This year for the Toronto International Film Festival’s Short Cuts Canada programme, over 40 shorts from both fledging and established filmmakers have been culled together to serve as a lean cross-section of Canadian film. 2014’s slate of films covers a range of modes and genres, but primarily showcases the abundance of filmmaking talent Canada has to offer.
One highlight is the self-deprecating Zero Recognition, directed by Ben Lewis and starring Lauren Collins, who also co-scripted with Lewis. The film centers on an interesting, often unexplored side of celebrity: the almost famous. Lauren Collins plays a version of herself, dealing with her neuroses in a life after Degrassi: The Next Generation. It’s a cute — though slight — piece of work that recalls Woody Allen in its self-observation.
Another comedy, Last Night (directed by Arlen Konopaki), draws on the improvisational feel of American comedic powerhouse Judd Apatow (co-star Christian Capozzoli recalls Apatow regular Jonah Hill). The film finds two roommates in a confrontation about what occurred in the middle of the night. Its light, tossed-off feel works in its favour, particularly as their argument escalates. Towards the end it descends into lunacy and gross-out territory, but it’s an amusing little film.
Del Ciego Desert from Qubecois director François Leduc also slyly has a humours conceit, thought it’s one note that’s played too much even for the film’s scant running time. Two feuding ranchers in the Old West face off, despite each of them having incredibly bad eye sight, which initially provides for the film’s biggest laughs. As Del Ciego Desert progresses, flashbacks reveal the nature of the feud. Its final moments point to perhaps a more interesting direction in terms of identity, though it’s ultimately something that the film’s not concerned with.
Santiago Menghini‘s Intruders is a stark, moody piece that unsettles for the entirety of its nine minutes. I was impressed how the film’s visuals conveyed just enough information to move the story forward. One of the benefits of the short form is the freedom for directors to be less strictly plot-driven, which Intruders is, but only in the service of tension and suspense. The film also includes a startling and devious final shot.
The most impressive Canadian short I caught, though, is Ray Wong‘s Burnt Grass. Its clever sci-fi premise resembles something one might find in a classic Twilight Zone episode. What begins as something wry and oddly humours quickly becomes sinister and more provocative. Similar to Del Ciego Desert and Zero Recognition, Burnt Grass explores identity and how it’s defined, but does so more abstractly and — essentially — more effectively. Wong’s crisp and intimate style, too, lends itself well to the story of Sally and Jack who discover a mysterious hole in their backyard that can duplicate organic life. What initially starts as a fun curiosity shifts when Sally duplicates herself. Burnt Grass also offers an ambiguous, haunting final shot — though one that lingers so the audience can contemplate its meaning as it unfolds.
Information and showtimes for all the films in the Short Cuts Canada programme can be found here.