The CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival kicks off in Toronto on Tuesday May 31 (running until Sunday, June 5) and this is their biggest year yet with a total of 275 films in over 30 categories of competition. One of the most prestigious festivals in Canada and North America, the WSFF is not just an event for fans of short filmmaking, but for film lovers of all kinds. The festivities kick off with a giant party in Yonge-Dundas Square on Sunday May 29th from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. with live music, visual arts, and, of course, some of the best short films around. In part one of our two part preview of the festival, we will look at some of the highlights of quite a few of the major programs at this year’s festival.
The WSFF kicks off the festival with their GALA PRESENTATION (Tuesday, May 31 at 7:00 p.m. at the Bloor Cinema and Sunday, June 5 at 9:30 p.m. at the ROM) and showcases some of the most lauded shorts from the past year, many of which are making their Canadian or Toronto debuts, and all of which are absolute winners. Bukowski is the charming story of a young man who tricks an entire hotel staff into believing he is hard drinking author Charles Bukowski. West of the Moon is a mindbending fairy tale stitched together from the dreams of children with a great Devotchka score and it looks like Jean Pierre Jeunet directed Sucker Punch and took out everything that made that film awful. Big Bang Big Room is a stunning art project documenting the evolution of man in a playful way that is impressive in scope and technique. The Lipsett Diaries are an artfully animated and sufficiently crazed and dark look at the late Canadian filmmaker Arthur Lipsett, with a chillingly great narration from Xavier Dolan. Na Wewe was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short last year and focuses on a tense standoff in 1994 Burundi that moves to tenderness slowly but assuredly. The program closes with the Academy Award winning Best Animated Short from last year, The Lost Thing, a thoroughly detailed Australian story about a man bonding with a, um, thing, that is equal parts funny, cute, and bittersweet. Together they make a perfect program that looks at some of the best short filmmaking the world has to offer.
The Choose Your Own Adventure branch of the official selections programs (Wednesday, June 1 at 1 p.m. and Friday, June 3 at 6:15 p.m., both at the Varsity Cinema) closes with the highly anticipated collaboration between Spike Jonze and Arcade Fire, Scenes From the Suburbs, which was unfortunately unavailable for review. The program does, however, have four shorts that make this program worth the price of admission without a collaboration between a famous director and a bunch of indie rock gods and goddesses. Three Mothers is a gut wrenching look at three new mothers struggling with different crises in the lives of their children that might be tough for some to watch but features stellar performances from Camilla Scott, Kristin Booth, and Hannah Hogan as the titular mothers. Jonathan and Gabrielle is a simple story about two people bonding on a long distance motorcycle ride stopping to talk about love and sex that effectively illustrates how awkward it can be at times to simply say what is on your mind. Something Left, Something Taken is an animated film made almost entirely from stitched together felt actors, cardboard, and aluminum foil about two police procedural fans who think they might be in a cab with the legendary Zodiac killer that is funny and playful both in how it looks and how it is written. The Bridge is a creepy, atmospheric piece about an actress hired to recreate a crime scene for investigators alongside the actual killer responsible for the crime (in addition to her having other problems of her own).
The Hipster program (Wednesday, June 1 at 6:15 p.m. and Saturday, June 4 at 12:00 p.m., both at the Varsity Cinema) is not all ironic glasses and facial hair. In fact, the three shorts that close this program play with the definition of “hipster” quite well. Ex-sex is the story of two former lovers who get back together for one more random fling that manages to be sweet, sexy, and complex for a film that only runs 9 minutes. Little Horses is the cringe inducing but thoroughly amusing story of a divorced father trying to procure the best possible gift for his son despite not really having much of a clue what makes his son happy in the first place. Fathermotherchild, one of the best films of the festival in any program, is quite possibly the ultimate anti-hipster statement about a smart young girl forced to deal with the neglect and unwitting mental abuse of her hipster parents. Fathermotherchild is a must see that could easily stand on it’s own and offers insight into how being an iconoclast can turn into an unchecked Peter Pan complex when not viewed in a healthy context.
Growth Spurts (Thursday, June 2 at 1:00 p.m. and Saturday June 4 at 4:45 p.m., both at the Varsity Cinema) focuses on the awkward moments in people’s lives that they grow from and not simply on growing up in a fully literal sense. It is anchored by four very strong pieces of work. Repressed is a tautly constructed film made from a single shot about a man trying to help an incredibly drunk and sick girl get home and away from a young man who might want to take advantage of her. Thermal Bathsis the story of a young man who wins a trip to a day spa but is forced to take his embarrassing alcoholic mother along with him. The film is low key and effective with a slow burn towards a memorable catharsis at the end. The Ballad of J & D is an emotional story made up entirely from found photographs that shows how in some cases motion isn’t even necessary to tell a film on screen. Aglaee is the story of a young man torn between being a popular jerk and following his heart while dealing with a girl with mobility issues that is stronger than he could ever hope to be. It is filled with great performances in a look at how cruel kids can be despite their own better judgment.
