Seventh Row editors Alex Heeney and Orla Smith pick the six must-see Canadian shorts at TIFF19 the festival, all of which screen in the Shortcuts programme.
Measure (dir. Karen Chapman)
Measure is a very quiet film about grief — a child’s and his mother’s grief for the child’s brother — and how silent grief can be. Even the death itself is not spoken about, only implied with the opening sounds of a failing heart monitor and tears, and then felt in the wordless embrace between the mother and her remaining son. We see the two of them going about their daily lives: waking up, cooking, the boy’s walk around town when he skips school. All of it is deafeningly quiet, almost no background noise in the mix.
Director Karen Chapman’s film is a simple story of the young boy’s adventures when he skips school. She chooses to focus on the goodness that is inherent in many children. He spends his day indulging in many childlike fascinations, such as making shadow puppets on a sunlit wall or playing with his model airplane. But his day also consists of an incredibly selfless act for his mother and his deceased brother, which he keeps a secret, uninterested in credit. Chapman pushes us to further consider how we tacitly process grief through these unspoken acts of kindness, where the love between mother and son in such a difficult time is understood and expressed without verbal communication. – Orla Smith
Measure screens in Short Cuts Programme 1 on 9/12 at 6:00 p.m. (Scotiabank). Tickets available here.
No Crying at the Dinner Table (dir. Carol Nguyen)
No Crying at the Dinner Table, from Canadian filmmaker Carol Nguyen, is not just one of the best Canadian shorts at TIFF19, but one of the very best films I’ve seen at the festival. In the film, Nguyen separately interviews her sister and her parents — both Vietnamese immigrants — about family secrets and traumas: her mother discusses the lack of physical intimacy she shared with her own mother; her sister shares how, growing up, she felt closer to her grandparents than parents; and her father tells a traumatic story from his past in Vietnam. This sharing of stories proves cathartic, and there’s a visible difference in the physical intimacy between the family members by the end of the film. – Alex Heeney
Read our interview with Director Carol Nguyen here.
Measure screens in Short Cuts Programme 8 on 9/10 at 9:00 p.m. (Scotiabank) and 9/15 at 9:15 p.m. (Scotiabank). Tickets available here.
Rebel (dir. Pier-Philippe Chevigny)
Filmmakers often choose to filter subject matter through the eyes of a child: recently, Carla Simón’s Summer 1993 was about a six-year-old’s grief, and Xavier Legrand’s Custody told the story of a couple’s divorce through their young son’s perspective. It’s fascinating to explore how a morally pure child perceives issues of adult prejudice, arrogance, or tragedy — especially in Pier-Philippe Chevigny’s short film Rebel, which targets immigration in Canada through the eyes of a neo-Nazi’s very young son.
Chevigny places his camera at the young boy’s height, challenging us to adopt his perspective. At the start, all we see is a child playing happily with his loving father. When the boy is taken to the car by his father, we (like him), assume they’re out on a fun day trip. But they arrive in the woods, where a group of locals are out to hunt illegal immigrants and report them to the police. We know what’s going on, but to the boy, there’s no reason to think of it as anything other than a game.
Chevigny urgently explores how young minds can be easily corrupted. However, the short’s final grace note is one of hope. Despite everything he’s told — “You’re the one who caught the bad guys” — the boy clearly rails against what he saw. As a child yet to adopt any fixed way of thinking, the events he witnesses are evidently evil. – OS
Rebel screens in Short Cuts Programme 3 on 9/7 at 7:00 p.m. (Scotiabank) and 9/13 at 5:45 p.m. (Scotiabank). Tickets available here.
This Ink Runs Deep (dir. Asia Youngman)
One of the many ways the Canadian government sought to suppress Indigenous cultures in the 18th and 19th centuries was by banning their tattoos. Asia Youngman’s This Ink Runs Deep showcases how Indigenous tattoos are being revived across the country, with Indigenous artists using both traditional practices and modern techniques. Youngman explores how tattoos are an important form of Indigenous art across cultures, by introducing us to artists such as Gregory Williams, the first Haida tattoo practitioner in over a century, and Métis artist Audi Murray. Most importantly, tattoos are a way for Indigenous people to make visible their Indigeneity with pride, most movingly described by Jana Angulalik whose decision to get a traditional forehead tattoo was also a decision to embrace her Inuk identity. – AH
This Ink Runs Deep screens in Short Cuts Programme 2 on 9/12 at 9:00 p.m. (Scotiabank). Tickets available here.
Delphine (dir. Chloé Robichaud)
Chloé Robichaud’s Delphine is a quiet story about the people we encounter who will never know the impact they have on us, and how some things never change, even as we grow up. The titular character is not the protagonist, but the object of the protagonist, Nicole’s, fascination, in part because they share similarities: Delphine is also an immigrant who struggles to fit in (even more than Nicole) and faces bullying. We first meet Delphine as a child on the school bus, and then again as a teenager in the classroom, having disappeared from Nicole’s life for years. Nicole watches from the sidelines with fascination, and perhaps inchoate queer desire, for a girl she never speaks to but who leaves an indelible mark.
These social scenes at school are contrasted with Nicole’s quiet home life, with a single mother. Both as a girl and a teenager, Robichaud frames Nicole watching television with her mother in the same way, her mother touching her hair with warmth and casual intimacy: the image reminds us that she may be grown enough to be played by a different actress, but she’s still the same small girl in many ways. – AH
Delphine screens in Short Cuts Programme 7 on 9/9 at 6:30 p.m. (Scotiabank) and 9/15 at 6:15 p.m. (Scotiabank). Tickets available here.
Jarvik (dir. Emilie Mannering)
Getting a good performance out of one child actor is no easy feat, so it’s a show of directorial brilliance that Emilie Mannering is able to encourage three great ones in Jarvik. Her lead is Lea (Leia Scott), the oldest of her three siblings. Her brother about to go through a heart operation, and Lea’s mother expects her to be a responsible caregiver. But Lea is still only a pre-teen; it’s summer and all her friends are out enjoying their freedom.
Mannering’s film is a bittersweet character study about a close-knit family going through a tough time. Lea has a tangible desire to leave the home she’s confined to, but she also has a deep love for her brother and feels a sense of duty as the eldest. For an actress so young, Scott’s subdued, wearied performance beautifully manifests the melancholy of a summer lost to worry and newfound responsibility. – OS
Jarvik screens in Short Cuts Programme 1 on 9/12 at 6:00 p.m. (Scotiabank). Tickets available here.