Drink up, Crazy8s has produced a kickass program for 2020

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      Even after all this time the Crazy8s film challenge continues to surprise. This year’s shorts premier at the Centre for Performing Arts on Saturday (February 22), and viewers can expect to see more menstrual blood and masturbation than in the last 21 years combined, plus two queer stories, and a couple instances of production and set design that barely seem feasible under the competition’s budget and time constraints. Performances throughout are remarkably strong. 

      Not so unusual is an element of fantasy common to at least three of the titles. Ali Liebert’s “The Quieting” places Sara Canning and Julia Sarah Stone together in a poetic coming out tale with a sweet and haunting twist. The theme here is self-compassion, mirrored in some ways by Bruna Arbex’s “This Is a Period Piece”, a mischievous take on the terrors of female puberty that takes a hard left from its earthy opening scenes into surreal institutional horror-comedy crossed with Carrie.

      A bug-wrangling credit is our first indication that Brodi-jo Scalise’s “Itsy Bitsy Spider” is more committed to straight-up anxiety. The beastie of the title is real and the atmosphere thick in this queer riff on Repulsion, which makes outstanding use of a cluttered old (probably West End) apartment. On a much grander scale are the labyrinthine sets of “The Substitute”, which take the viewer from the classroom to an elaborate underworld in the fine comic company of TV veteran Christina Sicoli—who may or may not be out of her depth with the ancient language she’s teaching. 

      The invention, timing, and choreography of “Mr. James Is Dead” is no less impressive, thanks largely to Peter Hoskins (who also wrote) as a nebbish who can’t find anything good to say at his father’s funeral. You won’t find any spoiler’s here, although we will say this: never trust Madame Von Gunlegs! Directed by Daniel Irving and Josh Aries, “Mr. James…” somersaults through its gonzo plot turns with style and gusto. Again: how in God’s name did they shoot this in three days?

      By contrast, “Sol” is a model of economy in its depiction of a blighted Earth so toxic that a young child can never leave her house. Andy Alvarez’s film recalls the classic 1982 short “All Summer in a Day”—it traumatized every kid who saw it—but the existential payload is heavier than it ever was, and it’s achieved on a fraction of the resources. You can go big or go small, but here's decisive proof that there’s more than one way to Crazy an eight.