Wednesday, June 6, 2012

WSFF 2012: Reviews #5

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

Official Selection: Superfans

Screens: Thursday June 7, 2:00 pm @ Isabel Bader Theatre; Saturday June 9, 5:15 pm @ Isabel Bader Theatre

The Short Take: Loosely grouped around the objects of popcult veneration, three of the six titles here are really excellent. This programme is highly recommended.


Videogutten (Videoboy) (Dir: Stian Kristiansen, Norway, 2011, 33 minutes) You probably knew a kid like him: parents not around, hanging with the older boys, and with access to grown-up stuff like a better TV and those movies you couldn't watch at home. Never a best friend (because there was always something a little scary, or frightening about him, as if he'd learned too much too soon, and always smiling and joking behind a barely-concealed rage walling off a lot of fear and loneliness) but very, very useful to know at that time when boyhood is slipping to teenhood.

Thirteen-year-olds Hasse and Pål are just at that point: playing together, obsessed with mysterious caves and the possibility that Satan is in their midst — but also, just maybe, girls and a lot of other new things. When a mysterious kid gives them directions to the Videoboy's house, it's a big adventure, and exhilarating when they see his massive VHS collection, filled with the forbidden fruit of horror movies.

At one level, this is about that teenaged sense of adventure, and the simple joys of sitting around, drinking cokes and watching slasher pics. But adolescence and peer pressure have a way of creating situations where you don't really understand what you're getting into, especially as you're exploring the thin line between horror and sex and the thinner line between acting morally and giving in.

When a terrifying sort of initiation rite gives Pål and Hasse the chance go to even deeper into the world of the Videoboy and his friends, they have to make up their minds how they'll react — one of those steps on the path to growing up that everyone faces at one time. Nicely shot, excellently acted, this evocative short manages to capture the terror and exuberance of a precise moment in the lives of these teenaged boys.

Life And Freaky Times Of Uncle Luke (Dir: Jillian Mayer/Lucas Leyva, United States, 2011, 12 minutes) This spirited (and gleefully apocryphal) biography of Luther Campbell — notorious for his leadership of sex rappin' booty-bass purveyors 2 Live Crew — is also a retelling of Christ Marker's sublime Le Jetée. So let's be clear: this is conceptually goofballs yet also one hundred per cent awesome. Shot with brightly-coloured illustrated backgrounds reminiscent of a children's TV show, we follow Campbell through his successful hip-hop career, his mayorship of Miami and then, after an environmental disaster, back and forward through time. If you know the antecedents here (and anyone who loves film really should know Le Jetée) you know where this is going, but Mayer and Leyva's verve and audacity make this into a true original. At the end, I wanted to start this again, just to fully grasp the sophistication hiding under the joyful zaniness.

A Gun For George (Dir: Matthew Holness, United Kingdom, 2011, 17 minutes) Holness directs and stars as Terry Finch, a prolific but uncelebrated pulp crime writer. His lack of acclaim seems fair, given the graceless brutality of his Reprisalizer novels, filled with testicle-crushing vigilante heroics. Finch seems like a man out of time, descending into a fantasy world of a brightly-coloured 70's Britain as we slowly see some of the personal traumas that have pushed him there. Along the way, as he clutches his box of self-published novels under his arm to head to non-existent signings and drives his beloved Austin Allegro, there's some great campy fun (and some excellently quotable lines: "I'll rearrange this library by genre!") that slowly turns sad and pensive. That emotional depth is surprising for something that felt like a mere larf at the outset, but Holness handles the transition well.


There were no pans at this programme!


Dad, Lenin And Freddy (Dir: Irene Dragasaki, Greece, 2011, 20 minutes) Another childhood remembrance playing off the visceral effect of horror films. A nine-year-old Greek girl's daily exposure to A Nightmare on Elm Street seeps into her imagination when it's used as a distraction during her older sister's canoodling with her boyfriend. Freddie co-exists in her imagination with Lenin, the avatar of her distant politician father's power. But when the collapse of communism renders Lenin impotent, she begins to fear that Freddie is stalking her father. A testament to the power of imagination in a child's mind, this has a pleasantly warm, nostalgic glow.

No Relation (Dir: Kieran Dick, Canada, 2011, 7 minutes) The works of Philip K. Dick famously toyed with our conventional notions of "reality" and autonomy, casting doubts on our actual ability to appreciate either. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that in this short documentary we see how one of Dick's sons has turned away from worrying about such things, preferring instead to cultivate his garden and embrace a more earthy community. But as the spectral theme from The Third Man plays and some of Dick's associates consider the ambiguities in his work we see how the presence of the father remains.

