With all the buzz around world premieres and gala events happening at the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s easy to forget there is also a pretty stellar shorts program in the mix. Consisting of work spanning all genres, the format is a great way to experience new, upcoming talent as well as to check up on a couple familiar faces too. And—new this year—24 hours after their Festival premiere, films will be available to screen at YouTube.com/TIFF until September 19.
The following is a collection of capsule reviews, scores and embedded shorts where available for each film in screening block 6.
Anatomy of Assistance – 13 minutes
A fun and poignant lesson in public assistance, writer/director Cory Bowles and co-writer John Titley apply a satirical slant to a heightened situation of one young girl’s refusal to be a part of Affirmative Action in Anatomy of Assistance. Talia (Keeya King) has the grades to get a scholarship to go to whatever college she wants yet every month like clockwork comes an envelope with her name on it containing money raised by local Samaritans. Feeling she’s above charity, she decides to misappropriate Black Power and Malcolm X’s sacrifice in order to take a stand. What follows is a cyclical study towards understanding help is anything but a synonym for pity.
Bowles includes political commentary in a way that makes it accessible to teen audiences in similar circumstances. What Talia is too bull-headed to acknowledge is that friend Whalen (Kingslee Christie) can actually use the money as a way to go to college despite his bad grades while another classmate—a minority—isn’t even eligible for an envelope because the money is earmarked specifically for black youths. As a result, while not wanting to take the money is Talia’s prerogative, the program itself is far from being worthless even if it may voluntarily discriminate by race. Help is as much for the giver as it is the receiver.
In order for Talia to learn this, however, she’ll have to go through a series of trials that show how necessary the money could be if she finds her back against the wall. Officers Blanchard (Shamier Anderson) and Rayley (Raven Dauda) provide a bit of extra assistance with some scare tactics that ultimately put the young girl in as desperate a place possible at her age. Only at this point does she discover how quickly an educated kid like herself can fall to crime and poverty when it appears there’s no way out. A bit of subversive humor is tossed into the mix—something Bowles is familiar with from his time on Trailer Park Boys—as Talia not only discovers how it feels to accept a helping hand, but also to give one.
Firecrackers – 15 minutes
A grainy, personal account of two best friends in the seen-better-days town of Coberge, Ontario, Firecrackers shows the bittersweet result of unchecked optimism in a world where lucky is a luxury of the rich. For Lou (Vanessa Orford) and Chantal (Lindsay Smith), life is going to change as soon as they find a way out from under the deteriorating cesspool of home so big city aspirations can help them forget pasts better left forgotten. The money saved from pumping gas will get them out and the map will show the way, but leaving always proves trickier thing many initially assume.
Written and directed by Saskatonian Jasmin Mozaffari, this short paints Coberge to be little better than the fend for yourself environment of Winter’s Bone’s Ozarks. There is a haze of dereliction in every frame as the existential crisis of becoming that which Lou hates potentially ends up being her last chance at escape. Her mother (Christina Garcia) can’t be bothered to care and yet still possesses that maternal power to elicit sympathy for her plight while mom’s boyfriend Jimmy is your usual abusive misogynist with an erratic behavior that risks ruining her carefully laid plans. The only person Lou has is Chantal—warts and all.
As much a tale of youth’s lofty dreams as it is a display of friendship’s love despite life’s steady stream of consistent roadblocks and failures, Firecrackers allows its leads to hold onto that glimmer of hope for a future no one yet knows. The ease of prostitution and the complete desensitization of sex as anything more than an act bought and sold is perfectly embodied by an opening scene of Gavin Lanteigne’s Jesse finding a condom and blowing it up like a balloon. These inhabitants have grown up quicker than any kid should, so they grab onto that promise of a better life tightly because there’s always a chance it’s right around the corner.
Lay Over – 12 minutes
An American set short owing much to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Lay Over portrays a condensed eight hours in the life of Montreal native Sam (Jordan Hayes) and Angeleno Owen (Noah Reid) as they cross paths one fateful Los Angeles evening. Walking down Hollywood Blvd. until her flight to Australia leaves, Sam arrives at a local club to hear a band and write from the inspiration. Sitting on the bar’s stoop with pen in hand, Owen’s exiting accordion player can’t help but say hello. A light, good-humored conversation leading to an explanation of her journey commences, culminating in his inability to fathom her experience of the City of Angels being his gig at a dive bar. So he tells her to get up and prepare for a personalized tour.
The song “No Cars Go” by Montreal’s own Arcade Fire starts playing and we’re treated to a brief glimpses within a collage of LA. It’s definitely a North American vision in direct juxtaposition with Linklater’s film as ancient buildings and open-air cafes are replaced with Amoeba Music and In-N-Out Burger. Sam and Owen laugh, open-up to one another, and have an experience neither could have dreamed of having just that morning. The whole enterprise is shot in close-up with the characters’ joy in full view as night becomes day. Written and most likely largely improvised by Hayes and Reid with her serving as director, the movie’s simplicity in scope perfectly complements its universal themes of life’s infinite beauty.
