The Arts

Worldwide Short Film Festival

Worldwide Short Film Festival featured image

By Marc Glassman

Worldwide Short Film Festival takes place from June 1-6
281 films from 34 countries will be screened
Offers the most prize money in the “short” world: $70,000
Is accredited for Oscar nominations as well as Genies and BAFTAs
Received 4046 submissions from 85 countries—lots of “no’s”
845 Canadian submissions of which 91 were chosen
210 premieres: 81 Canadian, 50 Toronto, 31 World
Houses a Digital Marketplace with all submissions viewable
Has special programs: Spotlight on Poland, Lunafest (for women), Scene not Heard (music videos), CFC (Canadian Film Center) Short Dramas, Midnight Mania (don’t ask) a Gala and, of course, 12 Official Selections

The poster for the Worldwide Short Film Festival says it all: a resolute Nordic female is standing outside of the Bloor Cinema wearing a signboard over her body stating: “The End Is Near.” Indeed.

The 16th annual edition of this feisty festival, presented by Telus, produced by the Canadian Film Centre, is back: shorter than ever. All Napoleonic jokes aside, this is one of the best curated and organized film events in Toronto. Every year, I see a majority of the Short Film Festival’s official programs and I’m rarely disappointed.

Here’s a slogan from the early Boomer days: Small is Beautiful. Indeed.

Let’s look at some of the great Canadian shorts, produced inevitably by the National Film Board. Runaway, by Winnipeg animation auteur Cordell Barker, takes the audience on the wildest train ride of your life. When a luxury railroad’s captain (voiced by Richard Condie, the director of The Big Snit) takes off to pitch some woo with a lovely young passenger, his incompetent assistant is left to run the train. Naturally, things go spectacularly awry as slapstick violence takes events quite literally off the rails. A Cannes award-winner, this film by the man who made a generation laugh to The Cat Came Back is good fun.

Funny but much more challenging fare comes from Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, the animators who previously gave us the award-winning Madame Tutli-Putli. Combining the production prowess of the NFB with Warner Brothers, the duo have created a delightfully bizarre adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Higglety Pigglety Pop! Using puppets, animation and the voices of such stars as Meryl Streep and Forest Whitaker, this strange fairy tale is about a terrier named Jennie who encounters enough terrifying experiences on her journey from innocence to adulthood to be able to become a star in the (apparently awesome) Mother Goose Playhouse. Produced by Spike Jonze, this short companion piece to Where the Wild Things Are might actually be closer to the anarchical spirit of Sendak than the feature film.

Equally strange but produced with actors is The New Tenants, the Oscar-winner for Best Live Action Short. Vincent D’Onofrio and Liane Balaban star as the ultimate dysfunctional couple in this black comedy about murder, heroin, cakes and a dead philandering drug dealer named Jerry.

Also odd but quite funny are two episodes of Drunk History, a quirky idea that features stars playing famous real-life characters. In the better of the two shorts, Will Ferrell and Don Cheadle impersonate Abraham Lincoln and African-American orator Frederick Douglass. The trick to this series of shorts is that someone is supposedly drunk and improvises the telling of a true historical tale. In Douglass & Lincoln, Jen Kirkman tells her story so amusingly—and Ferrell and Cheadle are so good—that the short won a Jury Prize at Sundance. (It might have helped that Zooey Deschanel, the embodiment of Sundance’s quirky ethos, plays an impossibly pretty Mary Lincoln).

More interesting to Classical 96 audiences will be 7:57 AM-PM by France’s Simon Lelouch, which recreates the Joshua Bell story from a few years back. Once again, a brilliant violinist, in this case, Renaud Capuçon, played on a subway for free—and was ignored. Two days later, he performed the same piece, Gluck’s Orfeo Melody (on a 1737 Guarnerius violin no less!) to a sold-out audience at the
Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris.

Darker fare is offered in Lipsett’s Diaries, a beautifully rendered animated film by Theo Ushev. Voiced by Cannes award-winner Xavier Dolan, this mesmerizing film tells the tragic tale of Arthur Lipsett, a bi-polar genius at film editing and avant-garde cinema who influenced Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas–but took his own life before the age of 50.

Mystical and gorgeous describe Tungijuq, an Inuit legend about a shape-shifter who can turn from woman to seal and back again. Starring the great throat singer Tanya Tagaq, this award-winner is odd but compelling.

The Worldwide Short Film Festival offers compelling fare all week. I urge you to check out a program or two. Get ready for a big experience.

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