Famous People Abound
One of the most popular events at the WSFF is Celebrity Shorts because, despite our reputation, Canadians are just like everyone else and are interested in famous people. We just don't accost them on the street.
Given the opportunity, though, we will gladly ask them long, involved, and somewhat bizarre questions should they be fool enough to approach a microphone after we've seen their film.
After watching the Canadian shorts (Canadian Idle), the one common thread in these films (aside from, you know, the famous people), was the money involved. All of the shorts have their strengths and weaknesses, but they uniformly had a large crew and access to good equipment, film stock, and editing. And it shows. While short films are more forgiving of economic constraints, having that professional DOP and set dressers and being able to afford a soundtrack makes an enormous difference.
KEEP RIGHT from Tim Godsall (USA) starts with a tense, heart-pounding car chase. Ewen Bremner is chased through a parking lot by Lance Henriksen and there's a tense showdown. The film inverts what you expect and draws chuckles.
THE LITTLE THINGS by Gary Hawes (Canada) is a quietly funny piece about two insecure office cubical dwellers (Alisen Down and Ioan Gruffud) who are both suicidal. Misery loves company. Down and Gruffud's subtle acting and the use of visual stillness impressively maintain the darkly humorous mood.
David Ostry's MILO 55160 features Patrick McKenna as a highly efficient worker at a DMV-like post-death processing centre. His faith in the bureaucracy is challenged when a boy between life and death arrives and causes him to discover what lies beyond his desk. The premise is interesting and the action unpredictable until the end. McKenna's large-eyed gaze anchors the film.
SPELLING BEE is Phil Dornfeld's (USA) broad comedy, and the most deliberately silly film of the bunch, a send-up of Spellbound. It features Charlie Sheen as himself (or a caricature of himself, which amounts to the same thing these days) and Anna Farris. You will laugh. There's an adorable kid singing broadway style mnemonic devices. And really, who can resist a chorus line?
PIGEON, from Anthony Green (Canada) is a sharp change in tone from the above films, based on a true story (which is really what gives the film any weight), set in France in 1941. Wendy Crewson and Michael Lerner are strangers on a train, one of whom has lost their papers. The idea of what happens is touching. The film itself, while the acting is solid, lacks cohesion. And the eponymous pigeon of the title is a weak attempt at symbolism that falls flat.
NOTTING HILL ANXIETY FESTIVAL from Ravi Kumar (UK) was the screening's gem, starring the always wonderful Julie Delpy as a sad woman whose suicidal psychology manifests itself pervasively in her environment. The cinematography here is beautiful, with lovely visual motifs and a dream-like colour palette. The only slightly off element was Delpy's accent, which wasn't English to match the child in the film, nor her usual French lilt. Overall an elegant piece.
NEWS FOR THE CHURCH is Andrew McCarthy's interpretation of a Frank O'Conner short story. Nora-Jane Noone is a woman who stops in a church to confess and is berated by the priest, while a young boy attempts to get a piece of bread from an unforgiving baker. The lovely Irish scenery serves as a sharp counterpoint to the emotional and physical violence in the piece, which is startling and surprising in it's direct simplicity.
The question period after the screening involved Andrew McCarthy and Gary Hawes, who both gamely answered a spate of questions about making their films and what it was all about, really. Perhaps the most depressing thing to learn for aspiring filmmakers is that it sure helps to have free access to a full crew and a large supply of short ends (they both had shoot ratios of around 10:1). And money.
McCarthy claimed it was hard for him to accept free labour from his crew (spoken like a true professional). Hawes admitted to basically going broke to make films, so I doubt he has the same problem. Given their 'ins' in the industry, they both have easy access to actors, casting directors, crew and film stock. Lucky devils.