-for-3 in this trio of micro-shorts, with the first getting a very quick sharp laugh and the childhood-revisited Show Me Yours upping the awkward stakes to impressive effect. Only the last one falls a little flat in its broad skewering of over-enthusiastic pageant parents.

Awkward Goodnight (Dir: Mike Fly, Canada, 2012, 2 minutes) Also effectively mining the terrain of unclear interpersonal boundaries, this uncomfortable depiction of a date's end feels just exaggerated enough to still resonate like something from real life.

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