The TIFF ’20 Short Cuts programme is as strong as it’s ever been in 2020, particularly the Canadian shorts. From Still Processing to Point and Line to Plane, here are the best of the bunch. Keep up to date with our TIFF ’20 coverage.
TIFF’s annual short film showcase often features a treasure trove of new talent whose work is too often ignored. In past years, our list of the best Canadian shorts have included those by directors such as Rebecca Addelman and Heather Young, both of whom went on to make superlative first features (Paper Year and Murmur, respectively). Last year’s discovery, Carol Nguyen’s No Crying at the Dinner Table, is still a film we’re talking about and thinking about, and one of the year’s very best.
This year’s selection of Canadian shorts is particularly strong, and among these, we’ve curated the very best shorts which should not be missed. This year, the programmes each screen only once so you won’t want to miss your opportunity to catch each of these films. In the past, our best Canadian shorts of the fest list have often included multiple films by Indigenous filmmakers and Quebecois filmmakers, which makes their absence this year noteworthy: TIFF programmed only one short by an Indigenous filmmaker this year, which was not made available to us at the time of publishing, and only a few Quebecois films. On the flip side, this year does boast multiple shorts by Black filmmakers featuring Black actors, possibly a first in my memory, including Sinking Ship, which made our list.
4 North A (Jordan Canning, Howie Shia)
With beautiful animation, Jordan Canning and Howie Shia’s 4 North A captures the mournful atmosphere of a hospital and the vivid emotions that come with losing a loved one. There’s almost no dialogue in the film, but the sound design speaks to the main character’s grief. We watch her sit by her dying father’s bedside and explore the hospital, as we hear the beep of machines, tap of footsteps, and occasional weeping of mourners echoes through the otherwise silent corridors. The film comes alive when the protagonist recalls beautiful childhood memories of fishing with her father, and the animation style becomes looser, shifting to a vibrant blue-and-green colour palette. The short succeeds in capturing both the gut punches of sadness and the heavy mundane day-to-day reality of grief. Orla Smith
Every Day’s Like This (Lev Lewis)
Like 4 North A, Every Day’s Like This takes a close look at the process of grieving before your loved one has died. We never see the dying matriarch: she remains inside her bedroom, too sick from cancer to care for herself, as family members and a nurse pass in and out. The camera watches the door from the other end of the corridor so it looks like an ominous place to approach. Writer-director Lev Lewis is more interested in observing her husband (Daniel Kash), son (Francis Melling), and daughter (Kacey Rohl), who look and sound perpetually tired as they shop for groceries, make dinner, and hash out the details of the matriarch’s assisted suicide. The way Rohl nonchalantly delivers the line, “You alright with mum dying on Valentine’s Day, dad?” tells you everything you need to know about how long this family has been living with the heavy weight of grief, or pre-grief. Lewis gives us a window into one bleak, chilly winter’s evening of many evenings like it, in which family life goes on as normal, only sapped of the joy that spending time with your loved ones typically brings. OS
Point and Line to Plane (Sofia Bohdanowicz)
With a title drawn from a book written by the non-objective painter Wassily Kandinsky, Point and Line to Plane is director Sofia Bohdanowicz’s latest work in creative nonfiction. She renews her collaboration with actor and writer Deragh Campbell, who plays their shared alter-ego Audrey (who previously appeared in Never Eat Alone, Veslemøy’s Song, and MS Slavic 7). This time, Audrey is in the grips of mourning following the death of a close friend.
This is a truly stunning work of metafiction that poetically invokes universal ideas grounded in the filmmaker’s deeply personal experience. The film’s internal logic is not motivated by traditional narrative forms, but rather a more intuitive momentum, informed by a spiral motif. The image of spirals, found in the architecture of the Guggenheim, as well as the paintings of Kandinski and Hilma af Klint, also reflects the scientific realm — in particular, the movement of atoms and stars. Intuitive leaps guided by emotion bring Audrey from the Guggenheim to Vienna and St. Petersburg in a blink of an eye.
Bohdanowicz’s various influences come together to translate a sense of alienation, mirrored by this spiral image. The film’s unexpected spiritualism ties everything together. Point and Line to Plane asks the viewer to leap along with Audrey into believing that there are greater forces at work in the universe, far beyond our comprehension. Justine Smith
Our interview with Sofia Bohdanowicz will be published during the festival.
