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No Words Came Down
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We Ate The Children Last
In this week's paper, I took a look at the feature films that constitute Canada's Top Ten this year. But I didn't have room to discuss the ten shorts that were similarly honoured, so let's do that here.
My problem with the feature selection is that too much of it was dominated by middling or outright disappointing work from established filmmakers, thanks to the Canadian tendency - whether conscious or unconscious - to stop seeing a director critically once he or she has become a major player. We're Canadians; we don't like to cause a fuss. Just imagine the media huffing that would presumably occur should a film by David Cronenberg or Guy Maddin fail to make the cut in its given year. Shudder to think, right?
The shorts don't suffer from the same issues. The field is so wide, and the established directors so few and far between, that the short-film jury can make their selections without that subtle pressure to go with a big name.
And so, when it comes to the short films - screening this Sunday night at TIFF Bell Lightbox in two programs - the winners feel much more energized and alive.
The five films in Program A (Sunday, 7 pm) tend towards the strange and unusual. Andrew Cividino's We Ate The Children Last takes a short story by Yann Martel and turns it into a vivid dystopian horror story set in a distressingly recognizable Toronto. Michelle Latimer's stop-motion Choke tells a familiar First Nations story in a new way, while Philippe Baylaucq's experimental ORA employs thermal cameras to shoot its stripped-down dancers in spellbinding new compositions.
Pedro Pires - whose Danse Macabre made the Top Ten in 2009 - returns with the evocative, surrealistic war story Hope, in which a wounded general slips in and out of consciousness - and into something else. And Ian Harnarine's Doubles With Slight Pepper, named Best Canadian Short at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival, brings things back to a more conventional mode with a simple, direct drama about a young Trinidadian coping with the return of his long-absent father.
Program B (Sunday, 8:30 pm) is the more accessible of the two, grounded (mostly) in realistic, dramatic stories like Sophie Goyette's La Ronde, in which young twins face the fact that their father is about to die, and Ryan Flowers and Lisa Pham's No Words Came Down, a painfully observed drama about an introverted young man (Andrew Gillingham) on an uncomfortable blind date with a slightly older woman (Tina Hedman).
Ashley McKenzie's Rhonda's Party, which I first saw at last summer's Worldwide Short Film Festival, is a tender short about life and death in a senior's residence, with fine performances from Marguerite McNeil as an elderly woman sent reeling by the unexpected death of a friend and Karine Vanasse as a sympathetic nurse. And Igor Drljaca's The Fuse: Or How I Burned Simon Bolivar employs the filmmaker's own home-video footage to re-create his headspace as a nine-year-old in Sarajevo, blaming himself for the outbreak of the Bosnian war.
The last title in the collection, Trotteur, is more epic in scale, telling the fantastic story of a race between a young man (Kyle Gatehouse) and a speeding train through delirious visual effects - a nice balance of responsibilities between directors Arnaud Brisebois, who started out as an effects artist, and Francis Leclerc, whose feature credits include A Girl At The Window and Looking For Alexander.
In contrast to some of the Top Ten features, nothing about the shorts feels safe. These are filmmakers working at their peak, experimenting with form and texture - shooting the works because they might not get another chance, and delivering. In other words, there's not a Starbuck in the bunch.