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Our Guide to the Short Films of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival

Written by on September 14, 2015 

[Programme 1] [Programme 2] [Programme 3] [Programme 4]
[Programme 5] [Programme 6] [Programme 7] [Programme 8]
[Programme 9] [Programme 10] [Programme 11]

Programme 7
Premiering Monday, September 14th at 6:45pm | TIFF Bell Lightbox

Never Happened, dir. Mark Slutsky, 8 min. – Canada

For eight minutes Mark Slutsky makes sure he has us right where he wants us. Never Happened is so precisely measured in its construction and revelations that we don’t even know its true genre until the very end. Yes there’s comedy and romance and drama in its plot concerning two business partners engaging in a sexual relationship while out of town for a meeting, but their decision to forget the encounter brings with it a much larger understanding of the world in which they live than merely lying to your spouse exposes. And if that’s not enough Slutsky goes even further with a final shot causing us to wonder exactly how much of the lives these characters live is actually being lived for the first time.

The movie obviously attracted a recognizable cast with TV stars Mia Kirshner and Anna Hopkins from Defiance and Aaron Abrams from Hannibal because of its well-executed twist and the deceivingly meaty roles it provides. Abrams’ Grady and Hopkins’ Sharon go about their reunion at home like nothing happened while his recounting the lie mixes with flashbacks to the truth between he and Kirshner’s Laura. A lot of the short’s success stems from his performance, flipping back and forth from fact and fiction to really have us buy his deceit and hate him for what he’s doing. To eventually learn why he’s so good at it should make us despise him more, but the brilliance of the circumstances impresses instead. After all, if no one knows that it happened, did it really?


Benjamin, dir. Sherren Lee, 16 min. – Canada

Very few things are more dramatically impossible to fathom than losing a child, but Sherren Lee‘s Benjamin goes one step further to make it so. Written by Kathleen Hepburn, the story centers on a lesbian couple—both of who are pregnant. Sophie (Kimberly Laferriere) carries their little girl while Dell’s (Joanne Boland) boy is promised to their best friends, Teddy (Jean-Michel Le Gal) and Cal (Jimi Shlag). Everything moves forward perfectly until pain suddenly runs through Sophie to ensure nothing can remain the same. The loss is staggering and all four feel it. What then can be done? For months Teddy and Cal have held Dell’s unborn boy as theirs just as she had. But while giving him up wasn’t a problem when she knew she’d have a child of her own, that was no longer the case.

What transpires is an emotional roller coaster from joy to sorrow to hopeful optimism to absolute depression. The dialogue and attitudes are one hundred percent authentic whether Cal admitting to his husband that he was relieved the baby they agreed would be theirs didn’t die instead or Teddy’s complete inability to hear the girls’ trying to explain why they needed to void the contract they drew up. It’s all the more moving courtesy of the relationship this quartet shares too. This isn’t some womb for hire where lawyers or adoption agencies can get involved—this is for all intents and purposes family. The agreement was made because they’d all be in both children’s lives. The fact one would live with the girls and one the boys wasn’t so regimented an idea until only a single child was left.

The performances are powerful; the circumstances unlike anything you could imagine. Anger enters the equation even if everyone knows they’re all only doing what they feel they must. Heads are simultaneously screwed on tightly towards each other but fully dislodged in a blindsiding nightmare where the baby is concerned. There’s a fine line between not letting Sophie blame herself for putting them in this situation and Teddy’s curse-laden rebuttal consisting purely of raw emotion. Devoid of a correct answer for what to do next, no one can fault anything but bad luck for the current predicament. They all know the girls are being selfish, but don’t they have a right to be? And if they all truly love one another, is there really a choice? Pain is unavoidable—the question is whether the child can be spared it.


Exit/Entrance or Trasumanar, dir. Federica Foglia, 7 min. – Italy/Canada
(Otto), dir. Multiple Directors, 10 min. – Netherlands

Writers/directors/animators Job, Joris & Marieke may be my new favorite computer animation team. Unlike Pixar or Dreamworks, however, I’m not sure I’d ever want them to go feature length since their style is so perfectly suited to the short form. Their Oscar-nominated A Single Life was my first introduction to them as well as my hopeful for Academy glory before their eventual defeat to the equally brilliant Feast from a rejuvenated Disney Studios. The character design is far from realistic and perhaps unattractive in a conventional sense, but it’s unique and gets the job of carrying profound emotional stories to fruition down. With (Otto) I can safely say their success was no fluke. Not only does their latest continue to pull at heartstrings, it also showcases some expert camerawork to tell its tale without words.

(Otto) travels between two parallel threads that converge once in the middle and again at the end. Thread One deals with a young couple desperate to discover their lack of conceiving a child has been due to bad luck as opposed to faulty biology. Thread Two shows a happy-go-lucky girl who plays patty cake with her titular imaginary friend. As the would-be parents withdraw from their news it’s this little girl who brings a smile to the woman’s face. They are all at a diner and the youngster is jetting around with the giggles in a game of hide-and-seek. The woman watches with bittersweet joy, playing along as her husband rolls his eyes in self-pity and frustration. Wanting this fun to never end, she does something you wouldn’t expect. She takes Otto home.

