TIFF 2012 Shorts: A (Generous) Selection

by James McNally on August 29, 2012 · 1 comment

in Film Festivals,Shorts,TIFF

If you love short film, I’ll remind you that my next Shorts That Are Not Pants screening will be held on Thursday October 11th at the Carlton Cinemas. Advance tickets are on sale already.

One of the more unique aspects of the Toronto International Film Festival is that its shorts pro­gramme is all-Canadian. And it’s a great show­case for young Canadian talent. Some of these film­makers may go on to make fea­tures, but as a lover of the short film format, I urge you to appre­ciate these films for what they are, tiny stories that can only be told in this way.

I’ve been able to watch a good selec­tion from this year’s six pro­grammes and my notes follow:


Lingo (Director: Bahar Noorizadeh, 13 minutes)

Lingo uses a static camera and long shots to sort-of tell the story of a young Afghan boy who inad­vert­ently starts a fire that burns down a neighbour’s house. A mis­un­der­standing lands his non-English-speaking mother an uncom­fort­able inter­view with a police inter­preter. I want to applaud the daring of the film­maker, because some of the tech­niques used are pretty ali­en­ating to the audi­ence, but the end result com­mu­nic­ates a real sense of con­fu­sion and dis­con­nec­tion, even when someone is sup­posedly speaking your language.

Lingo plays in Short Cuts Canada Programme 1

Life Doesn't Frighten Me

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me (Director: Stephen Dunn, 14 minutes)

The biggest achieve­ment of this film might just be get­ting both Gordon Pinsent and Sufjan Stevens on board. Pinsent plays the grand­father of Esther, a 13-year-old girl who is mer­ci­lessly picked on, even by her “friends.” As her only care­giver, he’s not par­tic­u­larly good at expressing him­self, espe­cially when there are “girl things” to be dis­cussed. Though the film began in the key of twee (all the char­ac­ters dressed in Hallowe’en cos­tumes), it quickly won me over with its relent­less tough­ness, from the absurd cruelty of kids to the harsh advice Esther receives from Grandpa. I love that the end titles are accom­panied by a Sufjan Stevens song, too.

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me plays in Short Cuts Canada Programme 2

Asian Gangs

Asian Gangs (Directors: Lewis Bennett and Calum MacLeod, 9 minutes)

Co-director Lewis Bennett revisits an incident from Grade 5, when after a school­yard fight, his prin­cipal warned him to change his ways or he’d “end up in an Asian gang.” Years later, Bennett, as Caucasian as ever, tries to figure out the meaning of the warning. This type of non-fiction “storytelling” short film is very dif­fi­cult to pull off, and Bennett struggles with the tone, veering from out and out humour to almost public ser­vice announce­ment ter­ritory. Re-enacting the fight with his actual opponent is inspired, but talking to a youth worker and a former police officer about gangs bursts the bubble a bit.

Asian Gangs plays in Short Cuts Canada Programme 2


Frost (Director: Jeremy Ball, 13 minutes)

A young Artic hunter sets out on her own to provide food for her family, but when she goes beyond a boundary, she finds her­self in a post-apocalyptic city where everything is unfa­miliar. Does food come in pack­ages? Is the whirring and buzzing creature she meets pred­ator or prey? Some very slick visual effects, but this felt some­what light on story and char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion. That being said, I would wel­come a longer ver­sion and per­haps a grit­tier visual style where the artic land­scape doesn’t look so much like a well-lit soundstage.

Frost plays in Short Cuts Canada Programme 4

When You Sleep

When You Sleep (Director: Ashley McKenzie, 12 minutes)

While I thought Ashley McKenzie’s last short film, Rhonda’s Party, was well-made, I found the story sen­ti­mental and slight. Finally dir­ecting her own script, McKenzie has made a very dif­ferent film. Jessie is preg­nant and lives joy­lessly with Lee in a run-down, rodent-infested apart­ment. The preg­nancy is the thin­nest thread keeping them together, and when a rat becomes caught in a trap, there’s a power struggle to see who will “take care of it.” Despite the grim sub­ject matter, I found this quite powerful and I liked the rather hor­ri­fying shots of rats scut­tling around at night. It’s a powerful image of the dark­ness that the couple can’t seem to face in the daylight.

When You Sleep plays in Short Cuts Canada Programme 4

The Tape

The Tape (Director: Matt Austin Sadowski, 6 minutes)

The casting of Julian Richings (Hard Core Logo) led me to believe that this tale of a man searching for a VCR to play an old VHS tape would be much darker. Instead, the humour of tech­no­lo­gical obsol­es­cence isn’t really enough to sus­tain it and the mawkish ending didn’t really work for me, either. But it’s well-made and it is a refreshing change to see Richings with a smile on his face, even if it is some­what bittersweet.

The Tape plays in Short Cuts Canada Programme 5

Dear Scavengers

Dear Scavengers (Director: Aaron Phelan, 9 minutes)

Pitch per­fect casting and just the right amount of sym­pathy for its can­tan­kerous main char­acter make this one a winner. Hrant Alianak (Pontypool) plays Hector, the owner of a used-appliance store who’s used to a cer­tain amount of solitude. When a seem­ingly unending stream of tween girls enter his shop in search of a clue for their scav­enger hunt, it leads to a hil­arious clash of gen­er­a­tions and personalities.

Dear Scavengers plays in Short Cuts Canada Programme 6

Chef de meute (Herd Leader)

Chef de meute (Herd Leader) (Director: Chloe Robichaud, 13 minutes)

In this comedy, the humour is dark indeed. When Clara’s spin­ster aunt dies sud­denly, her family sug­gest she take in the older woman’s pug, since, as a single woman her­self, she has time to take care of it. When even the dog seems to boss her around, she turns to a dog trainer for help. In a hil­arious sendup of “The Dog Whisperer,” he encour­ages her to be more assertive. It’s a lesson she takes to her pushy family mem­bers. Ève Duranceau plays the put-upon Clara to neur­otic per­fec­tion, and the pug turns in a pretty impressive per­form­ance, too.

Chef de meute (Herd Leader) plays in Short Cuts Canada Programme 6

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