Saturday, June 9, 2012

WSFF 2012: Reviews #8

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

Canadian Film Centre: Short Dramatic Films

Screens: Sunday June 10, 12:30 pm @ Isabel Bader Theatre

The Canadian Film Centre, presenters of the Short Film Fest, are also the producers of these shorts. Perhaps sensing that it would be a little unseemly to go too far in self-promoting these, this programme usually just sort of gets slipped in toward the festival's end. Or maybe it's just a hard sell — using the words "Canadian", "Dramatic" and "Films" together is not, as they say, marketing gold, invoking visions of self-serious CanCon on parade. Interestingly, these aren't all the dour, stoic Canadian flicks you'd expect, and the screening is less "dramatic" than the title here would indicate. I know I was a more than a little dubious when I went into last year's programme, but I pleasantly surprised then — and no less so now. There's a lot of talent on display here, and this is definitely worth checking out. I liked these all, so no need to divide these up into picks and pans.

Parkdale (Dir: Lisa Jackson, Canada, 2011, 15 minutes) The first up comes closest to the stereotypes of grim cinematic Canadiana, asking, "what happens when you're cold and hungry and you can't go home?" While waiting for their father to return, Sam and Abby learn that Children's Aid is coming to take them back into custody. Exactly what they experienced in "the system" is only hinted at, but the sisters are quickly on the run, trying to round up some cash to get a bus out of town. This sets up a night-long journey, mostly on the streets of the titular Toronto neighbourhood.

The scenario is realistically believable, but the acting from the young leads sometimes wavers. However, this is excellently shot, rendering the still-mostly-ungentrified setting into a rough gem. It's the visual elements that are strongest here and make this worth seeing. (Also: our city features prominently on the soundtrack as well, with evocative songs by Ohbijou, Forest City Lovers and Kite Hill well deployed.)

Silent Cargo (Dir: Adam Azimov, Canada, 2011, 16 minutes) The lives of those who struggle to come here are also Canadian stories. In this film, Daiyu, a pregnant young woman, joins a diverse assortment of people in a shipping container being smuggled into Canada. Speaking to each other in different tongues, they try and establish a temporary community to last through the grim, windowless journey ahead. The confined quarters quickly take a psychological toll as they await their arrival, and soon the smallest thing can cause a conflagration. And then, as the days add up beyond their estimated arrival time, the pressure really begins to build as they try to remind each other they're not animals. Have they been forgotten? Are they doomed to perish, forgotten, in a stack of shipping containers?

Using just one very confined location, Azimov creates a palpable atmosphere of tension. So much so that this becomes somewhat difficult to watch — expect this to be an emotionally draining experience. But the economy with which the story is told deserves applause. (Interestingly, Cube director Vincenzo Natalia gets a special thank-you here, so it looks like Azimov got some good advice about shooting in confined spaces.)

Oliver Bump's Birthday (Dir: Jordan Canning, Canada, 2011, 16 minutes) Oliver's parents think he's going to die on his thirteenth birthday, as his older sibling prodigies expired at that very age. The underachieving dreamer of the family, Oliver has other plans. He has a few tricks up his sleeve that his self-absorbed parents — busy planning for his funeral — don't know about.

Whimsy is hard to get right, and have no doubt, this movie has a tone of consistent mordant twee — the film begins, for example, with Oliver picking out a casket while his parents approvingly look on. There was a chance this could have collapsed into too-precious mush, but even though the tone here is affected, in the end I bought it. It helps that the children in the movie seem to come from a more serious-minded universe than the adults. Jason Spevack's Oliver is calmly dedicated to rewriting his destiny, and his friend Sally (the fantastic Reiya West Downs, who deserves a movie of her own) was the joyful wildcard. In the end, underneath the whimsy, there was something believable here about growing older and feeling like you don't measure up.

The Secret of Goat (Dir: Park Bench, Canada, 2011, 15 minutes) Least expected in this programme was this bawdy fable. Jorgen and Tilda's life on their quiet farm is turned upside-down with the arrival of a magic goat with "a special teat" promising everlasting milk. When it's discovered that only Jorgen can milk it, however, it slowly turns into an awkward romantic triangle... and then something even stranger. This unusual fairy tale was filled with dark humour and presented in a completely un-naturalistic manner, with stage-y acting and visuals to illustrate its account of the milk of human strangeness.

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