Editor’s Note: Thirty-one films have been selected for the 2012 Toronto Youth Shorts Film Festival from June 2-3. The following are reviews for seven titles that stand out as must watch films.
1. Backwards Rider by Chris Barnard
My number one pick is a documentary film which profiles Lesley Slowley. An artist and environmentalist, Slowley lives his life differently from the rest of us. He travels using his bicycle…backwards. The term he uses is “backwards rider.” The film shows Slowley on a day in his life during the Occupy movement in Toronto last year, where he taught people courses on how to recycle papers to create art.
The camera follows him as he travels backwards on his bicycle through the streets of Toronto. As he travels, you can relate to the reaction on the faces of pedestrians. It’s not exactly what we could consider normal behaviour. But Slowley claims there are “billions of backwards riders.” The climax of the story occurs when Slowley is confronted by the police for his dangerous way of traveling. The tension is palpable. As a viewer, you feel as if you are present in the scene.
This unique character’s philosophy on life may not be something you will agree with, but it is nevertheless fascinating to watch. Slowley’s eccentric personality and unconventional way of living daily life is wonderfully captured and presented in this documentary.
2. Breaking Over Me by Luise Docherty
A common theme in the films at the festival this year is death and how a person behaves when it happens to someone in their lives. Like Earl Oliveros’ Loss Together, this film’s protagonist is unaware of how to react to the news of death in her life. Isla is a 15-year-old girl who learns about her estranged father’s death and goes to his funeral, only to discover that he has a different family. His father’s presence in her life is clearly completely absent, since her single mother barely shows any emotion when Isla tells her the news.
Isla returns to the funeral home multiple times because she finds she is unable to feel any emotion towards her father’s death. She encounters an old man who is grieving the death of his wife. Together they form a relationship based on the fact that they’ve both lost someone in their lives. The difference is that the man lost someone he loved. Isla lost her father, but he was basically a stranger to her. The film’s direction and acting is wonderful. The story, while set in a depressing atmosphere, has moments of hope and humanity that the audience will connect with.
3. Heart of Perception by Fabiola Alliu
The film begins with the introduction of two individuals: A stylish woman in a darkroom for photography and a homeless man out in the streets. Two people who you would never associate or expect to have anything to do with each other. Yet these two individuals come into contact when the woman approaches and joins the homeless man, who is sitting all alone with his beer. The two spend the day together, buying a camera and having coffee together.
It is never stated directly at first, but as a viewer you get the idea that these two know each other very well and that this is not the first time they’ve met. They find comfort and enjoyment in each other’s company. The answer to the mystery of how they know each other is kept a secret until the very end. The reveal is told in an emotional and authentic way that makes you re-evaluate everything that happened before. It is a unique relationship that is interesting to watch unfold, because of the good acting and chemistry of both leads.
4. Our Best Friends by Aiden Jeans
This documentary explores a relationship most of us can relate to: an owner and his or her pet. In particular, the focus is on showcasing various people’s stories about the deaths of their pets. That alone sounds quite depressing, doesn’t it? The film begins with a very disheartening introduction, as an expert speaks about the emotional devastation that comes with the death of a pet. This is followed by images of missing pets on display. But that’s where the gloomy mood of the film ends.
It takes a completely unexpected turn. It becomes a black comedy, with each individual’s pet death tale told in a comedic way. The first story is told with a young man playing the role of a dog. A mini skit that ends in his death scene, shows him behaving like a dog and interacting with his owner. But he is not dressed like one. So what you see are two men being silly, playing make-believe. Another notable presentation is a woman retelling the story of her goldfish’s death, but with her dressed as the fish and full of goofy expressions.
By adding humor to the concept of death, it creates a fresh perspective or way of telling a story you may have probably heard or experienced before. The different ways each story is re-enacted is so over the top and non-serious, that it lightens up a normally sensitive issue. By presenting a generic topic in various unconventional ways, the film stands out and should be commended for it.
5. Loss Together by Earl Oliveros
Death is a sensitive issue for all of us. It can become an even more uncomfortable situation if you don’t know how to react properly. This is what happens to a man named Fred, when he and his co-workers at their office, are gathered in a meeting and told the news about the death of their co-worker, Joyce. None of them knew her personally. Everyone at the office seems devastated by the news. Everyone, but Fred. He is detached from feeling anything as he is clueless with how to behave in this type of situation.
His co-workers try to release his emotions by letting him watch the famously depressing opening scene from the Pixar film, Up. Another moment of awkwardness finds the co-workers attending the funeral and meeting Joyce’s father. These awkward situations become humorous as we connect to Fred in his inability to know how to properly behave. The situations he gets himself into become relatable to the audience, thanks to the acting of the cast. They act well together and never seem inauthentic. Finding humor out of such a touchy subject like death is difficult to achieve, but this film is successful in that aspect.
6. A Slice of Life by Emily Powell
This documentary follows Emily Powell in Warkworth, Ont., as she competes for the first time in the annual Perfect Pie Contest. This contest brings the town together every fall, as pie-makers compete for the title of having made the perfect pie. With the help of famous pie-maker Norma McCleary’s (the only four-time winner in the contest’s history) recipe, Powell is challenging herself by making a pie worthy of the competition.
As viewers, we join Powell in her journey to creating the perfect pie. Powell, who admits to having very little experience in baking, struggles on her way. But we find ourselves rooting for Powell not to give up. We follow her eventually to the competition, where the winners are revealed after each pie is tasted and judged.
The bond of the community and their friendly competition is evident on screen. It’s a charming documentary that might just inspire you to bake a pie yourself.
7. Blind Luck by Diane Aarts
This visually-appealing, short animated film is one that will appeal to all ages, not just children. We are introduced to an eye-dog who is guiding an elderly woman through the busy streets of a city. The simple task becomes a dilemma and challenge for the dog as he is tempted by the big red ball in her bag.
The story is humorous as the dog attempts to balance both tasks of guiding his owner, as well as playing with his ball, which he accidentally lets loose on the streets. The dog’s interference with traffic creates chaos in the street. The film is less than two minutes long (ending at one minute and 20 seconds), but still manages to tell its story in an entertaining way.