WSFF: Day 2

Day 2 of WSFF has plenty more pics to gab about. First on the agenda was the Official Selection “Flora & Fauna”, which features shorts with a focus on the relationship between man and nature. “Flora & Fauna” is probably the lesser of the Official Selections (something has to be), although they aren’t any Wee Requiem’s in the mix. One film – My Tired Father – left me quite indifferent. So much, in fact, that when the time came to rank the films on my ballot for the audience award, I simply couldn’t recall the film and had to consult my programme to refresh my memory. More memorable are Inner City and The Death of an Insect. The former is a fun animated story of a young lovebird in a concrete jungle who tries to win the attention of a pretty girl, while the latter is a striking depiction of the life cycle of insects. Equally likable is We’re Leaving, the cinema-verité story of a man and his gator. “Flora and Fauna” also features the crowd-pleaser Hop the Twig by Canadian director Kyle Rideout, which uses a glorious mix of live action and animation to realize a child’s imaginative musings on the potential death of her mother. Hop the Twig is very well done; it is also very funny. 

Hop the Twig
Not so funny are two of the documentaries in the selection: Like Father Like Son and A Plain Landscape with a Cradle. Like Father Like Son follows a young boy who accompanies his father to work in a slaughterhouse. This film is not for the faint of heart and it holds nothing back – it could easily convert moviegoers to vegetarianism. Likewise, A Plain Landscape with a Cradle is a bleak and gritty observational doc about a violent alcoholic’s attempt to become sober. Some scenes are hell to sit through (at one point, the subject forces vodka down his cat’s throat), but the impact of this Polish film is muted by the fact that the final title card goes without subtitles. Did he succeed in overcoming his addiction, or did he succumb to it?
There are, however, two standout films that make “Flora and Fauna” well worth seeing. First is the extraordinary Meniscus from New Zealand. This film by Maria-Elena Doyle restores my faith in experimental film after Wee Requiem and I Stare Boiling: I simply have never seen anything like it. Meniscus is a breathtaking depiction of creation as told through stunning choreography and beautifully composed lighting, both of which are accented by a strong pulsating soundtrack. It’s a great film, as is the second Canadian short in the series, Anirniq. Directed by RJ Sauer and shot on location on Baffin Island, Anirniq is a poignant story of a father and son who connect during a fateful narwhal hunt. With great cinematography and an engaging pace, Anirniq is a compelling encounter between man and beast.
White Other
The second series of the day was “Celebrity Shorts.” This series features plenty of A-list talent, and it was easily the most well attended screening I’ve been to so far. Appropriately, the first film is a documentary about the creepy perils of celebrity. PS Your Mystery Sender reveals the strange fan mail received by fashion designer Paul Smith. In this funny film, Smith displays all the mementoes that he has collected – from mismatched pairs of water skis to a scale replica of his own studio – from anonymous fans. Paul, it might be time to seek out a restraining order! On the flipside of PS is the dark drama White Other starring Imelda Staunton and Harry Potter’s Tom Felton. Staunton and Felton make a dynamic acting duo as a hospital nurse and an unexpected visitor, and the film features a surprise twist. The next film in the series doesn’t have any twists, but it features one thing that’s sure to surprise the audience. In Sergeant Slaughter, My Big Brother, Inception’s Tom Hardy strips down and offers a boisterously fun performance as a rowdy sibling who teaches his little brother a thing or two before heading off to join the French Legion. Sergeant Slaughter is rambunctious fun.
Winter Frog
After getting the audience worked up with Tom Hardy’s willy, “Celebrity Shorts” offers the futuristic dating misadventure Animal Love starring Selma Blair and Jeremy Davies. Animal Love is a quirky, if slightly pretentious, satire, but it features one adventurous, scene-stealing guinea pig. Animals and romance join forces again in the French offering Winter Frog, starring Gérard Depardieu (who else?). Winter Frog is a sumptuously composed film, and it offers an intriguing and enigmatic narrative of a vintner in mourning. Winter Frog is one of the stronger entries of the series. Frog is upstaged only by the side-splitting British short An Act of Love. An Act of Love stars Stephen Mangan as a man who reluctantly agrees to inseminate his wife’s sister (Raquel Cassidy). However, when his wife (Gina McKee) informs him that the sisters think it’s best he do the job “naturally,” hilarity ensues. An Act of Love proves that the combination of dirty jokes and British accents guarantees a funny movie. “Celebrity Shorts” ends with another amusing British comedy, Bunce, directed by Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty). Bunce is an autobiographical coming of age story written by Stephen Fry, who co-stars as the headmaster of an all-boys school. “Celebrity Shorts” offers plenty to enjoy, but it’s most refreshing to see that so many top stars have remained faithful to their roots and still find time to contribute to strong short films.
Ce n'est rien (It is Nothing)
Finally, “Accidental Witness” features some of the better shorts of the Official Selection roster, but I’ll be brief since these films rely on crucial twists and turns. Circus, by Canadian filmmaker Nicolas Brault, is an animated story of a boy visiting his mother on her deathbed, while Ketchup features a riveting quarrel between a woman and her father. As far as recent Greek films go, Ketchup film is more heart pounding than the feature-length Dogtooth (and it’s far more watchable!). Marvin is one of the best and funniest animated shorts of the festival: the film features Steve Coogan narrating a rhyming story of a boy named Marvin who has an unfortunate hole in his forehead. “Accidental Witness” also features one of the most highly touted Canadian films at the festival, Ce n’est rien (It is Nothing) by Nicolas Roy. Martin Dubreuil stars as a tormented father who seeks retribution for an unspeakable act endured by his daughter. This devastating film deserves the hype. Also buzz-worthy are the fun marital farce Boss of Me and the compelling cerebral palsy documentary This Chair is Not Me. I was less enthusiastic for the experimental film Projections and the overlong cult comedy The Kook, although the latter film certainly has many redeeming quirks. “Accidental Witness” is one of the more worthwhile series, and you can catch it when it screens again today at 4pm at the ROM.
An Act of Love
Best Shorts:
-Flora and Fauna: Meniscus
-Celebrity Shorts 1: An Act of Love
-Accidental Witness: Ce n’est rien

*        “Celebrity Shorts 1” screens again on Sunday, June 5 at 7:15pm at The Varsity
*        “Flora and Fauna” screens again on Saturday, June 4 at 9:45 at The Varsity.
-Full schedules and programming info can be found at shorterisbetter.com