Semi-Auto Colours (Dir: Isiah Medina, Canada, 2011, 6 minutes) Just as film can render familiar the strange and foreign, it can do the precise opposite as well. As such, I was surprised to see this experimental guns-and-gangs montage was the product of Winnipeg, a place I know well. Though shot digitally, this has a vintage Super-8 feel, blunts and blurs intercut with closeups of phone screens showing off slogan-y text messages. The shifting non-diegetic audio furthers the feeling of dislocation. Stylish and indirectly suggestive, though this has the feel of an artistic vision not yet fully articulated.

The Night Shift: Dependents

Screens: Saturday June 9, 11:30 pm @ The Bloor Cinema

The Short Take: These titles are merely the first third of Saturday's Night Shift marathon, featuring a wide variety of creature features running all night long. There's room for a wide range of moods in horror, from comedically droll to austere terror, but these selections are loosely united with family connections.


Återfödelsen (The Unliving) (Dir: Hugo Lilja, Sweden, 2011, 28 minutes) The longest film in the programme creates a fully-fleshed out world. Twenty-five years after a zombie outbreak, life goes on. Zombieism isn't yet curable, but once lobotomized, the afflicted can be domesticated and trained to do menial tasks, creating a useful pool of low-paid labour. Given how integrated they have become into the economy, do the powers-that-be really want a cure? Against this backdrop, we follow Katrine and Mark, both employed in the zombie-pacification complex, and getting ready to buy a house together — until Mark finds a reason to question his role in the whole process.

This is a well-made story that is engaging on its own terms, but I suspect it's also a metaphor for immigration in Sweden today — substituting "Muslims" for "zombies" would make this a somewhat cynical take on how Europe is dealing with with the "others" in their midst performing so much low-paid labour, as well as the underlying feelings of toxicity.

Ghost (Dir: Tobias Gundorff, Denmark, 2011, 8 minutes) Perhaps deserving of a less generic/Demi Moore-invoking title, we're tipped off from the get-go as to what expect here. In one realm, we see a young girl moving through a creepy, nearly frozen-in-time world, while in another we see a pair of sad, blank-faced parents. That the girl is a ghost, trapped in some otherworldly place comes to us quickly, but this is still rather evocative stuff.

I Am Your Grandma (Dir: Jillian Mayer, United States, 2011, 1 minute) Another dispatch from one of the directors of Life And Freaky Times Of Uncle Luke (see above), at 1.7 million youtube views, this is a verifiable viral success — but also quite literally intended as a message to Mayer's unborn grandchildren ("in the future, you get love by video"). Joyfully goofy, this squiggles like a Peaches cut while making us ask: well, why not? A couple generations from now, will this actually seem any stranger than sepia-toned photographs are to us?


CTIЙ! (Dir: Cyrille Drevon, France, 2011, 14 minutes) While not an outright dud, this one is long on quirky spectacle but short on narrative cohesion. Somewhere in a condemned zone, a mad scientist holds court at a most unusual dinner party. Bizarre at first, it settles into something more like an excuse to show off some visual effects concepts rather than an attempt to tell a story.


Children of the Dark (Dir: Scott Brian Belyea, Canada, 2011, 10 minutes) A nice companion-piece to Återfödelsen, this is more of a fragmentary glimpse into the immediate aftermath of a zombie apocalyptic event. In a grim looking world, a survivor girl is found by her brother. While the pair seeks shelter, the girl also dreams of finding their mother — but not every encounter in a world like this is going to have a happy ending. This might have leaned too heavily on familiar zombie tropes if it stretched out much more, but at this length it found its own little emotional niche.

The Captured Bird (Dir: Jovanka Vuckovic, Canada, 2012, 12 minutes) For children, exploration comes naturally, along with enough imagination not to be surprised when there are suddenly gothic gates to wander through... and enormous castles beyond them. As the squirmy fundaments of a wormy world build up into a series of monsters, the young girl seems more curious than frightened. There's more than a little bit of Guillermo del Toro's influence felt here, and some fine visuals — though obviously not much time for a story to develop. An intriguing taste, however.

Odette (Dir: Nicolas Bacon, Canada, 2011, 10 minutes) The scenario-establishing part of this drags on a bit too long, taking us from #firstworldproblems to upper middle class angst. There is, however, some amusement to be drawn from the resolution that the family's put-upon grandma supplies.

Requiem For a C.H.U.D. (Dir: Stephen Stubbs, Canada, 2011, 6 minutes) CHUD's aren't just a big city problem any more, as one farmer and his wife find out. it's hard for anything to live up to a title as awesome as this one has, but this does what it can, plunging violently at both the "goofy" and "gross-out" buttons.

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