Am Ende der Wald (Where the Woods End) - Poster

Director Felix Ahrens won a Silver Medal at the Student Academy Awards for this taut mini-thriller. In just 30 minutes, Am Ende der Wald (Where the Woods End) manages to create an unbearable situation for its protagonist, young police officer Elke. While on patrol with her partner near the German-Czech border, she pursues a young man into the woods after a routine pullover. In a moment of panic, she shoots and kills him. The aftermath is quietly devastating as she struggles with opposing feelings of guilt and justification. She’s convinced the man and his accomplice must have been meth dealers or smugglers, but they find no evidence to prove it. In desperation, she takes her own infant son along as she visits the man’s family in the Czech Republic. Her rising guilt and panic collide in a brilliant climax that leaves the audience breathless.

Am Ende der Wald (Where the Woods End) - Still

As Elke, Henrike von Kuick combines a sense of innocence with deep exhaustion. Her piercing blue eyes look haunted as she carries the burden of her actions. The cinematography is both sweeping and intimate, and the director’s sense of pacing is precise. I suspect it won’t be long before the award-winning Ahrens is directing feature-length thrillers.

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Alles wird gut (Everything Will Be Okay)

UPDATE (Friday January 15, 2016): Congratulations to Patrick and his team, the film has just been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. Good luck!

Patrick Vollrath’s 30-minute film drops us into the life of Michael Baumgartner, divorced father of 8-year-old Lea. As the film begins, he’s anxiously waiting to pick her up for his regular visit. His anxiety doesn’t end when she happily greets him, however. And his refusal to even meet the eyes of his ex-wife let us know that something is up. As he takes Lea to a toy store to choose anything she wants, and then to a photo booth where he encourages her to pose for some “neutral” photos after the silly ones, we realize he’s planning to take her away. As it begins to dawn on Lea that something’s not right with Daddy, the film subtly shifts to her perspective.

Still from Alles wird gut (Everything Will Be Okay)

Alles wird gut is something spoken to the young girl twice in the film, and in each case, we share her skepticism. Vollrath’s film is gripping from start to finish, with fantastic performances from the two leads. Simon Schwarz ably portrays the desperation of a father terrified of losing his connection with his daughter, but especially noteworthy is young Julia Pointner in her very first film role. She carries the film in the ironic position of the voice of reason. Watching her reach a state of near-catatonia as her parents engage in a literal tug-of-war for her is heartbreaking on many levels. The handheld cinematography also adds to the sense of immediacy.

Still from Alles wird gut (Everything Will Be Okay)

Vollrath won a Student Academy Award this year for the film and Alles wird gut has been collecting other prizes on its festival run. If you get a chance to see this remarkable short film, don’t miss it!

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre, and as part of the anniversary celebration, the Ontario Heritage Trust has commissioned a series of short films that use the theatres as settings, both historical and present-day. The project is called Stage to Screen, and each of the six short films will be shown during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. One of the shorts, Danis Goulet’s Wakening will open the festival, screening before the Opening Night feature, The Fifth Estate, at the Elgin. I had a chance to watch most of the films and thought I’d let you know what I thought. In addition to their TIFF screenings, all the films will be available to watch online soon at BravoFact.

The Archivist

The Archivist (Director: Jeremy Ball, 10 minutes)

Synopsis: A young assistant projectionist investigates a series of mysterious disappearances at the cinema where he works.

My take: Unfortunately, the film wasn’t ready to view at press time.

The Good Escape

The Good Escape (Director: Nadia Litz, 6 minutes)

Synopsis: Set in a time when the movie house was a place of escape and dreams, a criminal takes a break in a theatre audience.

My take: A little hard to figure out what’s going on, unless you know that in 1934, infamous bank robber John Dillinger was shot and killed by federal agents as he exited the Biograph Theater in Chicago. The original seat in which Dillinger sat is now at the Elgin Winter Garden. This film was the shortest of the six and could have used another few minutes to establish the characters a little more fully.

Silent Garden

Silent Garden (Director: Dylan Reibling, 10 minutes)

Synopsis: A silent film set against the backdrop of popular entertainment’s tumultuous transition from live vaudeville performances to silent film projections.

My take: Despite a plot device lifted directly from the Woody Allen film Purple Rose of Cairo, this one works really well, using black and white cinematography and a virtually silent soundscape to recreate a bygone era. It also uses the Elgin Winter Garden the most effectively as a character and not just a location. Despite a few anachronisms (the bars across the emergency exit doors are particularly glaring), Silent Garden mostly succeeds in immersing us in the era when projected images gained the upper hand on stage performers.

