When you’ve only got a few minutes to make an impression, every moment counts.
That’s a rule that Canada’s short filmmakers cannot forget, especially when their lovingly crafted and often self-financed handiworks must fight for attention with so many longer and bigger-budgeted selections at TIFF.
Thankfully, many of the new films included in this year’s Short Cuts Canada program transcend any limitations or disadvantages to rate with the very best of the fest. The boldest of the lot pack more energy and ingenuity into their slim running times than many features do in two hours or more.
The 43 films in Short Cuts Canada range in style and form, from terse dramatic vignettes to snarky comedies to a musical melodrama about the secret conspiracy behind the Cabbage Patch Kids. There’s also a wealth of eye-catching non-narrative works which deploy various traditional animation techniques, the latest in film technology and in the case of Renaud Hallée’s nifty Combustion, the very oldest of special effects — fire.
The most arresting selections in this year’s batch combine visual and storytelling strategies with great flair. The latest by Montreal filmmaker and visual-effects artist Pedro Pires — whose eerie 2009 short Danse Macabre won top honours at TIFF and the Genies — Hope portrays the dying moments of an army general via a violent and surreal series of sepia-toned, slow-motion tableaux.
Trotteur is another new French-Canadian short that clearly benefits from its creative team’s background in visual effects. Though this wintry period piece about a young man determined to outrace a hard-charging locomotive could have been the stuff of a deadly and earnest Heritage Minute, directors Arnaud Brisebois and Francis Leclerc give it a defiantly contemporary flourish.
Moving away from the Burton Cummings fixation in his hilarious 2010 short Negativipeg, Winnipeg’s Matthew Rankin creates something just as memorably odd with Tabula Rasa, a dreamlike vision of a Manitoba town swept away in a raging flood.
While all three of these shorts are distinguished by highly intricate visual design work, Montreal director Yan Giroux takes an opposite but no less effective tack in Surveillant. Here, the careful choreography of the camera’s movements adds tension to the otherwise mundane setting of a city park where young toughs menace a sullen park employee.
In terms of sheer novelty, it’s hard to top ORA, an NFB-produced short that is the first film to fully exploit the visual possibilities of 3-D thermal imaging. What you see is entirely generated by the heat that emanates from the bodies of six dancers in motion. The luminescent result of this marriage of art and technology is best described as a 21st-century update of Pas de deux, the classic 1968 dance film by NFB icon Norman McLaren.
Other highlights in the Short Cuts Canada program boast more low-tech sorts of virtues, like sharp stories and vivid characters. A five-minute short that screens before Ingrid Veninger’s feature i am a good person/i am a bad person, Hidden Driveway is a wry study in sibling dynamics by Toronto’s Sarah Goodman. Ian Legarde’s Vent Solaire is a strange and affecting drama about the moments leading up to the mass suicide of an Order of the Solar Temple-like religious cult. Just as haunting is Dusty Mancinelli’s Pathways, which follows the intersecting trajectories of a bullied Italian-Canadian boy and a mysterious bleeding man.
In a particularly brazen move that should earn him some attention, local filmmaker Andrew Cividino incorporated genuine G20 riot footage into his adaptation of Yann Martel’s We Ate the Children Last, a dystopian satire in which the advent of pig-to-human organ transplants has catastrophic effects on society at large.
Several more Short Cuts Canada entries boast another advantage over their competitors, which is the presence of familiar faces. In Mark Slutsky’s wryly funny Sorry, Rabbi, Jacob Tierney and Jessica Paré play a Montreal couple whose latest argument leads to a random injury and a rabbinical intervention.
Dillon’s former Hard Core Logo co-star Julian Richings does double duty this year in the fest’s two weirdest homegrown shorts. In Craig Goodwill’s Patch Town, he’s a black-clad enforcer for the sinister corporation behind the seemingly wholesome dolls known as the Cabbage Patch Kids. And in Simon Ennis’ Up in Cottage Country, Richings stars alongside Josh Peace and Liane Balaban in a grisly black comedy that transplants Franz Kafka’s short story The Penal Colony somewhere closer to Coboconk, Ont..
Though it will always be a challenge for the works in Short Cuts Canada to get noticed amid the wider chaos of TIFF, movies like these display all the necessary audacity.
By Jason Anderson
Special to the Star
8 September 2011