NFB Film Shorts

New short film series debuts at the NFB Mediatheque

In a city with a film festival for every nation, ethnicity, genre and hobby, short films tend to get the... well, short end of the stick. The Canadian Film Centre, with its Worldwide Short Film Festival and the monthly World of Shorts screenings is the only real juggernaut that screens shorts on a regular basis. But this week, another party enters the ring, Shorts That are Not Pants, a new quarterly series featuring quality Canadian and international shorts at the NFB Mediatheque this Friday.

Half the challenge with shorts programs is that finding a great group of shorts can be complicated. Some festivals focus on themes to tie each film in with another, perhaps sacrificing quality for a similar narrative. But when asked what was part of his criteria for selections, founder James McNally answered, "I generally look for films that are visually dazzling or whose characters draw me in quickly. Short films don't have a lot of time to set up their premise, but the good ones are able to get your attention without it feeling clumsy."

This month's program is composed of a selection of films from the Future Shorts pop-up festival, a current partner, but McNally was also able to schedule a few NFB shorts as well. In particular, Wild Life by Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, a shortlisted film for Best Animated Short at the Academy Awards this year about an Englishman who comes to Canada to be a homesteader, which is all fine and good until winter comes and his whole world falls apart.

Another short that really stands out and embodies exactly why it's important to see these works on the big screen, is the fast-paced, colourful and bizarre short,The External World. A dark comedy seemingly on speed about fear, failure and disappointment, it's 17 minutes full of 15-30 second 'episodes' that come across as a more avant garde and CGI version of Robot Chicken. The short features an array of cartoon characters that are just a step away from being familiar, spliced with video game references, cynical asides and some colourful bodily functions. Also: It's pretty funny.

Other highlights include Luminaris, a stop-motion film from Argentinian director Juan Pablo Zaramella, a former Claymation director turned live action, who took the principles of one art form to another. The result? A short film two years in the making, featuring human actors trussed up like living dolls, alight on the staggeringly grandiose streets of Buenos Aires as they wake in the morning and head to work. Get your Oscar ballots ready, this film is also on the shortlist for Best Animated Short at the Academy Awards.

Shorts That Are Not Pants has been around since 2009 but mostly as a series hosted in founder James McNally's basement; an exclusive gathering of cinephiles interested in the underappreciated medium. By expanding to the NFB Mediatheque, the series is now a paid public event which means your admission helps pay the filmmakers, the rental fee and to fund any future screenings.

An interesting promotional tie-in for the screening goes beyond DVD prizes for guests via a unique challenge. If you wear a pair of shorts on Friday, you can buy a ticket discounted to the fine price of $5. When asked if he would be participating in this leggy endeavour, McNally said, "I was worried about getting this question... If I want any of the audience to return for our next screening, I don't think showing my pale and skinny legs, especially in January, would be good for business!" Nonetheless, I'll be interested to see who attempts this feat.

Shorts That Are Not Pants starts at 7pm on Friday January 13th, tickets for the screening are $8 and can be purchased online in advance (keep in mind, the NFB screening room is quite small) or at the door for $10. Those brave souls who wish to actually wear shorts to the screening can buy tickets at the door for $5 but the weather report for Friday may discourage you. For more information about the series and for some bios on the filmmakers, be sure to visit the Shorts That Are Not Pants website.

Still from Wild Life.

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