The Shorts for Shorties programs at the CN Tower on Saturday June 4th offers parents a chance to take their kids to see some shorts for free in one of Toronto’s most famous landmarks. For each paid adult admission (which includes a trip up the tower and can be upgraded to include the full tour) up to two children can get in for free. The Tell Us a Story program (10:30 a.m.) was the one of the two I watched and is filled with some great stories for kids of all ages. 9 Things I Saw Last Wednesday is an amusing free association of a pretty typical day for a child’s imagination. Marvin (which is also showing in the adult themed Accidental Witness program) is a story of a young man with a hole in his head that is searching for a missing chunk of his brain (narrated by Steve Coogan). Jillian Dillion is the type of sing song tale that kids will devour and might get asked by their parents to play again and again about a half hippo half platypus that is catchy and fun. The closing film of both this and the following All Creatures Great and Small program (1:00pm) is the Academy Award nominated short The Gruffalo, based on a children’s book, about a clever young mouse who creates a mythical creature to escape being eaten by various woodland animals. The Gruffalo is gorgeously animated and will easily appeal to kids and adults alike.
Adults looking to go to the CN Tower for the festival without kids can choose the Date Night program (Saturday, June 4 at 7:00 p.m.) and watch a selection of romantic shorts while enjoying dessert high atop the city. Starting off the program is the animated short Bob about a hamster on a worldwide adventure to catch up to someone who has caught his eye. Power of Love (Celine Dion Fans in Kenya) comes to the festival by way of HotDocs, where it was very well received, about how sometimes you can’t tell what can be popular in some parts of the world. Blind Date is a well acted tale about a woman killing time in a pub before having to begrudgingly go on a blind date by chatting up a man who might be more interesting than her intended suitor. Super. Full. is a story about a deaf couple in Qatar trying to make ends meet but wants to splurge by going out for an expensive meal to a fancy restaurant that will resonate with anyone who has ever dated someone while poor. Danny & Annieis the fest’s best animated tearjerker about a couple reliving their marriage during the husband’s final days. Man’s Best Friend is a true crowd pleaser about a quiet transit security guard who finds the strength to approach the girl of his dreams through his relationship with a lazy guard dog whom he has been told he has to “fire” at the end of the day.
There are two programs at the festival this year designed for those who are only looking to tickle their funny bones, the more high profile of the two being the International Comedy program Laughter Without Borders (Saturday, June 4 at 9:30 p.m. at the ROM), focusing on some of the best comedic shorts from around the world. Kids in the Hall member Scott Thompson appears in two shorts in this program from the writer-director team of Robi and Josh Levy, 4 Pounds and 54, where Thompson plays himself going through two very different nightmarish situations that he is quite obviously and amusingly blowing out of proportion. When the Wind Changes is a sweet and uproariously funny tale of three friends trying to save their dying charter boat business when one day the two more annoying friends find that they now share the same brain and can no longer work independently of one another. Two’s a Crowd is a documentary looking at two neurotic New Yorkers who after years of marriage are just finally deciding to move in together despite the threat to their own autonomous natures. The Dark Side is an obvious, but amusing joke, courtesy of Saturday Night Live cast member Seth Meyers where he recuts the trailer for Sandra Bullock’s The Blind Side to make her character appear mentally unstable. The real winner of the bunch, and one of the best of the festival is Sundance favourite Brick Novax’s Diary Parts 1 &2, which plays like a cross betweenAnchorman and Robert Evans’ most delusional of fantasies, but with an all action figure cast focusing on someone who could very well be the greatest man who ever lived but is now dying in a seedy motel room. This one is pure hilarity.
The second comedic program is a special event being held at The Tranzac titled For Shorts and Giggles (Thursday, June 2 at 9:00 p.m.) and will focus on smaller independent shorts designed for the YouTube generation and will feature live performances from stand-up comedians Brian Barlow, Sara Hennessey, Chris Locke, Kathleen Phillips, and Tim Gilbert. Derek Horn gives the audience a very necessary action tutorial in Hello, What?. Kathleen Phillips contributes two vastly different, but equally amusing shorts in addition to her stand-up. Airport Family is simply a still photograph of a family eating dinner in a circa 1978 style airport restaurant with snarky, yet insightful running commentary. What the Fud? focuses on a woman who finds herself talking to a plastic swan that she finds in the garbage who needs a favour. Mark Little contributes two hilarious pokes at advertising in Awesome Truck Commercial (a perfect piss take on all those Denis Leary narrated Ford commercials) and Ads for Men. The program is bookended by two pieces from Katie Crown. In the first, No Parents, she sings a song about they joys of living on your own. In the second, WWW.MS.THANG.COM, she showcases a shut in forced to do a video log about her life in the city despite hardly ever leaving the house. This second short manages not one, but two references to a VHS copy of the film Judgment Night. It deserves 5-stars based on that alone. I think I have seen enough here. What? There are more films to review? Meh, I’ll do it on Monday. I really want to watch Judgment Night right now.
Join us again on Monday for a look at the Celebrity Shorts programs, some bromances, some silver linings, some flicks designed to make your skin crawl, and more.
For tickets and more information, visit shorterisbetter.com.
Top image: A still from Jillion Dillion. Courtesy the Worldwide Short Film Festival.