Cars, cartoons and new technology mark Canuck shorts

Love in all its tortured beauty, animation that blows apart the very act of creation, cell phones that transmit messages of loneliness, and family relationships stretched to the breaking point are all part of the mix in this year's 44-film Short Cuts Canada program. Now in its second year, the Short Cuts program brings together works by new and established Canadian filmmakers from across the country, each sharing a passion for the succinct nature of the short film.

Love in all its tortured beauty, animation that blows apart the very act of creation, cell phones that transmit messages of loneliness, and family relationships stretched to the breaking point are all part of the mix in this year’s 44-film Short Cuts Canada program. Now in its second year, the Short Cuts program brings together works by new and established Canadian filmmakers from across the country, each sharing a passion for the succinct nature of the short film.

‘This was a record year for submissions for us – close to 550 entries were seen by our committee,’ says Ben Murray, in his first year as TIFF’s senior coordinator of Canadian special projects. ‘I think the rise in number has a certain amount to do with the accessibility of digital technology – that and the fact that word is spreading about the Short Cuts program.’

The greatest challenge of short films is to evoke a strong emotional or cerebral response from the audience in just a few moments of screen time. The shortest entries this year, Phone Call from an Imaginary Girlfriend: Ankara and Phone Call from an Imaginary Girlfriend: Istanbul, clock in around two minutes apiece. Directed by festival regular Don McKellar, the Girlfriend shorts were shot with cell-phone technology.

McKellar’s two films, part of the Shorts in Motion series funded by Bravo!FACT and the National Film Board, are highly anticipated this year, with the cell-phone medium bringing a new dimension. The combination of the haunting sadness of the script and the slightly blurred, intensely personal shots creates a romantic, ethereal quality. They are love letters stored digitally in an unknown person’s cell phone, and the audience is reading that person’s mail. Silva Basmajian, who co-produced for the NFB, says that the board is always looking at ‘matching talent with new technologies, and Shorts in Motion is a perfect example. These films have been innovative and fun projects.’

Working on a bigger canvas is B.C.’s Byron Lamarque, making his third appearance at TIFF with Hide, which focuses on a mother’s wish for quiet. Lamarque was excited to shoot in HD for the first time, transferring to 35mm afterwards.

‘Digital offers you the option to just pick up a camera and shoot – to get a lot of imagery down, which was important to us, as one of our characters [played by Daisy Lippa] was five-years-old, and we couldn’t always be sure when we’d need to roll.’ Lamarque says he will always return to the short form, as there are fewer restrictions. ‘You are trying to [provide] an experience, rather than develop in-depth relationships within the characters. I always wish I could make them shorter, actually. I always think I should keep cutting. It’s very important to leave the audience wanting more.’

Cars play a key role in many of this year’s shorts, used either as a film’s setting or as a prop in intimate, often disturbing conversations and emotional breakdowns. Jamie Dagg’s Waiting (from Ontario) begins with a car breaking down, while Claude, from Quebec’s Stephane Lafleur and Louis-David Morasse, opens with a car doused in gasoline ­- and a strange noise. A car accident breaks the silence in Jon Knautz’s Still Life (Ontario), while the father-son tension in Greg Spottiswood’s Noise (Ontario) builds to explosive levels over a car’s locked door.

Animation is well represented this year. Cnote from Genie- and Oscar-nominated Montrealer Chris Hinton attempts to visually deconstruct sound, while Denis Chabot’s Une âme nue glisse à l’eau vive (Quebec) employs retro line-drawing animation to meditate on the act of creation. Firas Momani’s dark rendering of A Half Man, meanwhile, utilizes stop-motion animation to tell the story of a character who has been sliced in half. Momani thought his visually jarring piece might be considered too different to ever be accepted by TIFF, but there was never a question in his mind about wanting to be a part of the festival scene.

‘[Being at the festival] is overwhelming. It’s encouraging, especially for those of us who think ‘They’ll never even look at my work because I’m not established.’ I’m so happy that [the programmers] take the time to really promote and put newer filmmakers on the map.’

Another common thread in this year’s storylines is a focus on family dysfunction as seen through the eyes of children. Big Girl, made at the Canadian Film Centre by Renuka Jeyapalan, deals with a young girl’s displeasure over her mother’s new boyfriend and is ‘really bittersweet, a really great piece,’ says Murray.

The programmer is reluctant to talk about too many favorites, but offers, ‘My Uncle Navy & Other Inherited Disorders [by Ontario's Adam Swica] is another child-narrated piece we were big fans of. Then there is the experimental film Shoulders on a Map by [Saskatchewan's] Jason Britski that uses Super 8 very effectively, creating an almost romantic feel.

‘There’s really just a great lineup this year.’

Other high-profile films in this year’s Short Cuts Canada include the mock-opera The Argument, a follow-up to Burnt Toast by Rhombus Media’s Larry Weinstein; Dumb Angel by renowned experimental Winnipeg filmmaker deco dawson; the partially animated Room 710 by Ann Marie Fleming, who also has the feature The French Guy at the fest; and the four-minute There’s a Flower in My Pedal by feature director Andrea Dorfman (Love That Boy). The world premiere of My Dad Is 100 Years Old, directed by Guy Maddin and starring Isabella Rossellini in a love letter to her father, the late Italian director Roberto Rossellini, will precede a screening of the latter’s 1945 classic Rome, Open City in the returning Dialogues series.