Review of Worldwide Short Film Festival '11 Opening Gala

As short film programmer for Toronto After Dark, the Worldwide Short Film Festival is like Christmas. The sheer number of short films they exhibit is enormous, their programs are always intelligently crafted under a bevy of amusing themes and categories and they throw some great parties (check out their Scene Not Herd Music Video bash tonight!). 


That being said I was a bit underwhelmed by their selection for the Opening Night Gala Award Winners program. All in all, the crop of shorts were what I expected from award winners: largely inoffensive, heavy on whimsy or pretension, but light on legitimate sophistication. But these 'winners' in particular left me more dissatisfied then usual - maybe it was something I ate.


Onwards! 


Bukowski (Daan Bakker) was a cute slice of the life of a precocious twelve-year old who claims to be Charles Bukowski while on vacation and ends up entertaining an entire hotel staff with his antics one night. To be honest, when I read the pitch in the program book, I was anticipating something a lot more lurid and sleazy and such expectations definitely hurt my enjoyment of what was ultimately a family-friendly affair. This is a film that feels the need to repeatedly emphasize that the child Bukowski is cradling a glass of apple juice and not scotch. It endears, but never gets any further then its one-note conceit. 


The next film was West of the Moon (Brent Bonacorso), one of the better films in the program, effectively cribbing the dream-like aesthetic of filmmakers like Gilliam and Jeunet. An old man awakens and reflects on the frequently absurd exploits of his life. There's fun to be had with the short's play with metaphor, and that the content of the short was inspired by actual recollected dreams makes the proceedings even more interesting. An unnecessary revelation in the film's final moments did dampen my enthusiasm for the film, but it was still a fun time. 


Big Bang Big Boom (BLU) is a staggering feat of artistry and patience... on the part of the artist at least. Mixed media artist BLU animates the history of the universe quite literally on an urban landscape. Through stop-motion everything from supernovas, evolution and the follies of mankind play out across buildings, roads, bridges and more. The sheer scale of the project is awe-inspiring and BLU frequently emphasizes the human effort that went into the work, leaving traces of the process throughout. 


The Canadian entry is Theodore Ushev's visually incredible Lipsett Diaries. A tumult of sound collides with delirious pastel-animated images that documents the life of renowned Canadian experimental filmmaker Arthur Lipsett. The short effectively adopts Lipsett's aggressive montage style whirling through an emotional sine-wave of high crests and the lowest of troughs. Less effective is the narration by Xavier Dolan meant to contextualize the images, postulating what Lipsett's unfound diaries may have contained. Perhaps its meant to feel at odds with the film, but for me it only added a sense of pretension to I was desperate to tune out.


Next up was Na Wewe (You Too) directed by Ivan Goldschmidt. A van driving through Burundi, Africa during a civil war is pulled over by a detachment of soldiers who proceed to separate the van's occupants into two ethnic groups, in order to determine who they will kill and who they will spare. What ensues is a darkly comic farce that ultimately boils down to a simple punch-line, instead of something weightier. But it is a funny punch-line and the dramatic tension of the set-up works tremendously.


The screening concluded with The Lost Thing (Andrew Ruhemann), this year's Academy Award winner for Best Animated Short Subject. The film is a cute fable about a mysterious "lost thing" that a man stumbles upon in his youth and sets out to find it a home. The animation is handsome, the story is cute, there's a little morale about the importance of paying attention to the odd things that pass us by in life, but ultimately I couldn't help but regard the whole film as utterly unremarkable in its own right.*


The series repeats on Sunday, June 5th at 9:30pm at the Royal Ontario Museum, but personally, for those of you interested in checking out the rest of the festival, I'd recommend the Midnight programs (Creepy and Freaky) or the newly minted Slap 'n Tickle: Hardgore program for more interesting fare.


*Or perhaps I'm a bit bitter that this beat out Pixar's Day and Night at the Oscars, but at least that film was exploring the medium (who cares if Pixar wins all the time).

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