Shooting Star (Ariane Louis-Seize)
After her charming lead performance in Charlotte a du fun (Slut in a Good Way), Marguerite Bouchard stars as another intelligent, but still in many ways immature, young woman in Shooting Star. She plays Chloé, a teen on holiday with her loving but neglectful mother and her mother’s new boyfriend, Christopher. The film tracks the cause and effect of neglect. Chloé’s mother treats Chloé more like a friend than a daughter, openly seducing Christopher in front of her and constantly ignoring Chloé in favour of him. It feels sadly inevitable when Chloé starts flirting with the boyfriend, too, because her mother’s actions have taught her that the approval of men is more important than anything else, even family.
What’s striking about Shooting Star is that it never feels like the film is patronising Chloé, even as she makes terrible and dangerous choices that reveal her immaturity. Director Ariane Louis-Seize crafts a wonderfully intimate visual style, with Chloé often close to the lens; the background is out of focus when she’s at her most isolated. Bouchard’s watchful, thoughtful gaze keeps Chloé’s intelligence in sharp focus, so we remember that this is a smart young woman; her bad choices are just a product of the irresponsible adults around her. OS
Sinking Ship (Sasha Leigh Henry)
Sasha Leigh Henry’s Sinking Ship is a two-hander about a couple having a conversation over a restaurant dinner that could very well break them up. It’s an incisive look at fragile masculinity and how insidious it can be, hiding in plain sight; as a woman, you might think your male partner is enlightened, but misogyny is often hidden just below the surface. Cooly, as if he’s discussing the weather, the man informs his paramarou that he is no longer romantically attracted to her. Trying to remain calm, she prods him about what this vague statement means, unsure at first whether to be insulted or angry, or if she should panic or ignore him. It’s especially confusing to her because he keeps praising her, both intellectually and sexually.
As things get more and more tense between the couple, the painting of a stormy night at sea behind them starts to be animated, with the waves crashing just as he starts to crash and burn. It makes the scene feel surreal even as the exchange between the characters is almost painfully real, although it also keeps the film tonally off-balance — not always to great effect. Still, Sinking Ship is a gripping and witty character piece that stands out for its incisive comment on misogyny and relationships. It also stands out as a rare Canadian film that’s directed by a Black woman and starring Black actors, especially as it doesn’t take trauma as its subject. Alex Heeney
Still Processing (Sophy Romvari)
In Still Processing, Sophy Romvari’s newest personal documentary, Romvari explores grief and familial bonds. Against the backdrop of winter within the walls of York University’s cold modernist buildings, she delves into her past. Sophy opens up a box of memories. She looks through photos and film negatives given to her by her father — mementos from childhood she barely remembers. The film is virtually wordless, accompanied by subtitles that provide context and reflections on Romvari’s state of mind.
Still Processing captures the echoes that a traumatic event can have through time and its impact on a family. Rather than dwell on the fresh wound, it refocuses on the long-term implications of loss and an unending mourning period. Built into the film is also a deep sense of healing and the slow process of opening yourself up to the world rather than closing off from it. Focused as much on the textures of her father’s photographs as the content themselves, Still Processing is as much a meditation on art and storytelling as it is the subject of loss. With this film, Romvari establishes herself as one of Canada’s foremost film artists, as she pushes film language to explore new realms of personal experience. JS
Succor (Hannah Cheesman)
Hannah Cheesman’s melancholy Succor is a two-hander between two of Canada’s most exciting emerging actors, Deragh Campbell (Anne at 13,000ft) and Michaela Kurimsky (Firecrackers). They play best friends: Angie (Kurimsky), the perpetually single mess, and Abigail (Campbell), the one who picks her up when she falls. When Angie starts online dating, Abigail catfishes her as ‘Brian’, the man of Angie’s dreams. We’re never given a definite answer as to whether Abigail’s catfishing is just a prank that went too far or a secret way for her to play out her romantic longing for her best friend. Campbell and Kurimsky have great chemistry though, and Campbell is equal parts hilarious and tragic in the scenes when her character is hiding her secret. Cheesman has a light touch, gliding effortlessly between the charming romance of the friends’ interactions and Abigail’s sad resignation that she’ll always be just the best friend. OS