WSFF Day 2: "Family Compact", "Creative Control"

After the great opening night screening of “Award Winnersfrom Around the World” followed by a fun after-party at the C-Lounge, the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival continued its good run of shorts into the second day of the festival. The first screening of the day that I attended was the Official Selection “The Family Compact.” Although “Family” might not be as strong overall as some of the other line-ups in the Official Selection, there are a few standouts among these films that show the darker side of family dynamics.

“Family Compact” opens with the clear anti-bullying message of Liar (Canada, 8 min.) and then tackles child abuse in Hellion (USA, 6 min.). Third in the series is the sinisterly funny black comedy Long Distance Information (UK, 8 min.), directed by Douglas Hart. Tyrannosaur’s Peter Mullan stars as an emotionally distant father who reluctantly picks up the phone when his son calls on Christmas Day. Thanks to Mullan’s brooding, intimidating presence, the dialogue of Long Distance Information has a sense of impending doom. His sardonic dead-pan makes this film a memorable tale of fathers and sons.

The bond between mother and daughter drives the next film, Turbulence (France/Tunisia, 22 min.). Arguably the stand-out film in “The Family Compact,” Turbulence is a riveting family drama about a girl who stumbles home from a party with her body covered in bruises and her reputation stained. At first bound by tradition, the girl’s mother does everything she can to hide the abuse; however, as she discovers more about her daughter’s situation and realizes that the truth lies closer to home, the mother undergoes profound change in order to protect her daughter. Much goes unsaid in Turbulence: the film unfolds in an impeccable act of storytelling and it’s driven by strong performances by Bouraouia Marzouk and Mariem Ferjani. Turbulence, directed by Leyla Bouzid, is also notable because it ends with an important message for the audience that only deepens the openness and ambiguity of the mystery.

Another highlight of “The Family Compact” is the documentary Lack of Evidence (France, 9 min.), which takes a powerful experimental approach to the testimony by one man who fled Nigeria and sought asylum in France. Likewise, the doc Little Brother (UK. 7 min.) offers a unique approach to the family dynamic and is notable for its collaborative effort between filmmaker and subject. Finally, the animated short Belly (UK, 7 min.) is a peculiarly dreamy story of the love/hate relationship between siblings. As with all the stories in “The Family Compact”, Belly shows the push-and-pull dynamic of family ties. Tackling issues of indebtedness as well as familial devotion, the stories in “The Family Compact” come to WSFF from across the globe, yet their personal, intimate portraits offer universal messages that should resonate with audiences.
The Maker
The second screening of the day was “Creative Control.” “Creative Control” offers one of the better programmes in the Official Selection at WSFF.  Presenting seven films that illustrate the relationship between the artistic process and identity, “Creative Control” showcases some original and daring works.

The Maker (Australia, 6 min.) opens “Creative Control” with an impressive animated film that sets up the play between art, love, and loss that runs throughout the series. A little rabbit-like creature works to beat the clock to make his double, but his homemade doppelganger turns out to be a surprise mate. The Maker boasts spectacular animation and offers a tale of ill-fated love that is both disheartening and endearing. While The Maker looks at one creative individual, Gravity of Center (Canada, 14 min.) showcases the RUBBERBANDance troupe in an evocative contemporary routine. Fluid cinematography and precise editing accentuate this aesthetically pleasing showcase of motion and art: fans of So You Think You Can Dance? will really like this film!

After the experimental steps of Gravity of Center comes the revealing documentary Heaven (Niebo) (Poland, 15 min.). Heaven is a lyrical, fleeting portrait of an artist named Robert who escapes from a painful, life-threatening disease by pouring himself into painted works. A striking and intimate exploration of the creative process, Heaven captures Robert’s story in beautiful natural light and pairs it with a sumptuous score by Atanas Valkow, which allows one to appreciate the work of a truly devoted artist. Cheese (Canada, 5 min.), on the other hand, offers a tale of a true amateur when one couple’s sightseeing is interrupted by the wannabe paparazzo from hell. This funny film shows that even the most madcap encounters make for the best travel stories. The next film, Lifetripper (USA, 14 min.), tells of one amateur comedian who regales his fellow bus-riders with jokes and anecdotes, and then uses his comic persona to gain confidence in life. How to Raise the Moon (Germany/Denmark, 9 min.) tells not of amateurs making art out of life, but of art coming alive. A haunting yet amusing film about a rabbit and a fox that jump from the canvas and into the real world, How to Raise the Moon is a surreal game of the horrors (or wonders) that occur when blending art with reality.
Withering Love
“Creative Control” ends with a film that looks to be in the running for my favourite short at the festival so far. Withering Love (Les amours perdues) (Denmark, 29 min.) is a breathtaking examination of the destructive, all-consuming nature of love. Emmanuelle Béart (Nathalie…) gives a stunning performance as Maria, a woman who meets a lonely chain-smoking writer named Vincent (Denis Lavant, A Very Long Engagement) at a small Parisian café. Maria quickly falls for Vincent’s elegy for lost love; however, as Maria tries to pursue a relationship, Vincent backs away from the patio and attempts suicide before her eyes. Shocked and incensed by Vincent’s actions, Maria spirals into an obsessive responsibility for Vincent’s life. Withering Love is an unsettling tale of romantic desire thanks to Béart’s showstopping work as the elusive and enigmatic muse. The film also unnerves a sense of happily-ever-after through the Dogme 35 approach taken by writer/director Samanou Sahlstrøm. Sahlstrøm shows an adept hand at the shaky camerawork and sparse minimalism of the Dogme style, and it’s no wonder since the director’s previous credits are from working alongside Lars von Trier as a production assistant on Antichrist and Manderlay. Sahlstrøm’s crafting of the broken and heartbreaking Maria is just as good as any female character of von Trier’s films – there’s even a scene of Maria watching Breaking the Waves if one wants an additional clue as to how to interpret this ill-fated tale. A beautiful work all around, Withering Love offers a masterful hand at creative control and shows that a student can be just as good as his teacher.

“Family Compact” screens again at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Saturday, June 9 at 2:15.

“Creative Control” screens again at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on Friday, June 8 at 4:30.

Please visit www.shorterisbetter.com for tickets, program/film info, and show times.
(And click here for updates & reviews of this year's Worldwide Short Film Festival.)