Cinema In Brief

Cinema in Brief: Recognizing Canada's Shorts

This month: Looking at the inclusion of shorts in this year's Canada's Top Ten, and an interview with Jamie Travis, filmmaker and Top Ten panelist.

Due to the holiday season rush, December's Cinema In Brief had to be put off for a week, and for that, I apologize. In order to make it up to you, this month we're talking about one of the Toronto International Film Festival Group's most recognizable events (not including the festival itself, of course) and speaking with one of this country's best short filmmakers.

Not everyone agrees with the choices that the TIFFG makes when choosing its final list for Canada's Top Ten every year. What most people will agree with, however, is that this year's inclusion of short films in the Top Ten is not only a welcome change, but a necessary one.

At the announcement event for the Top Ten event in mid-December, Piers Handling, Director and CEO of the Toronto International Film Festival Group was enthusiastic about the diversity of film in Canada this year: "Both the Top Ten features and shorts demonstrate the exceptional vitality and the cinematic achievements of our industry."

In the few months since I've been researching short film in Canada, I've found very few awards and recognitions for Canadian film that come with the kind of prestige of TIFFG's Canada's Top Ten. The inclusion of shorts on their list is an immense encouragement to short filmmakers who often are not recognized to the same extent as feature film directors.

Piers Handling agreed with the necessity to recognize short film along with longer features: "By expanding Canada's Top Ten to include short films, we're recognizing the immense range and talent demonstrated by filmmakers from across the country." By bringing short film into the discussion of excellent Canadian cinema, TIFFG is legitimizing — in a formal sense — what Canadian cinephiles have known for years: Canada is a leader in creating some of the most intriguing and compelling short film in the world.

I recently had the chance to talk to Jamie Travis, one of the five panelists who were responsible for choosing the short films for TIFFG's Canada's Top Ten. Travis is also an accomplished filmmaker, having directed some of the best short films this country has ever seen: The Saddest Boy in the World and the Patterns Trilogy. He took some time to share his thoughts on short film with me:

blogTO: Why was it important for Canada's Top Ten to recognize short film this year? What was your process in trying to find the top ten shorts in the country?

Jamie Travis: I can't think of a reason why Canada's Top Ten shouldn't recognize short films. As with features, there are loads of short films needing recognition (and distinction from the warbling mass of substandard product out there). Canada's Top Ten ensures the films will have an audience and place the filmmakers in a much-needed spotlight. Often with shorts, the spotlight can engender future feature film opportunities. That said, an initiative like this helps strengthen the notion, too, that short films are films in their own right and not just training wheels for the jump to features.

blogTO: Canada has enjoyed success and gained significant recognition when it comes to short film. What are the reasons (funding, marketing, infrastructure, etc.) for this success?

JT: Whenever I go to American festivals, the shorts filmmakers bombard me with questions about the Canadian funding system. They are mesmerized by it. They are jealous. They want a piece of it. The access to funds we have in Canada enables us to make a high-gloss product. You tend to see more Canadian films shot on 35mm, smoother dollies, altogether higher production values. Of course in the end, gloss has very little to do with quality, but gloss is often a great foot in the door for Canadians at American festivals.

blogTO: Why is the development of short film important to the future of Canadian cinema in general? What more needs to be done?

JT: Short film represents, to me, the most logical way of getting into feature film production. Filmmakers have a great opportunity to play around with the medium with little fear. Yes, there are the smaller financial considerations. But more importantly there is greater creative freedom. Traditional narrative requirements can be more easily modified or ignored. I know in my films I have developed narratives around ideas, preoccupations, whatever interests me at the moment. I think it's important to develop this sense of creative looseness before moving into features. That's what I am doing now. Without the narrative freedom I enjoyed with my shorts, I would be lost at applying (or at least acknowledging) the rules in a feature film context.

The development of short film in Canada is key, I think, to the future of the Canadian film industry. First, short film markets are growing (and attention spans are waning). Short film is becoming more viable for placing Canada on the map - just look at Ryan and Madame Tutli-Putli. At the same time, support of short film is an investment in Canada's feature film future. Directors don't just fall out of the sky. They need to be developed.

The Canada's Top Ten screenings and panels take place between January 25 and February 5, and tickets are on the sale on the website, by phone at 416-968-FILM, and at the box office in the Manulife Centre.

In addition to the great movies being showcased, panel discussions include special sessions on film and music (Bruce McDonald, Cam Christiansen), creating first features (Richie Mehta, Stephane Lafleur, Martin Gero), and the producer's role in filmmaking (Robert Lantos).

Cinema in Brief is a 12-part look at short film in Canada, with a special focus on the people making, supporting, and watching short film in Toronto. It will appear on the final Wednesday of every month until August 2008.

Previously on Cinema in Brief:
September: TIFF Shorts
October: Toronto Short Film Projects
November: Dimentia 5

The title image is a still from Ramses Madina's Farmer's Requiem and is provided by TIFFG. Madina's short is one of ten short films named in this year's batch of Canada's Top Ten.

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