Tiny Dancer

Tiny Dancer (Director: Doug Karr, minutes)

Synopsis: The young daughter of a tiny family that lives in the Winter Garden Theatre longs to dance on the big stage.

My take: Another one that wasn’t ready to see before publication time.


Wakening (Director: Danis Goulet, 9 minutes)

Synopsis: An ancient aboriginal myth told as a post-apocalyptic story, set in the Winter Garden Theatre.

My take: Although this didn’t use the theatre setting in quite the standard way, I think it’s a very strong story. Melding aboriginal folklore with a post-apocalyptic setting is original, though now I’m finding the story missing some pieces. An aboriginal hunter arrives in the theatre and encounters the Witigo/Wendigo, a monster who feeds on human flesh. The filmmaker’s notes say the hunter has come in search of the creature who can save her people, but the film never makes that clear enough, nor how exactly this beast could be controlled. Nevertheless, Wakening displays a bold voice, and perhaps a feature could fill this story out in a more satisfying way.

Winter Garden

Winter Garden (Director: Alex Epstein, 9 minutes)

Synopsis: A wildly successful playwright desperately tries to renegotiate a deal he made for his success.

My take: This spin on the Faust tale is pretty lightweight. In fact the Devil/Muse figure only appears at the very end, and we never really understand the terms of the bargain. As well, the jaunty musical score makes this much less dark than it might (and in my opinion, should) have been.

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I know I’ve been neglecting you, dear reader. I’ve been busy with lots of things, chief among them my quarterly short film screening series, Shorts That Are Not Pants. But to reward anyone who is still finding their way here (yes, even you Google searchers!), I’m giving away tickets to our next screening, which is July 18th at the Carlton Cinemas. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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The Canadian Film Fest returns from March 20-23 at the Royal Cinema. Featuring a homegrown lineup of 6 features and 19 shorts, this year’s edition continues the festival’s resurgence. New this year, filmmaker Warren Sonoda will be leading a daylong filmmaking masterclass on Wednesday March 20th that looks like a can’t-miss event.

Once again, I’ve decided to focus my attention on a few of the short films. I’ll indicate screening times with each capsule review. You can check out trailers for some of the films on the festival’s YouTube channel.

For Clearer Skies

For Clearer Skies (Director: Alfredo Salvatore Arcilesi, 14 minutes)

The first four or five minutes of this are pretty opaque, but once the protagonist’s situation becomes clear, it’s a pretty inventive story. I won’t spoil it except to say there’s a sci-fi premise and some subtitles in a language you’ve never seen before. Technically the film is a bit rough around the edges, but I admire the novelty of the concept.

Screens on Friday March 22nd at 9:15pm before the feature Skull World (Royal Cinema)

The Ace of Spades

The Ace of Spades (Director: Justin Kelly, 22 minutes)

The first short film from the comedy troupe Making Funny Stuff feels exactly like a pilot episode for a sketch comedy show. And that’s not bad. The group (Glen, Daveed and David, along with Glen’s reluctant 12-year-old daughter Ariel), dressed up like some kind of comedy Mormons, show up on the doorstep of Canadian TV action star Scott McCord, who plays their hero Thorn on “Rookie Flashbang.” Talking their way inside, they try to get him to mentor them in the ways of comedy. Before long, digestive problems and the adolescent tendency to hog the bathroom lead to a showdown. Despite some of the literally bathroom humour, I found this quite funny, but it kind of just stops rather than having any sort of dramatic denouement. As performers, these guys are funny, but writing something longer than a sketch is a challenge, one I hope they can solve at some point.

Screens on Saturday March 23rd at 3:45pm (Royal Cinema)


Counselling (Director: Geordie Sabbagh, 6 minutes)

The Edwards were happily married. When their marriage hit a rough patch, they sought advice. Now they have to make a last-ditch effort to save their marriage. This is one of those “punch line” shorts whose gag is revealed about halfway through. That makes it tough to see out the rest of the story in any satisfying way, but it’s still a well-made if slight thing. The synopsis on the festival site as well as the image there pretty much give away the twist, so I won’t use them here.

Screens on Saturday March 23rd at 8:30pm before the feature Mr. Viral (Royal Cinema)

The Race of Life

The Race of Life (Director: Francesco Giannini, 12 minutes)

It’s the final show of the season, and everyone around the world is watching! Which couple’s baby will be born first and win five million dollars? It’s a shame that such otherwise strong filmmaking talent is wasted in this overly-broad, borderline offensive “satire” of reality television. Relying on tired racial jokes and stereotypes about, for instance, the clergy or the upper-class, this has nothing intelligent to say. At least the poo jokes in The Ace of Spades are universally funny.

Screens on Saturday March 23rd at 3:45pm (Royal Cinema)

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