VIFF 2010: Four diverse programs of shorts by Canadian filmmakers

This year’s Vancouver International Film Festival features four diverse programs of shorts by Canadian filmmakers.

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      As much as local filmmaker Kevan Funk loves making short films, he knows they’re not a sure-fire audience magnet.

      “The hardest thing about them”¦is getting people to go see them,” the Emily Carr University student, who has 14 short films under his belt, says over tea on Broadway. “I feel like they’re one of those things that when people finally go, they really love it, but it’s not something they ever look to go to.”

      Showcases like the Vancouver International Film Festival, he points out, are one of the few channels for exhibition.

      “It’s a tough thing to program a shorts program because you’re getting a really mixed bag of stuff,” he notes. “But when you do a good job, it can be way more interesting than a feature film because there’s so much variety in it.”

      This year’s VIFF boasts four programs of Canadian shorts featuring content that runs the gamut from experimental exercises to miniature masterpieces.

      The wide variety of Mood Swing (October 13 and 14) ranges from the stylish, retro hilarity of “King Chicken”, about a flirtation in a language lab (hey, remember cassette tapes?), to the low-key “Frog”, a compelling one-shot take of two exes on a long walk. There’s also the inventive “How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You!”, in which surreal surgery supplants relationship therapy. Also, keep an eye out for Canadian stars, including Young People Fucking’s Kristin Booth (“American Wife”), Normal’s Camille Sullivan (“Voodoo”), and Da Vinci’s Inquest’s Nicholas Campbell (“The Reception”).

      Local actor Gabrielle Rose (Mothers&Daughters) appears in the lighthearted “Exposed”, as a woman trapped in an elevator with a photographer, in the Insomnia program (October 12 and 13). Several abstract offerings pepper this arts-oriented collection. “Lipsett Diaries”, narrated by Quebec director Xavier Dolan (whose feature Heartbeats plays October 11 and 13), delves into Canadian experimental filmmaker Arthur Lipsett’s psychological struggles, while Gazanbou Higuchi’s sho art calligraphy takes flight through animation in “The Sapporo Project”.

      Meanwhile, the Amnesia program (October 10 and 12) offers several engaging dramas, ranging from the French-language “Naissances”, in which a hitchhiker and her driver build fleeting tenderness based on lies, to the gripping “Transmission”, about a tow-truck driver who becomes embroiled in a dangerous domestic situation.

      But the program does have a sense of humour. Comedian Shaun Majumder offers “Mind the Gap”, which proves that beauty isn’t always the most desirable quality in transit seatmates. Local director John Bolton’s “The Closer You Get to Canada” is a darkly comic adaptation of Thomas King’s dystopian short story about seniors who, by U.S. law, have to replace animals on a game preserve. Their only hope? Escape to the Great White North, of course.

      Watch the trailer for "A Fine Young Man". />

      Another black comedy by a fellow local director in the mix is Funk’s “A Fine Young Man”, in which the attempt to stem the Communist tide in the U.S., circa 1962, goes to extremes. Funk, who recently returned from screening his self-financed film at the Toronto International Film Festival, emphasizes that it’s not intended to be anti-American.

      “It was more about any sort of extremism, any sort of fundamentalist thinking,” he explains. “The thing that really interests me about these really conservative governments, and it exists on the left, too”¦is people making decisions more out of a belief in something,” he says. “It’s also a pretty dangerous thing because as soon as you fully believe something, it shuts down a lot of reason. So that’s really the theme I was way more interested in as opposed to being like, ”˜Okay, I want to make an antiwar movie.’ ”

      The real-life impact of war is explored by some selections in the Acquired Trait program (October 11), which touches upon cultural-identity issues ranging from an unpredictable, beautifully shot take on aboriginal students in residential schools (the locally shot “Savage”) to how superstitions lead to a child’s punishment in Morocco (“Mokhtar”).

      In Brendan Uegama’s “Henry’s Glasses”, a young Japanese-Canadian boy helps an elderly internee gain a more optimistic perspective of the world. For the film set, Uegama, who is sansei (third generation), had six buildings built—using old doors, windows, and artifacts from the actual internment camps provided by locals—on the former site of the Tashme camp in B.C.’s Sunshine Valley. His father, who himself was interned, portrayed the older character.

      On the line from Collingwood, Ontario, where he’s shooting, Uegama says the whole experience was eye-opening. “When I started writing the film, I didn’t know a lot about the internment. I knew a small amount. My father never talked about it much to me when I was child,” he says, adding that his 70-member crew didn’t know much about it either. “After I did the amount of research I did, I was very intrigued by it and I really wanted to learn more.”

      Watch the trailer for "Henry's Glasses". />

      Consequently, Uegama is channelling that desire into making a documentary feature (The Rising Sun) and a narrative feature (Blossoms in Foreign Soil).

      He recognizes, however, the sensitivity of the material, and he employed a diplomatic approach with the short. “We didn’t want to bring up hard feelings. It’s a touchy subject to a whole bunch of people on all sides, and we didn’t want to point blame at anyone.”

      Another local filmmaker, Ann Marie Fleming, similarly negotiated delicate territory when she also took on Second World War–related subject matter for “I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors”.

      “The big fear about this is”¦what can you say and how will it be taken, because it’s such a politically charged arena to walk into,” she says in an interview at a Davie Street coffee shop.

      National Film Board producers approached Fleming to adapt Toronto-born artist and author Bernice Eisenstein’s illustrated memoir. Although Fleming doesn’t have any Jewish heritage (she’s of Chinese and Australian descent), her biographical documentary feature about her great-grandfather, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, was also a multigenerational immigrant story that incorporated animation.

      “I understood her [Bernice’s] process of dealing with family,” Fleming says. “Of course, she’s dealing with the Holocaust, which is a whole new process of complexity. But it’s very hard to get family to talk about things. It’s very hard, especially for immigrants. And when you decide you’re going to do this, you have to be so respectful of them and how they want to be presented. So I understood her difficulty there. And I felt I couldn’t push further than she had already gone.”

      Whittling the 192-page book down to a 16-minute film proved to be an arduous process for Fleming. She had never adapted anyone else’s work before and was concerned with what Eisenstein would think.

      “It was painful because the subject matter is very painful,” she adds. “And I took that on for four years”¦.The book itself is irreverent and funny, but it’s also filled with pathos and”¦it’s tragic on a political level and on a personal level. And the big challenge is how do you lift that up and present something that is even watchable yet still be able to get across some of all of that multiplicity of emotions.”

      Well, she did something right—she received Eisenstein’s stamp of approval. Nonetheless, she still worries about how it will be received, and she hopes that it will inspire viewers to read the book. Like all other shorts, Fleming’s film is a merely a bite-sized view into a much larger world. Ultimately, it’s up to the viewer to accept the invitation to continue to explore further after leaving the theatre.




      Oct 6, 2010 at 8:42pm

      It's great that the short films are getting some press this year. They are a highly entertaining, bite-sized part of the VIFF that no one should miss. Like they missed mine last year. Bastards.