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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 8
Premiering Monday, September 14th at 9:45pm | AGO

The Call, dir. Zamo Mkhwanazi, 11 min. – South Africa
Wolkaan, dir. Bahar Noorizadeh, 30 min. – Canada/Iran/USA

Writer/director Bahar Noorizadeh had this to say about her latest experimental short Wolkaan on its Kickstarter page: “As an immigrant from Iran, I am facing the slow and painful loss of language and culture from my intimate life on a daily basis. I feel a connection in this with the city of Tehran itself. Tehran is a forgetful city, always relying on the present moment and not withholding to its past. Through an apocalypse I want to give Tehran the opportunity to freeze eternally under the heavy lava erupting from the volcano. Wolkaan deals with the issue of preserving memory within a culture of diaspora. In this, the film itself becomes a space for meditation on loss and forgetting, and possibly forgiving.” I’m not sure anyone could say anything better about its goals or meaning.

Without this context, though, the film is merely two stories conjoined by that apocalyptic idea of volcanic destruction. Whether an actual eruption shot in gorgeous cinematography above Tehran with the gradually moving lava crackling through empty streets below as the city uncoils in brightly lit celebration or a father (Farid Kossari) and son (Sepehr Salehi) traveling through Mid-West America ending up in an outdoor dinosaur park with its own sculpted mountain that eventually holds its own news of mortality, the work becomes more about the image than the mirrored contextual relationship between life and death. To go from such quiet reverence to the conversation of youthful curiosity is jarring and perhaps a little confusing too. Both halves living in their own present now are documented so the world can never forget.

It’s quietly contemplative and resonate enough to conjure your own memories from what’s onscreen and I like that about it if not the realization it proves its depth in what you bring to the table rather than itself. Wrapping my head around that part is hard because we aren’t seeing abstraction. We’re shown actual stories that somehow prove less interesting than how we project ourselves upon them. I think that was the goal, but I can’t intrinsically trust it because my mind continues to want to understand it externally. But even if I fail at reconciling this aspect of the whole, I can’t deny the visceral appeal of simply looking at these moments of man juxtaposed with nature and the beauty in their ability to catalyze rebirth. To forget is to experience anew—progress born from extinction.

C+

Bunny, dir. Megha Ramaswamy, 19 min. – India

Some films end with me desperately trying to find a way to love them to no avail. Megha Ramaswamy‘s Bunny is just such a piece. It is beautifully shot with a Wes Anderson sense of whimsical artifice that’s devoid of dialogue besides the cries of a child. It’s a fantastical fable about a little girl’s (Syesha P Adnani) friend/stuffed animal, its death at the (assumed) hands of a frustrated older sister, and miraculous resurrection with the help of a neighbor boy (Faizan Mohammed). Weird, eccentric things occur every step of the way and the end ultimately arrives with a disturbing tone. I think it’s supposed to be hopeful and optimistic, but all I saw was death and despair: a toy of such importance leading its owner astray towards oblivion.

This is probably due to a cultural disparity from Ramaswamy’s spiritual/Indian visual metaphors. Perhaps unexplained moments like the girl jumping to unlock her apartment’s door leading her to float in the air or the boy and the bunny walking towards a wall with an outline of the two awaiting their presence can be chalked up to traditional narratives and motifs unfamiliar to me. Marbles play a big role too—sometimes in the girl’s mouth and others signifying rebirth in their being left behind from a magical event. Ramaswamy jumps to slomo vignettes of the children painted like bunnies on a darkened, snowy night, often cross-cutting the two as they engage in similar acts at different locations for a paralleling I cannot decipher.

Pieces are great—some of the most memorable imagery I’ve seen within the Toronto International Film Festival’s shorts program. So it’s impossible to discount the work completely. I loved the dirt stain representing blood soaking the boy’s hands as he tries to bring the plush rabbit to life. I loved the girl inexplicably trapped sitting on a chair affixed to a wall halfway between floor and ceiling while her sister constructs a puzzle below. The sense that this bunny is all that provides these two kids with imagination in a serious world trying to squash it is noticeable too if not overtly abstracted. Because we leave the boy in tears and the girl without a smile, though, it’s hard not to think the story culminates with a tragic end masked by its fluffy surface.

C

The Return of Erkin, dir. Maria Guskova, 29 min. – Russia


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