Paradiso – 13 minutes
Who wouldn’t want to make a film with a vulgar, combative St. Peter (Zak Sayer) giving God (Kirk Wilson) the proverbial middle finger as he helps the newest arrival to Heaven escape in order to retrieve his brother burning in Hell? Devan Scott’s Paradiso is a satirically funny short that does just that, using Catholicism as a springboard towards a biting romp about the religion’s selfish sanctimony in the vein of Kevin Smith’s Dogma.
When the second coming of Jesus occurs, it’s only a matter of time before the good boys and girls are separated from the bad. Watching brothers Cain (Charles Lysne) and Phil Tibbons (Kristopher Nielsen) age in a rapid-fire montage at the start allows us to intelligently hypothesize which will be God’s choice and which Lucifer’s, but the result ends up reversed. Cain hopes to rectify the mistake by pushing St. Peter aside to storm into the Big Guy’s chambers for a little heart to heart and paradox building that will soon expose the hypocrisy every detractor of the church believes lies at its core.
Scott has some good ideas and finds success playing with time and perception with truth constantly being subverted into fantasy. Lysne and especially Sayer may go a bit too far over-the-top with cursing and spitting and violence in realm of peace, but the broad physical comedy does ultimately fit the silly tone. The art direction is inventive, the indifference of angels just performing their jobs a treat, and the quick cuts a nice visual tool to turn everything into a fast-paced actioner. Writer/director Scott sadly seems to bite off more than he can chew by the end, though, trying to be too smart for his own good with a final twist. Even so, the whole remains an entertaining romp nonetheless.
Foreclosure – 13 minutes
Quite easily a candidate for most disturbing film at the festival, Foreclosure doesn’t have any gruesome blood, guts, or monsters. No, it’s just the human form in all its stark naked glory in the office. The old confidence booster of envisioning your coworkers without clothes on to relax ends up having the exact opposite effect for Sigmund (Dylan Harvey) as the important task of completing a dossier in order to win a promotion has his nerves frayed. Wanting nothing more than to finish the work without any trouble, there always stands a peer in his or her birthday suit looking at him each time he lifts his head.
But having a penis onscreen for three-quarters of its thirteen-minute runtime isn’t where writer/director Wayne Robinson draws the line. Not only does Jacques (Massimo Frau) end up on Sigmund’s desk massaging his muscles as he moans in pleasure, but Anna (Alissa Hansen) is ready for sex in the break room while Firenzi (Christian Bower) is reduced to tears on the floor with his bare chest heaving in distress. Sigmund tries his best to ignore everyone until he’s finally had enough to snap at Carl (Adam J. Wright) by screaming he’s naked. It only gets weirder when taskmaster boss Mr. Wolfman (Vic Stapel) joins in for a discomforting moment inside his office before our lead gives in and joins the insanity.
A memorable look at an overworked over-achiever’s nerves playing disastrous tricks, Foreclosure is not a film quickly forgotten. It does have its fair share of shaky performances—probably due to the prerequisite of showing your genitals for prolonged periods of time—but the situation is absurd enough to distract you from caring too much. Its most interesting tidbit, however, becomes its gratuitous male frontal nudity in contrast to a almost complete lack of female. With North American cinema considering penises taboo and breasts fair game, Robinson ensures the opposite to surprise both audiences and Sigmund. Our society is so ingrained in thinking male nudity is the more disquieting and vulgar of the sexes that putting it in our faces is bound to earn a reaction.
Drop – 12 minutes
Chris Goldade’s unsubtle homage to The Twilight Zone entitled Drop has all the earmarks of the seminal television program with twenty-first century production values. In a story that ends as abruptly as it begins, WWII Private Frank Hutchins (Jan Bos) wakes up bleeding on top of a parked car in a suburban California driveway desperate to discover where the rest of his platoon is. Considering he thinks the Nazis just shot him down, it’s not surprising when he points a rifle at the first person who crosses his path. A not so bright gentleman who lives at home with his parents, Barrie (Darcey Johnson) does his best to explain he’s a friendly despite being absolutely clueless to the situation at hand.
The comedy that follows is effective straight man versus goofball shtick as Frank’s patience wears thin while Barrie’s flights of fancy have him geeking out about the potential for wormholes and time travel. And then the doorbell rings to introduce an SS Major (Peter Ciuffa) who is either a friend of Frank’s looking for him or a Nazi officer with orders to kill. The tension escalates, a policeman is called to the scene, and everyone tries to calm Frank down before another car comes with the American soldier’s worst nightmare.
With very high production values and authentic performances—besides the rampant Canadian accents converging on a California home—Drop effectively instills that same feeling of empathetic helplessness Rod Serling’s old black and white mysteries used to back in the day. The characters react with authenticity and the resulting tragedy earns a welcome punch to the gut for its troubles.
Short Cuts Canada Programme 6 plays at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 12th & 13th.