VIFF 2012: Short films are long on virtuosity
With shorts, just as with features, there are always going to be only so many memorable moments amidst the also-rans. But dedicated film fans know that this is where you find your future Deepa Mehtas and David Cronenbergs. The good news for risk takers at this year’s VIFF comes, at least initially, from the technology side: thanks to increased availability of advanced digital cameras and editing equipment, short films have never before looked this good.
Beyond that, there must be something extra in the water these days, because four packages of Canadian shorts, all debuting in the second week of the fest, and all somehow dealing with personal disjuncture, are extraordinarily good-looking. As usual, the Quebec-made efforts are standouts, but there’s a surprisingly international feel here, even among the efforts of up-and-coming B.C. filmmakers.
By far the weakest program of the group, Break Even (screening October 8 and 9) contains a batch of fairly predictable kids-in-crisis flicks. The stop-motion-animated “Peach Juice”—about a coming of age in a most inappropriate time and place—is terrific, however.
Among the numerous winners in Heartbreak (also October 8 and 9), Nancy Sivak and Ben Ratner have star turns in Juan Riedinger’s “Float”, about fear and survival, and Adrian Buitenhuis travels to Iceland in “Pordis” to spookily update an ancient tale. In Breaking Point (October 10 and 12), cool dude Ian Tracey plays a hard-boiled detective in Darcy Van Poelgeest’s impressively stylized “Corvus”, and Hrothgar Mathews has a tour de force as a laneway bottle collector in Jay Fox and Steven Deneault’s cleverly creepy “Binner”.
Highlights of Clean Break (October 10 and 11) include Bojan Bodruzic’s striking “Pirandello”, a provocatively fragmented, black-and-white interview with a Bosnian actor recalling his life in wartime Sarajevo, and Jenn Strom’s “Assembly”, a lovingly hand-painted tribute to Kathleen Shannon, who, in 1974, launched the NFB’s Studio D, created to give Canadian women much louder voices in the filmmaking world.
“The film was made with 1,200 oil-on-glass paintings,” Strom explained, calling from her Vancouver home. “So it’s also in honour of the old-school NFB animators. They’re not making that many films like this anymore, so it was a tremendous gift to be supported in something not happening as much as it used to.”
As a teacher and administrator at the Gulf Islands Film and Television School (or GIFTS, still alive on B.C.’s Galiano Island) in the 1990s, Strom worked with a lot of youngsters new to the business. Later, she taught at SFU and the Vancouver Film School.
“I always advise people to start with shorts,” says the veteran filmmaker (still only in her mid-30s) who, among other gigs, now works as an editor and director at Knowledge Network. “Because they take so much effort, they give you a good idea what you’re in for if you go to a longer form. And if you can say something strong in just a few minutes, you’re more likely to get something satisfying out of it.”
Strom has likewise noticed “the bloom in visual language” among new filmmakers, and she puts this down to both technology and the kids’ increased awareness of what’s already out there, “pushing them to do something original”.
This push can be seen elsewhere, with even younger creative types featured in VIFF’s Reel Youth Film Festival (October 9 and 10). The stylistically varied package consists of 21 shorts made in places flung as far apart as Sweden, Sierra Leone, Vancouver, and Vietnam. (These were put together by Mark Vonesch, who runs Reel Youth, not to be confused with the annual Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth, happening here in April).
Dedicated fans of this new-breed stuff, made by younger locals, are invited to hit the Subeez downtown café Sunday (October 7) between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., for an event called Meet the Short Filmmakers. Don’t be surprised if some are quite tall, and talented, for their ages.