The nice thing about short films is that they're cheaper, quicker and fly under the radar, so their makers are free to experiment.
The best shorts take advantage of their freedom from commercial constraints to break new formal ground; the less successful, as I see them, are just dry runs for features.
A case in point would be most of the Short Cuts Canada program. Almost none of these films is bad, but almost all of them feel like warm-up exercises. And if these are tomorrow's feature films in larval form, then brace yourself for a swarm of quirk to erupt from a theatre near you in a year or two.
From Semi Chellas 's clever Trouser Accidents (September 14, 6 pm; September 16, 4 pm, both at the Paramount), a public service message about pant safety with a darker emotional subtext, to Fabrizio Filippo 's stylish The Human Kazoo (September 15, 6 pm, Cumberland 3; September 15, 12:15 pm, Varsity 7), an aging writer's fantasia of sibling rivalry, they all have the feel of shiny, well-made gizmos turned out by the same high-end whimsy factory.
There are exceptions. Animation and shorts go together like cyber and sex; Michèle Cournoyer 's sinister, erotic Accordéon (September 16, 8:30 pm; September 18, 2:30 pm, both at Jackman Hall) is a black-and-white animated fever dream about a woman who uploads herself into her online lover's network.
And then there's Ryan (September 10, 5:30 pm; September 11, 5:30 pm; both at Jackman Hall). Every now and then a very experimental short comes along and reveals the massive untapped potential of its medium. Ryan is one of those, a semi-autobiographical, digitally animated documentary by Chris Landreth about Ryan Larkin, the brilliant NFB animator whose short film Walking was nominated for an Oscar in the 1970s.
Digital animation often has a fluid, slimy, unsettling feel to it. Landreth is fully cognizant both of his medium's inherent creepiness and its imaginative potential, and he makes full use of both. Even more importantly, he takes advantage of animation's inherent subjectivity to implicate and question his own role as a documentary-maker in this hyper-expressive, tragic, brilliant short.