With well over 300 films on the menu at this year’s ShortFest it’s impossible to see them all. Critics, then, have three options: line up for the public screenings and hope that the festival pass isn’t trumped by ticket holders (other festivals, HotDocs for instance, have a far better system of ensuring that their films get as many reviews as possible), drop by the media centre and screen films on Apple computers as workstations and screeners are available (but do bring your own headphones as those on offer fit poorly and fail miserably at blocking out ambient noise) or take advantage of streaming on demand when provided by savvy publicists (but also be wary: not all Vimeos are created equally: it’s a bit of a crap shoot whether or not the buffering system will allow an uninterrupted flow).
Here are four productions: 2 via Apple; 2 via Vimeo, and—as usual—with a wide mixture of forms and styles.
One Armed Man
2014, 27 min.
Let us pray
Released in the same year that 12 Years a Slave won the Academy Award for Best Picture (cross-reference below), Guinee’s production also zeroes in on the horrors of cotton ginning, but focuses on physical calamity rather than racial abuse. Nonetheless, the root of both is the same: white man’s greed.
Oscar-winning writer Horton Foote zeroes in on a now one-armed, former machinery operator (John Magaro—giving nothing away until the last possible second—is superb as Ned) who returns to confront his uncaring boss (from pompous “I have to be a leader” through to beaten man, begging for his life, Charles Haid is readily believable as the heartless, church-going executive). Deftly adding balance and shaping character before the major confrontation begins, Foote lets company lieutenant, near-bankrupt Pinky (Terry Kenney has no problem being the yes man), prepare the way. Would that all writers learn this important art of story development.
Guinee wisely keeps the action as taut as possible, allowing viewers to fill in some of the blanks until the utterance of “heaven” settles more scores than offers redemption. Importantly, when push comes to murderous shove, how curious that the pious cannot even summon up their most beloved prayer. Rather than a pound of flesh, Ned walks away with an armful of justice, American style. JWR
2013, 15 min.
There’s no life like it
John, an Afghan vet (Kallan Richards soars into his split personalities, wants and needs) with a haunting war assignation etched in memory meets a “spurned” lad (Daniel Webber in the title role is a model of sensuality and intellect) whose buddies have dumped him despite having a chest to die for. Seeking mutual company (and perhaps more…) in their shared seedy motel, the boozy conversation ranges between “Have you killed anybody?”—beat, “Let’s talk about something else” to a gory description of a full-face gay bashing. Finally, Eric loses himself in his techno music, before wave after wave of the score (beautifully rendered by pianist Sho Kolat and cellist Yoshika Masuda) fills the ear with anger and hope, respectively. JWR
2013, 10 min.
Not Asian enough
Using Aaron (Richard Lee is ideally cuddly and hip simultaneously, more please) as his saucy, sensitive spokesperson, Wong’s send up of dating by nationality and skin colour hits many racist nails on the head. Still, his buddies (Brett Donahue as anything goes Matt80, Ben Lewis as ever-eager Steve) and sudden flame, (Adamo Ruggerio plays the sultry Geoff) seem more pragmatic with their shared mantra: “He just wants to get laid.” And so Aaron does, but his shelf life is severely shortened when he is revealed to be “too Canadian” for his fortnight fornicator (Note to Chinese-Canadian men: never eat rice with a fork…).
As silly and funny as this social commentary is, its ounce of truth manages to outscore the overdone clichés (may Charlie Chan forever “west in peace!”).
Wong now seems ready to tackle more important fare: bring it on! JWR
The Tide Keeper
2013, 10 min.
The old man in the sea
Fast on the documentary heels of Christopher Jones’ Trash, Manufactured (cross-reference below), Duncan has crafted a far more fanciful cautionary tale describing our collective destruction of our most precious resource. Literally seen through the eyes of her father (Lee Stuart delivering a silent, courageous performance as the man whose boyhood dream of leaving the world in a better place than when he found it is quickly disintegrating, one washed up plastic bag at a time), the focus of the brief film is a dream.
Most thoughtfully accompanied by Francesca Mountfort’s cello-laden score, the old man morphs from tide saviour to tied-up prisoner of unending waste. Seemingly, the boats and ships align to take revenge on those who are wrecking their natural habitat. Who can blame them?
An Alien-like rebirth appears to be more parasitical than clarion of hope—it’s not just monstrous oil spills that threaten the ecology of all: every bit of manmade “progressive” products still have the potential to send us all to Davy Jones’ locker.
Masterful puppetry and a well-balanced narrative flow are the icing on this satisfying cake. JWR