VIFF: Lowlife, Tehran Taboo, Idizwadidiz, and Prototype


Lowlife, dir. Ryan Prows

Dir. Ryan Prows

Three stories intertwine when distinct characters of the underworld become involved in a lowlife’s criminal act of organ harvesting and human trafficking. Structured in four chapters, with the first three depicting the same time frame, Lowlife feels like an episodic narrative or vignette of short stories. These stories come together for the final act—a gruesome yet captivating end.

The central figures which play a part in each vignette is a criminal lowlife by the name of Teddy Bear (Mark Burnham in a chilling role) and his adoptive daughter, Kaylee (Santana Dempsey). Using blackmail, Teddy has his pregnant daughter kidnapped by an embezzler from her loyal partner, El Monstruo (Monster), in an effort to sell the kidney to her biological mother to save her biological father. Prows deftly handles this complex narrative, painting a clear picture of each character—monsters, fiends, thugs, and criminals—and compelling the audience to sympathize with these lowlifes.

By the fourth act, a makeshift justice league of sorts abounds as the three groups come together to save the princess from bowser—I mean Kaylee from Teddy. Mother and daughter narrowly escape the carnage, off to a new life away from this dark world they have become embroiled in.

The film is gory, but not in vein. Some might find the violence too intense and turn away, but the gore is a byproduct of Prows’ watchful, observing eye, willing to give consequence to action and display this without cutaway. According to the director, the film is Casavettes meets Verhoeven. A tall order, but there are certainly elements which show these influences. More prominently, however, Lowlife is a Prows film and captures an atmosphere all of its own—a debut feature ushering in a newfound auteur.

Tehran Taboo

Dir. Ali Soozandeh

A trace of the true mingles with a flight of fantasy in this rotoscoped film about sexual taboo and gender inequality in Tehran. Reality is enhanced through saturation and shadow but remains uncompromised by the animation technique, one which allows troubling content to be shown in a lighter manner. Colours and light are made affecting and expressive, carrying forth a greater power, in some sense, than the filmed image would show on its own.

Soozandeh makes present a story of social stigma which exists in concealed form under Tehran’s Sharia law. He shows how something natural and instinctual has been perverted into taboo, wherein acting upon one’s natural sexuality is punished and fears runs deep as a result. The public experience is controlled and policed in spite that everyone is aware of the hypocrisy and injustice of their society.

Soozandeh’s film encapsulates the social circumstances in Tehran—and outside of it—through fictional means. This is a complex effort, and there are points when creatively embellishing a story for enhanced impact feels a bit exploitative. That said, Soozandeh’s points are not far from truth, and the film serves as a powerful testament to a restrictive society which threatens the humanity of those within it.


Dir. Isiah Medina

A short from Ontario based avant-garde filmmaker, Isiah Medina, one of the people responsible for initiating Canada’s current film art movement which Adam Cook’s Future//Present series distinguishes, Idizwadidiz is a visually arresting experiment in sound, light, and technology. The outstanding images display in high vibration a number of patterns, rhythmically timed cuts, repetition of objects and forms such as circles, dots, and irises, and many shifts in colour, light, and perspective. The repetition of images forms powerful audio-visual motifs which are interspersed with images of two Japanese girls walking around—at once a call to its own experimentation and a story that is what it is.


Dir. Blake Williams

A prototype for a new cinema, a new form of art, Blake Williams’ film is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. An avant-garde sci-fi film depicting the hurricane of Galveston in 1900, this 3D work of art is intense, overwhelming, and extends into new ways of saying or showing things through this format of filmmaking.

Brilliantly crafted, Williams’ 3D technique uses Philco television screens and, through an experimental form, offers vital cinematic structures typically unseen in contemporary 3D features. Likening the work of Jean-Luc Godard, Prototype shows revolutionary fervor and a desire to reach deeper into new ways of communicating through art.

The film takes on multiple forms which are visually delineated. After some photographs, a long take of the Galveston hurricane engulfs the viewer in a ceiling of water with near vertiginous consequence. The dizzying effect is immeasurably unique.

What follows is a series of Philco screens with distinct imagery. Presenting several screens at once, each a different depth and distance away, the sensorial impact of this segment is multi-faceted. Complete autonomy is given the viewer, who decides his/her own experience in choosing which screen to pay attention to. There is no option for gestalt perspective; there is no wholeness to escape in, just self-introspection and a feeling of mindfulness. Most notable in my experience of this segment was a three dimension tree to screen right which is depicted from an angular perspective. There was something incredibly surreal and penetrating about this image, one which remains on my mind to this moment.

In the next section of Prototype, Williams’ images move towards obscuration and affect as he places the camera closer to the objects. What results is a perfectly abstract three dimensional experience which communicates with audience in an immediately sensorial and hallucinatory manner. Completing the film are naturalistic images which bring the viewer back to life.

Williams’ film calls towards a new cinema, or at least a new 3D cinema, and comments on the existence of 3D in a perpetually prototypical phase. It recognizes itself as a prototype, and thus it serves as only the beginning of what promises to be a long and fulfilling career for the young director.


About Author

Kamran's areas of interest include formalism, realism & reality, affect, and notions of the aesthetic. With experiences as a TA, an event panelist, a presenter at conferences from UofT to Harvard, and a writer of a self-authored film blog, Kamran would like to share with others his profound interest in the profilmic in the hopes of inspiring, in them, a similar love for film.