TIFF 2012 Shorts: A (Generous) Selection

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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