Short Film Reviews

Review: Toronto Youth Shorts 2015

“Blue Eyed Drunks” Courtesy of TYS

I’m always willing to throw support towards the Toronto Youth Shorts for good reason. The festival offers an accessible platform for aspiring filmmakers to screen their work, and to engage the audience through a stimulating Q&A.

Toronto Youth Shorts stands out as an exceptional film festival because it rarely hits rough patches. Then again, it’s to no surprise, considering that the selection process and the overall festival presentation are handled with coordinated grace, courtesy of festival director Henry Wong and his staff – all of whom are equally as passionate to screen inspired work and give hopeful voices a new opportunity to be heard.

In the past, I’ve offered pre-coverage and reflections on the festival, and I’ve often admitted that I’m inclined to remove my critic hat because I become so enwrapped in what I’m watching. The same case can be made for the selections I’ve watched this year out of the 30 titles from the Greater Toronto Area and Southern Ontario.

A New Reflection

“A New Reflection” Courtesy of TYS

Toronto Youth Shorts usually hosts some documentaries. It’s no different this time around. I was enlightened and exhilarated by Pauline Beal and Lindsay Fontaine’s “A New Reflection.” The delicate doc primarily focuses on Katie Atkinson – a student with multiple facial differences – and her recollection of how she learned to use her vibrant personality to overcome critical and nosy comments. Atkinson is an inspiration, but the scenes featuring her optimistic and curious mother – who also shares some of her daughter’s traits – are evenly enriching.

A Woman Departed copy

“A Woman Departed” Courtesy of TYS

Then there’s Steven Czikk’s “A Woman Departed,” which tugged at my heartstrings and caused a lump in my throat. Czikk showcases how love can both empower and exhaust, as a grippingly emotional interviewee explains. A forlorn man pours his heart out about his relationship to his wife which has now become similar to that between a caregiver and a patient. The documentarian respects his subject, and gives viewers a bittersweet intimate film.

Of the films that that I screened, Abdul Malik’s “Blue Eyed Drunks presented the strongest scripted narrative and an impressive style. Malik’s coming-of-age short is akin to Danny Boyle directing “Superbad – under all of the flash are concrete characters who we can empathize with. Two high-school students discuss the struggle to keep their original Pakistani grassroots alive in their new, western-civilization living conditions. It’s gripping, smart, and a very attractive film.

Tanabata

“Tanabata” Courtesy of TYS

Animation fans will be whisked away by Annie Amaya’s lovely “Tanabata.” A parental epiphany is explained in Alicia Harris’ “Fatherhood.” And confident women steal the show in Dan Laera’s exciting wrestling doc “Pretty Dangerous” and in Joy Webster’s poignant “In the Weeds.”

If these selections represent the quality of this year’s Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival, then we have a hit on our hands. Moviegoers have a bright future ahead of them if these featured filmmakers decide to further carry out their craft.

The seventh annual Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival takes place on August 8, 2015 at Innis Town Hall. For tickets and more information, hop on over to the Toronto Youth Shorts’ website.

Review: ‘Me And My Moulton’

It is easy to see why Torill Kove’s latest short film, “Me and My Moulton,” won this year’s Canadian Screen Award for Best Animated Short and recently garnered an Oscar nomination. The film’s simple but colourful animations accompany what turns out to be a delightful, yet quite complex, foray into family life.

Set in Norway over the course of spring and summer in 1965, the story is told through the eyes of a 7-year-old girl who longs for everything normal – and a bicycle to share with her two sisters. As the middle child of markedly modernist architect parents, she yearns to be like those around her. The family that lives below her seems the model familial unit, complete with attentive parents, two children – one boy and one girl – a dog and a cozy home with plush wall-to-wall carpeting. Meanwhile upstairs, the girl and her two sisters are encouraged to thrive in an unconventional household, but instead spend much of their time awkwardly navigating their parents’ usual ways. Even their dinner hour is made an exercise in the avant-garde, with the girls trying to eat but spending most of their time attempting, and failing, to stay atop three-legged dining chairs.

The middle daughter is lost in a sea of envy. While her father is the only man with a moustache in the entire town, the father downstairs is clean-shaven and performs manly duties, like yard work, hunting and military service. The mother downstairs stays at home, makes after-school snacks, and shops for beautiful dresses for her daughter, while the 7-year-old’s own mother makes clothing for her and her sisters out of brightly coloured and eclectic fabrics. All of this leads the little girl to a great deal of inner struggle over the notion of what a conventional family should look and act like.

Throughout the film, Kove maintains a careful balance. She takes on challenging themes of identity, envy and the differences in the ways parents and children view the world, all while maintaining a sense of whimsy and humour. As the little girl and her sisters struggle to understand why their parents have ordered a “special” bicycle all the way from England, they are also confronted with the reality that what seems normal and perfect, often is quite the contrary.

With pitch-perfect narration by Norwegian actress Andrea Braein Hovig, the audience is invited to share the variety of emotions that are portrayed – sadness, confusion, envy, loneliness. Ultimately though, it is love that overcomes and the mature realization by our young characters that their parents’ greatest flaw is not their proclivity for the avant-garde, but rather simply that their idea of what is a great bike differs from that of their daughters. What Kove masterfully reminds us is that it is through the eyes of children that we are taught that the acts of giving and receiving are ultimately ones of love.

“Me and My Moulton” is available through VOD on the National Film Board website and iTunes Canada.