What follows is super cute in that Otto is completely invisible and yet fully realized in the woman and girl’s minds. As soon as the former takes him, the latter can’t find him. Job, Joris & Marieke take painstaking care to ensure we know exactly where he is at all times, though, with low vantage points and determined pans. The characters we do see are all extremely expressive with succinct gestures and authentic emotion on a road towards finding exactly what each desires. The journey has some fantastic flourishes like an adorable mean streak from the girl once she discovers the truth of what happened. And in the end it’s up to imagination to provide the couple an escape from the depression of their circumstances. Love is not only for families and families aren’t only built through pregnancy.


Mia’, dir. Amanda Strong, Bracken Hanuse Corlett, 8 min. – Canada
Rock the Box, dir. Katherine Monk, 10 min. – Canada

The story Katherine Monk brings us in Rock the Box isn’t necessarily unique when you only have to look at the Pop charts to see Miley Cyrus—or Lady Gaga to a more art-house abstraction—doing much of the same thing. What’s different between them and Rhiannon Rozier (DJ Rhiannon) is that EDM (Electronic Dance Music) is far from the same universe as Pop. While it’s become the biggest moneymaking sector in the industry, its not-so-radio-friendly tunes and messages keep it from gaining the mainstream exposure those other artists have at their fingertips. So this straight-A honors student turned DJ couldn’t simply take her “mask” to MTV or the Grammys and cause a publicity stir. No, Rozier had to go to Playboy.

To hear her tell it as she’s applying make-up for a show is to fully understand how conscious a decision this career move was. EDM is 98%-dominated by male performers to the point where she couldn’t get gigs she needed to become a heavy-hitter in the genre. Not only that, she had to watch women far less talented go and do what she believed she deserved after her hard work and patience. What vaulted them ahead on the food chain was the branding they carried with them as Playboy models. Audiences weren’t necessarily going for the music as much as the spectacle that label inherently brought with it. So despite being the “goody-two-shoes” everyone who knows the real Rhiannon is, she took the plunge and liberated her outlook in the process.

Monk takes a peek behind the curtain at artist, manager, publicist, image-consultant, etc. Rozier wears each of those hats for the DJ Rhiannon persona herself and therefore crafted said image from the start. Her move towards Playboy wasn’t “slutty” or “opportunistic” like social media outsiders are quick to judge—it was calculated. There’s something inspiring to this fact for young women the world over. She’s showing them that it’s okay to take control of their bodies and use a handicapped system against itself to find success. Who she is on stage or online isn’t necessarily who she is in the real world. It is possible to be the person you want to be while also providing an audience what they crave. Closed-minded thinking be damned—life and art can be light years apart.


The Boyfriend Game, dir. Alice Englert, 7 min. – Australia
Concerning the Bodyguard, dir. Kasra Farahani, 10 min. – USA

It’s not surprising that Kasra Farahani‘s cinematic adaptation of Donald Barthelme‘s short satirical story Concerning the Bodyguard would attract Salman Rushdie as its narrator. Given the author’s history after publishing The Satanic Verses and having a fatwā issued by Ayatollah Khomeini calling for his death, taking part in a film that questions the disparity between a hired bodyguard and his political principal in a Middle Eastern state would be the type of thing he’d jump at the chance to participate in. There’s a chasm the world over separating those with means and those paid to protect them—one so wide you’d imagine there would be many more inside job assassinations than there are. After all, if the man tasked with saving someone’s life isn’t compensated enough to trade his own in the process, who truly has the power?

Farahani brings the story to life through a series of silent vignettes of mundane activities shared by the working class and aristocratic elite in gorgeous slomotion and captivating composition. Rushdie’s narration consists of open-ended questions, queries positing whether the characters onscreen have ulterior motives or whether the man counting on their expertise would think to wonder the same. Where’s the ceiling to what someone would do for another? Does it lower or rise if that person is merely engaged in an occupation to pay bills and not involved because his politics mirror that of the party he assists? It’s almost a certainty that the patron is less than savory and definitely assured that he can’t be bothered to think about the wellbeing of anyone but himself. Money will pay for his family and money will provide him safety.

It’s an intriguing tale of power and assumptions as we wait for chaos. The whole thing could be a psychological experiment, asking us whether or not the constant mention of a “new bodyguard” spells disaster in the waiting. The fact that I did places a personal spin on what’s at its core a simple list of what ifs delivered matter-of-factly and with little emotion. It’s the audience who decides the tone, our personal beliefs and historical/cultural backgrounds projecting prejudices and preconceived notions upon a banal (yet beautiful) sequence of events and quantifiable statistics factoring in. The fuse is lit and we decide whether it fizzles or ignites after the story ends. Is the bodyguard complicit, loyal, traitorous, innocuous, all or none? Is he thanked or blamed or simply forgotten? And can he forgive himself when his principal proves a monster?


Dredger, dir. Phillip Barker, 17 min. – Canada

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