Kris Rothstein's Blog

VIFF 2018: Canadian Short Films

Kris Rothstein

Short films are a terrain of risk and reward. I have known the pain of sitting through projects I absolutely hated because I wanted to see a film later in the program. But most of the time, a selection of short films is an opportunity to cede control to a curator, and to be surprised by whatever collection they have assembled. If one isn’t your cup of tea, then just take a mini nap and in ten minutes, bring fresh eyes and ears to the next film.

Sometimes a great short is the first sign of a brilliant career to come, and often a festival is the only place to see these gems. I always forget the joy of a ten or fifteen minute film, an expert, compact story which often packs more punch than a longer feature.

There are ten programs of short films and five of the programs are exclusively Canadian. I watched some of these Canadian shorts.

Veslemøy's Song is the latest release from Sofia Bohdanowicz, rising young star of VIFF and Canadian cinema. Partway through the film, the artist’s personal style was so strong that I recognized her as the filmmaker behind last year’s Maison du Bonheur, even though I hadn’t noticed Bohdanowicz’s name on this one. While Maison du Bonheur was clearly non-fiction, Veslemøy's Song is an inventive fusing of documentary and fiction. It begins as a story found in a grandmother’s storage locker, of a Canadian violin teacher and a recording locked deep in a New York library. Superficially it is earnest and straightforward but the relationship to history is much more nuanced and tenuous than it appears. Found footage (or new created found footage) stands in for historical document, and damaged scratchy black and white film adds to the ambiance. It’s matter of fact, anti-dramatic ending is intensely satisfying even in its lack of conclusion.

Hazel Isle is the latest short from Vancouver’s Jessica Johnson. The subject is a small island off the west coast of Scotland, and depth and richness come from the interplay between landscape and human history, family and storytelling. Sheep and sheep dogs make an appearance (essential for wild UK place films). I loved Johnson’s use of overlapping conversations, both for the meditative, musical sound quality, but also because that's the way people talk to you, relatives, talking about history and family places. Visually, Hazel Isle is glorious and unapologetic in its love of the tactile and sensory possibilities of actual 16mm film. It uses and embraces irregularities in colour and brightness, and the quality of the end of a film reel. As a piece of art, it captures the feeling of another age, avoiding the cold, clinical feeling of digital images.

The previous two films can both be seen in the Various Positions program.

Explaining the literal plot or premise ruins the mystique of Glitter’s Wild Women, so don’t even read the description. What you need to know is that two young women live their best, weird lives in this slightly dreamy, somewhat absurd, magic realist film from the director Roney. Some of their exaggerated behavior may be attributed to the luminescent blue fungus they harvest and smoke. The saturated, glitchy, off-key soundtrack, even more than the visuals, lends an aura of instability. Murderous and enthralling. See it as part of Matters of Grave Importance.

Amélie Hardy’s film, Train Hopper, also pushes boundaries of genre. It took quite a while before I could tell that it was indeed non-fiction. The structure is unconventional, as we are obliquely introduced to the subject, who rides freight trains. Once a necessity for free movement, then a search for freedom and self-expression in the restless 60s, riding the rails seems all but forgotten. Little is explained but the draw of moving through the landscape is well expressed.

There is no drama at all (what a relief) in Matthew Taylor Blais’s eight minute meditation, Best Friends Read the Same Books. Again, I did not recognize him as the filmmaker behind 2017's Forest Movie, which I loved, until after I viewed this film. It showcases experiments with colour and pacing, and is composed of long slow shots until a more frenetic burst at the end. Vancouver is seen as a landscape of quiet trees and sky, mostly lacking in people, utterly wholesome.

The previous two films are both showing in the Escape Routes program.



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